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Articles tagged "Japanese Literature"

“Me Against the World” by Kazufumi Shiraishi

Kazufumi Shiraishi’s Me Against the World is, according to its subtitle, a novel, but would be more accurately described as a work of philosophy with a fictional framing device. The “publisher’s foreword” fictionalizes the main text by presenting it as the work of a Mr. K, an old friend of the “publisher.” Their friendship was not what one would describe as intimate, but it was marked by deeply meaningful exchanges through correspondence and in...

Spirit Summoning, Part VI

The next time we met, Yoko pretended that the Shikoku conversation had never happened. Following her lead, I didn’t bring it up either. After the summoning job was done, Yoko turned to me. “I’m going to your house today. I promised your mother I would stop by.” So that was it. She’d obviously decided that it would be easier to convince my mother than it would be to try to change my mind. Mother greeted Yoko at the door and led her into the room with the...

Spirit Summoning, Part V

Yoko asked my name. Usually I’d stop and think about it, make a point of recalling the name. This time I decided not to. I didn’t think, didn’t search for the name. Didn’t try to respond. I wanted to see what would happen. Yoko grew annoyed as I just sat there. If I kept it up much longer it would kill the atmosphere of the summoning. Just as that thought crossed my mind, my mouth started to move. “Ito,” it said. “Ito? The spirit’s name is...

Spirit Summoning, Part III

My mother’s always been selfish and immature. She could be frustrating and drive me crazy from time to time but even I knew that there’s no such thing as a “perfect parent.” In any case, she always managed to keep her behavior within forgivable limits. I didn’t start to think there was anything really strange about her until last autumn, when funny rumors began to spread through the neighborhood. They started when a neighbor’s cat was found floating in...

Spirit Summoning, Part I

How much longer until we got there? The road was ridiculously wide. Empty but for a thick carpet of weeds, the plains on either side stretched into the distance with not so much as a single house to be seen. I was starting to get worried. Could this really be the way to the client? For once Yoko was quiet as she drove. She was usually full of unwanted advice after our meetings, but not today. Today the car was filled with the low hum of the engine and an oppressive silence. Having said...

Translator Relay: Alfred Birnbaum

Our "Translator Relay" series features a new interview each month. This month's translator will choose the next interviewee, adding a different, sixth question. Stephen Snyder passed the baton to freelance translator and cultural critic Alfred Birnbaum. In addition to many of Haruki Murakami's early novels, Birnbaum has translated the work of Miyabe Miyuki, Natsuki Izekawa, and Nu Nu Yi. He also compiled the short story anthology Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese...

Translator Relay: Stephen Snyder

Our "Translator Relay" series features a new interview each month. This month's translator will choose the next interviewee, adding a different, sixth question. John Balcom passed the baton to Japanese translator Stephen Snyder. Snyder has translated works by writers such as Kenzaburo Oe, Ryu Murakami, Miri Yu, and Kafu Nagai, and his translation of Natsuo Kirino's Out was nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery novel. He is also a professor of Japanese...

On Bugs and Buttons: Translating “Ladybirds’ Requiem”

It's not just the dearth of young girls in sailor uniforms with big eyes, tiny noses, and hair so long as to render actual movement nearly impossible that separates Akino Kondoh's work from that of most Japanese manga. Trained as a fine artist, Kondoh moves from manga to animation to painting to sculpture, and these different practices come back to inform her manga, most obviously seen in the movement that fills the pages of her comics. She is one of few manga artists in Japan who...

Translation Roundup

READ Honors and Awards Congratulations to Sharon Olds, this year's winner of the UK's TS Eliot Prize, for her poetry collection Stag's Leap! Check out the International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist, which includes several young novelists. The winner will be announced April 23 at an awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi.  The 30 finalists for the National Book Critics Circle book awards include Lauren Binet's novel HHhH, translated from the French by Sam...

The Real, the Familiar: An Introduction

Tokyo was unnervingly cool and pleasant early in July. The rainy season had only just begun, and yet, after a single, massive, unseasonal typhoon, there was no rain for at least a week. The peculiarity of the weather perfectly complemented the surreal, uncanny tenor of the fiction in our July issue of Words without Borders—the first part of a special double issue of Japanese fiction designed to resonate, as I suggested then, with the mood in Japan in the wake of the catastrophe...

That Morning, When It

Tokyo Metropolitan Highway No. 14 is less congested at 4 a.m. than it is during the day. And with fewer lights to get stuck behind at this hour, people tend to drive fast too. As I inhaled the smog-infected air, I debated which way to go after walking out of the building, then decided to go left, in the direction of Chōfu. It had been less than a year since I moved into his apartment, and I didn’t really know the area too well, but I figured if I followed this metro highway...

From the Archives: Ghosts on the Bridge

As a transition between the two parts of our double issue of Japanese writing, you might want to revisit Michael Emmerich’s essay "Beyond Between: Translations, Ghosts, Metaphors," from our May 2009 issue. Michael details the multitude of possible Japanese renderings for the word "translation," demonstrating the subtle differences between gradations of meaning; he notes that the word "translation" implies—requires—the existence of other languages, "points to itself as...

