On translation: literature and history

Question raised by: Wayne Farris

Discussants: Rein Raud, Kai Nieminen, John Bradley, Royall Tyler, Elliot Berlin, William Higginson, Janine Beichman, Beatrice Bodart-Bailey, Robin Gill, Ingrid Parker, Amy V. Heinrich, Mikael Adolphson, Amanda Stinchecum, Philip Brown, Richard Bowring, Michael Watson

The thread itself has a clear beginning--Wayne Farris' question--but it seemed best to begin with a short interchange first about a translation-in-progress. It is hard to know what to call this thread, so I've left the original Subject lines. Or to know what to exclude from this thread. In the end I've included everything except a discussion about translations relating to Shôtoku Taishi (the next archive).

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Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 16:07:29 +1100
From: Royall Tyler
Subject: Nihon shoki

It seems to me I read or heard somewhere that someone is preparing a new English translation of Nihon shoki. Does anyone out there know about this?

Royall Tyler

Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 15:37:21 -0600
From: John R. Bentley
Subject: Re: Nihon shoki


It is I. This is one of those projects that seems to take forever. I am about 60% finished, but other things keep falling on top of me and I have not found time to get back to the work. However, I have been prodded to get going again. Professor Delmer Brown at UC Berkeley has asked me to be the editor of the Nihon shoki section of the Shinto Text Initiative. I am planning to see how much of the work I can actually finish during the summer. I have two other book ms that I am trying to get completed, so that leaves little time for real life.


John Bentley

Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 08:04:05 +0000
From: Richard Bowring
Subject: Re: Nihon shoki

Next question.
What is the Shinto Text Initiative? I have never heard of it but it sounds interesting.
Richard Bowring

Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 10:07:13 +0000
From: Michael Wachutka
Subject: Re: Shinto Text Initiative (was Nihon shoki)

Dear Professor Bowring,

concerning your question about the Shinto Text Initiative mentioned by John Bentley, it is a project comparable to the well-known Japanese Text Initiative at the University of Virginia.
You can find their homepage (still very much under construction) at:


Looking at the 24 documents/ texts so far announced (for now only Nihongi and Kojiki have information) it promises to be *very* useful forall scholars interested in Shinto research.

Best regards,
Michael Wachutka

Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 19:25:20 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: A question

Dear folks,
I have a simple question which will undoubtedly provoke much comment,
most of it negative, I suspect.
As an original member of the "Star Trek"generation, for which the
mantra was: "to boldly go where no one has gone before," whyis such effort
devoted to re- and re-re-translations of works already out in English?
To be sure, new translations often reveal different aspects of a work, but I
can't for the life of me understand why scholars should be devoting their
energies to such projects when there remain so many things which have never
been approached or touched upon at all, in Japanese, Asian, and world history
and literature. The insights awaiting those who undertake something truly
original are staggering.
Wayne Farris

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 06:54:22 +0200
From: Rein Raud
Subject: Re: A question

Dear Wayne Farris,

I suppose most of literature people feel your question is analogous to "why
should one write a history of Japan if one exists already?" Or, perhaps more
adequately, why should anyone bother for example to make a film based on a book or
play if one has been made already? Translation is not a simple movement of a
literary work from one linguistic space into another, but a reinterpretation
of it in the context of another literary culture. The culture changes,
translations age, or do not fulfill their purposes any more. The waka "koishi
to wa/ ta ga nazukekemu/ koto naramu/ shinu to zo tada ni/ iu bekarikeru"
has been translated by B.H.Chamberlain into English as "O Love! who gave
thee thy superfluous name?/ Loving and dying - is it not the same?" - a
translation such a respectable scholar as W.G.Aston finds "neat", perhaps
even better than the original. So why bother retranslating?
A translation of a work such as Genji is, in a way, a huge collection of
microarticles (a word or a sentence each) about the Genji. Of course, I do
agree with you that so much still remains to be done and there are important
works that still remain to be translated, but this does not mean that
retranslations would be a waste of time and energy.

Rein Raud

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 06:57:51 +0200
From: kai nieminen
Subject: Re: A question

Dear friends,
Wayne Farris raised a good question which is much more significant than
simply provocative.

As a translator outside from the English-speaking world I can only welcome
as many layers of translations and interpretations as there ever will be:
for me they're all just new aspects -- they're like enhancements to a
dictionary. But that is not Wayne Farris's point, of course. -- As a
translator outside from the English world I'd also welcome as many
translations of untouched literature as possible.

I've not yet seen Royall Tyler's new Genji translation --there's an
enraging, stupid contract between US postal services and an European postal
company (British Post, which market-economy-overtook at least Finnish
delivery of American package mail) that charges the equivalent of 25
dollars for handling e.g. Amazon packages if their value is more than 35
dollars. But I'm eagerly waiting to get it, when I visit USA this
spring. -- And I guess Wayne Farris is referring to this translation, too.

