Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Chapter 3: Food or Enemy? The Villagers decide

The man continues his search and wanders further into the sand blown landscape where, his theory assures him, somewhere lays his chitinous quarry and a bid at immortality. He stumbles upon a deep pit, at the bottom of which he can make out a dwelling or hut of some kind. He steps to the edge to take a photo and almost loses his footing.

While recovering his composure at the edge of this deep abyss, he is disturbed by the sudden appearance at his side of a nervous old man. The old man seems at pains to find out whether or not the man is here for the purpose of ‘inspection’. He explains that he is an insect collector and the man wanders off. A bit further on he sees three other men, whom the old man joins and the 4 men seem to have a heated discussion…then…the old man returns.





















‘Just as he was about to get back into focussing on his search for the beetle, the old man came rushing back.

‘So, you’re really not someone from the prefectural office?’

‘Prefectural office?......no, you’ve got it completely wrong.’

As if he was fed up with all this talk, he abruptly took out his business card. The old man took a long time reading it, his lips moving as he did so.

‘Oh, so you’re a teacher then’

‘I have no connection whatsoever with the prefectural office’

‘Hmm, so you’re a teacher’

Finally, apparently satisfied with this explanation, the corners of his eyes wrinkled up and he went back, respectfully holding the business card in front of him. It appeared that the other three men were similarly satisfied and with that they got up and left. But the old man came back again.

‘By the way, what do you plan on doing now?’

‘What am I..well I’m going to look for insects’

‘But the last return bus has already gone’

‘Isn’t there somewhere around here I can stay for the night?’

‘Stay for the night? In this village? The old man’s face tensed.

‘If I can’t stay here, I can walk to the next village’


‘Well as it happens I’m not in any particular hurry’

‘No no, you needn’t go to all that trouble……’ he suddenly became quite voluble in his eagerness to help,

‘As you can see, it’s a poor village, there aren’t any decent houses really, but you just need to say the word and I’ll ask around for you and try to help you out.’

…………………………………………………………………………(Break in text here)

‘Thank you, I would be grateful it if you would, and of course I will show my appreciation……I really like staying in these villagers houses.’


かまわず : Literally, not minding or being bothered. Here I have translated at the man focussing back on his task in hand and by implication not paying any mind to anything else.

県庁 : Prefectural Office. Government Office sounds a bit too vague and I suppose Prefectural Office sounds too specific. Then again there are so many slightly differing nomenclatures that it’s hard to get a catch all term that just doesn’t just ‘slip off’ due to being too loose and general – and I think that this is the very issue with such terms as ‘government office’. Furthermore in British English it sounds very odd and something like ‘Local Authority Office or Council Office might be more suitable…though that falls into the opposite camp. Hence I have decided to go for Prefectural Office to reflect that the novel is set in a Japanese idiom and not necessarily meant to be an everywhere/nowhere in the sense of a Beckett novel. As an aside there are an awful lot of American English translations of Japanese novels. I think that a British English translation would be quite different and for that reason alone this kind of project is quite fascinating.

もう沢山だと言わんばかりに : This phrase literally comes out as ‘as if to say I’m not going to say so much about it’, the sense being that the man is exasperated with the possibility of a long winded Q and A session and going round the houses to explain to the old man that he is not a G-Man. -ばかりに after と (here as -だと) ha the meaning of ‘as if to’

目尻いっぱいに皺をよせ :’wrinkled up the corners of his eyes’. This makes for a vivid description of the coin dropping in the old man’s mind and the light of understanding coming on. An interesting word here 目尻 literally ‘eye ass/butt’.

どうって : I wanted to bring this out in my translation since it I feel that it is indicative of the insect collector’s attitude to the old man – impatience and looking askance at his questions as if he should be able to work things out. It reminds me of the exasperation of Captain Mannering with the slower of his subordinates, or Ollie explaining things to Stan and Stan’s rather simple and child like questions. I think that to miss this out is to miss something of the interplay between the two. This is brought out more in the way in which they speak to each other but that is harder to reflect since modern English no longer has such subtleties and nuances of register that Japanese has. The old mans speech is a sort of countrified way of speaking to a stranger, sort of a hotchpotch of polite terms and his country old geezer dialect mixed up. The only decent parallel I can think of for this are the excellent portrayals in the Ghost Stories of Montagu Rhodes James, where there is often a scholar who comes from a very academic and intelligent background dealing with a local bumpkin in order to glean information on a relic or ancient place. In this novel we have the urbanite educated man with the old uneducated villager trope.

