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[Interview] CUON Publishing Director Kim Seungbok Promotes Korean Books in Japan

 People >  CUON Publishing Director Kim Seungbok Promotes Korean Books in Japan
CUON Publishing Director Kim Seungbok Promotes Korean Books in Japan


 


1. Please briefly introduce yourself.

In 1991, I graduated from the Seoul Institute of the Arts as a creative writing major, and that same year I went to Japan where I studied literary criticism at Nihon University’s College of Art. In Korea, I eagerly read and wrote modern poetry, but after going to Japan I decided to focus all of my efforts into reading instead of writing. I was 21 years old at the time and my decision still remains intact today. I read Korean and Japanese books and introduce them to publishers in both countries. 17 years ago, I opened a publishing company and ever since, I have been producing Japanese translations of Korean literature. The first book my company published was Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. We have also introduced Japanese readers to works of Kim Jung-hyuk, Eun Heekyung, Kim Young-ha, Kim Yeonsu, Shin Kyung-sook, Ae-ran Kim, Park Min-gyu, Chung Serang, Choi Eun-young, and Jang Ryujin. We have spent quite some time building a system that encourages other publishers to read our [Japanese translations of] books by Korean authors and to publish their other works.


2. Please tell us about the recently held K-Book Festival 2023 in Japan.

The festival is jointly hosted by the KF, the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, and a number of Japanese publishers and encourages publishers to share their Japanese translations of Korean books with readers. It is also a festive event for people who write, create, and read books, with many Korean authors and poets invited to attend. Held from November 25 to 26, it was visited by over 2,500 Japanese readers and the authors’ talks were broadcast live on YouTube. The festival was first held in 2019 and conducted online during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival connected bookstores across Japan, with each participating store hosting a Korean literature pop-up store. I hope to build a framework that allows me to effectively sell translated works for a long time, because good sales ultimately enable the translation and publication of more books.


3. What would you say were the achievements of the K-Book Festival?

This year’s festival participants included five Korean publishers—Moonji Publishing, UU Press, Anonbooks, Book Village Harry, and Illustrator Unit 0.1—as well as 35 Japanese publishing houses such as Shogakukan and Shueisha. Individual Korean participants included poets Kim So-yeon and Oh Eun, fiction writers such as Kim Cho-yeop and Hwang Bo-reum, and actor Jung Eun-hye who appeared in the popular television show, Our Blues; Jung’s picture essay, Eun-hye’s Hug, has been translated into Japanese and published in Japan. Many Korean publishers that sold their books at the festival were overjoyed that their sales and exports of publishing rights exceeded those of similar events held in Korea. For K-Book Festival 2024 we are considering to hold a briefing on publishing rights on the eve of the event’s opening.


4. You have served as the chairperson of the festival from 2019 to 2023. How do you feel about that?

I have realized that something done continuously comes to have considerable power. Though the festival has been running for years I would still like to revise or supplement things little by little, to offer at least one positive aspect to everyone concerned. When I see the increasing number of participants each year working together with me, I feel that I am the happiest person. Work becomes more meaningful, sustainable, and fun when done with others.


5. How did the Japanese public respond to the festival?

Through the festival I have confirmed first-hand that the groups of Japanese people studying Korean are diversifying. There is a growing number of teenagers who have learned Korean by enjoying Korean TV shows and K-pop with their mothers and are able to speak Korean as fluently as a native. I saw many teens going through books with their mothers at the festival. I also met a very enthusiastic reader who proposed the publication of essays and poems written in Korean.


6. How is Korean literature received in Japan? Are there any particularly favored authors?

A large number of Korean literary works have made their debut in Japan after Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 became a bestseller in 2018. Works by Han Kang, Chung Serang, Choi Eun-young, Kim Yeon-su, and Kim Cho-yeop are increasingly introduced, with some bookstores even setting aside special sections devoted to Han, Chung, and Kim Ae-ran. Essay books with illustrations are also popular. Bestsellers in Korea often turn out to be hits in the Japanese market, probably due to readers’ perceptions being similar in both countries. Recently, books covering a range of humanities subjects are being published one after another.


7. What is necessary for Korean literature to grow further in Japan?

Korean literature’s presence in Japan is sure to grow further if there are great works and they are introduced properly. A system to introduce not only the latest books but time-honored works is needed. It may be worth producing interview and critical review books, too. Korean picture books are popular and I would like to invite illustrators and picture books authors to hold exhibitions featuring their original illustrations. It is also possible to design and publish books in Korea and Japan simultaneously. Coming up with ideas and putting them into practice may be difficult and take a long time for a single person, but such work can be done easily if many people put in a little effort and combine them together. I aim to explore the many possibilities that might motivate Korean institutions, publishers, bookshops, libraries, and readers to join hands for mutual enjoyment.


8. Please tell us your future plans for promoting Korean books in Japan.

For nine years, I have been running Chekccori, a one-of-a-kind bookshop specializing in Korean books in Jimbocho Book Town, an area in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo that is well known for its used bookstores and publishing houses. I hope for there to be many such bookshops across Japan, and we will enthusiastically support anyone who hopes to pursue such an endeavor. I would like to hold the K-Book Festival not just in Tokyo but in the Kansai region, too. I would also like to bring in provincial Korean publishers to hold a festival in Japan, add a non-fiction category to the contest for translations of Korean literary works that I will be holding for the seventh year, and publish a literary magazine by collecting the writings of Korean and Japanese cultural figures. I would like to do anything that connects Korea and Japan through literature. I believe I will be able to achieve all of these goals because I have many friends working with me. This world that books have brought me into is a fun one.

The slogan for the K-Book Festival 2023 was “We gather beyond borders, beyond languages, and beyond times of silence.”