My own Genji translation is proceeding, slowly, steadily, I aim to get it
done by the end of 2005.
The situation here differs a little, but, mutatis mutandis, the
question might be asked here as well:
"Why translate Genji into Finnish, as there now exist three English
translations and 90 % of the potential readers can read English -- why not
translate something that is not available previously?"
This is a good question. Even if the obvious answer "because it is
there" is a true and sound one, it is not sufficient. There may not be an
one-and-only sufficient answer, but there are several reasons. One of which
W.F. gives:
> Tobe sure, new translations often reveal different aspects of a work,

One point where I very much agree with Wayne Farris is
there remain so many things which have never
been approached or touched upon at all, in Japanese,
Asian, and world history and literature.
and while we all know that the publishers, the public, the readers prefer
stuff with a brand, we also yearn for an adventure: a book never seen
before. But then there is the problem of the brevity of a lifespan: who
wouldn't want to translate both Genji and a "truly original" text from the
unknown tradition.

It is frustrating that the same few classics, the same few brand names
are translated into a multitude of languages time and again, and some of
the real pearls remain untranslated generation after generation. It is
frustrating, also, from the viewpoint of a translator, that the publisher
makes it a case of a sure winner.

There is the textual problem: the translating takes time,lots more of
time than translating modern Asian or modern Western literature. But a
devoted translator is blind especially when it concerns the run of the
time. A devoted translator thinks "after this I'll translate the fancy
thing nobody never knew of before; and after that the other thing that even
I didn't know to exist" and so on. --Translating classical texts is slow,
and what is worse: before one is ready to take to the classics, one usually
has spent 20--30 years studying. At least I feel now that all the
translations I did before this age should be revised. I'm 52 now, and I
keep forgetting my age and thinking that after Genji I'll have another 52
years for translating whatever novelties I fancy.

Wayne's question is a good one and should be answered by young, able
translators, too. But, although I'm not a scholar, there's one and very
important point to answer:
> can't for the life of me understand why scholars should be devoting
> their energies to such projects when The insights awaiting those who
> undertake something truly original are staggering.
Things like translating literature simply have to be done well. For the
benefit of those, who cannot read the originals. I'm sure that no scholar
or non-scholar translator would waste 5 or 10 years translating a text that
already has been well-done. I rather think that the re- and re-re-
translators have been devoting their time to benefit us, wasting their
prospects of fame as discoverers. This is a slow and silent trade, and
sometimes the re- and re-re- translators go, indeed, unnoticed "where no
one has gone before".

I fully agree with the wish to have rare new texts translated, and I hope
they will be done so well they don't need to be re-translated.

Warm regards,
Kai Nieminen

Baggbolen koulutie 11, FIN-07740 GAMMELBY, FINLAND

pmjs footer: Kai Nieminen: translations from Japanese, other publications

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 08:52:05 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: More on a question

Dear folks,
Thanks for the replies so far. I think that they have been thoughtful
and helped me.

I would disagree with Rein Raud, though, thata re-translation of a work
is like writing another history. The two are not strictly analogous, as
history may be written from many different sets of records and with many
agendas. Given a relatively set text, there may be some differences, but for
example, for the NIHON SHOKI, which I know better than GENJI, there will be
very little difference on most points.

And I'm not thinking just about Japan, either. Many fields--in both
history and literature--are practically moribund because the material has been
exhausted. I know this to be the case with some fields in US and European
history, and perhaps, literature. I just wish more people would explore new
topics. Certainly everyone would agree that for premodern Japan, scadsof
such topics exist.

Wayne Farris

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 08:13:04 -0600
From: John R. Bentley
Subject: Re: A question

Dear readers,

Wayne does have a good question. I can't help but think that his question was somehow
related to Royall's simple question about who is translating Nihon shoki--already in English.

I have just finished a rather long, detailed study on Sendai kuji hongi, a work not in translation
in any language I know of. It is also not even published as an annotated text in Japanese. The
work has been vilified as a forgery for almost 200 years, but the methodology employed on
this work is terribly simplistic. Hence my re-analysis of the manuscripts. I believe the work is authentic.

Thus, with a new translation of Kujiki, it seemed imperative that Nihon shoki be re-translated. So I agree with the others who have responded that a new translation of a work invariably has the opportunity to incorporate new knowledge and new insights. I disagree with Wayne that there would be little difference on various points.

The poetry in Aston's translation of Shoki is simply wrong in many places. Linguistically
we know a lot more about Japanese than Aston ever did. Also, there is a lot of information
in Nihon shoki that could be made more accessible to the reader if the work were
better annotated. There are more reasons, but I'll stop there.


John Bentley

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 10:36:53 +1100
From: Royall Tyler
Subject: Re: A question

Just to second John Bentley on Nihon shoki. No, this one isn't be readthat widely, but it MUST be done again, and the sooner the better. Surely no one could disagree with that.

Royall Tyler

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 10:28:15 +1100
From: Royall Tyler
Subject: Re: A question


I won't be able to justify retranslating Genji to you any better than I could justify studying the life of the aristocracy, but never mind. You certainly have a point about there being a lot that remains untranslated, so why not translate that instead; but I doubt thatmost people who translate think quite that way. They don't think, Uh oh, got that old translation itch again, gonna have to findme a text, any text. They're already interested in a particular text, for whatever reason. Sometimes it's been "done"before, sometimes not. If it's already been "done,"the value (to eventual readers) of redoing it depends on its quality and character, on the quality of the other translations, on the quality of the new one, and on its likely readership. Genji is an example (and how many are there, really, in classical Japanese?) of a work that is widely read and studied in various languages and to which very few people have useful access in the original. Just from an academic standpoint, it's probably worth making sure readers have a properly accurate translation, since accuracymay help to curb their tendency to draw mistaken conclusions from the work--which is all about the aristocracy anyway, I know, I know,so why should that matter?.

