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Worlding Sei Shônagon

The Pillow Book in Translation

Valerie Henitiuk

Publication Year: 2012

The Makura no Sôshi, or The Pillow Book as it is generally known in English, is a collection of personal reflections and anecdotes about life in the Japanese royal court composed around the turn of the eleventh century by a woman known as Sei Shônagon. Its opening section, which begins haru wa akebono, or “spring, dawn,” is arguably the single most famous passage in Japanese literature.

Throughout its long life, The Pillow Book has been translated countless times. It has captured the European imagination with its lyrical style, compelling images and the striking personal voice of its author. Worlding Sei Shônagon guides the reader through the remarkable translation history of The Pillow Book in the West, gathering almost fifty translations of the “spring, dawn” passage, which span one-hundred-and-thirty-five years and sixteen languages. Many of the translations are made readily available for the first time in this study.

The versions collected in Worlding Sei Shônagon are an enlightening example of the many ways in which translations can differ from their source text, undermining the idea of translation as the straightforward transfer of meaning from one language to another, one culture to another. By tracing the often convoluted trajectory through which a once wholly foreign literary work becomes domesticated—or resists domestication—this compilation also exposes the various historical, ideological or other forces that inevitably shape our experience of literature, for better or for worse.

Published by: University of Ottawa Press

Series: Perspectives on Translation

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. i-vi

One of the distinct charms of Sei Shônagon’s Makura no Sôshi (generally rendered into English as The Pillow Book) is the striking series of leaps from one apparently random image, anecdote or list to another, which draw readers ever more deeply into a unique and uniquely engrossing...

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pp. vii-ix

Many friends and colleagues have offered valuable feedback and suggestions throughout the time I have worked on this book, such that it is impossible to thank everyone by name. I do need—and very much want—however, specifically to acknowledge David Damrosch, for whose invaluable...

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pp. 1-45

In 1889, one of the very first scholarly articles ever written in English on the subject provided a highly laudatory, albeit significantly orientalizing, depiction of what Western readers would discover in an encounter with Classical Japanese...

Sei Shônagon Classical Japanese

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pp. 47-49

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The First Generation of Western Translators

This first handful of translators, working into German, French and English, were among the intrepid early explorers of Japanese literature. Mostly self-taught, they accomplished a tremendous amount with very limited resources and are to...

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August Pfizmaier (1875) German

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pp. 53-57

An autodidact whose innkeeper father had originally intended to train as a cook, Pfizmaier (1808–1887) enjoyed a long and productive career at the Imperial University in Vienna. He lectured on and translated, inter alia, Turkish, Chinese and Japanese—his output related to China’s...

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T. A. Purcell and W. G. Aston (1889) English

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pp. 59-61

Theobald Andrew Purcell (1841–1877) served as Surgeon- Major for the British in Japan ca. 1870. In 1874, he published Our Neighbourhood, or Sketches in the Suburbs of Yedo, which described Japanese daily life (the various chapters, illustrated with engravings, deal with such...

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Koumé Kéitchirau (1892) French

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pp. 63-66

Koumé Kéitchirau (1866–1934) (his name is today more commonly romanized as Kume Keiichiro), was a Japanese painter and eventually professor at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and director of the Imperial Art Academy. He studied with Raphael Collin (a prominent...

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W. G. Aston (1899) English

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pp. 67-68

In his monograph, Aston revises and expands the material that can be found in the earlier paper co-authored with Purcell, increasing the number of passages he translates from six to eleven. He now characterizes the work as Sei Shônagon’s...

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Henry-D. Davray (1902) French

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pp. 69-72

Because the first history of Japanese literature originally written in French would not appear until 1935 (co-authored by Kuni Matsuo et al.), this 1902 version of Aston’s English-language work represented a significant publication. The first to publish a review of...

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Karl Florenz (1906) German

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pp. 73-76

Karl Florenz (1865–1939) is a major figure in Japanology, widely regarded as the father of the field in Germany. He taught German at Tokyo’s Imperial University, and his Geschichte der japanischen Litteratur (History of Japanese Literature) would serve as the standard reference work...

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Takéshi Ishikawa (1909) French

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pp. 77-80

Ishikawa (1883–1951) obtained a doctorate from the Sorbonne for his thesis on the zuihitsu genre, providing explanation, analysis and partial translation of Kenkô’s Tsurezuregusa and Kamo no Chômei’s Hojôki, as well as The Pillow Book. Invited to speak about Sei Shônagon before the...

