Mini Book Review: 翻訳教室

Lectures on Literary Translation from English to Japanese

ISBN-13: 978-4022646644

Publication date: April 5, 2013

Price: 1,000 JPY plus tax

Author: 柴田 元幸

Inspired by Kevin Kirton’s 2001 review of 翻訳夜話 that was recently republished on the JAT blog, I decided to buy a copy for myself. At the same time, I also picked up 翻訳教室, by one of the book’s interlocutors, 柴田元幸. I haven’t got around to reading 翻訳夜話 yet, but I have browsed through 翻訳教室 and liked what I saw.

A lightly edited transcript of a course taught in the winter term of 2004/2005 in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Tokyo by acclaimed translator Shibata Motoyuki, this 411-page 文庫本 is a treasure-trove of learning for translators working from English into Japanese or vice versa.

For each of the nine source texts of 250-plus English words, Shibata takes the reader through a brief overview of the original work and its challenges, then introduces selected draft translations submitted by his students, which are discussed line-by-line and even word-by-word with the student, and then revised. At the end of each chapter he presents his own translation of the entire passage. Helpful hints and useful references for translation are also presented in the course of the discussions. This book would be the perfect companion for anyone interested in learning about the art and craft of literary translation, or even simply in becoming a better writer in Japanese.

The list of authors is diverse, including the better-known (to me) writers such as Haruki Murakami, Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemingway, Stuart Dybek, and Italo Calvino, and those who I was meeting for the first time: Rebecca Brown, Lawrence Weschler, Robert Brautigan, and the mobile phone novelist Barry Yourgrau. Some of these names will be familiar to fans of Shibata’s translations and his other publications, such as the periodical Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan (co-edited with Ted Goossen).

One especially fascinating chapter involves the students translating back into Japanese, Jay Rubin’s English translation of the opening passage from Haruki Murakami’s Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, a learning experience enhanced by Rubin’s presence in the classroom.

A guest seminar by Haruki Murakami, who appeared much to the shock of the students, is also included in the book.

It’s an excellent book for dipping into from time to time. A very enjoyable read.

Tony Atkinson