As I was poking around the JLPP site this morning, I came across this recent interview with translator Michael Emmerich, who has translated more than a dozen books from Japanese, including Asleep, Goodbye Tsugumi, and Hardboiled & Hard Luck, all by Banana Yoshimoto and The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P by Matsuura Rieko, which was on an earlier JLPP list, and I believe is coming out from Seven Stories early next year.
(As a sidenote, Emmerich is going to be part of a translation panel here at the University of Rochester taking place on October 1st and also featuring Marian Schwartz, Edward Gauvin, and Martha Tennent—more details to come.)
In response to the opening question about Matsuura Rieko’s fiction, Emmerich has some interesting things to say about both the book and women’s writing in Japan.
Some years ago, it struck me that most of the writers I was reading in Japanese were women—people like Enchi Fumiko, Tsushima Yuko, Tawada Yoko, and many others. I still have the sense that a fairly large proportion of the writers I find most interesting are women. You can imagine that, until recently, when men really occupied the center of the Japanese literary world, it must have been incredibly difficult for women to break into publishing. But perhaps in some ways that situation also enabled women writers to be more experimental than their male counterparts, or to experiment in different ways.
When I was a Master’s student at Ritsumeikan Univeristy, in Kyoto, a good friend recommended Matsuura Rieko to me, and I made a mental note of her name. Then one day during a visit to Keyaki Shoten, one of the dozens of bookstore in the Jinbocho area of Tokyo, I happened across a signed first edition of The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P. I started reading it on the train back to Kyoto, and I was completely sucked in—I simply couldn’t put it down. And since lesbianism is one of the main themes of the book, and that’s not something you see all that often in Japanese literature, certainly not Japanese literature in English translation, I had the sense it could have a big effect on the image of Japanese literature in English. Part of what I’m trying to do as a translator, I think, is to help readers see that there’s more to Japanese literature than just Kawabata Yasunari and Murakami Haruki.
He also touches on the situation of translation within the academy:
When the late Edward G. Seidensticker and other scholars of his generation were on their way up, establishing themselves as scholars, translation was really the only way to go—there was a pressing need to introduce Japanese literature to scholars in other fields, to show them that it was worth studying. And of course translation was the only way to do that. But by the late 1970s, once translation had established the field, people began to ask whether translation really ought to be counted as scholarship at all. “Theory” was on the way in, especially in English departments, and there was a strong sense that Japanese literary studies needed to head in that direction, too. And so, by the 1980s, translation was something to be actively avoided. People sometimes ask me “So are you a scholar or a translator?” But the truth is, that’s not a question you can ask—it’s not a choice we have in this field. You can only be both. And yet if you do a lot of translation at the same time that you’re active as a scholar, people tend to pass over the scholarship and focus on the translation.
But his reason for learning languages is my favorite part of this interview:
As a child, I really liked to read, and my sister and I had a dream that one day we’d be able to speak seven languages. We figured that if we could learn seven languages, we could speak a different one every day, and that would be really great.
Though far from the most convincing reason to read literature in translation, one common side effect is learning of another culture, of its history. Within that, and a stronger motivation to read, is the discovery of stories not possible within. . .
Despite cries that literature is dead, dying, and self-replicating in the worst way, once in a while a book comes along to remind readers that there’s still a lot of surprise to be found on the printed page. To be. . .
“I was small. And my village was small, I came to know that in time. But when I was small it was big for me, so big that when I had to cross it from one end to the other,. . .
A few weeks after moving into a farm house in the Welsh countryside, Emilie, an expatriate from the Netherlands, starts to think about her uncle. This uncle tried to drown himself in a pond in front of the hotel where. . .
Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
In Aira’s Shantytown, while we’re inside the characters’ heads for a good portion of the story, the voice we read on the page is really that of Aira himself, as he works out the plot of the book he’s writing.. . .
Noir is not an easy genre to define—or if it once was, that was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away; as a quick guess, maybe Silver Lake, Los Angeles, 1935. When two books as different as. . .
Some time ago I read this phrase: “The page is the only place in the universe God left blank for me.”
Pedro Mairal’s short novel The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra is more about these blank spaces than the usual full. . .
“What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone . . .”
So reads a typical aphoristic “poem”. . .
If you somehow managed to overlook the 2012 translation of Andrés Neuman’s breathtaking Traveler of the Century (and woe betide all whom continue to do so), you now have two exceptional works of fiction from the young Argentine virtuoso demanding. . .