Category Archives: Publications

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)

New Article – A fine thing for the way: evidence, counter-evidence and argument in the Poetry Contest in Six Hundred Rounds

For anyone interested in reading more about the poetic and critical practice in Roppyakuban uta’awase, take a look at my new article in Japan Forum, entitled ‘A fine thing for the way: evidence, counter-evidence and argument in the Poetry Contest in Six Hundred Rounds‘.


This article discusses the types of evidence used to support the critical positions taken by Fujiwara no Shunzei and the monk Kenshō in the Poetry Contest in Six Hundred Rounds (Roppyakuban uta’awase; 1193–1194). As the largest extant poetry competition judged by a single individual, Shunzei, the Roppyakuban uta’awase illustrates a wide range of compositional practice. It also provides a substantial body of practical waka criticism: by Shunzei in his role as judge, by the participants in their comments on their opponents’ poems, and by Kenshō in his ‘Appeal’ (Chinjō) against Shunzei’s judgements. Analysis of this critical discussion reveals that unusually, both Kenshō and Shunzei use testimonial evidence from informants to support their critical positions, and Kenshō even utilises his own scholarship and poetic writing, in addition to the expected citation of prior poetry and poetic scholarship by poets of previous generations. Though Shunzei limits his testimony to that from members of the court nobility, Kenshō frequently supports his arguments with evidence from members of the peasantry, revealing that the opinions and views of the lower social classes could be given weight in the critical discussions of waka poets at the end of the twelfth century.