Anyway, at the other extreme (works of interest only to a few specialists) Ipersonally believe that some should NOT be translated, because translating the whole thing, or at least PUBLISHING a translation of the whole thing, is a waste of time. An example might be a medieval shugendo or ryobu shinto treatise. A text like that is likely to be so opaque in the first place that no scholar should draw any conclusion whatever solely from a "translation" of it. Such a translation is of legitimate value only as a trot for someone able to consult at least the relevant passage of the original. In a case like that, the would-be translator would domuch better to set forth an understanding of the text in an analytical essay, supported by translated quotations that are accompanied by the original passage.

Actually I have seen, even in academic essays, the danger of drawing conclusions solely from a translated passage even of Genji--not my translation yet, but no doubt that will come. One should not overestimate what can be done reliably from translation alone.

As for the value of translation to the translator (as distinguished from thereader), perhaps I'll say nothing about that, since you might not consider it a legitimate topic anyway. But in my case, don't worry. Nothing of value was lost when I devoted those years to translating Genji instead of something previously untranslated. I would not have translated anything else. I don't suppose anyone would have gotten much of anything out of me during those years; so at least some people got Genji.

I think you over-romanticize the value of translating hitherto untranslated works when you write, "The insights awaiting those who undertake something truly original are staggering." Are they, really? Not that often, I wouldn't think. Interesting, intriguing, and so on, but "staggering"? In most cases, why not just read the work and write about it?

Strangely enough, though, I've had the "staggering" experience just from translating that old chestnut, Genji. At first I never imagined having anything new to say about it, but now that I've been through the whole thing, in that fussy translator way, I'm literally staggered by the novelty of what I find myself saying about it. How my insights will play in the wider world remains to be seen, though. Staggering insights are great if you can put them across. Otherwise, they may just identify you as a crackpot.

Royall Tyler

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 11:09:31 -0500
From: Elliot Berlin
Subject: Re: A question

To a non-scholar this is a very interesting thread. Certainly there are
legitimate distinctions to be made between the value of having multiple
translations of a work of the greatness, influence, and importance of the
Genji and translating many other works that are inherently most interesting
to a scholar's special set of pereceptual/analytical tools and scholarly
interests. The value of having translations of generally unkown works is
somewhat dependent on a variety of criteria one can imagine. Yes of course
there are no absolutes and tastes change. Yet, not everything is equally
worth making available through translation, and some may never "make the
cut." Over the centuries I suppose most things will get done, butas Royall
suggested, it's unlikely most translators would achieve success by forcing
themselves to translate something nominally worthwhile but in which they
didn't have a critical mass of real interest.

I'm not a scholar, I'm a *fan* of the Genji. I'm incredibly glad that
Royall *performed* his translation. It's good for the literature
"industry," if you will, that reviews of this new Genji appear in major
publications, that Royall is scheduled for bookstore appearances and museum
lectures, and so on. It all brings renewed attention to Japanese literature
and to pre-modern Japan, which is good for everyone, right? Is this the
"trickle-down" theory of literary economy? I hope not...

Elliot Berlin

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 12:39:52 -0700
From: William J. Higginson
Subject: Re: A question

Good People,

Briefly, an aspect of this business (of "re-translating")
that seems only tangentially to have been mentioned, if

English changes.

I am in my sixties, and much of what I heard in the New York
metro region during my childhood, in Boston and New Haven
during my youth, has disappeared from current speech.

Royall's new Genji is just that: New! The language is new,
the approach is new (vastly different from Waley or
Seidensticker). It has an honored place on my shelves, and
will be referred to more often than its predecessors. (I
sold my Waley as soon as I got a copy of Seidensticker, as
Waley doesn't tell me anything about Japanese that I want to
know, and very little about English that interests me.
Seidensticker's version will stay around, but I'll be going
to Tyler's much more often.)

The second aspect: Most first-translators of a given
classical work are hard-pressed to pioneer. This means
bush-whacking, leaving some kind of trail. The roads that
will follow are not made by these pioneers, but by engineers
and technologists, hopefully with some landscape architects
thrown in for good measure.

Think Yusas's Basho reflects much of Basho? I don't. But I'm
grateful someone brought across at least something of that
fellow's time and travels. Still, Hamill, Sato, Keene, even
Corman/Kamaike (my personal favorite so far) have their
failings. Perhaps someday we'll have an Oku no hosomichi
that reflects more of what Basho may have intended. And in
English that sings as well and variously as his Japanese. In
the meantime, I'll still play with the pieces of it that
intrigue me most.

Meanwhile, someone should translate Sora's diary . . . but
that's the territory of a specialist, and will never draw
the interest and freshening that Basho does. Literature is
news that stays news, ol' Ez Pound once said. He was right,
but only if each generation or two takes up new versions in
its own language and interpretation.