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Michel Revon (1910) French

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pp. 81-85

This anthology of Japanese literature by Michel Revon (1878–1946) was to remain a seminal work for generations, influencing scores of French writers and intellectuals from Edmond de Goncourt to Marguerite Yourcenar. Revon taught in Tokyo for many years, and later at the...

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Paul Adler (1926) German

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pp. 87-89

This version of Revon’s anthology, by the Czech-born Paul Adler (1878–1946), which includes approximately three dozen passages from The Pillow Book, enjoyed wide circulation. Adler not only translated the entire book, but also revised it significantly. He replaced the latter’s...

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Second Generation

This next generation includes those taught by the first (e.g. André Beaujard was Michel Revon’s student), as is only to be expected, but also several autodidacts. Some work from already translated sources, but many do translate directly...

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Kuni Matsuo and Steinilber-Oberlin (1928) French

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pp. 93-96

Kuninosuke Matsuo (1899–1975) and Émile Steinilber- Oberlin (b. 1878) jointly produced numerous works on Japanese literature and culture. Matsuo, who held degrees from both the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (School of French Studies) and the Université de Paris, was...

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Arthur Waley (1928) English

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pp. 97-99

Arthur David Waley (1889–1966), né Schloss, is generally considered the West’s single most influential translator of Classical Chinese and Japanese. Within Japan as well, where many native writers once claimed to have first learned to appreciate The Tale of Genji via his English...

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Nobuko Kobayashi (1930) English

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pp. 101-103

This translation would appear to be the only published work of Nobuko Kobayashi (dates unknown). It is an abridged version, containing just over fifty passages, although the claim is made in the introduction that Kobayashi has indeed translated the entire text...

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André Beaujard (1934) French

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pp. 105-110

Beaujard (dates unknown) received a doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1934 for his research on Sei Shônagon, supervised by Michel Revon. The thesis comprises two volumes: one the complete and annotated translation cited above, and...

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E. M. Kolpakchi (1935) Russian

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pp. 111-114

Evgeniia Maksimovna Kolpakchi (1902–1952) belonged to the academic circle within Russia that between the wars aimed to produce translations directly from the Japanese rather than through an intermediary language. This important anthology contains...

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Helmut Bode (1944) German

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pp. 115-118

Helmut Bode (1910–1988) translated numerous Japanese works into German. His version of Sei Shônagon’s text is an abridged one, and this particular passage appears about two-thirds of the way through it. (In what would appear to be a simple oversight or printing...

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Gerhart Haug (1948) German

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pp. 119-122

This volume contains just over forty passages, with haru wa akebono appearing second (immediately after Sei Shônagon’s description of the genesis of her text). Interspersed among the passages are numerous reproductions of Japanese woodcuts by Utamaro, Hokusai and...

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Mamoru Watanabe (1952) German

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pp. 123-126

Watanabe, primarily known as a musicologist, had a long and extremely illustrious career. He graduated from Tokyo University’s School of Aesthetics in 1938 and from Vienna University in 1942. After teaching at both the Musashino...

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Zhou Zuoren (1958) Chinese

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pp. 127-130

Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967) was an important mainland Chinese essayist, political figure and translator, not to mention the younger brother of renowned modernist Lu Xun. They both travelled to Japan in 1906, where Zhou Zuoren studied Japanese language and literature. In...

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Ryôzô Matsumoto (1961) English

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pp. 131-133

This translation, by a native speaker of Japanese, appears in a small anthology designed to “convey historically and comprehensively the ideo-psychological trend of Japanese literature,” as the blurb on the inside front flap of the dust...

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Unity Evans (1965) English

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pp. 135-137

The original version of this book, La Littérature japonaise, appeared in France’s well-known Que sais-je? reference series in 1956. Roger Bersihand quotes Beaujard’s translation, retaining the square brackets but making considerable...

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André Beaujard (1966) French

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pp. 139-141

In his introduction, Beaujard comments briefly on the differences between this edition and that of three decades earlier: “First, in order to facilitate reading, I have done away with the brackets that I had used, in a work primarily...

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Third Generation

By the 1960s, thanks to the efforts of the earlier generations, Japan and her literary traditions had become much more familiar to the West. Tourists and business people were now visiting the country, and more and more students were taking...

