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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare in Japan
  • Daniel Gallimore
Shakespeare in Japan. By Tetsuo Kishi and Graham Bradshaw. New York: Continuum, 2005. xii + 153 pp. Hardcover, $120.00.

The meeting of the Fifth World Shakespeare Congress in Tokyo in 1991 was a watershed in the study of Shakespeare's reception in Japan, since not only was this the first occasion for the congress to be held in an Asian country but, as Stephen Greenblatt commented, the most innovative papers were those dealing with Shakespeare and Japanese theatrical traditions. These papers were edited by Fujita Minoru and Leonard Pronko under the title Shakespeare East and West (Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library, 1996), an adjunct to the total theatre envisaged in Pronko's Theatre East and West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, there has been a steady stream of books and articles on the subject, mainly looking at aspects of performance; a search on the World Shakespeare Bibliography online ( reveals that 2,348 items contain the word "Japanese." Foremost within the internationalization of "Shakespeare in Japan" must come the late Takahashi Yasunari, who as president of the Shakespeare Society of Japan was responsible for organizing the Tokyo Congress, and Kishi Tetsuo, the first author of this book, emeritus professor of Kyoto University who succeeded Takahashi as a vice president of the International Shakespeare Association. Graham Bradshaw, the other author, is a distinguished Shakespeare scholar who has been teaching Shakespeare at Japanese universities, including Kyoto, since the mid 1980s.

Despite this flurry of activity, one is justified in wondering why anyone should be interested in Shakespeare's reception in this faraway island country. [End Page 293] One reason, as already suggested, is the internationalization of Japanese culture, which has driven directors such as Ninagawa Yukio as well as Japanese academics to find audiences outside the Japanese hothouse. Shakespeare is an easy vehicle for such exchange, although it is hard to imagine the National Theatre of Great Britain excavating Chikamatsu for their ideas. What is being exchanged is the dramaturgy and narratives of Shakespeare for a cultural relativism that serves more as a positive framework of the plays than as a force for destabilization. There is even a sense in which the iconicity of Shakespeare, like the survival of religious fundamentalism into the twenty-first century, has come to depend on the flux and uncertainty of the global, postmodern society. While we have always needed Shakespeare to remind us of our transience, the message may be all the more compelling when conveyed by an outsider. Intercultural Shakespeare doubles the foreignness of Shakespeare with a foreignness of interpretation, its moments of familiarity becoming therefore all the more consoling.

The essays that appeared in the two publications from Cambridge University Press, Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage (Sasayama Takashi, J.R. Mulryne, and Margaret Shewring, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge Univerity Press, 1998) and Performing Shakespeare in Japan (Minami Ryuta, Ian Carruthers, and John Gillies, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) either historicize this relationship or propose a holistic approach that locates the Japanese appropriation of Shakespeare within broader issues of cultural identity. Given the language barrier, issues of translation have tended to be ignored in English-language publications, although a recent comparative study by Friederike von Schwerin-High (Shakespeare, Reception and Translation: Germany and Japan, New York: Continuum, 2004) stands out in offering a detailed analysis of the rhetoric of translations, their tendency to both transcend and disappoint the original texts according to the demands of a moving target.

If von Schwerin-High's methodology could be married to a detailed knowledge of the Japanese cultural context, then a more or less complete portrait of Shakespeare could be the result, since it is primarily through the medium of translation that Shakespeare's plays have been received in Japan. Shakespeare in Japan (Tetsuo Kishi and Graham Bradshaw, London: Continuum, 2005) is not the answer either, since neither is it specifically about Shakespeare translation nor, as the authors admit, a history of Shakespeare in Japan, which would run to several thousand pages. (Kawatake Toshio's authoritative 1972 study of Hamlet in Japan, Nihon no Hamuretto [Tokyo: Nansōsha...


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