Bless all,

William J. Higginson
Personal Web Pages:

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 18:01:16 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: More on translation

Dear folks,
Thanks to Royall, John, Robin, Kai, and others who have taken up my
question about the value of re-translating works.
I think part of my feeling comes from being an historian, rather than a
scholar of literature. As a historian, I find the most valuable works use
primary and original sources to construct a larger thesis or interpretation.
To me, translation by itself is not very satisfactory.

In answer to Royall, first I would like to congratulate him on his
translation. I have purchased a copy and am glad that I have it. Moreover,
to disagree with Royall, I do not believe that aristocrats should not be
studied. Quite the contrary. It's just that, as you all know, incomparison
with the amount of work on the civil aristocracy, religious elites, and
samurai, commoners remain GROSSLY understudied in the pre-1600 period
especially, but even for the Edo and modern periods. For me, it's not really
a matter of "class antagonism" towards the ruling elites, as it isa question
of allocation of scarce scholarly resources. Where can we, as historians and
scholars of literature, best put our resources to give a more inclusive
picture of Japanese society before Perry?

Finally, I also was not just being a "romantic" in stating that the
results of studying things that have never been done can be truly staggering.
For example, (and like translators, I can only speak from my own experience),
I KNOW that of the chapters in SACRED TEXTS AND BURIED TREASURES, the one I
wrote on Himiko and the Wajinden was the least enlightening. Why? Because
beginning with Young's study from the 1950s, lots of people had been working
on Yamatai, and doing a good job. It's an old chestnut (although not as old
as GENJI or the NIHON SHOKI), and there's just not much for someone like me to
add. On the other hand, while there had been several articles on the
Japan-Korea relationship earlier, I felt the chapter on the "Korean
Connection" added a LOT more to the English corpus.

I truly believe that there is even more out there on other topics if one
is willing to think laterally, or even use common sense. Instead of doing
elite political or cultural history, what about looking at the development of
cities in Japan, between, say, 1100 and 1600? Or trade and money? (I know
Ethan Segal is hard at work on this and I wish him well.) Or the iron idustry
from the Yayoi to the Edo? Or silk? I kid you not, the data and
contributions from studies of these topics will be indeed "staggering".
And for an e-mail that has gone too long already, I wouldfavor revising
Aston's translation of the NIHON SHOKI, rather than starting all over from
scratch. John has sent me some of his work, and I know that he is doing truly
path-breaking translations of several ancient sources, but if you want to
translate one of the ROKKOKU SHI, how about the SHOKU NIHONGI? The most
"accurate" and interesting of the series?

Best wishes,
Wayne Farris

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 00:37:50 +0900
From: Janine Beichman
Suject: translation

John, forgive my ignorance, but could you tell us what the Sendai kuji hongiis
and why a new translation of it (I assume Kujiki is just another name for it)
makes a new translation of the Nihon shoki imperative?

Wayne, Your letter reminds me of Donald Keene's memory of a joyous moment inthe
stacks of the Columbia library in the early days of his study of Japanese, when he
looked around him and realized that most of the books there had yet to be read.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed, he felt a surge of energy at the terra incognita
that lay before him. Part of Keene's excellence as a teacher and mentor was and is
his ability to direct his students to compelling literary works that are notwell
known. Probably one of the most important things we can do as scholars and teachers
is to make a point of seeking such works out and directing students (and ourselves)
to them. But that is not enough. The most important thing (and this is also
something that I learned from Keene) is that what we translate be something that
has moved us deeply. I would add that it can also be something that holds out the
promise that it will move us if we could just understand it. The latter is more my
experience and makes for a more interesting translating process.


P.S. (from Michael Watson) The library stacks were in Cambridge, England,
if my memory serves me right... (P.P.S. but see below...)

Date: Sat, 23 Feb 2002 20:56:42 -0600
From: John R. Bentley
Subject: Re: translation

Dear Janine and others,

I apologize for not giving a clearer response. The issues surrounding Kujiki are complicated and dense.

To be brief, Sendai kuji hongi (or just Kujiki) was one of the tripartite works of Shinto, with Kojiki and Nihon shoki. Imai Arinobu, a minor historian who worked for Tokugawa Mitsukuni, is the first to advance the idea that Kujiki was nothing more than a forgery, a work that plagiarized Kojiki, Nihon shoki, and Kogo shuui.

This simple theory was expanded by later scholars, and Motoori Norinaga is probably the famous scholar to claim that Kujiki is nothing more than a dovetailing together of Shoki and Kojiki, though he did at least note there are sections seen in no other work. Tachibana Moribe is probably the last serious scholar to defend Kujiki as an authentic work. But there are scholars who believe Moribe did this simply in his attempt to take sides against Norinaga.

