- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

KITAKYUSHU, Japan — For a half-century, Kazuko Oi has documented the ups and downs of her life in her journals so diligently that she has amassed more than 300 diaries. “I never finish a day without writing a journal,” Mrs. Oi said. “For me, it is living proof that I live this very day. I try to take life one day at a time. As long as I live, I keep journals.”

After she retired as a nurse, Mrs. Oi became more serious about her writing. She saw an advertisement for the Bungei-sha self-publishing service and decided to turn some of her diary entries into a book. She mailed the Tokyo publishing company 15 of 120 essays she had written here on the westernmost of Japan’s four main islands. The publisher read them wanted to see more.

After negotiations with Bungei-sha, she decided to make her debut as an author at her own expense. “Nobody will ask you to write a book if you just wait, so I made a move,” she said.

Mrs. Oi is one of a growing number of writers who spend their own money to get published. Bungei-sha and other emerging publishers try to meet their needs. It typically costs the equivalent of $10,000 to $14,000 to print 1,000 copies, but some authors self-publish books on credit. Writers are paid 2 percent of the selling price initially and 4 percent or more if the book is reprinted.

Reprints are becoming more common, said Masaaki Matsuyama, director at Bungei-sha.

Mrs. Oi said the expense of self-publishing is worth it. “I don’t need expensive rings or jewelry. My diaries and books are my most precious treasures,” she said.

She published “A Small Promise” five years ago and “Each Scenery” in April, and would go to bed with the newly printed books in her arms.

“They were just like my fourth and fifth children,” said Mrs. Oi, a mother of three grown children.

The title of her first book was inspired by a promise to her little brother, who sustained a serious burn as a 3-year-old. The young Mrs. Oi was impressed with his nurses.

They “were filled with professional dignity and looked celestial,” she wrote in the book.

She promised her little brother that she would become a nurse, a dream that was nearly shattered when she contracted tuberculosis at age 16.

As a nurse in an intensive care unit, she often was faced with life-and-death decisions, and “I learned the value of human life.”

Her books re-examine her past, often highlighting her strong ties to her family, friends, co-workers and community.

“I would like readers to experience what has been vanishing in a present-day Japan,” she said. “Hunger was widespread just after World War II, so our values are different.”

Older writers often document their accomplishments or offer lessons from their experiences, Mr. Matsuyama said.

Mrs. Oi said some relatives are ashamed of the postwar hardships and poverty, and have asked her not to tell certain family stories.

Tokiyo Okada, another self-publishing author and full-time homemaker, wrote about her daughter’s experience with an intractable disease and the support of her other children.

Publishing was a major triumph for Mrs. Okada, who blames herself for her daughter’s illness. “When I saw my book piled up in the bookstore, I was exalted,” she said.

Bungei-sha receives 500 to 800 manuscripts and churns out about 120 titles per month, 15 percent to 20 percent of which are reprinted.

Net sales by the Japanese book publishing industry were $19.1 billion last year, compared with $25.1 billion in the United States, according to the Association of American Publishers.

In Japan, big-name authors are struggling while unknowns create best-sellers, countering a trend of a society that favors large institutions and pursues celebrities.

“The message is: You too can do it,” Mr. Matsuyama said. “I believe [self-published books] become our society’s assets.”

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