Science fiction is an important subgenre of modern Japanese literature that has strongly influenced aspects of contemporary Japanese pop culture, including anime, manga, video games, tokusatsu, and cinema.




Both Japan's history of technology and mythology play a role in the development of its science fiction. Some early Japanese literature, for example, contain elements of proto-science fiction. The early Japanese tale of "Urashima Tarō" involves traveling forwards in time to a distant future,[1] and was first described in the Nihongi (720).[2] It was about a young fisherman named Urashima Taro who visits an undersea palace and stays there for three days. After returning home to his village, he finds himself three hundred years in the future, where he is long forgotten, his house in ruins, and his family long dead.[1] The 10th-century Japanese narrative The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter may also be considered proto-science fiction. The protagonist of the story, Kaguya-hime, is a princess from the Moon who is sent to Earth for safety during a celestial war, and is found and raised by a bamboo cutter in Japan. She is later taken back to the Moon by her real extraterrestrial family. A manuscript illustration depicts a round flying machine similar to a flying saucer.[3] However, science fiction in the standard sense did not begin until the Meiji Restoration and the importation of Western ideas.

The first science fiction of any influence to be translated into Japanese were the novels of Jules Verne[4]. The translation of Around the World in Eighty Days was published in 1878-1880, followed by his other works with immense popularity. The word kagaku shōsetsu (科学小説) was coined as a translation of "scientific novel" as early as 1886.[5]

Shunrō Oshikawa is generally considered as the ancestor of Japanese science fiction. His debut work Kaitei Gunkan (Undersea warship), published in 1900, described submarines and predicted a coming Russo-Japanese war.

During the period between the world wars, Japanese science fiction was more influenced by American science fiction. A popular writer of the era was Jūza Unno, sometimes called "the father of Japanese science fiction." The literary standards of this era, and the previous, tended to be low. Prior to World War II, Japanese rarely if ever saw science fiction as worthwhile literature. Instead, it was considered a form of trivial literature for children.

A character considered to be the first full-fledged superhero is the Japanese Kamishibai character Ōgon Bat, who debuted in 1930, eight years before Superman. Another similar Japanese Kamishibai superhero was Prince of Gamma (ガンマ王子) , who debuted in the early 1930s, also years before Superman.[6]

After World War IIEdit

1968 December issue of Hayakawa's S-F Magazine

Manga artist Osamu Tezuka, who debuted in 1946, was a major influence on the later science fiction authors. Lost World (1948), Metropolis (1949), and Nextworld (1951) are known as Tezuka's early SF trilogy. Avant-garde author Kōbō Abe wrote works that are within science fiction genre, and he later had close relationship with SF authors.[5] His Inter Ice Age 4 (1958-1959) is considered the first Japanese full-length science fiction novel.[7]

The era of modern Japanese science fiction began with the influence of paperbacks that the US occupation army brought to Japan after World War II. The first science fiction magazine in Japan, Seiun (星雲), was created in 1954 but was discontinued after only one issue. Several short-lived magazines followed Seiun in the Japanese market, but none experienced great success.

Science fiction in Japan gained popularity in the early 1960s. Both the Hayakawa's S-F Magazine (S-Fマガジン) (since 1959) and the science fiction coterie magazine Uchūjin (宇宙塵, Cosmic Dust) (1957–2013) began publication in this decade. The first Japan SF Convention was held in 1962. A writers' association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan (SFWJ) was formed in 1963 with eleven members.

Notable authors like Sakyo Komatsu, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Taku Mayumura, Ryo Hanmura and Aritsune Toyota debuted at the Hayakawa SF contest. Other notable authors, such as Shinichi Hoshi, Ryu Mitsuse, Kazumasa Hirai, Aran Kyodomari and Yoshio Aramaki, were also published [8]. Though influenced by the West, their work was distinctively Japanese. For example, Kazumasa Hirai, Aritsune Toyota and Takumi Shibano wrote novels as well as plots for SF-anime and SF-manga, which are some of the most prominent examples of Japanese contributions to the genre of science fiction.

The contributions of excellent translators such as Tetsu Yano, Masahiro Noda, Hisashi Asakura and Norio Ito introduced English science fiction to readers in Japan, and greatly influenced public opinion of science fiction. SF Magazine's first editor, Masami Fukushima was also an excellent novelist and translator.

In visual media genre, film studio Toho spawned the Kaiju film genre in 1954 with Godzilla. Eiji Tsuburaya who directed the special effects for Toho's film formed his own studio and created Ultraman in 1966. Tezuka's manga Tetsuwan Atom (1952-1968) became the first Japanese TV animation series in 1963.

Infiltration and diffusionEdit

Public interest in science fiction had risen notably in Japan by Expo '70. Komatsu's Nihon Chinbotsu (aka Japan Sinks, 1973) was a best-seller. Uchū Senkan Yamato (aka Space Battleship Yamato), a work of anime placed in a science fiction setting, was aired, and Star Wars was screened in Japan in the late 1970s. The change in the nature of the science fiction genre in Japan that resulted from these events is often called "Infiltration and Diffusion" (浸透と拡散 Shintō to Kakusan).

At this time, Hanmura's Denki SF (伝奇SF,, literally "mythology-based SF") series and Hirai's Wolf Guy series became prototypes of later Japanese light novels through the works of Hideyuki Kikuchi, Baku Yumemakura, and Haruka Takachiho. In addition, new science fiction magazines such as Kisō Tengai (奇想天外), SF Adventure (SFアドベンチャー) and SF Hōseki (SF宝石) were founded. A number of notable authors debuted in either SF Magazine or one of these new publications: Akira Hori, Junya Yokota, Koji Tanaka, Masaki Yamada, Musashi Kanbe, Azusa Noa, Chōhei Kanbayashi, Kōshū Tani, Mariko Ohara, Ko Hiura, Hitoshi Kusakami, Motoko Arai, Baku Yumemakura, Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiroe Suga.

