2018/10/01  #004
Introduction to American Literature

Modern Japanese literature is exemplified in shi-shosetsu, that is, I-Novels—lyrical confessionals driven by the emotions sparked within the self.

Modern American literature, on the other hand, is about who did what—narrative epics less concerned about depicting what the author or a character has going on beneath the surface.

For this reason, American novels are relatively more straightforward to bring to the silver screen (whether that film is satisfying is another matter), and Japanese novels are not suited for visual storytelling.

These tendencies can be seen not only in literature and film, but in how Japanese and American people judge the actions of their respective peers.

Japanese people tend to make value judgments from an emotional place—why did this person do what he or she did? Or do their actions make sense to me?

Americans, on the other hand, are more pragmatic. They’re interested in what took place—the facts (recent political and social trends notwithstanding)—and exactly how much it all cost.

None of this is to say that one is better or worse than the other. It’s simply a matter of cultural differences.

Today I want to talk about some of the works of American literature that I grew up with and that have continued to stay with me.









■Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer(original English / Japanese version)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (original English / Japanese version)

I had my first true literary adventure in fourth grade. Like any average American, I read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Actually, I read the original English text first, and then Japanese translations my mother had obtained in Japan. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something off—discrepancies between the two versions—and that feeling would only continue to grow thereafter.

Come to think of it, this encounter may have been the impetus that set me down the path of becoming a translator.

Last year (2017), I learned that Shibata Motoyuki, professor emeritus at University of Tokyo, had translated Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. So I read that as well as his 2012 translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Both translations evoked that childhood frame of mind as well as an essential “Americanness”.

Comparing Shibata-sensei’s translations with the original texts only made me more impressed with his work. It also made me painfully aware of the long road I still have ahead as a translator.


トムソーヤの冒険(英語版 / 日本語版)
ハックルベリーフィンの冒険(英語版 / 日本語版)






Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

(original English / Japanese version)

The work of literature that had the biggest impact on me in middle school was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I immediately felt like there was something Japanese about Jonathan—like he possessed the Japanese spirit.

Having come across the book at a time in my life when I was torn about my identity—Was I American? Was I Japanese?—I remember really being able to emotionally relate to what Jonathan goes through.

I read the Japanese translation by Itsuki Hiroyuki after coming to Japan, and the experience truly opened my eyes to how playful translating could be. By that I mean that he had made a work that stood on its own—based on the original, but reconstructed from the ground up.

At the time, I was of the opinion that Japanese and English, Japanese culture and American culture—these things were so different as to be untranslatable. In that sense Itsuki Hiroyuki’s audacious reconstruction blew me away.

Back in 2014, I read the “Complete Edition”, which included the newly released part four, 44 years in the making.

I was then that I finally realized that Itsuki Hiroyuki’s version was not a translation but transcreation.

■かもめのジョナサン リチャード・バック著

(英語版 / 日本語版)








The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

 ・Original English
 ・Japanese translation by Nozaki Takashi
 ・Japanese translation by Murakami Haruki

The Catcher in the Rye is the book that made me a serious student of literature. When I first read it in middle school, it made me realize how words have the power to move us—that words strung together and woven into a story have the ability to express a world of limitless possibilities.

While I was studying abroad at Sophia University, I read the Japanese translation by Nozaki Takashi (published by Hakusui U Books), titled Raimugibatake de Tsukamaete. There were so many errors that I vowed that I would someday translate it myself.

Imagine my surprise, then, when a few years later I heard that noted author Murakami Haruki was publishing a new translation under the title Catcher in the Rye. I bought it the day it was released and read it in one sitting.

And I resigned myself to the fact that Murakami had beaten me to it.

■ライ麦畑でつかまえて  J・D・サリンジャー著

 ・日本語版 野崎 孝訳
 ・日本語版 村上春樹訳

中学生時代の僕が、文学の方向の勉強を本格的にすることを決めたのは、「The Catcher in the Rye」がきっかけです。言葉というものが、これ程、人の心を動かすのかと感じたからです。文字が繋がり、物語を紡ぐことで、無限の世界を表現できることをこの作品を通じて知りました。




The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 ・Original English
 ・Japanese translation by Nozaki Takashi
 ・Japanese translation by Murakami Haruki

One of my favorite books that I read in high school was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In college, when I began to truly study how English is translated into Japanese, this book and its many Japanese interpretations turned out to be the ideal subject.

However, at the time I didn’t find a single translation that even held a candle to the original, and I resolved to someday take up the challenge myself.

But surprise, surprise—once again I was foiled by noted author Murakami Haruki, whose translation loomed before me like some insurmountable wall. Nevertheless, I’ve never had qualms about throwing eggs at that wall.

■グレート・ギャッツビー  J・D・サリンジャー著

 ・日本語版 野崎 孝訳
 ・日本語版 村上春樹 訳




■Beat Generation

 ・On the Road by Jack Kerouac
 ・Howld by Allen Ginsberg
 ・The Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg
 ・Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

When I was in college, I got into Beat Generation writers in a big way. Their work is greatly underrated here in Japan, but in the U.S. the heart of the movement is alive and beating.

