Can you give us a brief history of Edition Synapse and how the publisher came to work with Routledge?
Our relationship with Routledge started back in the 1980’s when one of the founders of the company was based in London as a representative of a Japanese book importer. He worked closely with academic publishers such as Croom Helm, Thoemmes Press, which later merged with Routledge. During this period the Japanese academic market grew quickly, the result of the increase in new universities and academic libraries. Many of these libraries eagerly sought key scholarly materials to build their research collections, and acquired rare and antiquarian books from the western book market. The supply of original materials could not be constantly guaranteed however, and as a result we developed a program to offer the market reprint packages of key books in facsimile format. This was the first phase of our cooperation. Edition Synapse was created 15 years ago in order for us to further develop the project, and to co-publish Major Works in various areas of the humanities.
Can you give us an insight into how you go about commissioning new publications for the program?
Primarily our new products are generated by meeting with scholars. We attend academic conferences as oftentimes as possible where we have a booth to display our publications. As most of them take place on Saturdays and Sundays, there are no weekends in our calendar! We target new, niche topics and make attempts to contact scholars who conduct research with a thorough study of primary source materials. Academics who purchase antiquarian books for their university libraries are oftentimes our key clients, both in terms of sales and in developing products. We meet regularly with them for drinks, and quite a few of the ideas for new publications come up with the help of some Sake!
Which subjects are most popular with your customers, and why do you think British literature and cultural history has such appeal in an Asian market?
The modernization of Japan began in the mid-19th century with our encounter of western civilization. Scholarship in Japan was established by importing western systems of education and research. People may be surprized to know that the very first professor of Japanese linguistics at the University of Tokyo was a British scholar, and the first book on Japanese history of art was written in English. This is the case with various forms of Japanese culture; we are not able to talk about modern Japanese literature or theater without touching on the influences they received from the West. The popularity of British or/and European subjects amongst today’s students is as strong as it used to be.
Edition Synapse Major Works titles aren’t available in eBook format due to Rights restrictions. Does this affect their uptake in an Asian market?
We are not particularly keen to enter into eBooks or eDatabase markets as it is our belief that providing primary source material in hard copy has value on its own. The serendipitous discovery of information oftentimes leads scholars to new areas of research and this happens more oftentimes in front of bookshelves than liquid crystal screens. Technically, too, many of our products include plates in color and some in a large folio size which cannot be easily adapted in a standardized format of e-products.
Can you talk a little about the key Edition Synapse/Routledge co-pubs that are releasing this year?
The key title on our list is a series of reprints of The Japan Weekly Mail, which was the leading English newspaper published in Yokohama throughout the Meiji era. Yokohama Archives of History, with whom we publish the series, spent nearly ten years collecting the original issues which were published between 1871 to 1917. Every year we release a volume covering 3 to 5 years of issues. This autumn we publish the 8th volume, covering the years 1904 to 1906, which covers possibly the most interesting years of Anglo-Japanese history, when Japan fought against Russia along with the British. Women and Belief, 1852-1928, African American Writing, and Children and Empire also publish this autumn, and are three particularly interesting titles.