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Yano Ryūkei

Entry updated 5 May 2021. Tagged: Author.

Pen-name of Fumio Yano (1851-1931), a Japanese journalist, author and publisher regarded as one of the fathers of the genre in his native country. An early adopter of Western learning in the swiftly modernizing Japan, Yano studied English and Western law at Keiō Gijuku (later Keiō University). Following his graduation in 1873, he remained there as a teacher. In 1876, he became a journalist for the daily newspaper Yūbin Hōchi Shinbun ["Postal Bulletin News"]. From 1878-1881, he became involved in politics alongside the reformer and statesman Shigenobu Ōkuma (1838-1922).

Out of office after a political crisis in 1881, the pair bought the newspaper, which became the main mouthpiece for the Rikken Kaishintō ["Constitutional Reform Party"], an opposition body affiliated with the Jiyū Minken Undō ["Liberty and Civil Rights Movement"] which called for the democratization of Japan and the establishment of an elected parliament (see Politics). It was during this period that Yano began writing books of his own, many of which offered parallels in European history to Japan's contemporary situation, beginning with Keikoku Bidan ["An Inspiring Tale on Statesmanship"] (1883-1884 Yūbin Hōchi Shinbun; 1883-1884 2vols), which retold the story of the warrior caste in the Greek city-state of Thebes, returning political power to the people in an allegory of the samurai-led movement for promoting liberty and civil rights. The second volume tells how Thebes fought off an invasion by Sparta and became the leader of the Greek confederation, an allegory of Japan's role in Asia.

Between 1884 and 1886, Yano traveled in Europe and the United States, the source of several volumes of reportage about the exotic West, not included in the Checklist below. After returning to Japan, he resumed his position as president of Yūbin Hōchi Shinbun and implemented several reforms to popularize the newspaper, including the introduction of serialized novels. As a result, between 1887 and 1889, Yano's newspaper published translations by Shiken Morita of seven adventure novels by Jules Verne, including Michel Strogoff (1876), Hector Servadac (1877), Les Indes Noires (1877) and Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant (1868).

Yano subsequently published a novel of his own, Hōchi Ibun: Ukishiro Monogatari ["Hōchi's Strange Rumours: Tales of the Floating Castle"] (January-March 1890 Yūbin Hōchi Shinbun without subtitle; fixup with full title 1890), an Edisonade in which a group of Japanese vigilantes leave their homeland to conquer and settle in new territories and to defy the white man's global supremacy by uniting all people of color under the Japanese flag. Refitting their vessel with incredible Weapons, including explosives capable of blasting everything within a range of 300 metres, hydrodynamic torpedoes, an electric fence that protects the ship from invaders and a hot air Balloon for reconnaissance missions, they head for the Indian Ocean. After several adventures that involve pirates, indigenous tribes and near-fatal encounters with predators, they join forces with Indonesian kings against Dutch imperialists (see Imperialism). Eventually, the overwhelmed Dutch propose a peace treaty. They allow the Indonesian kings to remain as ruling monarchs of their independent dominions, and give the Japanese heroes financial compensation, some of which they plan to spend on new warships.

Tales of the Floating Castle promoted specific political and ideological agendas. Yano taught his readers lessons on Pan-Asianism, on territorial expansionism, on ethnicity and racial hierarchy (see Social Darwinism; Race in SF), and on Japan's weak foreign policy. Although a bestseller, the book also became the topic of a literary controversy, criticized for being overly didactic, with unrealistic plots and underdeveloped characters. Critics maintained that true literature should deal with psychological realism. Because of this controversy, Yano dropped his plan to turn the novel into the first of a series of adventure books in which the protagonists, equipped with formidable military Technologies, would travel all the way to Africa, the Arab countries of the Middle East, and South America. Notwithstanding, Tales of the Floating Castle was reprinted several times until the end of the Pacific War, forming a major inspiration for similar works by Shunrō Oshikawa.

In 1890, after the first democratic elections in Japan took place, Yano returned to working for the government with an office in the Ministry of the Imperial Household. As part of his duties in this period, he wrote Seiyō Kunshu Genkō-ki Ryaku ["A Brief Account of the Words and Deeds of Western Monarchs"] (1895 privately published), a detailed memo on foreign relations, intended as an educational aid for the teenage Prince Yoshihito, the future Taishō Emperor (reigned 1912-1926). In 1897, following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) Yano was sent as a diplomat to Beijing. His later works in the slipstream of sf included Shin Shakai ["A New Society"] (1902), which imagined a Utopia that blended capitalism and socialism, as well as a work of Futures Studies, Sekai ni Okeru Nihon no Shōrai ["The Future of Japan in the World"] (1905). In 1906, he joined the daily newspaper Ōsaka Mainichi Shinbun, ultimately rising to become the vice president of the company. [MDB]

see also: Youwei Kang; Jūza Unno.

Fumio Yano

born Bungoku-kuni [present day Oita prefecture, Kyūshū], Japan: 2 January 1851

died Setagayama-machi [present day Tokyo], Japan: 18 June 1931

works (selected)

  • Keikoku Bidan ["An Inspiring Tale on Statesmanship"] (Tokyo: Hōchisha, 1883-1884) [published in two volumes: binding unknown/]
  • Hōchi Ibun Ukishiro Monogatari ["Hōchi's Strange Rumours: Tales of the Floating Castle"] (Tokyo Hōchisha, 1890) [binding unknown/]
  • Shin Shakai ["A New Society"] (Tokyo: Dai Nihon Tosho, 1902) [binding unknown/]
  • Sekai ni Okeru Nihon no Shōrai ["The Future of Japan in the World"] (Tokyo: Kinji Gahōsha, 1905) [binding unknown/]

about the author

  • Michal Daliot-Bul. "Hōchi's Strange Rumors – Tales of the Floating Castle: A Sociological Reading of Japan's First Hard Science Fiction Novel". (2019 Japanese Studies 39(3)) [pp313-332: mag/]

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