日付変更線 International Date Line


Yesterday, I posted a few thoughts about the new book of poetry by the feminist poet ARAI Takako, one of the most provocative and theoretically interesting young figures in the Japanese poetic world.  Today, I wanted to share the title work from that collection, which I translated as “Beds and Looms” for publication in the inaugural issue of the journal Southpaw (2012), a left-learning journal of art and writing that explores issues of cultural displacement, global capitalism, and the legacy of colonialism.  

Arai’s father was the owner of a small, cottage-style, weaving factory in Kiryū, Gunma Prefecture, a town known for textile production since ancient times. At its height, it employed a few dozen people, the overwhelming majority of which were women. This poem is part of a series that Arai has written about the lives of the women workers she observed while growing up in the factory.

This particular poem juxtaposes the images of baby beds, the mattresses on which adult workers met and made love, and the looms which the factory women used to make their living. In doing so, it exploresthe ways that different forms of desire—sexual desire, motherly desire, the desire for labor, and the desire for commodities—intersected on the floor of her father’s factory. Powerful and brilliant.


For some time, I’ve been meaning to write a few words to say how bowled over I am by the newest book by the feminist writer ARAI Takako, a Japanese poet whom I think is one of the undiscovered geniuses of contemporary Japanese letters. Not only is her work socially involved and globally aware in a way that is unusual to find among contemporary Japanese writers, her use of vibrant, living, dialect-studded language gives her a voice that is utterly uniquely her own. 

Her new book 『ベッドと織機』(Beds and Looms), published in late 2013 by Michitani, is a probing investigation of labor, women’s status, desire, and disaster in contemporary Japan. Many of the poems in this collection are from her “Factory” series, which describes the experiences of her and the other women workers in her father’s small textile factory in Kiryū, a city in Gunma prefecture known for weaving. I have much to say about those poems, one of which I translated for Southpaw, the leftist journal of global art and writing, but for the moment, I’d like to comment on one of the poems in this collection inspired by the March 11, 2011 disasters.  

Arai has written that in the immediate aftermath of the disasters, her friends repeatedly urged her to write, realizing that they were living through momentous times and hoping that she could somehow come to grips with their experiences through language. In an essay written in 2013 for the Museum of Contemporary Japanese Poetry, Tanka, and Haiku, she wrote,

I believe, without a doubt, that people desired poetry. As the immeasurable anxiety brought about by the tsunami and nuclear accident continued to grow, I was communicating with my friends via e-mail and telephone. They spurred me on countless times, saying, “It is precisely because of this moment we are living through that you need to write poetry.” I was taken off guard because I felt this was the first time that I was told this sort of thing by someone who had no connection with poetry.  

Cited from “Kodama deshō ka, iie,” in Nihon Gendai Shiika Bungakukan, ed. Ashita kara fuite kuru kaze: 2011.3.11 to shiika, sono go. Kitakami-shi: Nihon Gendai Shiika Bungakukan, 2013, pp. 4-5.

In early May, Arai made a trip to Kesennuma, one of the coastal Tōhoku cities leveled by the tsunami.  While there, Arai found that shoes and clothing from the tsunami victims were still washing onto shore daily, and she decided to write about that in her work.  (In fact, the photographs of debris that I have posted above are ones that Arai took while in Kesennuma.)  The site of the shoes inspired her to write the poem “Katahō no kutsu,” which she read in numerous poetry vigils in mid-2011 as a eulogy to the victims of 3/11.  I have translated this poem as “Half a Pair of Shoes” for a collection of 3/11-related poetry that is currently under review.

In this poem, the poppy, which serves as a symbol of the poet herself, leans toward the wet, memory-soaked shoe, and the shoe opens its “eyes,” which have born silent witness to the disaster.  The eyes seem to morph into the eyes of the deceased child, and the poppy/poet imagines the visions reflected in his eyes in the final moments of his life.  The poem’s abrupt ending, however, suggests the problems of such a project.  The object, which seems so suggestive, seems to want to help the poet discover the story, dropping a shoelace deep inside, as if trying to provide a lifeline to the missing person and his memory.  Still, it is clear that the missing child cannot return, and his story is only knowable through guesswork.  The poppy/poet cannot offer any meaningful salvation to the child, who is already gone.  All it can do is drop its petals inside the shoe.  In other words, the poet cannot really recover lost lives; all the poet can do is invite the silent shoe to serve as the starting point for a story. 