In the 1980s, the audio-visual side of the Japanese science fiction genre continued to develop. Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze no Tani no Naushika (a.k.a. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) and Mamoru Oshi's Urusei Yatsura II: Beautiful Dreamer were first screened. On TV, real robot anime series, starting with Mobile Suit Gundam, were aired, and the science fiction artist group Studio Nue joined the staff of The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Animators Hideaki Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Takami Akai, and Shinji Higuchi, who had attracted attention by creating anime that had been exhibited at Daicon III and Daicon IV, established Studio Gainax.

Wintery ageEdit

Literary science fiction magazines started to disappear in the late 1980s when public attention increasingly switched to audio-visual media. The Hayakawa science fiction contest was also discontinued, removing a major outlet for the work of many writers. A number of science fiction and space opera writers, including Hosuke Nojiri, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Ryuji Kasamine, and Yuichi Sasamoto, began writing "light novel" genre paperback science fiction and fantasy novels, which are primarily marketed to teenagers. This period, during which literary science fiction declined, has been labeled "the Wintery Age" (冬の時代 Fuyu no Jidai). In the mainstream of science fiction, Yoshiki Tanaka published Ginga Eiyu Densetsu (a.k.a. Legend of the Galactic Heroes) series.

The boundary between science fiction novels and light novels was blurred in the 1990s. Although Hiroyuki Morioka's Seikai no Monshou series is considered to be in the vein of the light novel, the series was published by Hayakawa Shobo as part of the mainstream science fiction world. On the other hand, light novel writers like Sasamoto and Nojiri have also published hard SF novels.

As a continuation of infiltration and diffusion of science fiction into mainstream literature, Kenzaburō Ōe, who later received Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote two science fiction novels in 1990-1991. Haruki Murakami received World Fantasy Award for Kafka on the Shore in 2006, and his 2009 novel 1Q84 was a bestseller.

Meanwhile, in visual fields, the new Gamera series (1995, 1996, 1999) directed by Shusuke Kaneko with visual effects by Shinji Higuchi, renewed the kaiju genre film. An anime television series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996), directed by Hideaki Anno, got phenomenal popularity.


The 2000s (decade) saw a recovery in the market for literary SF. Science fiction books had solid sales compared to the overall decline of publishing industry.[9] SFWJ and Tokuma Shoten began Japan SF Budding Writer Award contest in 1999, and Tokuma launched a quarterly magazine SF Japan in 2000 (ceased in 2011). Hayakawa started a new label J Collection in 2002. Kadokawa Haruki Corporation conducted Komatsu Sakyō Award contest in 2000 (ceased in 2009). A new Year's-Best anthology series, edited by Nozomi Ōmori and Sanzō Kusaka, started in 2008 by Tōkyō Sōgensha, and from it, the Sogen SF Short Story Prize contest spun off in 2010.

Among finalists for Komatsu Sakyō Award and debuted from J Collection, Keikaku Itō left strong impression in his short career before died by cancer in 2009. Tō Enjō, crossing border into mainstream literature, was nominated to Akutagawa Prize, and eventually won it in 2012. Yūsuke Miyauchi, who was a jury's special citation of Sogen SF Short Story Prize in 2010, was nominated to Naoki Award and won Nihon SF Taisho in 2012 for his debut collection Dark Beyond the Weiqi (盤上の夜, Banjō no yoru).

65th World Science Fiction Convention was jointly held with the 46th Nihon SF Taikai in Yokohama, Japan, in 2007.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Yorke, Christopher (February 2006). "Malchronia: Cryonics and Bionics as Primitive Weapons in the War on Time". Journal of Evolution and Technology. 15 (1): 73–85. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
  2. ^ Rosenberg, Donna (1997). Folklore, myths, and legends: a world perspective. McGraw-Hill. p. 421. ISBN 0-8442-5780-X.
  3. ^ Richardson, Matthew (2001). The Halstead Treasury of Ancient Science Fiction. Rushcutters Bay, New South Wales: Halstead Press. ISBN 1-875684-64-6. (cf. "Once Upon a Time". Emerald City (85). September 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-17.)
  4. ^ "Nathan, Richard (October 2017). Essay on genesis of Japanese Science Fiction: Ahead of Time: Japan's early science fiction, The Circle".
  5. ^ a b Nagayama, Yasuo (2009). Nihon SF Seishinshi (in Japanese). Kawade shobo shinsha. ISBN 978-4-309-62407-5.
  6. ^ Bradner, Liesl (November 29, 2009). "The superheroes of Japan who predated Superman and Batman". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 5, 2014. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  7. ^ Thomas Schnellbächer (November 2002). "Has the Empire Sunk Yet?—The Pacific in Japanese Science Fiction". Science Fiction Studies. 29 (3).
  8. ^ Komatsu, Tsutsui, Mayumura, Hanmura and Toyota debuted by their application works at the Hayakawa SF contest. But Mitsuse and Hirai did not. These writers were well-known by the editors of SF magazine and SF-related people in those days. ref: ja:Hayakawa SF contest.
  9. ^ Nozomi Ōmori, Yumi Toyozaki (2008). Bungakushō Mettagiri!. Chikuma Shobo. ISBN 978-4-480-42413-6.


External linksEdit