上がりのバス : In Japan the Kanji Up and Down are used for  direction of transport: the Up train would be normally used of the more important or significant station e.g. towards Tokyo or the major town or city on a line and the Down train away from the city towards the suburbs or lesser destination. We have an equivalent in English in ‘going up to Oxford’.

老人の顔のどこかが、ひくついた : E Dale Saunders has this as ‘The man’s face twitched.’ But there is bit more going on here surely. The literal translation has it as somewhere on the old man’s faced twitched/tensed’ and from that alone, you get a sense of a barely perceptible movement – a slight tensing, indistinct because of the どこかが.

I really think sometimes that translators try so hard to get a text punchy and crunchy and tight that something falls off in the process. I think that AK has more poetry in him than a strict new wave minimalist interpretation allows. I feel this is doing him an injustice and it’s why I also don’t put him even remotely in any similar category with other close contemporaries. One, his poetry, often denied in a too tight rendering and two his surrealism or downright irreality..Often imitated by later writers but never with his panache or level of disturbance.

まくし立てるような調子になり : E Dale Saunders has ‘loquacious’ for this phrase (literally ‘bundling or wrapping it all up together’) but I prefer ‘voluble’ since the former means just talkative and voluble has a sense of pouring out words in a rush in a sudden enthusiasm. So for me this is much better in the context of the old man, who, up until this point has been behaving like an exasperatingly (in the man’s eyes) slow dullard. My pocket dictionary has this entry for the meaning:


言いたいことを一方的に言う。「早口で-・てる」 スーパー大辞林 三省堂

民家 : Literally ‘private dwelling’ but in this context ‘villagers house’, I might add it comes across slightly condescendingly from the insect collectors style of diction (pretentious and haughty).

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Woman in the Dunes - End of Chapter 2 - Tripping on the Sand

Woman in the Dunes – Chapter 2 Section 4 end p.16-17

The chapter ends with the man’s/Abe’s meditation on insect collecting and the environment, in particular, the sand. The scientific/Latinate terminology AK uses emphasizes the character of the man as one of reason, science, exactitude – the naming of the beetle he discovers in the riverbed during a childhood hunt, Cicindela japonica Motschulsky, the exact and uniform measurements of sand particles, the scientific rationale culled from learned journals and encyclopaedias for their behaviour. Paradoxically as a result of this language the man is sharply delineated against the barren and endlessly shifting sandy landscape – so that its definition or nature can’t be pinned down and his vaunted hopes of a limited kind of immortality as a result having his name added to the Latin name of a new species he is hunting here seem very much in doubt, barely possible in this surreal landscape that could hardly even support life, let alone immortality.

The novel is often referred to as Kafkaesque, but I think that there is a lot more to this work than the casually bandied about term implies – it’s far too surreal and obscure and downright weird to be limited by such a misleading moniker. Not that Kafka lacks the above upon occasion but with Abe, it’s taken much further, like comparing Les Paul/Chet Atkins with Jimi Hendrix!! There is also the fact that Kafka is a much more familiar name to potential readers and therefore easy to hang other writers on – especially those from less familiar soils. Perhaps like describing a promising African novelist as ‘Amisesque’ rather than on their own terms.

At best we can say that throughout Abe’s works there are signposts with Kafka’s name hastily daubed upon it …but the name is partially obliterated by the shifting hallucinatory Abe-ian sands and on occasion seems to read as something completely different. ‘This way to the beach’ – pointing of course, in the wrong direction.

