Posts filed under 'Japan'

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Mountain of Light” by Gen’yū Sōkyū 

Eventually we stopped speaking, and came to see each other as “contaminated.”

Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū has an unusual vocation among litterateurs: he is the chief priest of a temple in Fukushima, where nuclear disaster struck following the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. Both a leader and a major voice in reconstruction efforts, Gen’yū uses fiction to grapple with the catastrophe, and in this story, “Mountain of Light”, he imagines (perhaps even hopes for) a future of provincial ascendance and “Irradiation Tours”. In this excerpt, the narrator relates his coming to terms with his father’s devotion in collecting the community’s “irradiated”—their radiation-contaminated waste, in other words.

The next time I saw Dad was at Mom’s funeral. He himself would die three years later at ninety-five—twenty-five years after our last conversation—of old age, not cancer. After my mother’s cremation, he spoke to me.

“Your ma had a hard time of it, but it was all worthwhile. Thanks to the irradiated, we managed to live meaningfully, right up to the end, and that’s no joke. When my time comes . . . you’ll burn me on top of that mountain, right?”

His hearing wasn’t so good by that time, so while I said “Don’t be stupid,” apparently what he heard was “Okay, I’ll do it,” although I didn’t realise this until much later. He held my hands in front of Mom’s altar and said “Thank you” over and over again . . . It might’ve been a misunderstanding, but that was the first time he had ever shown me gratitude.

My brother and sister-in-law had only offered incense at the crematorium, and were no longer there. He was a consultant to an electronics manufacturer, and even though he said he had a meeting to attend, I was sure they had left out of fear. I too had debates with the missus about the effects of low-level exposure, almost every night. Eventually we stopped speaking, and came to see each other as “contaminated.” We’d separated by then. And that’s when I finally realised that we were both being completely ridiculous. READ MORE…

In Review: Costume en Face: A Primer Of , choreographed by Tatsumi Hijikata

Why read choreography? Why read choreography—in translation?

This stunning translation of Tatsumi Hijikata’s Costume en Face Butoh choreography notations (transcribed by Moe Yamamoto) is the collaborative work of series editor (Yelena Gluzman, UDP), Hijikata scholars at Keio University (Takashi Morishita), the translator (Sawako Nakayasu), and the book designer (Steven Chodoriwsky). Although of course deeply relevant to scholarship on Butoh dance for English-speaking scholars, this book is a marvel of poetic elision and evocative design.

Nakayasu’s gifted compressions of Moe Yamamoto’s notes read as stage directions for a metaphysical revelation, textured by archetypal figures (from angels to Nazis), modernist paintings, and mythological figures. Her choice to include and briefly gloss specifically Japanese figures in brackets is clever and creates for a seamless experience that exposes the seams of audience. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 11 September 2015: Probably, Yes.

This week's literary highlights from across the world.

Hey Friday, hey Asymptote! Hope the week was all you’d hoped. It certainly wasn’t the week that the editors at Best American Poetry had hoped, as the literary Internet exploded with the revelation that a white, male, middle-aged poet named Michael Derrick Hudson had been publishing pseudonymously under the Chinese name Yi-Fen Chou. And a poem published under this name in Prairie Schooner had been selected for inclusion in the 2015 Best American Poets anthology. Sherman Alexie, the edition’s editor, defended the bad case of literary yellowface, to the chagrin of practically everyone with an empathetical bone. And then the real Yi-Fen Chou spoke up. And Jenny Zhang wrote a very smart thingSide note: in light of all this depressing racial appropriation, it might be fun to test out the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop’s handy White Pen Name Generator).   READ MORE…

I Have Changed Nothing: Seven Paradoxes in Pursuit of Arthur Waley

Fourth in Josh Billings' "Lives of the Translators" Series

Skiing

Of all outdoor sports, skiing is the most dependent on “conditions”; so it is with some confusion that we come across this incredible sentence, from Arthur Waley’s short essay “Waiting for the New”:

But the truth is that for the skier time does not count.

As truths go, this one sounds strange—especially coming from the man who essentially introduced ancient Chinese and Japanese literature to 20th century-English readers. But Waley knew what he was talking about. Over four decades and over two dozen books (an output rivaled only by his fellow Fabian, Constance Garnett), he developed an exquisite ear for the way that time changed words. At the same time, as a poet, he understood that the gulfs separating two seemingly distant eras could be bridged, unexpectedly, by a single act. Later in the same article, he described the skier’s patience:

Waiting is waiting, whether it be for a night or for six months; and inversely the prospect of a ski-run is as exciting, day after day, to the rentier or pensioner who spends Michaelmas to May Day on the snow, as to the breadwinner who snatches a fortnight at Christmas. Each, on waking, thrills at the thought ‘today I am going to ski’; each has sat for hours in heavy and perhaps wet skiing boots, merely to put off the moment when he must confess to himself ‘today the skiing is over.’

