that horizontal feeling

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports, “A series of classic works by renowned novelists is proving popular due to innovative designs and the fact the text is printed using lateral text rather than the vertical columns usually used for Japanese novels.”

The first two books in the Meisaku Bungaku (Masterpiece Literature) series are single volume editions of Soseki Natsume’s “Kokoro” (Heart) and Osamu Dazai’s “Ningen Shikkaku” (No Longer Human), both published on Aug. 1.

The venture by the publisher, Goma Books, is aimed at getting young people to read classic fiction in a similar manner to the way they read novels on mobile phones.

The two books feature photographs of actresses on their front covers, and the type is not the usual black, but features colors such as orange and bright green to give the books a casual feel. Such designs, coupled with the horizontal text, have helped the publisher sell more than 50,000 copies of the novels since they were put on sale.

The two books were among 60 novels made available on the Goma Books mobile phone Web site in April last year. They were selected due to their great popularity.

Copyright on all the site’s books has expired because at least 50 years have passed since the death of their authors.

Some site users said they found it easy to read the masterpieces when they were written horizontally rather than vertically. The site attracts about 100 million hits a month, prompting the publisher to put out printed forms of the works.

As well as the switch from vertical to horizontal text, other ideas also were adopted.

Reading ease was taken into account, with the publisher using fewer words per page and more space between lines. Kana syllables are also frequently printed alongside kanji to aid readers.

My favorite bit, in part because I wonder if the first sentence had ever been uttered before, comes next. Or is this a topic that has been hotly debated among the Japanese literati?

“The emotions [of the work] are not lost with lateral writing,” said Yutaka Akiyama–a former editor at publisher Iwanami Shoten–who was responsible for compiling the complete works of Soseki. “Soseki himself wrote his notes horizontally.”

The second batch of three works, which include Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “Kumo no Ito” (The Spider’s Thread), came out Friday.

source: Laterally printed classics prove hit, Daily Yomiuri Online, August 23, 2008

2 thoughts on “that horizontal feeling

  1. Though I couldn’t point you to any sources regarding the vertical vs. horizontal text debate, as someone who has studied Japanese for over ten years it doesn’t surprise me at all that there would be concern over some intangible quality of the literature being lost when changing the text direction.

  2. Though I wouldn’t want to lose that “vertical feeling”, I must admit I like modern Japanese books with colored type, plenty of spacing, and extra furigana. It feels so breezy.

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