The problem is that modern scholars have accepted this premise (that Kujiki did plagiarize) and have NOT reviewed the manuscripts to see if wholesale copying has taken place. Kamata Jun'ichi came out with
a critical edition in 1960, and then redid this in 1980 for Shintoo Taikei. But his textual scholarship is flawed, because he emends his critical text a priori according to Nihon shoki or Kojiki. This should not be done! A good critical text should be put together from Kujiki witnesses only. I believe my work is the first to actually do

To make a long story short, if Kujiki is not a forgery, then what is it? I believe it is a draft of a work ordered in 681 by Temmu, based on the same material as Kojiki and Nihon shoki. In other words, Kujiki can tell us something about the historiographical movement that later produced Kojiki and Nihon shoki. This knowledge sheds NEW light on Nihon shoki itself--hence, the need for a new translation. I realize that is a fuzzy answer, but if anyone wants more, then can contact me off-list.

Finally, to Wayne who suggests I revise Nihon shoki: I am 60% finished with a complete translation,
so finishing the work is not really that time consuming. A translation of Shoku Nihongi would also be
interesting, but I doubt I would tackle it.

Sorry to be long-winded.


Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 19:15:56 +0900
From: Beatrice Bodart-Bailey
Subject: Re: a question of translation

Dear All,

Nobody seems to think much about the practical aspect of getting a
translation published. The publisher's prerequisite is surely that enough
people are interested in the work: that it will sell. I am sure there are
plenty of translations around which never found a publisher. I certainly
know of some.

Why did I re-translate Kaempfer when there is no English version of Siebold?
Perhaps the main reason was that everybody kept citing passages from
Kaempfer which I knew were not what the ms said. And the interest of a
publisher and colleagues/friends saying that a new version was really
essential certainly helped.

As Royall said, to get that "staggering" experience one does not need to
translate a complete work for publication. Translating the most relevant
passages and discussing the rest might be enough. Many works have lengthy
passages which are of little interest. Then there are references which can
take weeks and months to chase up. There were plenty of those in Kaempfer:
the fishes were the worst. There was one name of a fish which simply did not
appear in any of the many dictionaries and reference works I consulted in a
great many libraries. Then I discovered in the catalogue of the rare book
section of Tokyo U. Library a 19th century dictionary which looked as if it
could provide the answer. It took some time until I got permission and
finally sat there putting on the white gloves. The dictionary had the name
of the fish. The explanation said; "name used by Kaempfer."

My point: translating is such an incredibly time-consuming business that it
appears a waste of time and energy to produce a polished and well-annotated
translation of a work in which only very few people are interested.
Especially in view of the fact that there seems to be a limited number of
people who are prepared to dedicate their time to this task ...

Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey.

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 08:33:41 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: More on translation

Dear all,
Two points, from someone who has already written too much:

1) Janine's story of Donald Keene was very inspirational, but it raised
another question which I think about from time to time. With all the
excellent work that is being done by scholars in Japanese studies, is anybody
really taking the time to read our stuff? Not only people in related fields,
but even amongst ourselves? Has anyone else had this empty feeling?

2) And on a completely different tangent: Why is the NIHON SHOKI
considered a Shinto text? Must be the myths at the beginning, I suppose. And
a later development, like late chuusei or kinsei. Certainly most of it has
nothing to do with Shinto, and it was, after all, written mostly in Chinese.
Wayne Farris

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 11:48:59 -0500
From: Robin Gill
Subject: Why so many retranslations?

In respect to Wayne Farris's question, I --- with no academic
experience --- can't help but wondering if the publishing problem, broached
by Kai Nieman and enlarged by Bodart-Bailey, might not have as much to do
with this as the obvious advantage of proving one can do a better job than
someone else before doing one's own thing.

Working as an acquisition editor and translation checker (which sometimes
included major rewriting!) for a Japanese publisher, I got Thoreau's CAPE
COD and Steinbeck's SEA OF CORTEZ (with the great 50 pages on Ed Ricketts)
translated --- there had already been oodles of translations of their major
works (I vaguely remember nine WALDENS) --- because the editors trusted my
judgement. Unless publishers have readers they can trust and editors with
the guts to back unknown books and unknown --- to the lay press at least ---
authors (e.g. Fontanelle's THE PLURALITY OF WORLDS, or most recently, from
Kousaku-sha, Eiseley's STAR THROWER), the same safe "classics" will keep
being translated and retranslated. A publisher may accept the judgement of
a respected bunka-jin, especially if he or she also offers to back the book
in one way or another. Otherwise, new translations of books that are not
obvious best-sellers is something only possible when publishers maintain a
long-term relationship with someone whose judgement they trust. With
editors changing posts and publishers as fast as they do in the USA (I have
no statistics, just the memory of having to write different people at the
same publishers), it seems a miracle to me that they publish any interesting

In Japan at least, re-translation is often the result of sheer stupidity on
the part of the eigyobu (not having worked for a publisher in the USA, I do
not know what the proper translation is) which usually dreams of getting an
enormous market for a safe book or a safe title, forgetting that everyone
else is doing the same thing, where bold marketing of something new aimed at
a larger portion of a smaller piece of the overall market could still make a
best-seller. That is to say that publishing is like radio, where everyone
aims for the same large chunk of the market, thereby guaranteeing they end
up with nothing much and preventing us from enjoying the variety that the
free market is supposed to offer.

