I’m not one of those Japan scholars who came to the field as a Japanophile1 , and my preferred literary reading tends to speculative fiction, humorous verse and historical adventures. I’m almost certainly the wrong person to comment on Edward Seidensticker’s passing, but I’ll do until someone better comes along.
If you’ve studied Japanese history, literature, culture or society, the odds are extremely good that you’ve read something translated by Seidensticker. I’ve assigned his works before, particularly Kawabata’s Sound of the Mountain and the abridged Tale of Genji. I’ve read a lot of the other Kawabata and Tanizaki he translated, and it always seemed to me that he was a sympathetic and faithful translator, but a final judgement would have to come from people who know the original works and the process of literary translation more intimately than myself.
I have to admit that I’ve never read Seidensticker’s memoir, so I can’t tell you much more about his life, etc. I can say, though, that his work is one of the great foundation stones of my own career. Not that I drew on his scholarship or ever met the man, but his accessible translations were fodder for hundreds of thousands of students, and the interest they raised sustained the growth of Japanese Studies.2
- nor as a Japanophobe. Just curious, really. [↩]
- There’s an interesting argument to be had, perhaps, over whether cultural or economic factors are more important in area studies. I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other except to note that they promote very different kinds of scholarship and that we have usually had in Japanese studies a reasonably good balance. [↩]