Burton Watson (born 1925) is an accomplished translator of Chinese and Japanese literature and poetry. He has received awards including the Gold Medal Award of the Translation Center at Columbia University in 1979, the PEN Translation Prize in 1995 for his translation with Hiroaki Sato of From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry, and again in 1995 for Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o.
Watson was born in New Rochelle, New York. He dropped out of high school at age 17 to join the Navy in 1943 and was stationed on repair vessels in the South Pacific. His first experiences in Japan came of weekly shore leaves when he was stationed on a ship at Yokosuka Harbor in 1945. Subsequently, he majored in Chinese and Japanese studies at Columbia University. In 1951 he returned to Kyoto, this time as a Ford Foundation Overseas Fellow. In 1956 he completed a dissertation on Sima Qian, earning a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He worked as an English teacher at Doshisha University in Kyoto, as a research assistant to Yoshikawa Kōjirō, who was Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Kyoto University, and as a member of Ruth Fuller Sasaki's team translating Buddhist texts into English. He has also taught at Stanford and Columbia as a professor of Chinese. He moved to Japan in 1973, where he remains to this day, and has devoted much of his time to translation.
Notable translations include:
- The Lotus Sutra: and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, 2009
- Late Poems of Lu You, Ahadada Books, 2007.
- Analects of Confucius, 2007
- The Tale of the Heike, 2006
- The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, 2004
- For All My Walking: Free-Verse Haiku of Taneda Santōka with Excerpts from His Diaries, 2004
- The Selected Poems of Du Fu, 2002
- The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol 1 in 1999 and vol 2 in 2006.
- Vimalakirti Sutra 1997
- The Wild Geese (Gan, by Mori Ōgai), 1995
- Selected Poems of Su Tung-Po, (Copper Canyon Press, 1994)
- The Lotus Sutra, 1993
- Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty, 1992
- Saigyō: Poems of a Mountain Home, 1991
- The Tso Chuan: Selections from China’s Oldest Narrative History, 1989
- The Flower of Chinese Buddhism (Zoku Watakushi no Bukkyō-kan, by Ikeda Daisaku), 1984
- Grass Hill: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Gensei, 1983
- Ryōkan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, 1977
- Buddhism: The First Millennium (Watakushi no Bukkyō-kan, by Ikeda Daisaku), 1977
- The Living Buddha (Watakushi no Shakuson-kan, by Ikeda Daisaku), 1976
- Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-Shan, 1970
- The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, 1968
- Records of the Grand Historian of China, 1961
Many of Watson's translations have been published through the Columbia University Press.
- Stirling 2006, pg. 92
- "Ahadada Books-Burton Watson". Retrieved 2008-06-03.
- Halper 1991, pg. 53
- "Harvard University Press: An Introduction to Sung Poetry by Kojiro Yoshikawa". Retrieved 2009-06-01.
- Halper, Jon, ed. Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life (1991) Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0-87156-616-8
- Stirling, Isabel. "Zen Pioneer: The Life & Works of Ruth Fuller Sasaki" (2006) Shoemaker & Hoard. ISBN 978-1-59376-110-3