The Decline and Fall of a Translator’s Brain

Just when you think you’ve figured out what is going on in the Toh Enjoe story “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire,” you trip on another oblique reference to some bit of the outside world. It’s a story that bears up to—and in fact, requires—multiple readings, as EnJoe takes pieces of pop and folk culture and replaces the original subject with his “Galactic Empire.” By the third line of the story, my translator sense...

The Reality of Dreams: An Introduction

A little more than a year has passed since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck forty-two miles off the coast of northeastern Japan, raising a tsunami that swelled as high as 131 feet in places and left nearly 19,000 people dead or missing. In a matter of minutes the wave swept whole towns off the map, then precipitated a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that released 169 times more cesium 137 into the atmosphere than the atom bomb the U.S. dropped on...

The Hole in the Garden, Part III

“Hello?” There was no answer. I put the phone back down. I turned to go back to the kitchen and it rang again. I picked it up, wordlessly this time. Again nothing. As soon as I hung up it rang again. After this happened a few more times I just unplugged the phone. Quiet at last. I took the leftovers from the freezer and put them in the microwave. I didnʼt bother trying to figure out who might have been calling or why. Maybe it was a telemarketer, bitter because I had...

The Hole in the Garden, Part II

The woman showed up exactly one month to the day after the pigʼs arrival. I had just finished cleaning the house and was thinking about feeding the pig before I started waxing the floors when the doorbell rang. The woman on the intercom video screen looked like she was some kind of salesperson. I decided to pretend I wasnʼt home. Then, however, she leaned forward and brought her lips—caked thick with lipstick—up to the microphone. “Iʼm Hanamura, I work...

Japan, One Year Later

On March 11, 2011, the Tōhoku region of northeastern Japan was rocked by a violent earthquake and tsunami that triggered an accident at a nuclear power plant. We mark the anniversary with poems by two Japanese writers, both translated by Jeffrey Angles. In "Do Not Tremble," Sayaka Ohsaki finds the shifting earth "an unruly cradle  / A cruel cradle that lets / Neither adult nor child sleep"; Toshiko Hirata's "Noisy Animal"  declares, "I am an animal that...

Do Not Tremble

It trembles It is trembling again today I did not know that the earth Is an unruly cradle  A cruel cradle that lets Neither adult nor child sleep   It is March, it is spring It should be a gentle season of vernal sleep  When one sleeps so deeply there is no dawn But spring this year Shakes us to keep us From falling asleep   Earth, it is enough For you simply to  Keep spinning happily Leave the trembling To windblown flowers and Laundry hanging in...

The Hole in the Garden, Part I

I stared up at the moon, large and round in the sky, clenching a fistful of pebbles. I donʼt know what time it was. I suppose it must have been around midnight. Just beyond the cinder-block wall all the second-story windows in our neighborʼs house were dark. Just as the windows of our house were dark behind me. I stood in the back garden. I say “garden” but in fact it was nothing more than a narrow strip of dirt separating the rear of the house from the high...

The Navidad Incident: The Downfall of Matías Guili

The Navidad Incident takes place in the fictional South Sea island republic of Navidad. The novel opens as a delegation of Japanese war veterans pays an official visit to the ex-World War II colony, only to see the Japanese flag burst into flames. The following day, the tour bus, and its passengers, simply vanish. BUS REPORT 1 At 6:00 A.M., lowest ebb tide, a bus was sighted crossing the lagoon between Gaspar and Baltasár islands, sending ripples across the surface. The yellow...

Shigeru Mizuki’s “Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths”

The Japanese story form known as manga—with its extended plotlines and distinct pictorial style—falls somewhere between graphic novel and comic book. Widely read in Japan, where it is a $4 billion industry, manga depicts stories of everything from shogunate sword fights to the lives of high-school tennis stars. A typical work may contain several shorter storylines and can range from 200 to 400 pages in length. Despite the genre’s popularity in Japan, important works of...

I am I

I know who I am Now I am here I might disappear at any moment But even if I do I am still I The truth is that not being I would be fine too I am to some extent a blade of grass Perhaps to some extent a fish A dully gleaming crystal too Whose name I do not know And of course I am mostly you            Because even after being forgotten I cannot fade away I am a repeating melody Hesitating, I am a faint wave-particle that came...

Director’s Notes on “Sway”

I based my first film on a dream. A dream also inspired my second film, made three years later. Through a gloomy thicket in the shadows of a tree bathed in white light, I witnessed a scene still clearly etched in my mind. A man knelt alone on the edge of a cliff, staring down at the pool of a waterfall far below. A woman had sunk in its depths. I think she had been his friend. As he gazed at the stately waterfall in the mountains, he had whooped and hollered. Suddenly, wantonly, he...

The Last Picture Show

I’d just come up to Tokyo from a Kyushu port town that had a U.S. military base and was living with some friends in a crummy little apartment in a wooden building north of Inokashira Park. These friends had formed a blues band back home and hoped to find success in the big city. I played drums but wasn’t really passionate about carrying on with a blues band from the hinterlands of Kyushu. My main priority had been to get away from my parents, and they’d agreed to send...

Narcissus

I read “On the Conduct of Lord Tadanao” when I was thirteen or fourteen, and though I’ve not had an opportunity to reread it since, I still remember the plot some twenty years later. It’s a strangely poignant tale. A young feudal lord, an excellent swordsman, is in the habit of challenging his retainers to fencing matches. One night, after defeating all comers, he is strolling complacently through the garden when he overhears the following disconcerting words,...

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