Much of what I write above may not hold true for some academic publishers,
but Wayne thought some of my observations might be of interest, so I sent
them (with some changes) and add that I also think the practice of combining
partial translation and summary, mentioned by Bodart-Bailey, is the way to
go; for done right, it can create more good reading for the buck; and this
will prod the mainline publishers to consider introducing more such work,
usually left to a small number of academic or Japanalia? presses. Since
many if not most of the top popular publishers may only be reached through a
literary agent, and the best agent is someone who can understand exactly
what they are promoting, it would seem that a literary agent fluent in
Japanese and known by the English language publishers could do the most good
of all. Is there such an animal out there?

regards to all and best wishes to friends,

robin d gill

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 17:15:15 EST
From: Ingrid Parke
Subject: Genji translations et al.

Dear scholars,

This discussion was very interesting to me for two reasons: First, I still
have an abiding fondness and admiration for GENJI, and consequently own all
three translations; and second: I cannot read Japanese and must rely on
translations for my research as a writer.

In the first instance, I must say that I fell in love with the Waley
translation and find it hard to adjust to a different style. I also have
little time nowadays. I sampled the Seidensticker edition (a rather gorgeous
one compared to the Modern Library edition of the Waley), and with Royall
Tyler's I went straight to the apparatus, which was nice, but I wanted more.
I will, in time, get around to the text.

I'm not getting into the argument about translating that which has already
been translated. Sufficient reasons for doing so have been given. My need,
however, is for more translations of minor works, particularly those which
are of interest to students of social history, but also works which might
give insight into the daily lives of the common people. Stuff for university
presses only perhaps.

On another note: Since I've joined, I've been a little startled that those
who provided the first translations and earliest scholarly works about
Japanese history and literature are often treated with disdain as totally
out-dated and too inaccurate for words. I think everyone owes something to
those who have gone before, especially if they went "where no man has gone
before," and if inaccuracies slipped in during their undertaking, then these
should be measured against the enormous contribution of the whole work and
the foundation they laid for later scholars.

In that context, I was very glad to learn that Matthew Stavros (I think) is
working on a new book on Heian Kyo, but must say that, for the time being,
and even taking into account all the footnotes in more recent research (which
were cited here in regard to Rashoo-mon, and which I gratefully checked), I
am still totally dependent on Ponsonby-Fane for a detailed description of

With grateful regards to all you helpful people,

I. J. Parker

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 07:18:52 +0900
From: Janine Beichman
Subject: [translation]

Thanks for your correction of the locale of the Keene story to the stacks of
Cambridge. Do you know the written source of the story, too, then--? Now I'm not
sure if I heard it orally or read it, or both.

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 07:50:59 +0900
From: Janine Beichman
Subject: [translation]

Younger scholars may be reading us here and so I want to say very clearly again
that the only work you should translate is the one that (when you read it in the
original) calls out to you like a lover and whose call you can not resist. There is
no need to rate a literary work when you are thinking about translating it or not;
all you need to know is if you love it or not. After that (to answer Beatrice) you
can start to think about whether or not there will be a publisher or readers.
Flexibility is helpful here too. There are ways to package a translation that can
make it more attractive to a publisher, make it more marketable: a good roundtable
at some future AAS or other meeting between academic publishers and
scholar-translators might be very helpful here.

But all that comes after the first thing, which is to translate what is compelling
to you personally. I think we need to believe that what is important to us will be
important for enough readers to justify translating it. Since most of us derive our
main financial support from teaching, not translating, I think we can afford to do
this. Even free-lancers can divide their translation work into what they do for
money and what they do for themselves. If lucky, the two sometimes merge.
For Royall, it was the Genji that was the compelling work. But there are lots of
works in the classic corpus that are not well known, and have not been translated,
or have been translated but long ago and in a different language than the one we
speak now (good point, Bill), or have been translated but not well. Has anyone gone
through the entire Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei and its sibling collections? I find it
hard to believe that there are not many works in there that are enormous fun, or
tremendously moving, or just sheerly fascinating--and which are still
untranslated. As scholars, it is our responsibility to keep looking for them. And
as translators, it is our potential joy. For myself, I always prefer to work on
something that no one else has done before, but that is a personal preference. I
don't think that there are any rules or standards about what one should translate
that have universal validity,anymore than there are universal rules or standards
about how to translate. What is right to do is what you love, and you have to have
confidence that what you love others will too, and that if you can't find a
publisher, there is a way to repackage it so that it can be made marketable.
Sorry to be repetitive and awkward in my phrasing.

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 19:22:33 -0500
From: "Amy V. Heinrich" <>
Subject: [translations]

The story is in *Landscapes and Portraits,* although I can't put my hand
on it at the moment to give a better citation. I always assumed it was
in the Columbia East Asian Library, but now I'll ask.