The skier in Waley’s description no more ignores the weather than the translator would ignore the echoes of an archaic verb tense; on the contrary, he steeps himself in the conditions of his art, sure that if he waits long enough, his moment will come. The clouds will part and time collapse like a Mad Fold-In, creating a moment that is simultaneously a repetition of previous moments and unique. The name that Waley’s article gives to this miracle will be familiar to readers of either ancient Chinese literature or 20th century poetry. It is “The New.”

Biography

In a note to his 1934 translation and study of the Tao Te Ching, Waley explains the concept of fan-yen:

The ‘which of you can assume murkiness…to be clear’ is a fan-yen, a paradox, reversal of common speech. Thus ‘the more you clean it, the dirtier it becomes’ is a common saying, applied to the way in which slander ‘sticks’. But the Taoist must apply the paradoxical rule: ‘The more you dirty it, the cleaner it becomes.’

As a tool for thought, paradox has a long history in Western and Eastern literatures, but its use in biography has been limited. The mythmaking urge is too great, which means that most of the time biographers from Samuel Johnson to David Remnick have found themselves “cleaning” their subjects’ lives in a way that may sound and even be true, but which hides a certain messiness. The life in question becomes a story with a plot and theme—which is all well and good until you think about your own life, and the thousand things that any story about it would have to leave out in order to make any sense.

The life of Arthur Waley breaks the biographer’s storytelling urge in a number of ways, not the least of which is the fact that Waley didn’t write much about himself. He kept no diary and destroyed his letters, leaving a space, or network of spaces, where most of his contemporaries left maps. Perhaps most importantly, his insane productivity occurred almost exclusively in translation—a discipline that traditionally prides itself on self-erasure. Because of this, any attempt to make a story out of him has to confront the fact that there is, ostensibly at least, not much “him” to make a story out of. READ MORE…

In Conversation with Jay Rubin

“Over the years, the most consistent note in the feedback I’ve gotten from readers has been exactly that: he is writing for me.”

Jay Rubin’s translations include Haruki Murakami’s novels Norwegian Woods translations include Haruki Murakami’s novels Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, After Dark, 1Q84 (with Philip Gabriel), and a number of short story collections. Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, Rubin’s part-biography, part-analysis of Murakami’s work, was published in 2002 and updated in 2012. Rubin is also a translator of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories) and Natsume Sōseki (The Miner; Sanshiro). He holds a Ph.D. in Japanese literature from the University of Chicago. While teaching at Harvard in 2005, he helped bring Haruki Murakami to the university as an artist-in-residence.

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Ryan Mihaly: I want to start by considering the role of the translator in today’s global society. 

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“The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide

An excerpt from the novella

Today’s post is a selection from Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland. A bestseller in France and the winner of the Kiyama Shohei Literary Award in Japan, the novella concerns a couple in their thirties living in a small rented cottage in a quiet section of Tokyo. They work at home and have reached a point in their relationship where they no longer have much to say to one another. The arrival of a cat changes things. Hiraide is a poet, and his writing is at once fast and delicate, attuned to the finest details in his characters’ lives. The Guest Cat will be published by New Directions on January 28. 

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Nao-cola Yamazaki’s “The Beginning of the Long End”

An excerpt from the novel

Nao-cola Yamazaki’s first published work, 2004’s Don’t Laugh At Other People’s Sex, won the Bungei Award, was adapted into a major motion picture, and was nominated for the Akutagwa Award, a prestigious honor given annually to a promising Japanese writer. “I believe that the mission of contemporary Japanese writers is to express ambiguity,” she says, as an introduction to the following piece, an excerpt from her novel The Beginning of the Long End. Yamazaki was a participant in the 2013  Writers Omi at Ledig House Translation Lab, along with the translator of this piece, Takami Nieda. Yamazaki, who has in the past been skeptical that her work would be translatable, found her views altered by her time at Ledig. “The Japanese have always had a tendency to celebrate ambiguity as a virtue,” she writes, and “the Japanese language itself seems to be suited for expressing ambiguity… For example, it is possible to construct sentences without a subject, there are many passive expressions, and sentences can be written without specifying an object. These are some of the characteristics of Japanese that differ from English and perhaps many other languages.” Though she recognizes how her work takes advantage of the nuances of her native tongue, Yamazaki completed her stint at Writers Omi believing that a translation that conveyed her fascination with vagueness would maintain some of its distinct qualities, and “perhaps those reading the translation might enjoy those elements as a kind of ‘Japaneseness.’”

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