Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bungakukai: a Japanese Literary Magazine

Today I got my hands on a number of recent issues of the literary magazine Bungakukai. According to the great and powerful Wikipedia, it is one of the top five most prestigious literary journals of Japan, the others being Gunzo, Shincho, Subaru, and Bungei. I'd only heard of Gunzo before because I've read about Haruki Murakami being published in it.

It is very much like an American literary journal, but a bit larger than the ones I've come across - it's a good 340 pages (for instance, Glimmer Train comes in at a little over 200; Paris Review certainly felt smaller when I held it in my hands at the bookstore a few weeks ago). It has short stories, poetry, serialized parts of longer novels, interviews, and essays. Also, they all have the same type of cover - that of large, scary-looking sculptures of various animals with the same zombie bugged out eyes.

Another cool thing about Bungakukai, especially in comparison to American literary journals, is that it comes out monthly. Not quarterly, or trimester-ly. I have no clue how well these magazines sell or how easy it is find them when in bookstores (I never thought to look for them when I was in Japan) but you would think that they're a bit more popular than our American counterparts.

Here in front of me I have the newest issue, that is, April 2011. There's some interesting stuff here, and a lot of names I recognize. The following is just a small portion of what it has to offer:

  • The "headline" so to speak is a new novel(la?) by Yoshimoto Banana called Juujuu ("Sizzle sizzle") - described as taking place at a steak house in Shitamachi. It's advertised as being 200 pages, but takes up only 60 in the journal - but each page has two columns so maybe that translates to 200 regular, paperback sized pages.
  • There's also a part of a serialized novel (part 11) by Masahiko Shimada  called 傾国子女Keikokushijo ("Prostitute children"?)
  • A conversation between Itoi Shigesato (essayist and Earthbound creator!) and Genichiro Takahashi called (maybe this is not what the Japanese is going for, but it sounds right to me, and also hilarious) "To 'Sayonara', or not to 'Sayonara': 30 Years of Japan and After." Described as: "The first dialogue between two people who together washed away the limelight of the '80s and ran through 30 years of Japan." I think this has something (everything) to do with the live tweet marathon Takahashi did at Itoi's office to promote his latest volume of literary criticism called "Sayonara, Japan: Japanese Novels 2."
There's of course, much much more, but these are the things that jump at me, since these are the names I can recognize in Japanese.

Still, pretty neat, yeah? Maybe I'll do this again with some of my other volumes. Let me know if any of you out there are even interested.


  1. I wish to make a comment on your comparison between Japanese literary magazines and U.S. lit mags. You praise Japanese lit mags for being 340 pgs and monthly vs. U.S. lit mags. You say you are an avid reader. However, strong evidence suggests that you aren't an avid reader of lit mags, either Japanese or U.S. Therefore, I will point out things you are unaware of:

    1. As you've already noted, Japan only has five lit mags. The U.S. has hundreds of lit mags put out on print alone. Shincho is published by Shinchosha, a multi-million dollar publishing corp. Gunzo is published by Kodansha, a multi-billion dollar publishing empire. Bungakukai is published by Bungeishunju, another multi-million dollar publishing corp.

    Aside from mags like the New Yorker and Harper's Monthly, few U.S. lit mags are published by successful corporations. I'd say easily less than 10% are published by successful corporations. Most U.S. lit mags are small press. They can't afford to put out mags with 340 pages that come out monthly. Some of them have a staff of less than a dozen, like Glimmer Train. Others are staffed by only one guy, like Whistling Shade.

    2. U.S. lit mags are also much more diverse in content: Poetry is a mag dedicated to poetry and essays; Elysian Fields Quarterly was a lit mag devoted to baseball; the New Yorker is the sophisticated mag centered around high class New York culture; Oxford American is centered around lit from the South; Callaloo is dedicated to black American lit; the Believer is an eclectic, bizarre mag dedicated to focusing on less mainstream work; etc.

    By contrast, I think it is safe to say that the five Japanese lit mags do not offer nearly as much diversity either in content or readership as the U.S. lit mags do.

    3. For a guy like me who regularly reads over a dozen lit mags, it's a good thing some come out quarterly. I would not have enough time to read these lit mags if they all came out montly and published around 340 pages each. That would be 3,400 pages per month. Way too much for me to devour. A quarterly lit mag lets me take my time and devour it. I've got some lit mags that I don't even read for months.

    4. According to Shibata Motoyuki, a professor of American literature at Tokyo University, Japanese lit mags have a difficult time getting support. Unfortunately, his lit mag Monkey Business died within 12 issues. He was not able to get readers interested in his mag. The five major Japanese lit mags all published much more conventional lit and have a widespread distribution network. It is much more difficult to start a lit mag in Japan than it is in the U.S.

    All in all, I'd say U.S. lit mags offer more for a reader like me who likes to read a wide variety of stuff than Japanese lit mags. Nevertheless, I was hoping if you'd be able to tell me where you found that Bungakukai mag. Was it in the States? If so, where?

  2. Yes, there are an incredibly large quantity of literary magazines printed in America. Unfortunately, like everything else in this country, they are of extremely low quality and the differences between them are largely superficial. Anyone who isn't as thoroughly brainwashed as D. Carter would prefer a single well-designed and well-written magazine over a thousand do-it-yourself pieces of nonsense that are not worth reading.

  3. Good job, Anonymous, for attacking me for being "thoroughly brainwashed". A person who is too much of a coward to put their real name has no business trying to personally attack someone else.

    I love how you attack the lit mags in the U.S. for being "extremely low quality and the differences between them are largely superficial." So I guess you would say that Harper's Monthly and the New Yorker fall into that category, eh? And I guess you wouldn't think these 5 Japanese lit mags which are printed on low quality paper and featuring stories that are homogenous in content fall into that category?

    Give me a break. Japan is notorious for exactly the things you blast America for: low quality junk and superficiality. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't been to Japan and needs to sit his punkass down from this adult discussion. Good day to you, Will.

  4. Non, merci. I think I'll stick to the J-Mags for now.:P (Have you heard of a Light Novel mag in the US?)