The Beat Generation writers were born between 1914 and 1929—during World War I and the post-war roaring twenties—and their work was popularized between about 1955 and 1964. Although they are sometimes referred to as “Beatniks”, this term was actually a media-coined term of disparagement that described a stereotyped image of the Beat Generation as hipsters and pseudo-intellectuals.

In the 60s, the counterculture element of the Beat movement would feed into the “hippie” movement; musicians like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix were greatly influenced by Beat Generation writers.


 ・路上 / オンザロード ジャック・ケルアック著
 ・吠える アレン・ギンズバーグ著
 ・麻薬書簡  ウィリアム・バロウズ、アレン・ギンズバーグ著
 ・裸のランチ  ウィリアム・バロウズ著




■Authors With an Idiosyncratic Worldview

 ・Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, translated by Motoyuki Shibata
 ・Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, translated by Murakami Haruki
 ・In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
 ・The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
 ・The Cider House Rules by John Irving
 ・Setting Free the Bears by John Irving, translated by Murakami Haruki (Motoyuki Shibata)

Great American authors have a unique way of looking at the world. In my estimation this can partly be attributed to the fact that America is a multi-ethnic country. Compared to Japan, which is largely ethnically homogeneous, America has a completely different cultural and societal makeup. There are people who say Japan’s prefectures are similar in concept to America’s states, but that is a complete misconception. The word “state” has many definitions but it carries strong connotations of autonomy; indeed, American states implement their own laws. (In that sense you could say they are similar to han—the feudal domains ruled by daimyo in the Edo period.) In America’s case, living in different states means more than simply residing in separate geographic locations—it means differences in demographics, income, ideology, and religious beliefs. Think of each and every one of those states as an independent “cell”, each protected by a very hard cell wall. Each “cell” has its own distinct history and traditions, and their own values. So naturally, stories having to do with a particular “cell” are very representative and carry a lot of depth. The “cell” of affluent Anglo-Saxons in New York City, the “cell” of people living in an poor region of the South, the “cell” of Nikkei—Japanese-Americans—in California...people of different “cells” live in completely different worlds.


 ・メイスン&ディクスン トマス・ピチョン著・柴田元幸訳
 ・ティファニーで朝食を トルーマン・カポーティ著・村上春樹訳
 ・冷血  トルーマン・カポーティ著
 ・ホテル・ニュー・ハンプシャー ジョン・アーヴィング著
 ・サイダー・ハウス・ルール ジョン・アーヴィング著
 ・ホテル・ニュー・ハンプシャー ジョン・アーヴィング著
 ・熊を放つ ジョン・アーヴィング著・村上春樹(柴田元幸)訳







■The Relationship Between Films and Literature

 ・The Shining by Stephen King
 ・Stand By Me by by Stephen King
 ・The Pelican Brief by John Grisham
 ・A Time to Kill by John Grisham

A number of the novels I’ve listed above have been adapted into film.

And since the 70s, more and more novels seem to be written with a potential movie adaptation in mind.

Americans, in all respects, are a people of extremes—people who like reading novels will have a book on hand all day, every day, all year long, but those who don’t read (or can’t read) may never truly read a book in their entire life.

In the same way, there is a clear idea of what kind of novels sell, and what kind don’t. Books that are adapted into films sell well (or books that sell well are adapted into films), so naturally, authors are increasingly writing with a view to the silver screen.

When it comes to translating prose into visual storytelling, the important questions become who did what, who said what, who wore what, and so on; the industry tends to stay away from works that paint a psychologically complex picture.

But in Japan, due to the tradition of the I-Novel, much of the literature is experiential and confessional, depicting psychologically complex inner lives. In other words, prose unfit for visual storytelling.

Take Matayoshi Naoki’s Hibana, for example—the original novel was certainly readable, but the movie and TV adaptations were practically unwatchable.

Stephen King and John Grisham, on the other hand, are two American writers whose works have been adapted for the screen time and time again—to significant box office success.

Which is no surprise, considering they excel at evoking visual images and are thrilling, gripping storytellers.

In Japan, too, authors like Higashino Keigo and Miyabe Miyuki have had many of their novels adapted into films. In these trying times for the publishing industry, you can bet that we will be seeing more and more screen-ready literature.


 ・シャイニング  スティーブン・キング著
 ・スタンド・バイ・ミー スティーブン・キング著
 ・ペリカン文書  ジョン・グリシャム著
 ・評決のとき  ジョン・グリシャム著











■Hardboiled Fiction and Minimalist Writers

 ・The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway (Original English / Japanese version)
 ・Cathedral by Raymond Carver, translated by Murakami Haruki (Original English / Japanese version)
 ・The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, translated by Murakami Haruki
  (Original English / Japanese version)
 ・The New York Trilogy(City of Glass / Ghosts / The Locked Room) by Paul Auster,
  translated by Shibata Motoyuki
 ・Honyaku Yawa by Murakami Haruki and Shibata Motoyuki

Hardboiled fiction has come to refer to a type of crime writing featuring gruff detectives and smug men, but the term originally referred not to the detective element but to the style of simple prose characterized by objective realism and a cynical, unsentimental attitude toward violence—much like a hardboiled egg has a tough exterior.

