Konferenz, 9. September 2021

Symposium: Translating Contemporary Japanese Poetry

9. September 2021, 10:00 - 12:00
Anmeldung per Mail an anna.fees@uni-trier.de

The DFG Center for Advanced Studies “Russian-Language Poetry in Transition” (FOR 2603) cordially invites you to a symposium with Leith Morton, Takako Arai and Azusa Ōmura streamed live via Zoom. Please register by e-mail with Anna Fees (anna.fees@uni-trier.de) no later than September 8th, 2021, to receive the stream’s access data.

The speakers at this symposium will present three Powerpoint presentations on various perspectives arising from the issue of translating contemporary Japanese poetry. These perspectives include such matters as intralingual translation and dialect, cybertext verse and the transposition into printed poetry and problems relating to the cultural context of Japanese poetry. The symposium will be followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Participants: Leith Morton (Professor Emeritus, Tokyo Institute of Technology), Takako Arai: Avant-garde poet (Associate Professor, Saitama University), Azusa Ōmura (Associate Professor, Yamanashi Prefectural University)

Leith Morton – Professor Emeritus, Tokyo Institute of Technology


This paper will explore issues relating to the translation of contemporary Japanese poetry across several areas. These areas include: the challenges of translating into Japanese, with regard to both syntax and the Japanese writing system; transculturality, specifically touching upon the closed context-dependent nature of interactions between Japanese poetry and society and the challenge of translating tanka, a lyric genre of Japanese traditional verse, as well as issues of translation relating to shi or contemporary vers libre. These issues will be considered in an explicitly international and comparative context. The study of poetics in contemporary Japan embraces both the traditional and the global and so will this paper.

This paper is divided into four sections:

  1. Translation: Theory and Practice
  2. Yotsumoto Yasuhiro: Language Written by Language?
  3. Ōguchi Reiko: Lyric Language as the Real
  4. Brief Concluding Note

1. Translation: Theory and Practice

Section 1 will examine, firstly, linguistic structures, including logographic writing systems, to assess the impact on translations of Japanese contemporary poetry into English. I will begin by listing salient features of Japanese syntax, using various authorities’ descriptions of the Japanese language. I will also examine theories of transculturality and translation.

2. Yotsumoto Yasuhiro: Language Written by Language?

In this section, I will examine the free verse poetry of Yotsumoto Yasuhiro (b. 1959), a major modern poet, whose work is already available in translation (two volumes of English translations).

3. Ōguchi Reiko: Lyric Language as the Real

I will also investigate the verse of a poet who works in traditional modes with the emphasis on issues associated with translations of her verse: namely, my translations of tanka by the distinguished contemporary tanka poet Ōguchi Reiko (b. 1969).

4. Conclusion

The conclusion will summarize the findings arrived at the previous sections but will also look at the case of Wagō Ryōichi (b. 1968), the acclaimed shi poet whose original tweets at the time of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake were transformed into poetry.

Takako Arai – Poet, Translated by Leith Morton

This original English paper, based on two Japanese articles, is divided into 5 sections and is a discussion of how the famous Japanese poet Ishikawa Takuboku (1886-1912) is translated into local North-Eastern Japanese dialects in a variety of media. The author, the well-known poet Arai Takako, has edited a Japanese volume (in English translation Poems of Ishikawa Takuboku in the Voices of Tohoku Grandmas 2017, which displays annotated versions of the original texts of Takuboku’s verse (all belonging to the tanka genre), together with the dialect translations, and adds passages of commentary. The paper consists of analysis of the translations into local languages of individual poems from this book, but also discusses larger, theoretical issues associated with dialects, poetry, and translation. The sections are:

  1. Takuboku and North-Eastern Japanese Dialects
  2. History of North-Eastern Dialect Literature
  3. Voices and Individuals
  4. Strength of Feelings
  5. The Vessel of Time
  6. Nostalgia for Dialect

The first section sets the stage with an outline of Takuboku’s relationship to the North-Eastern districts and questions the notion of dialect as against language. The second section is a brief history of North-Eastern literature, discussing several poets from this area who composed verse in dialect. The section also links the issue of dialect with the notion of the evolution of the modern nation-state of Japan. The third section analyses in some depth the complexity of local languages by examining the responses of the elderly ladies from the North-East who facilitated the translations through their local idiolects. The fourth section takes this discussion further. The fifth section is a linguistic investigation of tense and aspect in the North-Eastern local languages compared with standard Japanese, using Takuboku’s poems as the primary corpus. The last section discusses the impact of the Greater East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 (centered on the North-Eastern districts) on subsequent literary works written after the event that dramatize the multifaceted issues of local versus national in respect of identity, language and literature.

Azusa Omura – Associate Professor, Yamanashi Prefectural University

Gendai shi techō (Contemporary Poetry Handbook, 1959-Present) was launched in 1959 and has been one of the leading poetry magazines in Japan till now. The journal features the current trends in poetry and criticism and emphasizes the connection between contemporary poetry and Modernist poetry. During the interwar period, Modernist poets attempted to transcend the genre of poetry itself, as seen with Murano Shirō (b. 1901) who combined poetry and photography in his collection Taisō shishū (Gymnastic Poetry, 1939). Also, the avant-garde poets Takiguchi Shūzō (1903-79) and Kitazono Katsue (1902-78) combined poetry, art, and design. Most Japanese Modernist poets learned of French Modernist poetry through reading the Japanese translations which were made by Horiguchi Daigaku (1892-1981).

The tendency of broadening the limit of poetry has been inherited by such contemporary poets as Saihate Tahi (b. 1986), who won the Nakahara Chūya Award in 2008 with a poetry book, Good Morning. Saihate has held exhibitions of her poetry at Yokohama Art Museum in 2019 and at Art Gallery Artium in Fukuoka in 2020. In the exhibition at the Yokohama Art Museum, white plastic boards on which poems were printed were hung from the ceiling and people could read them while walking through the exhibition rooms. The installation allowed the visitors to ‘experience’ her poetry. In addition, Saihate posts her works on Instagram and Twitter, which draws attention from young readers. Works of the Modernist poets and contemporary poets have frequently featured in Contemporary Poetry Handbook.

Saihate Tahi has been known for her unique writing style: not limiting herself with short sentences, rather composing long paragraphs resembling prose. The ‘Prose Poetry’ style was also seen in the interwar period in Japan. The first English translation of Saihate Tahi’s work was published in 2020, titled Astral Season, Beastly Season (the Japanese title is Hoshi ka kemono ni naru kisetsu). This is the first novel Saihate wrote, about two male high school students who are passionate fans of a female J-pop idol. She committed a crime, and they attempt to save her from the situation using illegal methods, incriminating themselves. The internal monologue of the main protagonist, one of the high school students, occupies more than half of the story, which easily reminds readers of Saihate’s distinctive style of poetry—long sentences with punctuation marks. Thus, her work could be placed between poetry and a novel; and Japanese readers see this novel as one of the works of Saihate Tahi, a famous contemporary poet, in the context of Japanese poetry. However, English readers do not recognize the background while reading it, since this is the first English translation of her work. Therefore, the English translation can be regarded as focusing more on Japanese contemporary culture, such as Idol culture, than the uniqueness of her writing. This article examines the features of the original work and the English translation, clarifying the differences between how Japanese and English readers accept Astral Season, Beastly Season.

Leith Morton: Translating Contemporary Japanese Poetry: Breaking the Barrier of Language