Amy V. Heinrich
Director, C. V. Starr East Asian Library
Columbia University

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 10:09:39 +0900
From: Mikael Adolphson <>
Subject: Re: More on translation

Fellow PMJS'ers,
I would like to second Wayne's suggestion for more translations of other
works, even if I see the value of re-interpretations as well. In particular,
courtier diaries provide an immense amount of information, but, to date, we
only have one major translation... In French (Herail)... Nothing wrong with
practicing this noble language, but there are other diaries that provide so
much more than the Mido Kampaku ki. Chuuyuuki, Heihanki, Gyokuyou, Meigetsuki
just to mention a few. It would take me too long to note all the aspects
that these sources cover, but suffice it to say that one can find ample
information about life much beyond the walls of the palace and noble

if there are any scholars presently working on a translation of such
sources, please identify yourselves!!! I have no doubt that they would


Mickey Adolphson

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 20:18:01 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: On learning what you love

Dear folks,
I know you must be tired of (and perhaps miffed at) me by now, but
after reading Janine's most recent comment, I was first excited to jump up and
down, and then I thought a little more.
Of course, translate or study or learn what you love. It's the basic
reason for almost all of us, I would think. But aren't our loves fairly
malleable, especially at the early stages of our careers? I know I started
out about thirty years ago desirous of doing intellectual history. But partly
through the direction of my advisor, and partly from the influence of the
times, I ended up doing something very different--the social and economic
history of common folk in ancient Japan. And as I learned what the problems
and sources were and how to think about and read them, I learned to love that
topic and those sources, too, even more than intellectual history.
So my only thought is, of course, do what you love, but let yourself be
guided to some extent by various other factors and influences as well. And
perhaps this is presumptuous of me, but I would add, think: about where the
truly significant problems or texts lie, and how you can employ a heretofore
unthought-of approach to teach all of us something we would have never known
Wayne Farris

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 21:11:44 -0500
From: Amanda Stinchecum
Subject: Re: on translation: literature and history

Although Wayne mentioned it in passing, perhaps more emphasis should be
placed on how scholars and readers in different disciplines--history and
literature--approach a text. Wayne's remark, "To me, translation by itself
is not very satisfactory," is clearly the voice of the historian, who is
looking for ever more information to apply to whatever problem consumes him
or her at the moment. The extent to which a historian can "read" a
literary work, or a painting, for that matter, as a historical document,
remains problematic.

This is very different from the translator and reader of literature, who may
seek an enriched understanding of human nature, of a particular society at a
particular time, of the structure of the work, and of the nature of
literature itself, conveyed through and interpreted by the artful use of
language. Some works offer more than others, and surely the inadequacies of
previous translations can only act as a spur to the translator who finds the
original so compelling.

Amanda Stinchecum

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 23:47:15 -0500
From: "Philip Brown" <>
Subject: Re: on translation: literature and history

I have been following this discussion with some interest. I can agree with
virtually all of the arguments in favor of re-translation and I agree with
Amanda Stinchecum in part that there are both problems reading literary
materials as historical sources and that some of the difference in the
discussion is a result of a different disciplinary emphasis. Yet there is
still a fundamental issue that I feel has been inadequately addressed in the
discussion so far.

For my "case study" let me stay within the context of literature to avoid
the possible confusions resulting from disciplinary perspectives. During
the course of a conference on the state of the field in Early Modern
Japanese Studies, one of the notable discussions focused on literature and
the related performing arts. The argument was advanced (correctly, I think)
that what is translated has a great deal to do with what gets studied in the
future. For many, reading translations provides the first exposure to
Japanese literature and creates the resonance between that field and the
personality of the reader/would-be scholar. Yet the discussion also
revealed that the image of Early Modern Japanese literature provided by
existing translations barely skims the field, leaving us with a rather
warped view of the literary world of the 17th to 19th centuries. To the
degree that translations influence the direction of the field, existing
translations will encourage scholars to focus on already translated genres
rather than explore those Tokugawa literary forms that would help us get a
better appreciation not only for the field as a whole but for the place of
commonly translated works within that context. What are the mechanisms by
which scholars might be encouraged to explore more broadly?

Further gnawing at me is another concern. Works like _Genji_ or of authors
like Saikaku are first translated because our Japanese colleagues treat them
as part of the canon of great Japanese literature. While I recognize the
merits of works that have led to that conclusion, I can think of any number
of cases in which non-canonical works of literature and art are potentially
as meritorious or at least as interesting as more honored counterparts, but
are not so readily called to our attention. It seems to me that one way for
non-Japanese scholars to contribute to the development of our respective
fields is to go beyond the objects of study as defined by our Japanese
colleagues. Such an endeavor can involve new methodologies and theories,
but it seems to me that a significant role can be played by looking beyond
the standard materials of study.

Finally, let me raise a practical, professional issue: the way in which
non-Japanist colleagues in our colleges and universities evaluate the
scholarly contributions of translation. I have been made aware of recent
cases in which critical decisions of promotion and tenure hinged on whether
or not translation was considered an act of scholarship. In these cases
literature scholars from other European languages treated translation as a
mechanical, rather than scholarly act. In the case of many translations
from Japanese, I think such evaluations are absurd, yet the claims of these
kinds of people receive a pretty warm reception among many non-literature
colleagues, especially those in fields that do not involve much use of
foreign language sources or whose experience is limited tot he major Western
European languages. In this context (and perhaps in partial answer to the
question I raised about incentives to move beyond the tried and true), it
seems to me that translations of unexplored genre or works that can
challenge in some way the past intellectual configurations of the field are
likely to be more persuasive grounds for seeking tenure and promotion.

