New Article: The Power of Translation: issues in the translation of premodern Japanese waka

Waseda RILAS Journal Cover

I have just had a new article published, The Power of Translation: issues in the translation of premodern Japanese waka which is an expanded version of the talk I gave at Waseda University last year.

The abstract of the article is:

This article examines the translation of the premodern Japanese thirty-one syllable poetic form known as waka. Set against the context of current scholarly work in Translation Studies on the practices and processes involved in the translation of poetry, as well as constraints imposed by the current nature of many waka as literary works which have been subject to a centuries-long process of canonization, it analyses the challenges posed by the poems to the translator in the following areas: first, form and identification, covering differing solutions to the lineation of waka translations. Second, the use of poetic diction in multiple poems, and the consequences of different solutions to this issue, considering the identity of many waka as elements in longer poetic sequences. Third, use of poetic metalanguage such as utamakura and makura kotoba; and finally, intertextuality, both in the form of references to earlier poems (honkadori) and to other literary sources. The author’s solutions to these issues in the course of his recent translation of Roppyakuban uta’awase (‘The Poetry Contest in Six Hundred Rounds’; 1193-94) is compared with those adopted by other waka translators as a way of demonstrating the consequences which flow from the adoption of particular translation solutions to these issues.

Waseda RILAS Journal is open access, so anyone can read its contents, and I am in good company in this issue, because there are also the following other poetry-related articles, which emerged as a result of the symposium:

Machiko Midorikawa, The Power of Translation (In Japanese)

Janine Beichman, Yosano Akiko’s Princess Saho and its Multiple Speakers

Loren Waller, Echoes of Sight and Sound: Reflections on translation from a Hon’yaku awase

Andrew Houwen, Shasei and Modern Tanka: A Comparison of Masaoka Shiki and Tsukamoto Kunio

Shiho Takai, Students Translate Poetry: Preparing for the Workshop “Translation Contest” (In Japanese)

KKS I: 37

Topic unknown.


yoso ni nomi
aFare to zo misi
ume no Fana
akanu iroka Fa
Simply at a distance
Did their sight move me, but that
Of Plum blossoms’
Hue and scent, I never can be sated
I know now I have plucked them!

The Monk Sosei

KKS I: 36

Composed when he picked some plum blossoms.


uguFisu no
kasa ni nuFu teFu
ume no Fana
worite kazasamu
oi kakuru ya to
That the warbler
A parasol does weave, they say, so
Plum blossom
Should I pluck and wear within my hair
To hide the signs of age?

The Higashi Sanjō Minister

KKS I: 30

Composed when hearing the geese calling and thinking of someone who had gone to Koshi.


Faru kureba
kari kaFerunari
shirakumo no
mitiyukiburi ni
koto ya tutemasi
When spring does come,
The geese head home;
Among clouds of white
Upon their way, O,
I would they’d take a message with them!

Ōshikōchi no Mitsune