Japanese Literature in Norwich

CJS Research Seminar: In Conversation with Anthony Thwaite

Norwich, as a UNESCO City of Literature, has been the stage for a push towards the development of global creative networks, as shown through the wide range of literature-related events and education programmes happening in the city. At the Sainsbury Institute, a dedicate research institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, we are pleased to see a growing awareness of Japanese literature in the UK and beyond. I will take this opportunity to review recent activities here in Norwich relating to Japanese literature.

In February this year, the National Centre for Writing hosted the event ‘Japan Now East’ focusing on translating culture. World renowned creatives such as Itō Hiromi (poet), Jeffrey Angles (professor of Japanese literature and translator), Polly Barton (translator) and Shibata Motoyuki (translator) were invited to the event. During two days of lectures and workshops, the panellists discussed the creative process of translating Japanese texts into English. In particular, the workshop highlighted challenges faced by translators, such as choosing the appropriate gender for neuter objects such as trees or plants if they are depicted as a human, conveying a specific sense of sound in Japanese, and feeling empathy for the authors and their Japanese readers. Professor Jeffery Angles pointed out that on average 25 Japanese titles are translated into English each year while 270 English book titles are translated into Japanese every year. These figures suggest the difficulty of translating Japanese texts into foreign languages.

In February, the Sainsbury Institute also welcomed Professor Sawanishi Yūten from Ryukoku University who is an up-and coming writer and Japanese literature scholar researching Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927) from a global perspective.

In January 2020, the Centre for Japanese Studies at the University of East Anglia hosted an event with the esteemed English poet Anthony Thwaite, who visited Japan in 1950s and 80s, to discuss his poetry and to introduce a bilingual English-Japanese edition of his poems, along with poetry readings in English by the author and in Japanese by SISJAC staff. His poems were translated into Japanese by an old pupil of Thwaite’s at the University of Tokyo, Yamanouchi Hisaaki and his wife Reiko. They also provided commentaries on the poems.

Professor Natsume Fusanosuke with SISJAC trustee Sir Tim Lankester, SISJAC staff Matsuba Ryoko and Uchida Hiromi

In August 2019, we hosted the Japanese manga scholar, manga artist and columnist, Natsume Fusanosuke from Gakushuin University as a Sotheby’s Scholars. He is a grandson of world-famed novelist Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916). While he was in Norwich, he presented a lecture about Manga’s impact on the viewer, their fluidity of line, and their framing devices (MANGAの印象と動線、コマに関する小考察) at the Ishibashi Foundation Summer Fellowship.

In May 2019, the institute hosted the manga artist Hagio Moto who had just received the designation of Person of Cultural Merit (文化功労者, bunka kōrōsha)  from the Japanese government. She was the first female manga artist to receive this honour. We conducted a closed workshop to explore Hagio’s world through three of her short stories: ‘Willow Tree’, ‘Hanshin’ and ‘Iguana no musume’. Hagio talked about what inspired her to create these manga, and about the creative approach required to draw manga. In addition to our students, fellows and staff, Kate Griffin from the National Writing Centre and a book curator Haba Yoshitaka joined in the conversation with the artist, which enhanced the creative connection between literature and manga. Hagio said her reading of world literature when she was young influenced her manga stories. Manga may not have occupied a place in ‘Japanese literature’, but the process of creating compelling visual narratives share a similar kind of creative thinking.

We are hoping to have more Japanese literature events in Norwich to enhance our global network in literature along with young creatives from UEA’s creative writing course. In January, we welcomed our new UEA colleague Hannah Osborne who started teaching Japanese Literature at the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing and the Centre for Japanese Studies. The studying, writing and translating of Japanese literature has great potential for future growth. 

Dr Matsuba Ryoko
Senior Digital Humanities Officer