Nissan Seminar: Beyond "trans-border": Translation and Difference in Contemporary Japanese Literature

Co-Convenors: Juliana Buriticá Alzate, Jenny Guest, Hugh Whittaker

Speaker(s): Dr Vicky Young (Kawashima Associate Professor in Modern Japanese Literature and Culture, University of Cambridge)


In 1988, the Japan Foundation expressed concerns that as a symptom of declining interest in Japan among American readers, sales of Japanese literature in translation were falling. Thirty years later, following the reintroduction of the National Book Awards for Translated Literature in 2018, two titles originally published in Japanese (The Emissary and Tokyo Ueno Station) received the top prize while a third (The Memory Police) reached the shortlist. Amid renewed popular and critical demand for a wide range of literature in English translation, these prominent successes of Japanese fiction have been the cause for much celebration. However, they also invite consideration. How has this change of fortunes been shaped by the specific vicissitudes of contemporary Japanese fiction during the last three decades? What does the case of Japanese fiction reveal about the relationship between world literature and translation? And what about the gaps left by Japanese texts that cannot, or will not, translate?

Dr Vicky Young is the Kawashima Associate Professor in Modern Japanese Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. Vicky's research interests include literature by Okinawan, ethnic Korean, and trans-border writers, which she examines in her first book project, currently under review, in relation to questions of translation, translatability and difference.