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Ivan Morris (1967) English

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pp. 145-147

Morris (1925–1978) was a highly esteemed scholar and translator of Classical Japanese. His is the first English translation to render the full text, supplemented with a hefty second volume of scholarly notes, although it has circulated...

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Lydia Origlia (1968) Italian

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pp. 149-153

Lydia Origlia (dates unknown) is a prolific translator of primarily modern Japanese, known especially for her renditions of Mishima, Kawabata and Akutagawa. This translation of The Pillow Book is complete and was published not long after that by Ivan Morris...

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Kazuya Sakai (1969) Spanish

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pp. 155-158

Sakai (1927–2001) was born in Buenos Aires of Japanese parents. Educated in Japan from the age of seven, he obtained a degree in Literature and Philosophy from Waseda University before returning to teach Oriental Philosophy at...

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Marcello Muccioli (1969) Italian

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pp. 159-161

Muccioli (1898–1976) was a professor of Japanese language and literature at the Istituto Universitario Orientale in Naples and at the University of Rome. He translated the Hôjôki in 1930, wrote a volume on Shintoism in 1948, and contributed extensively to an...

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Nelly and Wolfram Naumann (1973) German

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pp. 163-166

Nelly Naumann (1922–2000) enjoyed an illustrious academic career in the field of early history and folklore. After completing her doctorate at the University of Vienna, where she studied Japanology, Sinology and Ethnology, she spent...

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Stanca Cionca (1973) Romanian

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pp. 167-169

Cionca, who now goes by Scholz-Cionca (birthdate unknown), is a highly respected Japanologist who has taught at various institutions in Germany and in Norway. She is currently Chair of Japanese Studies at the University of Trier...

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Vera Markova (1975) Russian

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pp. 171-174

Markova (1907–1995) was an important Russian translator, whose complete version of The Pillow Book, originally published in 1975, was reprinted in the 1980s and 1990s. UNESCO’s Index Translationum lists a Georgian translation...

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Miroslav Novák (1984) Czech

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pp. 175-177

This Czech translation is found in an attractive volume devoted to the three major examples of the Japanese zuihitsu: Notes made in moments of leisure: Old Japanese literary notebooks of Madam Sei Shonagon, Kamo no Chómei, Joshida Kenko (for a brief discussion of this...

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Tzvetana Kristeva (1985) Bulgarian

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pp. 179-182

Kristeva (b. 1954) is a Bulgarian scholar of classical Japanese literature and the semiotics of culture, with an MA from the University of Moscow and PhDs from both the University of Sofia and Tokyo University. In addition to several...

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Paul Heijman (1987) Dutch

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pp. 183-185

This Dutch translation of Sei Shônagon is based on the abridged translation published by Ivan Morris, although Heijman’s introduction states that he also referred to Morris’s complete version as well as to Beaujard’s (in an edition...

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Anita Kontrec (1987) Croatian

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pp. 187-190

This Croatian translation by Kontrec (b. 1954), edited by Nikica Petrak, is based on Ivan Morris’s abridged version. An afterword prepared by Vladimir Devidé references Aston, Florenz, René Sieffert (a major French Japanologist and...

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Lin Wenyue (1989) Chinese

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pp. 191-194

In a 1982 article about her experience as a translator, Lin writes as follows: “Generally speaking, the fundamental difference between Japanese and Chinese is that the former expresses feelings and emotions in a circumlocutory way...

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Charlotte Rohde and Lone Takeuchi (1989) Danish

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pp. 195-198

Charlotte Rohde (b. 1951) and Lone Takeuchi (b. 1947) are both natives of Copenhagen. Rohde graduated from Copenhagen University in 1979, and is a librarian at the Danish Royal Library. Takeuchi earned her PhD in Classical Japanese in 1987 from...

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Helen Craig McCullough (1990) English

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pp. 199-201

A renowned American scholar of Classical Japanese, McCullough (1918–1998) was the author of numerous important books and articles, and translated Kokinshû, as well as selections from The Tale of Genji, Tale of Flowering Fortunes and...

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Javier Sologuren (1993) Spanish

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pp. 203-206

For this important anthology of both premodern and modern Japanese literature (a second edition was published in 2001), Sologuren was himself responsible for most of the translations, working from a French version or, occasionally, in...