I've gone on long enough!

Phil Brown
Ohio State University

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 14:52:53 +0900
From: B.M. Bodart-Bailey
Subject: Re: translating

Janine wrote:

"Since most of us derive our main financial support from teaching, not
translating, I think we can afford to do this."

"This" being: "... the only work you should translate is the one that (when
you read it in the
original) calls out to you like a lover and whose call you can not resist."

This is very sound advice to all those who have managed to derive their
"main financial support from teaching." But don't let's forget that there
are large numbers of young and not so young scholars who have not yet
managed to do so on a permanent basis, and that getting one of those coveted
tenured teaching jobs (or even getting on the short list) unfortunately
often depends on a fairly crude count of publications. In this case spending
several years translating something regardless of whether it has a chance of
publication is not very sound advice: it could even spell the end to an
academic career.

In view of Phil Brown's remarks on the much debated value of translations
in job applications, which I can only confirm, it might be kinder not to
encourage young scholars without permanent jobs to spend their time on any
kind of translation.

Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey.
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 03:16:25 -0500
From: Wayne Farris
Subject: Towards "macrohistory"

Here I go again!
How come literary works and art are doubtful objects of the historian's
craft? Of course one must not be literal-minded, but does that approach work
even with so-called "historical documents"?
In the same vein, world historian and general wiseman William McNeill
has something useful to add to what we've been discussing. At least I think
it's important. In an article entitled "Colleges must Revitalize the Teaching
and Study of World History," McNeill wrote in the August 8, 1990 issue of the
CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, "...Surely it is absurd to ask high-school
teachers to teach a subject (world history) that they cannot study in most
institutions of higher learning because colleges and universities busy
themselves exclusively with other comparatively tiny and even trivial
questions. Yet this is what is happening; and the more prestigious the
institution, the more indifferent historians are to the pressing historical
question of the age: how to put together what we know about the past so that
world history may emerge as an intelligible whole, something that can be (and
obviously should) be taught.
Reasons for this seemingly irrational behavior are obvious enough.
Professional reward comes from publication, and the quickest path to
publication is to polish a Ph. D. dissertation until some press accepts it.
And Ph.D. dissertations, built on the ideal of exhausting all the relevant
original sources after a short period of research, must by necessity be
confined to a very narrow chronological, geographical, and thematic compass.
All too often the result is trivial and of interest only to a very narrow
circle of specialists, Yet because it is based directly upon texts someone
once had some reason to write down (and that happen to have been preserved and
become available to researchers), this sort of history is deemed scholarly and
somehow respectable.
Writing on macrohistorical questions (from world history), however
urgent they may be for our understanding of the past, is felt to be suspect
simply because paraphrase of original documents plays a very minor role in
such writing....
...What historians in our graduate schools and prestigious colleges are
doing is to deny the need for a different level of historical study from that
permitted by the Ph.D. dissertation and research built directly upon original
Macrohistory requires the same (as macroeconomics): new concepts
applied to new data from the past--data collected on the basis of old
documents, archaeological remains, and other evidence in response to questions
put to the past by historians who are no longer content merely to purge old
texts of apparent or probable errors, paraphrase the residue, and call the
result scholarly. The old ideal of scholarship simply suppresses dimensions
of the past of which contemporaries were not aware, but which may seem central
in retrospect....
In other words, written and unwritten evidence of a lively intelligence,
addressing real questions of historical interpretation and synthesis, ought to
count for more than narrow, conventional articles and monographs in making
tenure and salary decisions...."
Enough, already!
Wayne Farris

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 08:42:07 +0000
From: Richard Bowring
Subject: Re: More on translation

Just in reply to this last paragraph, I would be interested to know just how
many copies Professor Herail has sold of her Midô Kanpakuki! Anyway, she is
busy and productive:

FRANCINE HÉRAIL: Notes journalières de Fujiwara no Sukefusa: traduction du
Shunki (tome premiere)

Richard Bowring

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2002 21:28:55 +0900
From: Michael Watson
Subject: translation

French-readers who don't know it already should certainly have a look at Francine Hérail's earlier selections from Shunki, which are still in print. This is a gem of a book. And the perfect introduction to anyone who has preconceptions about kanbun diaries being on the dull side. Fascinating--and moving too.

Fujiwara no Sukefusa, Notes de l'hiver 1039 Editions Gallimard, 1994. 132 pp.
12.31 Euros on

As Richard Bowring has already mentioned, the first volume of Hérail's planned complete translation has now come out. I had a chance to look through it quickly the other day and ordered it that very night. Very much like Mido kanpukuki--very full annotation. Not available on Amazon, but can be found on the publisher's own site:

Francine HÉRAIL
Notes journalières de Fujiwara no Sukefusa. Traduction du "Shunki". Tome premier (1038-1040)
Geneva: Droz, 2001
760 pp. ISBN: 2-600-00649-4
96.00 Swiss Francs
When you reach the list of series click
Hautes Etudes Orientales - Extreme Orient
(accents omitted)
Online orders possible but as the site is not secure you might want to fax an order to Droz in Switzerland: + 41 22 347 23 91

Michael Watson

in progress...