It would be great if there was a thesis directly comparing the two writers’ work and core concepts. Perhaps somewhere there is- the fact that I haven’t found one so far belies the rarity of such a project. One of the possible ‘problems’ for a comparison could be Abe’s high surrealism, it got him into trouble (political, critical) throughout his life no doubt – could it be otherwise? Like feedback sometimes it gets out of control…it’s still unclear as to what is going on at the deeper or rather further out levels of the novels and by extension Abe’s worldview. In the last paragraph, we are drawn into the shifting patterns of his illusions as he lets his thoughts wander over the sands. The sand seems metaphor for time? The irresistible flow of fate? The universe? Or movement as opposed to stationary existence and stagnation? Even in the midst of apparent death, life goes on.


‘Indeed, sand was not suitable for life. But was a fixed position absolutely indispensable for existence? Wasn’t this very determination to hold on to a fixed position the start of unpleasant competition? If one were to give up a fixed position and give oneself up to the flow of the sands, then competition would soon cease. In fact, even in the desert, flowers bloomed, insects and other creatures lived. Using their great ability to adapt, these creatures were able to escape the bounds of competition -an example of this was his beetle family.

As he concentrated his imagination on the patterns of the flowing sand, he was caught up from time to time by hallucinations in which he began to feel as if he himself was starting to flow.’


こそ I translated it as ‘very’. It’s a tricky emphatic suffix to decide how to translate but here seems to me to indicate that the very act itself is what leads directly to unpleasant consequences.

ありえないはずである Literally ‘inconceivable or impossible’ so it could betaken to imply that giving up your body to the flow, competition would be unable to take place or be waged, since it takes a fixed position to fight from or protect. Competition would cease but using that word (I followed DS since it feels like a slightly tighter fit) on its own is apt but loses the nuance of impossibility or inconceivability.

も ‘even in the desert’ I note it here since it is absent from DS translation. Why? I am not sure since it does have a clear function here and its lack significantly alters the sense, the point being that even here where fixed positions seem impossible due to flow and the harsh environment etc., life still appears.

競争圏外 Literally, ‘outside the field of competition’. I was tempted to use bounds since AK I feel is referring to the competitive arena of the ‘normal’ everyday world and its unpleasant struggles.

ハンミョウ Tiger Beetle or Cicindela japonica

心に描きながら Interesting one. This came up in my dictionary as ‘visualise’ imagine etc. I think that ‘muse’ does not satisfactorily contain the full image for me, the man standing at the brink of this flowing sand world looking at the shifting patterns (or seeing them in his imagination) and being spaced out or hypnotised by the hallucinatory effect. Musing just doesn’t do it here for me – that’s more of a sitting down and not looking at anything in particular but just thinking deeply about something. I think that there is a visual hypnotic dimension here that should not be missed out. Also I feel that the verb 描く  especially lends itself to a visual interpretation and needs to be in there.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Woman in the Dunes - Chapter 2, Section 3 continued p10-11

Woman in the Dunes – Chapter 2 Section 3 continued p.10-11

The story continues with the man reaching some signs of habitation at the coast as the landscape gradually becomes more sandy and barren. He stumbles across a village and as he make his way through it notices something strange.

I chose this section to highlight since it reminds me a little of what Abe Kobo has said about his novel being a tribute to Lewis Carroll. It is a physical landscape which seems to develop a topsy-turvy logic where walls, floors and even sand hills create a strange almost illusory atmosphere. It’s a prefiguring of the trap he is unwittingly walking into, as he minutely observes through the man’s eyes, each house sitting at the bottom of a sand depression, isolated or trapped in their own individual prisons. At this stage, however, the passages still have a dream like rather than overtly nightmare quality.


‘The road gradually began to incline more steeply and became sandier, and the strange thing was that the walls of the buildings didn’t get any higher. Only the road did. The village itself stayed level. No, that wasn’t quite it; it wasn’t just the road, the spaces between the buildings too were getting higher, just like the road. So from one viewpoint, although the whole village was sloping uphill, the actual buildings were being left behind on the surface. This impression became all the more pronounced as he continued forward until finally all of the houses became buried in the sandy slope and looked as if they were each standing at the bottom of a deep hollow. In fact the height of the slope went higher than that of the roofs and the rows of houses gradually sank deeper into the hollows created by the dunes.’



