Back in January this year I wrote a post lamenting the lack of Akutagawa prize winning stories available in English translation. 

Suffice to say that someone has done the digging and produced a fantastic reference list of how to get your hands on these past greats - check out their blog here - happy hunting!
July and August 2012 saw the release of some must read new translations of Japanese short stories - courtesy of the prolific hub that is Words without Borders

Guest editor on both issues was Michael Emmerich - previously mentioned on this blog for his connection to the BCLT mentoring programmes. It looks like the US translator is set to undertake another year instructing a budding Japanese-English translator in 2013.

Follow these links to access complete back issues of the translations online:

New Writing in Japan I (July)

New Writing in Japan II (August)

Where were Japan's most famous literary sons and daughters born? 

I recently came across a fascinating brainchild called 'The Lit-map Project' - created by Barbara Hui. The goal of this project is to allow literature students to read author's work with a new spatial awareness. To date, Hui has mapped a single book - 'The Rings of Saturn' by W.G.Sebald (mentioned in my previous post) and his trail across England's East Coast.

Rather than chart an individual novel I wanted to create a map of modern Japanese authors - specifically their places of birth. The aim is not to form some great geographical context for reading Japanese literature, but to make a fun reference tool for thinking about authors in terms of the prefectures, cities, towns and villages they came from. 

I am not trying to highlight the obvious point that Edo /Tokyo is the creative heartland for modern Japanese novels, nor draw up a thesis on literary migration - I've simply begun this out of curiousity. 

To date I have only added 38 authors, so the spread is pretty thin. It is worth noting that an author's place of birth can, and often is, totally removed from the areas where they have subsequently lived and worked. 
The map pins are divided into three broad categories:

Blue - early-modern writers (1603-1868)
Red - modern writers (1868-1945)
Yellow - post-war writers (1945-)
                                VIEW THE MAP HERE

For anyone beginning to get to grips with the Japanese language, why not embark on the long and pot-holed road to becoming a literary translator! If you're interested in this profession you may already have heard of The British Centre for Literary Translation.

Founded by the German author and coastal wanderer, W.G. Sebald (pictured above), the BCLT is based at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. 

A summer school in Japanese-English translation, funded by The Nippon Foundation, was established three years ago. There really is no parallel UK opportunity for those interested in this profession to explore their potential. 

All attendees work with a writer-in-residence and a workshop leader. In the case of the latter this course is fortunate to have the services of Michael Emmerich, a seasoned academic and popular translator of Japanese novels. 

To wet any appetites out there - here are two videos from BCLT's You Tube channel, an interview with Michael and an overview of last year's summer school. 

The program runs for a week in July this year, 22nd - 27th July, and registration begins on the 1st March. Follow this link for an application form
Japan has many literary awards but one is particularly coveted by authors from across the archipelago - The Akutagawa Prize.

Established in 1935 to honour one of Japan's most famous literary sons, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the prize is a holy grail in Japanese literary circles and has cemented the status of countless writers since its inception. In terms of British and American equivalents, the award is on par with The Man Booker or The Pulitzer Prize.

From left to right: Akutagawa pictured in 1921, on a postage stamp in a similar pose, and 2011's Akutagawa Prize winner, Tanaka Shinya.

I thought it would be revealing to assess how many of these 151 award-winning works (mostly short stories and novellas) have not been translated into English. As the critical creme-de-la-creme of Japanese fiction, these novels should be prime targets for export. 

Subsequent research has highlighted that as many as 42 of the total (nearly a third) remain in Japanese-only editions, or languages other than English. Why these works have not merited an English translation is uncertain - publishing bureaucracy, commercial viability or sheer apathy may have played their part. It seems that there remains a remarkable opportunity to bring many of these classics of modern Japanese fiction to a wider audience.  

Keep a look-out for a more in-depth breakdown of individual Akutagawa prizewinners, soon to come on this blog.

Below are some useful links, with further information and discussion of the award:

The Akutagawa Prize - an outline / history

Japan Times - an article on last year's winners

The Mainichi Daily News - Prize condemnation by the ever controversial Ishihara

The Man Asian Literary Prize is a derivative of The Man Booker Prize, established as a seperate award in 2007. The prize describes itself as 'an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer, either written in English or translated into English.'

It's a pretty broad (and hugely flawed) remit - selecting one author from an entire continent, but, by popularising individual writers it might be hoped the award encourages further reading of a nation's literature abroad.

