On April 18-20, 2014, University of Michigan is going to be holding a three-day conference on one of Japan’s greatest modern authors NATSUME Sōseki 夏目漱石. Highlights include a visit by John NATHAN, who did the new translation of Sōseki’s Light and Dark 『明暗』, and TAWADA Yōko 多和田葉子, one of Japan’s most important living novelists. To register, click here.
Since its founding decades ago, Poetry Kanto has been instrumental in introducing many Japanese poets to the English-speaking world. Recently, the editors of Poetry Kanto placed all of its annual issues since 2005 online. This means that a small treasure trove of Japanese poetry is suddenly accessible to anyone with a computer.
I have published a number of poems in Poetry Kanto over the years, including translations of Tada Chimako 多田智満子 (2007), Itō Hiromi 伊藤比呂美 (2012 and 2011), Arai Takako 新井高子 (2012), Minashita Kiriu 水無田気流 (2007),and my own poetry (2011). Click the links above to go directly to the pages for each of these writers.
The Japan Times obituary of Donald Richie, an inspiration to an entire of generation of Japanologists , contained this observation.
Widely considered the foremost foreign writer and cultural commentator on Japan, his physical energy may have failed him at times, but his creative energy was boundless. His death, like the felling of a great tree in a forest, has changed the inner landscape of literature on Japan. It is likely, however, that his work will remain unrivaled, not simply because of its quality and dimension, but because the time he inhabited can never be re-experienced.
Indeed, Richie saw a time and era in Japanese history that can never be recaptured. Perhaps better than anyone writing in English, he taught us what it was to feel their way through the historical changes that have descended over the nation. I will never forget my long conversations with him in Ueno as he told me about the years and decades gone by.
Rest in peace, Donald. I and many other people will miss you.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Translation by ITŌ Hiromi (2000)
At the MCAA Conference on Sat., Sept. 22, 2:15-4:15 pm, I’ll be giving a talk called “Seuss Straddles the Pacific: Translation, Ideology, and Kid’s Culture” about the history of translations of Dr. Seuss into Japanese.
The fantastic journal Words Without Borders has a new issue online, with lots of delicious literary tidbits from the cutting edge in Japan. Here is the description.
Guest editor: Michael Emmerich. This month and next we’re showcasing writing from Japan. In the wake of the events of March 11, 2011, the boundaries between real and unreal, solid and fluid, seem to have shifted; guest editor Michael Emmerich has selected pieces that resonate with the country’s new mood. The pieces in this first part have the texture of a dream, unstable, fleeting, fantastic. In tales of shape-shifting, Jin Keita finds new life in a different form, and Kawakami Hiromi pursues a girl who turns into a pearl. Kurahashi Yumiko takes flower arranging to a new level. Akutagawa Prize winner EnJoe Toh spins a yarn about an oddly familiar galaxy. Nakai Hideo follows an illusionist and finds himself part of the act. Medoruma Shun receives voice mail from the beyond. Poet Yotsumoto Yasuhiro plays with rhyme and rhythm. And Furukawa Hideo’s young office worker stumbles upon a new world only steps away. The issue is produced in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation. We thank the BCLT, and David Karashima and the Nippon Foundation, for their generous support. Elsewhere, we present three views of the current Greek crisis from Amanda Michalopoulou, Petros Markaris, and Auguste Corteau.
Image: PHOTOGRAPHER HAL, Flesh Love #27_Lim&Kyohei, 2010, 1201 X 900mm, archival pigment print.
MIYAZAWA Kenji 宮沢賢治 (1896-1933)
"Strong in the Rain" 「雨ニモマケズ」
This poem is probably the most well known, most often memorized poem in contemporary Japan. It was discovered in the notebook of the great and wildly imaginative poet and writer MIYAZAWA Kenji upon his death. Although there are relatively few translations of his work into English, he is currently one of the most beloved authors of early twentieth-century Japan.
Miyazawa was from Iwate 岩手, one of the regions most devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake. This film was created after the earthquake as a way of encouraging Japan in its recovery. Reading the poem is the actor WATANABE Ken 渡辺謙. Although the Chinese viewer who added the translation did not acknowledge the translator in the film, this appears to be Rodger Pulver’s translation.
In celebration of National Poetry Month 2012
In fall 2012, University of Minnesota Press will be publishing two books by one of Japan’s most important poets, TAKAHASHI Mutsuo 高橋睦郎. One is my translation of Twelve Views from the Distance 『十二の遠景』, a sumptuously beautiful book first published in 1970. This book describes Takahashi’s troubled, impoverished early life in rural, southern Japan and the ways that his family’s fortunes intersected with the rise of the Japanese empire and World War II. Takahashi’s friend, the novelist MISHIMA Yukio 三島由紀夫, lauded the book with these words.
It is magnificent that in this book, Twelve Views from the Distance, the poet Mutsuo Takahashi has managed to achieve firm prose that, while unmistakably the work of a poet, shines with a black luster much like a set of drawers crafted by a master of old. This book is a magnificent collection of sensations and of memories, much like the toys we might find in a dark closet.
