Japanese Texts in Motion: Translation, Circulation, and Institutions in the Early Twentieth Century (2015-16)

Person in Charge: Shion Kono (E-mail shion@sophia.jp)

Other FLA and non-FLA Sophia faculty involved:
・Noriko Murai (FLA)
・Angela Yiu (FLA)

Short Statement of the Goals and Purposes

Debates on “world literature” in comparative literature in the last twenty years or so brought renewed attention to the ways in which literary values are created away from the point of origin. David Damrosch’s definition of world literature as “literature that gains in translation” succinctly makes this point. Damrosch and others discuss how the meaning is created in the process of circulation and translation of literary texts, instead of merely tracing the meaning of the texts back to the moment of creation. In other words, the examination of circulation and translation offers a critical insight into the act of interpretation itself. The debates also highlight the geographical, institutional, and methodological diversity of interpreting literary texts, despite the apparent unity of a global literary market.

This renewed focus on circulation and translation of literature can provide a fresh perspective into the studies of Japanese literature and Japanese texts in general. We wish to examine various aspects of the global flow of texts, people and ideas related to “Japanese texts” in the early twentieth century. First, we wish to examine early translation of Japanese literature into European and Asian languages (focusing on the period between the 1900s and the 1940s). The translation affects the reading and writing of the original literary texts, as writers such as Ōgai Mori were highly conscious of the possibility of their works being translated. Also, texts of Japanese bilingual writers such as Kakuzō Okakura and Yone Noguchi circulated across national borders, contributing to the construction of the images of “Japanese culture” within and outside Japan.

We are particularly interested in the role of various institutions involved in the circulation of Japanese texts. For examples, availability of Japanese texts (written in European languages or in translation) were linked with the transformation of academic disciplines related to Asian culture and the rise of Japanese studies in the West in the early twentieth century. The international network of publishers, writers, and institutions (private and governmental) was also significant. We hope to illuminate the roles of these institutions and their networks in the early twentieth century. We envision this project to be translingual, transcultural and interdisciplinary. Given the potential scope, the collaboration of scholars with different linguistic and cultural expertise is vital. We also hope to invite scholars in disciplines outside of literature, searching for approaches to illuminate various aspects of this phenomenon.

Description of Concrete Proposed Activities and Expected Research Outcomes

We will enter the third year of this project as an ICC research unit. During the Academic Year 2014, we invited Prof. Michael Emmerich to give a lecture (“From Fear to Beauty: The Materiality of Writing and the Early History of Japanese-English Translation,” July 17, 2014). We are also planning on additional workshops in January and March 2015. Kono also gave a number of lectures in various venues, including an invited lecture at SOFEX research exchange program (at Sogang University on November 6, 2014). We feel that we now have the critical mass in terms of material and research interest that should enable us to work toward an edited volume. We will begin to work toward the goal. In addition, we would like to plan another workshop and a few additional lectures. One of them might involve Prof. Dennis Washburn, who will be a visiting professor at FLA in Spring 2015 and who is scheduled to publish a translation of The Tale of Genji in 2015. In addition, we would like to discuss potential plans for publication, both in English and in Japanese.


International Workshop:Translation and Japanese literary studies (July 18, 2015)
Lecture for Sophia Open Research Week: Light and Darkness―Reflections on the Study of Japanese Literature in Germany (November 17, 2015)