From this standpoint, it is interesting to take note of the Japanese authors who have been short (and long) listed since the prize's inception four years ago. This year the poster-girl of Japanese fiction, Yoshimoto Banana, made the final seven nominations. Here's a complete list of Japanese authors whose work has merited inclusion:

Yoshimoto Banana - 'The Lake' (Shortlsit 2011)
Murakami Haruki - 'IQ84' (Longlist 2011)

Oe Kenzaburo - 'The Cahngeling' (Shortlist 2010)
Ogawa Yoko - 'Hotel Iris' (Shortlist 2010)


Tsutomu Igarashi - 'To the Temple' (Longlist 2008)

Kanehara Hitomi – ‘Autofiction’ (Longlist 2007)

With the exception of Tsutomu, this list is a textbook Who’s Who of popularly exported Japanese writers. This year’s nominations are the most recognizable of all, Murakami and Yoshimoto, the King and Queen of Japanese literature overseas. I don’t want to detract from the merits of these individual writers or works but it seems a great shame that this press-garnering award, and its panel of international judges, cannot select anything beyond the most popular Japanese authors. These are names that already dominate foreign bookshelves – nominations which add nothing to existing knowledge of Japan's literature in the West. The individual poularity of these authors continues to rise but, rather than popularising Japanese fiction through their fame, they tend to simplify its depth and diversity. 

Yoshimoto, Murakami and Oe, deserve to add global critical acclaim to their haul of domestic literary prizes, but the emphasis of such an international award should be on discovery first and foremost. Perhaps this is unrealistic in the highly politicized world of literary prizes, but a prime opportunity for introducing unknown writers to a new (and hungry) audience has once again been wasted.

This photo is taken from a reproduction in Edward Seidensticker's autobiography, Tokyo Central, mentioned in a previous blog post.

Seidensticker's comment on the snapshot, taken in early 1965, notes a rare instance of Tanizaki Jun'ichiro smiling - "He was known for his adverserial approach to cameras..."

What is more remarkable, surely, is the collected brilliance of the four figures pictured together. Howard Hibbett, Seidensticker, Tanizaki and Donald Keene?!

It is, perhaps, not unprecedented that three preeminent translators, and long-standing friends, are found seated on the same bench, and with an icon of modern Japanese literature. Still - rare records like this form a fascinating visual counterpart to the evolving story of Japanese literature in translation.
Hideo Levy has had to contend with the bizarre experience of having his novels, written in his adopted Japanese, translated back into the language of his origin - English. 

One of a small number of successful bilingual novelists writing in Japan today, Levy began as a translator of Japanese poetry, publishing an award winning interpretation of Man'yoshu in 1982. Ten years on and the roles had been reversed with Levy's debut novel in Japanese, Seijōki no Kikoenai Heya, winning the Noma Literary Award for New Writers.

Since then Levy's reputation has continued to grow - so much so that he was nominated for Japan's most coveted literary honour - The Akutagawa Prize (running since 1935) - for his novel Ten'an'mon in 1996. Levy's own life might well make a compelling fiction, the story of a boy born into 1950s California and arriving in Japan at the age of sixteen. Watch the video posted below to discover more about Levy's experience and his own thoughts on the current state of Japanese literature:


Title: A Personal Matter
Japanese Title: 個人的な体験 (Kojinteki na taiken)

Published: 1964
First English Edition: Charles E. Tuttle Company - 1969

Translator: John Nathan. More famous for his seminal biography and multiple translations of Mishima Yukio, Nathan has also worked on translations of Oe's Teach us to outgrow our madness and Rouse up O young men of a New Age!

Only five years elapsed between the publication of this novel at home and abroad.

Comment: It may seem trite to start a series of translation profiles with such a well-known work but, aside from being a personal favourite, Oe's work is fascinating because of the Western language constructions he incorporates in the Japanese original.

Nathan's introduction to the first edition states:
'Oe's style had been the subject of much controversy in Japan. It treads a thin line between artful rebellion and mere unruliness. That is its excitement and the reason why it is so difficult to translate...he pushes the meanings of words to their furthest acceptable limits.'

I came across this blog post recently - a short list of the author's favourite Japanese contemporary novels that had not, as of April 2011, been published in English. Some quick research highlighted that, in the intervening six months, one of the five books listed has been translated into Italian and the rest remain in Japanese-only editions.  Follow the link below to see reviews of the books in question:

Boulder Book Store - Japanese Fiction Series: Great Untranslated Books