Elsewhere, in commenting on her own pre-2011 work, Arai has noted that one of the major projects of her poetry is to provide a space that would allow the ghosts of the past to haunt her and her readers.  

Ghosts and spirits have the power to teach us the past. There is a part of me that believes that. We tend to forget everything so quickly, don’t we? We humans go through life in such an irresponsible way. That’s especially true now, when our societies and economic systems speed forward at full tilt leaving us to chase after them. Our amnesia extends even to our worst tragedies. That’s why I want ghosts and spirits to remain close, so they can be our teachers. 

The poem “Half a Pair of Shoes” is an attempt to do exactly what she has described here—to allow the ghosts of the recently deceased victims of the tsunami back onto the stage of history—even while remaining aware of the limitations of that project. As this poem reminds us, the desire to remember will always ultimately run up against the unknowability of traumatic experience, creating an insolvable epistemological problem. 


In late April, we were fortunate to have TAWADA Yōko, one of Japan’s most scintillatingly brilliant writers, come visit us at Western Michigan University, where she gave an unforgettable reading from her recent essays, poetry, and novels. While at WMU, she gave the reading debut of her short story「彼岸」or "Equinox," a sci-fi evocation of a post-apocalyptic Japan which has been rendered uninhabitable by a massive nuclear meltdown. The original Japanese version of this story is soon to be published in the journal 『早稲田文学』Waseda bungaku in Japan, and I have been translating it for publication abroad. 

Here are some photographs from Tawada’s visit. The photograph of her in fur was born out of a moment of spontaneous silliness. While chatting about her novel 『雪の練習生』(The Practitioners of Snow), which is narrated from the point of view of three polar bears, she began to wonder what she would look like as a bear. It just so happened that my partner, a former antique dealer, happened to have an an antique beaver jacket, antique beaver gloves, and a Russian-style hat in the closet, and so we pulled them out for her to try on and see. Not bear, of course, but at least it gave a hint of what Kuma no Yōko might look like! 

アメリカの一番よく読まれている絵本作家、ドクター・スースの和訳を取り上げる拙論は『Japan Forum』の新しい特集「Geographies of Childhood」(幼児期の地理学)に載りました。アメリカでも広く知られていないが、第二次世界大戦中、スースは戦時中の日本を風刺する漫画を描いたり、アメリカ陸軍の映画班に所属して日本文化と軍隊主義の問題を取り上げるドクメンタリー映画を作ったりしました。戦後になって、スースは『ライフ雑誌』のために取材しに訪日して、関西で知り合った友人からインスピレーションを受けて、アメリカ児童文学の古典になる『ぞうのホートンひとだすけ』を書きました。その歴史から始まり、本論はスースの和訳史、そして絵本に隠る教訓の翻訳による変容を論じています。特に、占領下の日本で活躍した翻訳家・大森武男と、1970年頃に「児童文学の翻訳の王様」と言われた渡辺茂男と、2000年頃にスースの和訳を出したフェミニストの詩人・伊藤比呂美の貢献を重視しています。論文は英語で書いたが、興味のある方に喜んで送ります。

The new special issue of Japan Forum (Vol. 26, No. 2)is entitled Geographies of Childhood and contains several fascinating articles about the ways that globalization, translation, and localization have shaped children’s culture in postwar and contemporary Japan.  Among them is my article “Dr. Seuss Goes to Japan: Ideology and the Translation of an American Icon,” which looks at the history of Dr. Seuss translations into Japanese. It begins by looking at Dr. Seuss’s own long, intimate, personal engagement with Japan, beginning with his World War II political cartoons satirizing Japan, his contributions to Frank Capra’s wartime and Occupation-era documentaries about rebuilding Japanese culture, his fact-finding visit for Life magazine in 1953, and the ways that inspired Seuss’s own writing. It then moves on to see how Japanese translators have dealt with the messages embedded in Seuss’s work (especially the messages related to Japan) and the changing ways that they have used Seuss in their own political and social agendas over time. In particular, it focuses on the Japanese-language translations of the Occupation-era translator Ōmori Takeo, the prolific translator of children’s books during the 1970s Watanabe Shigeo, and the contemporary feminist poet Itō Hiromi.   