The other forthcoming book by Takahashi is a reissue of Hiroaki Sato’s translation Poems of a Penisist, which brings together much of Takahashi’s most important early poetry, much of which deals with existentialist themes and homoerotic material. This collection includes the long poem Ode (頌 Homeuta), which the publisher Winston Leyland has called “the great gay poem of the 20th century.” It is said that Allen Ginsberg was so impressed by this collection of poetry that he personally lobbied Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights Books to publish more of Takahashi’s work.
伊藤比呂美 Itō Hiromi "Yakisoba"
Reading at Western Michigan University, February 22, 2012
This film shows the Japanese poet Itō Hiromi reading her poem “Yakisoba” at Western Michigan University on February 22, 2012. The translation is by Jeffrey Angles and Sara Nishi, and it was first published in the online issue of Granta. The poem will appear in Ito’s next collection of poetry, tentatively entitled 『テリトリー論３』 (On Territory 3).
"Cat is watching even your personal life —The Bible."
By blocking out a couple of strokes in the character meaning “God” 神, some mischievous person turned the character into the word that means “cat” ネコ, giving a whole new meaning to this sign, hanging outside of the house of some Christian believer in Japan.
Buddhist-influenced waka poems are focus of lecture
by Margaret von Steinen
March 14, 2012 | WMU News
KALAMAZOO—The waka poets of medieval Japan and their work will be examined later this month when a Japanese scholar visits Western Michigan University.
Dr. Stephen Miller, assistant professor of Japanese language and literature at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, will speak about the poets and the intersection of their work with Buddhism at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 22, in Room 3025 of Brown Hall. His presentation, titled “The Wind from Vulture Peak: Japanese Buddhist Poetry and the Heian Aesthetic,” is free and open to the public.
Miller is regarded as an expert on medieval waka poetry, a genre of classical Japanese verse and one of the major genres of Japanese literature during the Heian period from 794 to 1185. In his presentation, he will explain how and why the Japanese poets of the Heian period utilized the 31-syllable form of waka poems to speak about the topic of Buddhism, as well as the problems of compiling and translating these poems into English.
Miller’s book, “The Wind from Vulture Peak: The Buddhification of Japanese Waka in the Heian Period,” is forthcoming from the Cornell East Asia Series in 2012. He has also published translations and edited a collection of Japanese literature about same-sex love and eroticism called “Partings at Dawn.”
Miller’s visit is sponsored by the WMU Soga Japan Center, the foreign languages and comparative religion departments and the Haenicke Institute for Global Education.
For more information, contact Dr. Jeffrey Angles, associate professor of foreign languages, at email@example.com or (269) 387-3044.
The always fascinating online journal of international literature, Words Without Borders, has just published two of my translations of poems about the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan. Words Without Borders published these in commemoration of the first anniversary of the Japanese earthquake.
One of the poems, “Noisy Animals" 「うるさい動物」 is by the young poet OHSAKI Sayaka 大崎清夏, and the other "Do Not Tremble" 「ゆれるな」is by HIRATA Toshiko 平田俊子. These poems show two profoundly different emotional reactions to the 3.11 disasters.
Ohsaki Sayaka (1982-) was featured in the journal Yuriika (Eureka) as one of the newest, rising stars of the Japanese poetic world. She describes herself as a “badger-like girl that lives in Tokyo,” making books, writing poems, and staying in constant motion. Her first collection of poetry, a slim book entitled Jimen (Ground), was recently published.
Hirata Toshiko (1955-) is a prominent Japanese poet and novelist. During the 1980s, she, along with Itō Hiromi, emerged as one of the foremost voices so-called “women’s boom” of poetry. Her poetry is known for its directness and black humor. In the last decade, she has increasingly turned to writing novels, which often feature ordinary people in bizarre circumstances that lead them to question the traditional family system and the spots allotted to them in society.
One year after the March 11, 2011 earthquake that destroyed much of northeastern Japan, editors David Karashima and Elmer Luke have put together a stunning collection of translations of fiction, poetry, and reflections on the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. Included in here are pieces by many of Japan’s most important authors, including TAWADA Yōko 多和田葉子, KAWAKAMI Hiromi 川上弘美, IKEZAWA Natsuki 池沢夏樹, KAKUTA Mitsuyo 角田光代, and many others. There is even one short, surreal manga, and some poetry by TANIKAWA Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎, whom some people have called the “national poet” (国民の詩人) and American poet J.D. McClatchy.
I received a copy of this collection last week, and within a day, I eagerly devoured most of the pieces in here. 3.11 wrought almost unimaginable devastation, leaving many voiceless, unsure about how language could address the huge gaping hole, the huge rubble of meaning left in language and in the nation. “How,” I remember Takahashi Mutsuo asking, “can we write after this disaster? Nothing seems big or strong enough to deal with destruction on this scale.” Everything, even language, was thrown into doubt; however, this collection shows the many diverse ways in which writers all over Japan (and even abroad) dealt with this crisis of representation. As we well, the crisis forced these writers forward, compelling them to address the cries of anguish, fear, and anxiety about the future.
Here are the reflections of TANIKAWA Shuntarō 谷川俊太郎, the poet who opens the collection. (This translation was my small contribution to the project.)