Research by Akira Tateno, a member of Japan’s Publishers Association for Cultural Exchange, in 2010 showed that of the 8,192 literature titles release in South Korea, an astounding 2,323 of these titled were translated works; and this impressive 28% is made up mostly of Japanese writers.
In Japan this figure is less than 8%, and to put it in perspective further research from the US showed the figure of translated literature makes up only 3% of the market, and the UK can’t boast much more at 4.5%.
Visit some of South Korea’s leading book stores and you’ll find Japanese literature has its own section, often big enough to match up with the major retailers in Japan; and the likes of Haruki Murakami and Keigo Higashino have found themselves permanent shelf space in Korean book stores.
Why does Japanese literature sell so well in Korea?
South Korea has gone through a considerably fast and drastic change. Shifting from military dictatorship to democracy alongside an economic rise raising quality of life and individual freedoms; the Republic of Korea has seen a change in its citizens too. There is a greater wish to explore individuality, lifestyle and identity.
Japan is their closest neighbour with a longer history of such things; Korean literature reflects this in its variety of themes, and vivid imagery, and so Japanese literature has become irresistible to the Korean audience.
Two of South Korea’s favourite Japanese authors have novels readily available in leading book stores right here in the UK! You might even have seen Haruki Murakami displays in your local branch of Waterstones.
What should I read?
It’s Keigo Higashino we’re interested in today. With the upcoming release of the third English translation from his Detective Galileo series A Midsummer’s Equation: A Mystery.
The first of the series to be translated, The Devotion of Suspect X, has become an international best seller – despite it actually being the third book in the Japanese series.
[Salvation of a Saint is really book five, and Midsummer’s Equation book six.]
Following the life of Yasuko Hanaoka, a divorced single mother, and Tetsuya Ishigami, a skilled mathematics teacher and Tasuko’s neighbour. Yasuko encounters problems with her ex husband, and as this is a crime detective novel of course there is a murder and a cover up involved.
Eventually the lead detective calls upon friend, physicist, and long time police consultant Dr. Manabu Yukawa (Detective Galileo) to help crack the case.
Galileo comes across his most challenging and clever opponent, and finds himself awestruck by the devotion of the adversary.
As the reader you’ll never have a doubt as to who the killer is, but there’s still plenty you need to uncover, so the real intrigue comes in following Galileo as he discovers just how the murder was covered up. The twists and revelations are gripping, and you’ll be as eager to find the clues as the police are.
The Devotion of Suspect X is so popular in South Korea it landed a film adaption. Director Bang Eun jin released Perfect Number, or Suspect X, in 2012, starring Ryoo Seung Bum, Lee Yo Won, and Cho Jin Woong.
A best seller in Japan, South Korea and the UK, The Devotion of Suspect X is a must read.
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” style=”simple”]
- Wochi Kochi Magazine – Why Japanese Novels Are Popular in South Korea―Publishing Environments in Japan and South Korea
- Literature Across Frontiers – Literary Translation Data and Statistics Sources
- University of Rochester – Three Percent a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester
- Waterstones – Twitter