The article is free to download for the first fifty people who click here.  If you would like to read it but are unable to download it from the link above, please e-mail me, and I will be happy to send a copy.

Nominations for ALTA’s 2014 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) invites nominations of translations for ALTA’s 2014 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize. The winner will receive $5,000, and the award-winning book and translator will be featured at ALTA’s 37th conference, to be held November 12-15, 2014 in Milwaukee, WI. To be eligible, a submission must have been published in 2013 in the U.S. or Canada and be a book-length translation into English of Asian poetry or of source texts from (but not commentaries on) Zen Buddhism. Languages eligible are Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Sanskrit, Tamil, Thai, Tibetan, and Vietnamese. The deadline for receiving submissions is August 1. Send a copy of each nominated book to:

ALTA/Lucien Stryk Translation Prize
The University of Texas at Dallas
800 West Campbell Road, JO 51
Richardson, TX  75080-3021

Submissions will be judged according to the literary significance of the original and the success of the translation in recreating the literary artistry of the original.

While the Lucien Stryk Translation Prize is primarily intended to recognize the translation of contemporary works, retranslations or first-time translations of important older works will also be seriously considered. The Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, which has been established by an anonymous donor, celebrates the importance of Asian translation for international literature and promotes the translation of Asian works into English. Stryk was an internationally acclaimed translator of Japanese and Chinese Zen poetry, renowned Zen poet himself, and former professor of English at Northern Illinois University.

The 2012 Stryk Prize winner was Don Mee Choi forAll the Garbage of the World, Unite! by Kim Hyesoon (Action Books, 2011), and the 2013 Stryk Prize winner was Lucas Klein forNotes on the Mosquito by Xi Chuan (New Directions, 2012).

For more information, please visit www.literarytranslators.org, or contact María Rosa Suárez <maria.suarez@utdallas.edu>. 

新しい映画『ゴジラ』 の感想

I went to the opening of the new Godzilla in IMAX 3-D last night. (The theater was packed with middle-aged, comic-book and sci-fi loving guys, many of whom had worn out their favorite Godzilla T-shirt.)

Of course, the visuals were astounding, but the writers had worked into the plot unmistakable echoes of 3/11 and 9/11, the two recent national traumas of Japan and America that have come to define our experience in so many ways the twenty first-century. In the parallel universe of the film, however, all responsibility for the tragedies lay with forces other than humanity. The final message seemed to be, “Work hard and do your best to prevent mishaps, but nature will naturally take its own course, and humanity should just let that happen. Things will cosmically work out somehow.” That message makes no sense in our current world, where humanity is responsible for virtually every large disaster. We have to be better than that.  

小林史子 『1000の足とはじまりの果実』
KOBAYASHI Fumiko: 1,000 Legs, Cultivating Fruits

Exhibited at the Roppongi Crossing 2013 exhibit at the Mori Art Museum

Made of chairs and clothing collected from people around the artist in the Roppongi Hills area in 2013

600 × 600 × 190 cm

Amanda Vail at Rain Taxi, one of the journals that I often turn to for literary reviews, wrote a glowing review of my translation of the gay Japanese poet TAKAHASHI Mutsuo’s memoirs, Twelve Views from the Distance.  In it, she writes,

Takahashi’s memoir presents not only the difficulties faced by citizens living through a war, but also the challenges of growing up in poverty, of being raised by a single mother who is forced to make ends meet in creative ways, and of exploring an alternative sexuality, among others. The novel presents twelve reflections on the time and place it depicts; some of the details are very specific, and many are universal. Throughout, Twelve Views from the Distance is unflinching, compassionate, and beautiful.