Literally ‘the sand became more and more sandy/sand like’. The sand before was presumably a mix of hard ground and sand and the text has previously alluded to the consistency of the terrain underfoot. Here we have the sand to hard ground ratio gradually leaning toward the sand part. The line is quite vivid for me as I remember that feeling of walking from the start of the beach towards the dunes (say at Camber Sands in the UK) and the increasing softening and loss of purchase of the foot. Again a metaphor for the protagonist losing control over the physical environment and becoming caught helplessly up in it.


It’s a great moment of vivid drama where you can almost hear the man’s inner voice, urging him to correct his initially unsatisfactory description of the elusive Cagliariesque landscape around him. A moment of self doubt and an attempt to pin down this dream like and bizarre environment he is stumbling through.

境 (さかい)

Lit., border or boundary/divide. Here I thought ‘spaces’ more appropriate since he seems to be referring to the areas between the buildings (and the sand levels) are also rising.


I had a bit of trouble with this. I thought does this mean, from a point of view (any) it could appear to be so, or from his point of view, or one way of looking at it. It could even be ‘seen from this angle’ in the sense of his current ‘camera position’. So I plumed from the old translators cheat; a word or phrase which in English could mean both or either. It could be much like the Japanese and possibly even intentional from the authors POV. I suppose it depends how directly/indirectly you are going to take the word or phrase. I get the image of him looking down around him at what is happening to the houses so it’s directly for me. Of course comments re this are most welcome.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Tale of the Heike - New Translation out in Penguin Books

Just a quick Bookflash. I am always a bit slow regarding these things but a new translation of the Heike Monogatari has been published in Penguin Hardbacks by Royall Tyler. Its been out since January this year (hence my apologies for the slow flash) but has been garnering some decent reviews. It retails at 30 GBP but can probably be resting in your laps at a much reduced price via Amazon...

I am reading through the Bruce Tsuchida translation published by the Tokyo University Press and using it as a crib with the Iwanami Koten series text. It will be interesting to compare the two since the styles are bound to be quite different the translation I am using currently seems quite loose in some places.

It's one to put on the wish list for sure and for more details you can go here

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Woman in the Dunes -Chapter 2 - Section 1 continued. p-8-9

Woman in the Dunes – Chapter 2 Section 1 continued  (p.8-9)


‘Finally, the houses petered out and gave way to pine forest. At some point the ground changed to fine grained sandy soil that clutched at the soles of the feet. Here and there, clumps of dried grass cast their shadows upon the sandy hollows and still, as if by mistake there appeared the odd meager-looking aubergine plot, the size of a single tatami-mat. But of any human presence there was no sign. There was no doubt now that the sea lay just ahead.’

松林 Pinewood. I see the trees here scattered and increasing in frequency as part of the change of the landscape as opposed to a discrete outcrop of plants or a grove. The gradual and apparent imperceptible changes in the landscape heighten the sense of unreality or impossibility to pin down the changes, when they happen, exactly what they are, what they mean and here いつか is one of the words in this passage that conveys this indistinct, vague and dreamlike quality to the description. It’s one of his key words and crops up from time to time as well as others (and not only in this novel) to make sure the reader never really feel that he is on solid ground.

I am hammering on about this a bit because I think it’s important not to lose sight of Abe Kobo’s lyrical/poetical sense when translating. It is very deceptive when encountering his prose and I think that a lot of translators including my humble and oft mistaken efforts) can fall into the trap of seeing only the stark modernism in his writing. I have a feeling that we can tend to project the ‘minimalist’ image a bit too much and the underlying lyricism is in danger of being erased with a French style new wave approach to rendering this prose. The only prose I can think that really achieves such starkness is Beckett in the Malloy series. But Kobo Abe’s final agenda is not one of such starkness. Or if on the surface it is his initial intention, it’s a conscious failure almost as a demonstration of his surrealist rejection of scientific logic and communistic utopianism together.

He has stated that this work was homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (or possibly Through the Looking Glass, I will have to check that out) and that for me as well his affinity with Kafka’s work leads me to try as much as possible to heighten that surreal otherworldliness.

