Resources: Japanese Literature in Translation

In college, when I had a lot more time to read modern and premodern Japanese literature, I often found myself wondering whether certain authors had more works in translation that I could get my hands on, but didn’t know where to turn beyond a simple amazon.com search. Or, in many cases, a friend was reading someone obscure in Japanese that a simple search wouldn’t turn up. Did you know that there are some great resources out there online for finding out if something has been produced in translation? Here’s a couple sites that literature buffs might find useful.

 The Japan Foundation Japanese Literature in Translation Database

 JPLITS

The Japan Foundation maintains a really great Japanese Literature in Translation Database (http://www.jpf.go.jp/e/culture/media/exchange/translationsearch.html) that’s hidden away in their Arts and Cultural Exchange section, under the Audio-Visual and Publication Exchange sidebar in the Sharing Information on Films and Publications subsection. People might not think to go to the Japan Foundation website of all places to find publication information, but it really is a great little resource. 

JF database1The best thing about the database is the extensive options for searching for materials. If you know what author you want to look for or what the name of the text is, or if you just want to browse around, you can go directly to a List Search of author by name or name of the text (circled in red to the right).

Otherwise, there is a whole slew of other options in the Data Entry Search section, where you can enter a query by keywords, year of publication, or even the language in which the work was published, with the ability to organize results by author, title, translation title, or publication year.

Especially useful is that every entry is included both in English AND in Japanese, so you can use whichever you’re most comfortable with, whether you only know a title or an author in either one. The search will bring up the basic details of each search result, with more specifics available via a small icon to the left.

JF database2One drawback is that you can’t search with a keyword based on content. So if you’re looking for a work based themes or ideas not in the title (say, for example, you thought to yourself you just really want to read a book about spiders), you’ll only be able to get a result based on something with that keyword in the title. So this database is for finding specific translations, not browsing for some new readings based on what you like (unless it’s a particular author). You also can’t search based on the date of original publication, only translation publication.

Regardless, overall this database is immensely useful for finding out what exists in translation. I’m not sure how periodically they update their lists, but it’s a really great starting point for literature buffs and researchers.

Japanese Literature in English

Japanese Literature in English

A relatively newer site, Japanese Literature in English (http://www.japaneseliteratureinenglish.com/) seems to have been launched in early 2013 by Allison Markin Powell, a literary translator of fiction, nonfiction, biography, essays, and manga. As opposed to the Japan Foundation database, this site appears to cater more towards popular fiction, and to be in the initial stages of development.

The site design is quite clean, with a basic search function that allows you to query  based on title, author, translator, subject, publication date, and publisher. There’s also a “most popular searches” section at the bottom of the page, which lends itself to interest in recent releases and trends.

One downside to this setup is that there’s no way to casually browse the entirety of what’s in the database, as with the Japan Foundation’s alphabetical listings. There are tags and subject listings, but they seem to only be accessible on the site after an initial search, and some of them appear to be linked as opposed to individual keywords, such as “nature, fiction” as one subject. It’s difficult to tell if the subjects listed on the right are exhaustive for the site, since it is only just getting on its feet.

JLTHowever, the search by subject function seems quite useful, as a basic search will also turn up results based on the information page, which includes notes on each entry (particularly helpful if the work is a collection of short stories). The information page has a great deal of technical information about each entry, including the ISBN and OCLC numbers, making it easy to look the works up on research databases or vendor sites (Japan Foundation has a place for ISBN numbers, but the information is typically not included). There is also a button for purchasing the book directly from the publisher.

 Japanese Literature in English has a lot of potential, and it will be interesting to see how it changes and grows as more content goes up!

JLPPJLPP (Japanese Literature Publishing Project)

 Finally, today we have the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (http://www.jlpp.go.jp/en/), a site launched in 2002 by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to promote the awareness and popularization of overseas publishing of modern Japanese literature. This site is not simply a database to provide information on or recognition of Japanese literature, but part of a broader effort to produce translations abroad. As stated on the information page, “under this program, works of Japanese literature published in the past 150 years are selected by a committee of professional members, translated into various languages, and published overseas.”

Although unclear at first from the English-language page, the JLPP produces translations on the basis of competitions, five of which have been seen to completion. The resulting translations that are selected as the winners are listed on the site and promoted for professional publication in their respective language. On the Translation Works page you can see the various titles translated for each of the five competitions that have been held, including the names of translators and whether the work is published now or not.

JLPP2

 

Clicking on each individual work listed brings you to an information page with title, author, translator, and publication information, as well as synopses of the work and any distinguishing prizes or awards for its translation. Also, it’s neat that if you click on the authors themselves from the translated works page you get an author mini-bio and some information about their publication history. Additionally, clicking on the little “Published” button for a particular work next to its translation language will take you to a summary PDF of what works have been translated from Japanese into that language. 

The only internal search option is a google-powered search bar at the top right, but this site is not meant to be primarily a database. The NEWS/TOPICS section hasn’t been updated since February of 2013, which leads me to wonder if this project is still ongoing or if they simply don’t keep the site up to date until a new round of publications emerges (if they’ve only had five competitions since 2002, maybe they’re on a two year cycle?). Regardless, the Japanese Literature Publication Project looks like an interesting place to check out if you want to get an idea of how Japanese literature has been circulating internationally!

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 Any other sites or resources you use to check out Japanese literature in translation? Let us know at shinpai.deshou@gmail.com or leave us a comment!

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About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of graduate life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
This entry was posted in graduate school, main posts, study tools, undergraduate, useful links and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Resources: Japanese Literature in Translation

  1. Jd Banks says:

    This is great! I also wondered if there were more Haruki Murakami titles and Lady Murasaki titles that weren’t translated. I was thinking, “There’s no Gutenberg Project out there for Japanese!” I was so wrong. This is a great resource! Thanks for posting!

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