Click here to see the Amazon page for Twelve Views.
Thank you, Amanda, for the wonderful review.

Julio Cortázar “Los Dioses,” “The Gods,” translated by Stephen Kessler

During this reading at Stanford University on May 2, 2014, Itō Hiromi will appear with me as her translator. We plan to read from her work about the 2011 disasters in Japan, as well as from the translation of her long, narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank, which will be forthcoming from Action Books in fall 2014.  This award-winning, book-length narrative poem, called by critics &#8220;unprecedented&#8221; in the history of modern Japanese literature, deals with transpacific migration, linguistic isolation, and the question of what it means to belong to a place.


During this reading at Stanford University on May 2, 2014, Itō Hiromi will appear with me as her translator. We plan to read from her work about the 2011 disasters in Japan, as well as from the translation of her long, narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank, which will be forthcoming from Action Books in fall 2014.  This award-winning, book-length narrative poem, called by critics “unprecedented” in the history of modern Japanese literature, deals with transpacific migration, linguistic isolation, and the question of what it means to belong to a place.

Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize

Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature, Thought, and Society

The Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University is pleased to announce a prize honoring the life and work of Kyoko Selden. The prize will pay homage to the finest achievements in Japanese literature, thought, and society through the medium of translation. Kyoko Selden’s translations and writings ranged widely across such realms as Japanese women writers, the atomic bomb experience, Ainu life and culture, historical and contemporary literature, poetry and prose, Japanese art, and early education (the Suzuki method). In the same spirit, the prize will recognize the breadth of Japanese writings, classical and contemporary. Collaborative translations are welcomed. In order to encourage classroom use and wide dissemination of the winning entries, prize-winning translations, together with the original Japanese text, will be made freely available on the web. The winning translations will be published online at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus <http://www.japanfocus.org/>. 

Submit three copies of a translation and the original text of an unpublished work or a new translation of a previously published work to the Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize, Department of Asian Studies, 350 Rockefeller Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail submissions should be sent to seldenprize@cornell.edu.  Please provide both paper and electronic versions of the translation and the original text. The maximum length of a submission is 20,000 words. The translation should be accompanied by an introduction of up to 1,000 words. In case of translation of longer works, a 20,000-word excerpt should be submitted.

The closing date for the first prize competition is May 30, 2014. Awards will be announced on August 31, 2014. A prize of $2,500 will be given to the author(s) of the award-winning translation. For further information, please visit <http://lrc.cornell.edu/asian/seldenmemorial>.

Roscoe Gilmore Scott, When Boys Ask Questions

Roscoe Gilmore Scott, When Boys Ask Questions

Ania Wawrzkowicz - Ambiguous Documents

「いまここにこれらのことをーー3・11と日本現代詩」 カリフォルニア州立大学ロング・ビーチ校での講演 ジェフリー・アングルス Next week, I&#8217;ll be giving a handful of talks and poetry readings in California. Here is a flyer for an talk that I will be giving at California State University, Long Beach.  Thanks go to Jordan Smith, an assistant professor of comparative literature there at CSULB, for arranging this visit.


Next week, I’ll be giving a handful of talks and poetry readings in California. Here is a flyer for an talk that I will be giving at California State University, Long Beach.  Thanks go to Jordan Smith, an assistant professor of comparative literature there at CSULB, for arranging this visit.

Call for Submissions: Seeking re-translations of poetry and prose
Inventory No. 5 
The Re-Translation Issue

In celebration of its fifth anniversary, the Editors of Inventory are assembling a special issue devoted exclusively to original re-translations. That is, they are seeking fresh and thoughtful translations of literary texts that have already been translated into English. Compelling reasons for re-translation might include a problematic first translation or an exceptionally rich text affording a multiplicity of possible translations. Re-translations from less-taught and non-European languages are especially encouraged, as are re-translations of works little known in the Anglophone world. 

Based in Princeton University’s Department of Comparative Literature, Inventory is a journal of literary translation supported by the Interdoctoral Program for the Humanities, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Program for Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton.  Submit to invent@princeton.edu by June 1, 2014 to be considered.