間違えたように As if by mistake. As if it wasn’t meant to be there.

一枚ほどの The size of a single (tatami) mat. I think you have to put this in since just ‘mat’ might mislead some into thinking we are talking about some kind of micro-farming.

まるで Again emphasis or intensifier of the sense of empty surreal and non-human landscape. This section strikes me a sort of airlock part of the novel where the man has left the known inhabited world and is now passing through a non-world in human terms, his self exile, and his (temporary) freedom from human conditions.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

古典Corner 3: Nuns go crazy on Magic Mushrooms

One of the selected translations I read recently from  the Konjaku Monogatarishu (the tale I am referring to is in the Japan (Honcho) section本朝世俗部 section of the work,  今は昔の物語 二十八巻第二十八 「尼共、入山食茸舞語)  relates the strange tale of some woodcutters who losing their way on the mountains north of the capital, encounter a groups of wildly dancing nuns, unable to stop dancing like crazy due to having eaten some ‘dancing’ or 舞茸 maitake mushrooms. The nuns invite the woodcutters to partake of the same mushrooms and lo and behold, they too start uncontrollably busting a few moves all over the mountain forests until they are all danced out and collapse in a pile of rave weary woodcutters. Well, it is a volume dealing with humourous or ridiculous stories滑稽譚and this one certainly fits the bill but could it also be a very early example of (un)holy drug abuse?
The translation I read is in Haruo Shirane ed. Traditional Japanese Literature, An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, but it also seems to have caught the imagination of some other translators, notably an Esperanto version here . I wanted to see if I could find a manuscript version of the tale in order to have a closer look at the original text (as original as possible) but it does not seem to be a surviving part of the Suzuka manuscript (鈴鹿家旧蔵本) at Kyoto University Library. The collection of tales are from a variety of sources, some other earlier collections and possible transcriptions of orally transmitted tales not written down elsewhere, and according to the Wikipedia entry for the Suzuka Manuscript that it’s likely that it is the source manuscript from which the other later extant fragments and works originate although the whole picture about the Konjaku seems misty at best.
I wonder if there was more than one compiler or a team of compilers (a monk version/s of the Brothers Grimm either travelling around or collecting orally transmitted folk and local tales from travelers from other regions as well as using earlier collections of setsuwa) over many years and in several areas added to the work building it up into the 31 Volume beast that it became…has anyone read all of the tales contained in it?
Maitake (舞茸), or Grifola Frondosa, an edible polypore mushroom which is often found growing at the base of oak trees and common to Japan. It is traditionally used in Japanese and Chinese herbal medicine (as well as being eaten for food generally) as a regulator of blood pressure and a general tonic for fortifying the immune system. It is known in Japan as 舞茸 probably due to the undulating wavy form of its lobes suggesting a dancing image. And yet I can’t help thinking that the nuns may have stumbled upon a patch of psilocybin –rich lookalikes.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Woman in the Dunes Chapter 2 Section 1

Chapter 2 (page 8-18) covers the journey from the everyday world from which the man has disappeared to the insect collecting grounds where he hopes to find his sought after specimens and make a name for himself. There are roughly four or possibly five sections in this chapter. The first section deals with his arrival at the end point station and his heading off in the direction of the seaside.


‘On an August afternoon, a man, a big wooden box and a water flask slung crosswise over his shoulders, his trouser bottoms tucked into his socks and wearing a grey piqué hat, looking for all the world as if he were off on a mountain climbing trip, stepped down onto the platform at S- Station.
And yet there was nothing here in the way of mountains worth climbing. The station staff at the ticket gate waved him through with an involuntary expression of surprise.  Without dropping his stride, the man jumped into the bus outside the station and headed for a seat right at the back. It was bus headed in the opposite direction to the mountains.’

