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Foreign literature in Waseda Bungaku

Hajime Kaizawa
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University Editor of Waseda Bungaku

As you already know, the literary journal Waseda Bungaku has breathed new life into Japanese literature and criticism on countless occasions. Some recent examples include Mieko Kawakami’s Myself and a Toothache, which was published in 2007 and nominated for the Akutagawa Prize (Kawakami won the Akutagawa Prize the following year for her work Breasts and Eggs), and Natsuko Kuroda’s ab Coral, which won the Waseda Bungaku Prize for New Writers in 2012 and the Akutagawa Prize the following year. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, our journal was the first to publish a special issue based on the theme of disasters. The special issue was a collection of statements by numerous authors and critics, and it attracted great attention in journalism and publishing circles.

However, Waseda Bungaku does not focus solely on modern Japanese literature and criticism. In recent years, we have emphasized the introduction of the latest foreign literature, as well as collaboration with foreign authors, critics and publishing firms.

For example, from Volume No. 1 of the 10th reissue series published in 2008, we published a series featuring Claude Simon’s masterpiece The Georgics (translated by Yasuhisa Yoshikawa), which features overwhelmingly rich and intricate portrayals. Simon received the Nobel Prize in Literature and was a prominent member of the Nouveau Roman movement. Afterwards, Waseda Bungaku published literary criticism by Michel Butor, another author in the Nouveau Roman movement, as well as the novel Blue Salo (translated version by Tetsuo Mochizuki and Takashi Matsushita published in book form), a representative work of the famous contemporary Russian author Vladimir Sorokin.

Volume No. 1 and 2 of the 10th series of Waseda Bungaku

Sorokin comes from Moscow Conceptualism, an unofficial avant-garde art movement from the end of the Soviet Union. He is known for radical works which imitate existing values and typical stories while at the same time completely destroying that which they imitate. Blue Salo portrays the secret manoeuvres of Stalin and cult groups regarding blue lard produced by clones of Dostoyevsky and Nabokov. As soon as publishing began for the series, it attracted passionate support from a group of Japanese readers on the internet. Once published in book form, it won the Japan Twitter Literary Prize for Foreign Authors. Furthermore, when Sorokin visited Japan, we held an open discussion at Waseda University with Kaori Fujino, winner of the Akutagawa Prize. An article on the discussion was published in 2014 in Volume 7 of Waseda Bungaku. The same issue also contained an excerpt from Sorokin’s latest work Telluria, while the cover featured a photograph of Sorokin taken by Kishin Shinoyama.

Cover featuring a photograph of Vladimir Sorokin (taken by Kishin Shinoyama)
Waseda Bungaku Vol. 29 (left), Vol. 7 (right)

Waseda Bungaku Vol. 5

Waseda Bungaku has also introduced a large amount of other foreign literature. In 2012, an article entitled Twelve Kind Translators was published in Volume 5 of Waseda Bungaku. This article featured twelve active translators of foreign literature and discussed outstanding characteristics of recent foreign literature. We also started several series featuring White Noise (translated by Koji Toko), a novel which was written by the famous contemporary American author Don DeLillo and which won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, Rituals (translated by Miho Matsunaga), a work written by author Cees Nooteboom, who is frequently nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and has won the Goethe Prize and Austrian State Prize for European Literature, and The Slynx (translated by Hajime Kaizawa and Satoko Takayanagi), a highly-popular and fantastic full-length science fiction novel in which new ground is broken by author Tatyana Tolstaya, whose fresh writing style dominated the literary scene upon her appearance at the end of the Soviet Union regime.

Afterwards, Waseda Bungaku has constantly responded sensitively to trends in new oversea literature and has continued to provide the Japanese literary scene with fresh information and topics. Examples include Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Ghosts in the Mirror, novels and criticism by the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, and a series featuring discussions regarding Roberto Bolaño, a Chilean author whose works have been read in Japan in recent years. We were also the first Japanese literary magazine to publish series of The Childhood of Jesus (translated by Yukiko Konosu), a new novel by the Nobel Prize-winning South African author J. M. Coetzee, and The Chronicles of Zhalie (translated by Kyoka Izumi), a popular novel by Chinese author Yan Lianke, winner of the 2014 Franz Kafka Prize.