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Fourth Generation

This most recent generation has witnessed increasing global receptiveness toward Japan and its culture, as well as a broader range of media by which it is commonly accessed. While of course physical books continue to be published (with volumes in new languages...

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Mark Jewel (ca. 1998) English

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pp. 209-210

Jewel, who earned his PhD in Japanese from Stanford in 1985, joined the School of Political Science and Economics of Tokyo’s Waseda University in 1987. He is now Associate Dean for International Education, and teaches English and...

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David Greer (2000) English

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pp. 211-214

David Greer (b. 1952) was raised in Pennsylvania, but has lived in Japan since 1982. He is currently Associate Professor of English at Tosa Women’s Junior College in Kochi City, Shikoku, and has published a number of articles in the Kyoto Journal and has also written...

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Mercè Comes (2000) Spanish

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pp. 215-218

This passage appears in Comes’s recent translation of Michel Revon’s seminal anthology—done some ninety-five years after that work first appeared in French. The Spanish book proved popular enough to be reprinted in 2001. Comes...

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Amalia Sato (2001) Spanish

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pp. 219-222

Sato (b. 1952) is an Argentinian “sansei”, or grandchild of a Japanese immigrant, and a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. She is also editor of the journal Tokonoma, Traducción y literature (Tokonoma, Translation and Literature; a...

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Iván Augusto Pinto Román, Oswaldo Gavidia Cannon, and Hiroko Izumi Shimono (2002) Spanish

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pp. 223-226

Peruvian scholars Pinto Román (b. 1950) and Gavidia Cannon (b. 1963) collaborated with Izumi Shimono (b. 1964), a Japanese literature specialist then resident in Lima, to translate the entire Pillow Book. (They later went on to translate jointly the...

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Kenneth L. Richard (ca. 2003) English

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pp. 227-228

The website created by Kenneth L. Richard (b. 1940), associate professor (now retired) with the Siebold University of Nagasaki, comprises some brief introductory information on Sei Shônagon, with links to other resources, and translations of seven...

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Simon Cozens (ca. 2003) English

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pp. 229-231

Cozens (b. 1978), a computer programmer and preacher— he moved to Japan in 2007 to work as a missionary—with additional interests in music and photography, created this now archived webpage for what he describes as “a new translation of...

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Jorge Luis Borges and María Kodama (2004) Spanish

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pp. 233-236

Borges (1899–1986), the famed Argentinian writer, enjoyed a lifelong interest in both literary translation and Japan. He is said to have translated Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” at the age of nine, for example, and in the 1930s, he reviewed...

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Tuncay Birkan (2006) Turkish

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pp. 237-240

This first Turkish translation, funded by the Japan Foundation’s Support for Translation programe, acknowledges earlier versions by Morris, Beaujard and Watanabe, as well as two Japanese editions. Birkan, born in Istanbul in 1968, graduated from...

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Meredith McKinney (2006) English

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pp. 241-243

McKinney (b. 1950), a freelance writer and literary translator of both modern and classical Japanese, taught English at the Kobe University of Foreign Studies for two decades, but now lives in her native Australia, where she is a visiting fellow and lecturer at...

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Valerio Alberizzi (2006) Italian

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pp. 245-247

Alberizzi (b. 1973) received his doctorate in Japanese Linguistics from the University of Foscari in Venice and was a lecturer in Japanese in the department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Bologna from...

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Xavier Roca-Ferrer (2007) Catalan

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pp. 249-251

Roca-Ferrer (b. 1949) has a PhD in Classical Philology. He has translated many classics from Latin, German and English into Spanish and/or Catalan, and his Spanish version of The Tale of Genji appeared in 2005. According to the foreword, this version of...

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Jos Vos (2008) Dutch

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pp. 253-256

Some forty excerpts from The Pillow Book (identified as dating from the late tenth to early eleventh century) appear in this anthology of Classical Japanese literature, which itself numbers almost eight hundred pages and is titled...

Appendix I: Romanization of original and Romanization with English gloss

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pp. 257-260

Appendix II: A selection of book covers from the translations

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pp. 261-272

Appendix III: A selection of modern Japanese versions

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pp. 273-292


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pp. 293-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780776619798
Print-ISBN-13: 9780776607283

Page Count: 330
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Perspectives on Translation