ある八月の午後:    As I mentioned before this is a reprise of the opening of Chapter 1. And so seems to be almost like a second Chapter 1 as opposed to a Chapter 2. The impression of déjà lu adds a layer of surreality to the novel. Was the first chapters August this one? Is the man who disappeared the same man in chapter 1?
I looked briefly at the Dale S. Saunders translation of these initial passages and he seems almost perfunctory in his treatment, resulting in a kind of stark realism or quasi-factual prose style but I think that this loses the strange unreal atmosphere and the feeling that we are travelling in the wrong direction in the universe into a place where imperceptible changes take place, when exactly it is hard to tell and the crossing of a border into an untenanted and mysterious world. I will touch more upon this in the section following.
まるで:   Looking for all the world..’ Alternatively could be translated as ‘as though’ or ‘as if’. But I think that ‘まるで gives that impression that the guy is decked out in the whole mountaineer/hiker look in all its slightly train-spotter glory and quite brazen in a way or obviously standing out’

ピケ帽:    I wonder what this hat actually looks like, not only in my imaginations eye, but what comes to the eye of the Japanese reader (or other readers of the Japanese for that matter) I have put it down as a (Fr, Piqué) cap which refers to the material it’s made of or at least the design of the weave. The shape is something I am more interested in is the shape. I can see a cotton hat with a short brim all the way round, the kind you see old geezers wearing when they go fishing or for a ramble in the countryside. Does this matter anyway? Strangely it does to me! Insect hunters just don’t wear any old hat they have to wear those fishing hats to look the part! I often wake up at night wondering about the type of hat the protagonist of Woman in the Dunes is wearing. I have not seen the film for many years so I am really quite in the dark over this apart from my mental image of the grey fishing hat. It’s also a good way of heightening the strange atmosphere by contrast – the hat and some objects the man is carrying are described minutely – the environment he is moving in begins to shift and becomes hard to define, to pin down. For me this heightens the intensity or resolution of the lone figure in an increasingly otherworldly landscape.

S:  This reminds me of the 学校の会談 series of books I used to read…many a year ago when I was learning Japanese and looking for a fun (and creepy!) way to improve my reading skills. In A School, F Town in H Prefecture it’s said that if you walk round the toilets three times..you know the rest..It gives a kind of anonymity but at the same time it could be a real town, it could be YOUR town! You can see this in some literature of the 18th-19th Century in England. I am thinking of the ghost story in particular and specifically those of M.R.James where only the first letter of a town or the name of an estate is given, leaving in place of total anonymity, a tantalizing clue as to the possible identity. Let’s face it, at this point in the novel, the station has more of a name/identity than the protagonist who is still just ‘a man or the’ man at this point – and you can’t say that with many novels.

つい不審の表情で見送った:   It’s the つい part that I am particularly concerned with here. In this context what is it doing? What does it mean here? Can it be left out or changed? I think it implies an involuntary action or reaction, so the station staff could not help but look at him with a quizzical air. So it’s quite important to have this in the text and in translation. The idea being that in Japan and doubtless in other countries station staff as well, it’s not appropriate to react openly to a passengers appearance however odd or out of place. Here the appearance was so unusual that the station staff could help himself and hence つい.

ためらいも見せず:  Literally ‘without showing any hesitation’. I jazzed it up a bit.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

古典 Corner 2 - 蜻蛉日記

I reached the section dealing with this Heian period work yesterday. The Anthology I am reading just gives a few excerpts from the whole poetical diary but even from that little its clear that its a work of great psychological and emotional depth.

It was written around the end of the 10th Century CE by a figure we have come to know as the mother of Michitsuna and is an example of the diary literature genre 日記文学 of the period. The diary covers the period of the authors life 954-974, 天暦8 to 天延2 (The Era dates Tenryaku 8 to Ten'en 2), and in terms of format is divided into 3 sections consisting of memoir, day to day entry style and a mixed section of poetry and observations/reflections.

It also features several examples of poetry (of remarkable depth and elegance) that are exchanged between the author and her husband Fujiwara no Kane'ie, a noble who had attained the post at court of Captain of the Right Guards. They would have probably been texting each other nowadays...how times change and yet remain the same!