In that sense, you could say that Ernest Hemingway is a defining example of hardboiled prose

The same can be said for the prose of the “two Chandlers”, whose works have been translated into Japanese by Murakami Haruki.

From an art theory perspective, hardboiled as a style of prose is another way of saying minimalistic.

A minimalistic approach and style has strong ties to Japanese aesthetics, sharing many similarities with concepts like wabisabi and Zen Buddhist philosophy.

There are people who say that Murakami Haruki has a very “American-like” prose style, but from my perspective, it’s more of a Japanese take on minimalistic style. Reading English translations of Murakami’s works has only reinforced that view for me.

As someone who considers himself on the sidelines of the profession, I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the skillful translations that Murakami Haruki and Shibata Motoyuki produce. I tip my hat to them.

They have a way of producing readable Japanese that retains the nuances and the rhythm of the original text. I still have much to learn from their work.


 ・老人と海 アーネスト・ヘミングウェイ著(英語版 / 日本語版)
 ・大聖堂   レイモンド・カーヴァー著・村上春樹訳(英語版 / 日本語版)
 ・ロング・グッド・バイ  レイモンド・チャンドラー著・村上春樹訳(英語版 / 日本語版)
 ・ニューヨーク3部作(ガラスの街 / 幽霊たち / 鍵のかかった部屋) ポール・オースター著・柴田元幸訳
 ・翻訳夜話  村上春樹・柴田元幸著









BigBrother always tells me to always keep in mind that Japanese and English are completely different, not only in terms of grammar, but more significantly in terms of cultural background—and as such, direct translation is impossible.

He adds, “When translating, you must consider the relevant cultural and history background, or else you will never convey the meaning of the original text.”

The other day, at a press conference for a certain famous person there was an exchange with a reporter that went as follows:

Reporter: Do you have any favorite sayings?

Famous Person: Let it be.

“Let it be”, of course, is the title of a famous song by the Beatles, and this famous person likely meant it in the sense of wanting things to be “as they are” or wanting to “be oneself”. But BigBrother flew into a rage at the carelessness on display.

He started talking about how these three English words—let, it, and be—require the utmost careful consideration.

“Let” is a word that’s thrown around casually to express a request or suggestion, as in “let us...”, and the main dictionary definition is “to allow or permit”, but in the Old Testament passage “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) it is more of a command. Taking this into account, “let” can be understood as “the Lord permits”, and is distinct from the causative “make”, which means “to cause to be” “to bring about” “to induce”.

And “it” is used to refer to abstract ideas, inanimate things, and people whose gender is unknown. So babies are referred to as “it”, perhaps both because it may not be clear from the context if it is a he or a she, and because it lacks intelligence in the sense that we know it. By extension “it” can be interpreted as referring to a result not directly caused by God, but by humans.

And “be” is not used in the auxiliary verb sense, but rather in the Shakespearean sense: “to be or not to be, that is the question.” In other words, it means “to exist or live”. It is literally a matter of live and death.

Also interesting to note is that the words “let it be” can be found in certain translations of Luke 1:38 in the New Testament, in which Mary gives her consent to God’s word (that she will give birth to Jesus). God, of course, refers to the Christian God.

Taking all of these points into account, BigBrother maintains that he would interpret “let it be” as “I pray that the Christian God (or Mary, Mother of God) allows our foolish existence that we have brought on ourselves continue and never perish.”

It certainly lends an interesting interpretation to the Beatles song.

Regardless, I’d venture to guess the yaoyorozu no kamigami (the multitudinous deities of Shinto) would not allow “it”, nor would they forgive “it”. The traditional belief the Japanese have in the power of words is a fearsome thing.





ある有名人:“let it be”です



“let”は、“Let’s 〜”の形で“〜しましょう”という軽い意味で使われていたり、辞書でも“〜させる”という翻訳が用いられていますが、例えば旧約聖書の「創世記」では “Let there be light” (光あれ)と、神の命令として登場します。本来的には、“神が許す”という意味で、“make”の“人や状態が〜させる(使役)”とも異なるのです。


“be”という言葉もbe動詞の原形という軽い感じではなく、シェイクスピアの有名な“to be or not to be, that is the question”の“be”であり、生きるか死ぬかの問題であって、“存在する”という意味が含まれます。

更に言えば、この“let it be”という表現自体が「新約聖書」の「ルカによる福音書」(1-38)に出てくる表現です。しかも、ここでいいう“神”は、もちろんキリスト教の神であります。

なので、BigBrotherが意訳をするならば“let it be”という言葉は、“愚かな人間が作ってしまったこんな状況が、滅ぶことなく、続くことをキリスト教の神(聖母マリア)が許してくれることを願っております”という意味になるというのです。