From 2014, we formed a collaboration with Granta Magazine, England’s premier literary journal, and undertook joint editing to begin publishing of GRANTA JAPAN with Waseda Bungaku, a magazine featuring short stories by contemporary authors throughout the world.

GRANTA JAPAN with Waseda Bungaku, Vol. 1

Autumn 2014 issue of Waseda Bungaku

Furthermore, we welcomed Michael Emmerich as a new member of the selection committee for the Waseda Bungaku Prize for New Writers, an award which has produced countless new writers. Emmerich is a leading American researcher of Japanese literature and is currently active as a translator. Submitted works are currently being screened for the upcoming prize.

As discussed above, Waseda Bungaku does not simply introduce new foreign literature; instead, we actively seek out a variety of collaborations with foreign literary journals and writers.

Shoyo Tsubouchi

Incidentally, this close relationship between foreign literature and Waseda Bungaku is not a recent development. Ever since the first issue of Waseda Bungaku was published by Shoyo Tsubouchi in 1891, the magazine has considered the introduction and spread of foreign literary works and art theory as an important mission. Actually, in addition to annotated notes of Chuang-tzu and remarks on Tokugawa-period literature and logic, the first issue of Waseda Bungaku also included Tsubouchi’s commentary on Shakespearean scripts. It goes without saying that the absorption of foreign literature and art, especially Western literature and art, was an urgent theme in Japan during the Meiji Period. Tsubouchi’s first series of Waseda Bungaku continued to publish extended series of Schiller’s translated works by Ogai Mori, as well as Tsubouchi’s detailed annotated notes of Macbeth. Eventually, a section dedicated to the introduction of foreign literature was created in the magazine. Topics included discussion of Ibsen, Hugo, Renan, Ruskin and Taine. Other features included a broad review of contemporary Russian literature.

Subsequently, the growth of modern Japanese literature caused Waseda Bungaku to shift its focus from introducing overseas literary information to publishing works by Japanese authors and literary critics. Until a certain time of World War Two, relatively little emphasis was placed on information and translation of foreign literature.

Finnegans Wake was published in the seventh series of Waseda Bungaku (table of contents from February 1969 issue)

In 1969, under the supervision of editor-in-chief Masaaki Tachihara, a translated series of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was started from a reissue of the seventh series of Waseda Bungaku. This series was realized through the joint work of six translators including Yukio Suzuki, Ryo Nonaka and Naoki Yanase. This work was studded with language throughout the world and fully utilized Joyce’s unique narrative style known as “stream of consciousness,” featuring writing interwoven with wordplay and grammatical irregularities. The result was an abstract novel replete with an experimental spirit that fused myth and reality. Until Waseda Bungaku’s series, translation into Japanese was considered as impossible. Our magazine’s challenge of undertaking the first Japanese translation was a major event in Japanese literature, as well as a monumental moment in Waseda Bungaku’s history of introducing foreign literature.

Ninth series of Waseda Bungaku, March 2003 Issue

Ninth series of Waseda Bungaku, July 2002 Issue

The seventh series of Waseda Bungaku featured frequent articles and translations of Russian formalism, which had begun to attract worldwide attention at the time. The content of the magazine clearly reflected the strong desire of the editorial department to go beyond domestic literature and welcome global literary trends.

Of course, this editorial spirit was inherited by later issues of Waseda Bungaku. I first served as editor for the ninth series, which published extensive features in 2002 and 2003 on the French Nouveau Roman movement. These features examined previously untouched works and recent trends in the Nouveau Roman movement. Examples include Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Repetition and Claude Simon’s The Trolley (both translated by Tokuyoshi Hiraoka), as well as the first Japanese translation of Robert Pinget’s Son (translated by Naoki Enaka).

Waseda Bungaku will actively continue its history of introducing foreign literary trends and collaborating with foreign journals and authors. We hope that you will find our magazine both enlightening and entertaining.

Latest issue of Waseda Bungaku, Winter 2014

Hajime Kaizawa
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University Editor of Waseda Bungaku

Hajime Kaizawa graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I. He completed the Doctoral Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He served as editor of Waseda Bungaku from 2000 to 2005, and from 2013 to the present. His major written works include Torn Festivals (Ronso Publishing), and Reconsidering Russian Formalism (co-edited, co-written; Serika Shobo Publishing). His major translated works include Nabokov’s Camera Obscura and Despair (both from Kobunsha Publishing).