It is often regarded (I have read quite amusing asides by readers of various editions and formats of the work) as a dark and sombre, even depressing piece of literature, but there are also great moments of levity,  as well as vivid and detailed description too in the midst of her constant relationship woes. It is really remarkably moving and well worth poring over. It is not entirely clear to me whether this is a 'real' diary or not - perhaps it will never be entirely sure and the work does seem very egocentric almost self-obsessed to the exclusion of other people and events as seperately realised objective figures. Fascinating as an early example of prose fiction still on its newborn tentative fragile legs and significant as the very few works of its kind of any length that has survived pre-Genji Monogatari. The transcriptions are based upon a composite amalgamation of texts and fragments.

There is an interesting article entitled 'Style and Point of View in the Kagero Nikki' - Watanabe Minoru and R.Bowring on JSTOR (From Journal of Japanese Studies Vol.10,No.2 (Summer 1984) which is in turn based upon a translation by Richard Bowring of a chapter of a book by Watanabe Minoru, 'Heiancho Bunshoshi' Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai 1981 (「平安朝文章史」東京大学出版会 1981).

Amongst other things the article deals with Watanabes concept of the 'unmediated author' of the Kagero Nikki and a contrasting appraisal of the prose work and poetry as vehicles of expression and degree control of emotions in the Kagero Nikki.

From Watanabe's interesting and at the time (1981) novel appraisal, bringing his skills as a Language history expert and expertise in stylistic analysis to bear on weighing up the artistic merits of the text it would appear that this works position/status in Japanese Literature is a trailblazer (albeit an unconscious one) in early Japanese prose fiction - not entirely successful but certainly a significant precursor if not enabler of greater works to come such as the Genji Monogatari. It is also noteworthy as one of the first works to have been written for its own sake as opposed to having been commissioned by another.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

From here on in..Chapter 2 and beyond: Structure

Chapter 2 will be the subject of the next posts. It seems to me that this is the real beginning of the action of the novel from the standpoint of the protagonist. There is more substance to the following chapters than the prescript of Ch.1 so what I plan from here on in is the following:

1. Give an indication of the Chapter characteristics in terms of the text I am using (cf. the first post re Woman in the Dunes for my purposes referred to as WOD from now on). So for example Ch.2  is from pp 8-18 in the text I am looking at.

This will help when I am referring to a passage that I may not post in translation but wish to mention in connection with a comment or reference.

2. Describe a overview of the structure of the 'action' or content of the individual chapter. So with Ch 2., I can break it down into about 5 sections.

3. Post a selected passage for translation and language/style comment from each section of a given Chapter structure.

4. Give a synopsis or recap every so often so that I can remind us all of where we have been with the novel and where we might be headed.

5. Provide links to freely available and free access articles about the novel and related subjects. I have found a couple already but although very interesting as they are they refer to the novel as a whole (spoiler alerts and so on) and cover areas I have not posted about so I will leave them until a bit later on.

Next up will be Chapter 2.

I still haven't located a copy of the 1991 English translation of Dale Saunders (in Penguin Modern Classics) so I am still flying by the seat of my pants translation-wise so I am sure to be making some errors. When I can get hold of it for comparative purposes I may have some more things to say re that! I am very interested in the process or 'art' of translation, especially in terms of Japanese novels and therefore will be trying to add more about the process I am going through to arrive at a given take on a particular passage, phrase or word.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Chapter 1, Part 2. Continued II – Insect Collectors and Sexual Deviancy (Bonus Vibe – ‘Owning’ Kafka)

The chapter continues in a speculative vein but attempts to delve further into what kind of man it was that has disappeared. We learn that his wife gave out the information that he was off on an insect collection trip. This initially quashed the first wave of speculation in the text (the narrator) as to the nature of the disappearance only to shift focus to the kind of adult who would engage in a hobby such as collecting insects.

‘It’s surely no mere coincidence that insect collectors often possess character traits such as a highly developed acquisitiveness, the attitude of the obsessive loner, kleptomania, homosexual tendencies even..one could argue that from there it is just a step away from misanthropic suicide.’

