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2019.08.09 Japanese Literature Scholar Translates Top Artist’s Lyrics
Yousui Inoue is a Japanese singer, lyricist and record producer whose unique voice and eccentric lyrics has been popular for the last five decades. Many of his lyrics are now translated into English in the book “Inoue Yosui Eiyaku Shishu (Yosui Inoue’s Lyrics in English), recently published in Japan from Kodansha. The author/translator is Robert Cambell, a well-known and well-respected scholar of Japanese literature and the Director-General of the National Institute of Japanese Literature (NIJL), Tokyo.

Back in 2011, Campbell fell seriously ill and was hospitalized. Doctors told him to stop working and put him on a diet restriction as well. Without knowing how long he had left to live, a thought came to his mind: he would translate one Japanese lyrics a day into English, much like Buddhists hand-copying sutras. This is when he came across Inoue’s lyrics. By translating Inoue’s lyrics, Campbell later recalls he was able to look inwardly to search his soul and felt his spirits being cleansed.

Japanese is one of those languages that subjects, objects and/or tense can be omitted or left vague and still can be properly interpreted by the context. However, in translating into English Campbell need to identify each of those. After making a full recovery, he contacted Inoue to consult with him on many of the lyrics he attempted to translate. Interestingly, Inoue’s reply to many of them was, “Well I’m not quite sure myself. Perhaps however you feel right is right.” In an interview with web news, Campbell revealed the process and told how translating lyrics, at first assumed easy, turned out to be quite a challenge.

“Inoue Yosui Lyrics in English” is a collection of 50 lyrics, many are familiar to Japanese people. Perhaps the book will shed new light to Inoue’s unique point of view.