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2019.09.23 Arthur Waley’s Genji Re-translated to Japanese
Renowned English orientalist Arthur Waley translated Japan’s oldest novel, Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji) into English nearly 100 years ago. This translation was recently reverse-translated back into Japanese. The first volume was published in January of last year, the fourth and final volume to be published on July twenty-fifth of this year.

Arthur Waley’s translation, entitled The Tale of Genji, was published in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. in 1925. It immediately received high praise from critics in the UK. It is said this is the very book that inspired the late Donald Keene to become a scholar of Japanese literature at the tender age of eighteen. Though there are four different English-language translations of The Tale of Genji, the great praise heaped upon Arthur Waley’s translation puts his above the rest.

The Haiku poet Mariya Marie and her sister, the poet Moriyama Megumi have now translated Waley’s superb translation back into Japanese. According to Mariya, the sisters’ goal in re-translating The Tale of Genji was to recreate the world of Genji as seen by the great Englishman Arthur Waley one hundred years ago. To do this, Mariya and her sister took Western words like “emperor” (“mikado” in the original Japanese), “curtain” (“misu”), “lute” (“koto”), etc., and translated them into their katakana counterparts in Japanese rather than reverting to the original native Japanese words. The world thus expressed to Japanese readers familiar with Genji Monogatari is sure to be a uniquely intriguing one.

Waley’s The Tale of Genji was first re-translated into Japanese by Samata Hideki in 2008 under the title Waley-ban Genji Monogatari (Waley’s The Tale of Genji). This new translation is sure to distinguish itself in many ways from Samata’s, however, particularly because the translators are poets. Reading and comparing the two is sure to yield some interesting results for fans of the age-old Japanese casual watches