Apparently they aren’t healthy people! (Or rather this kind of thing is ok for a schoolboy but for an adult a worrying thing – signs of an Oedipus complex even according to the text). I had some difficulties with translating this part (as you might notice), for example,

I translated this as kleptomania and it may be a touch too much for something which the kanji suggests as just a stealing habit, but in the context of the stereotyped negative image of the adult insect collector, it seemed to fit. Similarly with terms such as 極端に排他的 I wanted to convey the Gollum like loner, mumbling 'my preciousss desune!' over a few rare black winged moths! 排他 comes out in my denshi-jiten as 'boycott/reject others at the expense of ones friends' but again the context of the solitary collector seems to imply a man who has retreated into his boyhood hobbies. (Note to Self: Must check on my full set of hand painted Sailor Moon figurines - only joking..or AM I?). Maybe his only 'real' friends are moths....moving on.

But to be fair rather than a character assassination, this first chapter has the atmosphere of nonplussed exasperation at there being no clues to the vanishing act. Chapter 1 seems to be the alpha and omega of the case and end s with the casual statement of fact of the man’s ‘missing presumed dead’ official status after 7 years of no news. Chapter 2 starts with the day in August again but it’s an August day outside of the open and shut Universe of Chapter 1. We are finally with the man as he sets out on his fateful collecting trip.
Bonus Vibe – ‘Owning Kafka’
My little joke here, Kobo seems to be riffing on Metamorphosis here with the man’s insect collecting hobby. The insects are subject to the protagonist’s will and seem to me to be an embedded reference or ‘nod’ to Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I thought it looked as though Kobo was ‘owning’ Kafka by saying ‘Yeah I got Kafka here in a little glass jar held by the protagonist!’ Ironically the man later becomes the trapped insect so the ‘owning’ is purely on Kobo’s part not the protagonist’s and of brief duration. Just a nod as I said.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Woman in the Dunes continued: Chapter 1 Pt. 2

Chapter  1 Continued:
The chapter continues regarding the disappearance and in the formal, slightly removed style of a police report of newspaper article, begins to speculate as to the nature of the disappearance and its possible motives:-
In the case of a murder or accident, there is a clear remnant of evidence, with kidnappings there is usually an apparent motive concerning those involved. But with a disappearance, which falls into neither one nor the other of these categories, it’s nigh on impossible to grasp hold of any clues.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Koten Corner - Current Reading

Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600

I am currently reading this book, the section I have jumped to is the Heian period since I am quite interested in Setsuwa and early prose works. Its a fascinating read so far. I am reading selections from the Nihon Ryoiki.
One thing leads to another - Rikusho Kanji Categorisation System

As I looked up the other kanji for たのしみin my electronic dictionary (I have 漢字源 改訂新版 on my rather out of date Canon Wordtank V35 but hey, it was a gift and its still more or less functional for my requirements and 漢字源(Kanjigen) seems a pretty adequate resource for the standard run of Joyo Kanji and a bit more) I noted in the analysis 解字(kaiji) description for 愉しみ the kanji was described as a 会意兼形声(kaii ken keisei) type which is Composite and Sound/Meaning Categories. This lead me to wonder what the other categories were and where the category system came from and I culled this from the intertubes and translated it:



Derived from Construction



These characters represent actual objects, shapes of things. They are the basic building blocks of kanji construction


Ideogram/Simple Indicatives

Non-representational diagrammatic signs, not based purely on shape, indicating more complex items, abstract ideas and objects.


Compound Indicatives

Composite characters based on a combination of two or more characters to convey a new or more complex meaning

比 (2 people
看、(hand + eye


Combination of a character representing the sound and a character representing the meaning. This type accounts for over 80% of Kanji


Derived from Use

Derived Characters

Extending the primary meaning of  a kanji to develop its use, giving it a new application


Phonetic 'loan' characters

Borrowing the sound of the kanji to represent a word unconnected with its original meaning


Note:  The system known as ‘Rikusho’is based on the system of categorization of 9353 Kanji description entries into four categories of derivation by construction and two categories derived from use (see above) compiled in a book known as the Shuowen Jiezi (J. Setsumonkaiji) 設文解字 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuowen_Jiezi , a Chinese character dictionary (possibly one of the earliest known comprehensive dictionary of Chinese characters in the sinosphere) compiled in the late Han (aka. Western Han) Era c. 120 CE