Edward George Seidensticker (February 11, 1921 – August 26, 2007) was a noted scholar and translator of Japanese literature. He was particularly known for his English version of The Tale of Genji (1976), which is counted among the preferred modern translations. He is also well known for his landmark translations of Yasunari Kawabata, which led to Kawabata winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968.
Seidensticker has been sometimes described[by whom?] as "the best translator of Japanese that has ever lived"; and yet, he admitted that sometimes translation is a nearly impossible task. It becomes not only a matter of words, but also of rhythm. In a 2006 interview, he tried to explain by pointing to a well-known phrase in English – the line at the end of Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
- "It is an utterly simple line and I think it is a very, very beautiful line. It contains 14 syllables in English. I have looked at all the main translations into Japanese and they all contain at least three times that number of syllables. It takes longer to say something in Japanese than it does in English, and so the rhythm must be different. I always liken the translator to a counterfeiter ... his task is to imitate the original down to the last detail."
The introduction to Seidensticker's translation of The Master of Go explains: "Go is simple in its fundamentals and infinitely complex in the execution of them;" and the same dynamic applies to good writing and to great translation. One of the characters in Kawabata's master-work observes: "When a law is made, the cunning that finds loopholes goes to work. One cannot deny that there is a certain slyness among younger players, a slyness which, when the rules are written to prevent slyness, makes use of the rules themselves" – ditto, the sly translation strategy of Seidensticker at work and at play.
Seidensticker won the National Book Award in category Translation for his edition of Kawabata's The Sound of the Mountain (a split award). He also translated The Decay of the Angel, the last volume of Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy, and several of Mishima's stories. Seidensticker translated Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters and Some Prefer Nettles and authored important criticism on Tanizaki's place in 20th-century Japanese literature. The New York Times obituary allowed the translator to speak for himself:
- During his years in Japan Mr. Seidensticker became friends with many of the writers he translated, though the friendships were sometimes tested during the delicate diplomatic dance that is central to the translator’s art. As Mr. Seidensticker recalled in Tokyo Central, some writers required more dancing than others:
- "Tanizaki wrote clear, rational sentences," Mr. Seidensticker wrote. "I do not, certainly, wish to suggest that I disapprove of such sentences; but translating them is not very interesting. There was little I felt inclined to ask Tanizaki about."
- Not so with Kawabata. "Do you not, my esteemed master, find this a rather impenetrable passage?" Mr. Seidensticker recalled asking him, ever so gently, during the translation of Snow Country.
- "He would dutifully scrutinize the passage, and answer: 'Yes,' " Mr. Seidensticker wrote. "Nothing more."
He also wrote widely on Japan, including a two-volume history of Tokyo – Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake (1983) and Tokyo Rising: The City Since the Great Earthquake (1990) – and Kafu the Scribbler (1965), a biography of writer Kafū Nagai.
Born in Castle Rock, Colorado, he studied the Japanese language in 1942 at the University of Colorado at Boulder, with colleague Donald Keene. He studied Japanese literature at Harvard University and the University of Tokyo. He taught at Sophia University in Tokyo, at Stanford University (1962–1966), the University of Michigan (1966–1977), and Columbia (1977–1985) until his retirement in 1985. In his academic career, he is also credited with being a teacher for his peers. In an 2004 interview, Donald Richie explained:
It didn’t occur to me that there were things beside linear, rational, Socratic thought. In the West, it is an insult is to say, "But that’s illogical!' Here, if you want to devastate a person, tell him he’s ronri-teki – too logical. One of the main ways of communication in Japan is through associative thought. In Japan, something that is too logical is stiff, unnatural, stilted.
He published his autobiographical observations in Tokyo Central: A Memoir in 2001. A biography and bibliography are included in a commemorative work created by those whose lives he affected, New Leaves: Studies and Translations of Japanese Literature in Honor of Edward Seidensticker (1993).
After retirement, he divided his time between Honolulu and Tokyo, which he described as "the world's most consistently interesting city." His last hospitalization was caused by cranial injuries sustained during a walk along Ueno Park's Shinobazu Pond, very near his home. Following four months in a coma, he died at age 86 in Tokyo.
- Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, Third Class, 1975
- Kikuchi Kan Prize, 1977
- Japan Foundation Award, 1984
||This section may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: this bibliography is inconsistently formatted and ordered, and many works are missing detailed information. (January 2015)|
- 2006 – The Snake That Bowed. Berkeley: Printed Matter Press. ISBN 1-933606-03-7; ISBN 978-1-933606-03-3; OCLC 190850945
- 1994 – Very Few People Come This Way: Lyrical Episodes from the Year of the Rabbit. Brighton : In Print. ISBN 978-1-873047-31-6; OCLC 32204582
- 1990 – Tokyo Rising. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-54360-4 (cloth)
- McInerney, Jay. "The City that Disappeared Twice," New York Times. April 1, 1990.
- Waley, Paul. "Review: Tokyo Rising: The City Since the Great Earthquake by Edward Seidensticker," Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 144–146.
- 1984 – Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake: How the Shogun's Ancient Capital Became a Great Modern City, 1867–1923. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-50730-4; ISBN 978-0-394-50730-9 (cloth) [reprinted Tuttle, Tokyo, 1984. ISBN 4-8053-0494-4; ISBN 978-4-8053-0494-5 (paper)] Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991. ISBN 0-674-53939-7; ISBN 978-0-674-53939-6 (paper)]
- Christopher, Robert C. "Meiji Modernizing," New York Times. September 11, 1983.
- Miller, Roy Andrew. "Review: Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake by Edward Seidensticker," Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter, 1984), pp. 232–236.
- Smith, Henry. "Review: Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake by Edward Seidensticker," Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Summer, 1984), pp. 206–210.
- 1979 – This Country, Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha International. OCLC 5462992
- 1977 – Genji Days. Tokyo: Kodansha International. ISBN 0-87011-296-1; ISBN 978-0-87011-296-6; OCLC 3738055
- __________. (____).[ The Izu Dancer & Other Stories.]
- 1965 – Kafu the Scribbler: The Life and Writings of Nagai Kafu, 1879–1959.
- 1961 – Japan.
- Inoue Yasushi. Lou-Lan and Other Stories.
- Kawabata Yasunari. (1956; revision 1989). Snow Country
- __________. (1969). House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories.
- __________. (1959). Thousand Cranes
- __________. (1970). The Sound of the Mountain
- __________. (1972). The Master of Go.
- Mishima Yukio. (1974). The Decay of the Angel
- Murasaki Shikibu. (1976). The Tale of Genji.
- Tanizaki Junichiro. (1955). Some Prefer Nettles.
- __________. (1957). The Makioka Sisters
- __________. (____). In Praise of Shadows
- Niwa Fumio. (1953). A Touch of Shyness.
- Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan. (A translation of Kagerō Nikki.) Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.
- "The tale of Murasaki Shikibu," The Economist (London). December 23, 1999.
- Associated Press. "Leading translator of Japanese literature, Edward Seidensticker, dies in Tokyo," International Herald Tribune (Asia Pacific). August 27, 2007.
- Cameron, Deborah. "Saying goodnight to Shakespeare's sweet Prince in Japanese could take until the morning," Sydney Morning Herald. June 3, 2006.
- Shriver, Lionel. "The wisdom of stones," Telegraph (London). September 3, 2006.
- "National Book Awards – 1971". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
There was a "Translation" award from 1967 to 1983.
- * Fox, Maragit. "Edward Seidensticker, Translator, Is Dead at 86," New York Times. August 31, 2007.
- Seidensticker's last work, supervising translation of a book
- Kamiya, Setsuko, "'Genji' translator Seidensticker dies", Japan Times, 28 August 2007.
- "Donald Richie Tells His Fifty-Year 'Tokyo Story,'" Japan Foundation Newsletter (Tokyo). Vol 30, No. 1 (October/November 2004), p. 2.
- Parry, Lloyd. "Tokyo: The city that's stranger than fiction," Independent (London) June 25, 2000.
- University of Hawaii, honorary degree, Edward Seidensticker
- Japan Foundation Award, 1984
- Kirkup, James. "Obituary: Fumio Niwa," Independent (London). April 28, 2005.
- Gatten, Aileen and Anthony Hood Chamber. (1993). New Leaves: Studies and Translations of Japanese Literature in Honor of Edward Seidensticker. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-939512-56-4; ISBN 978-0-939512-56-0;
- Pocorobba, Janet and Donald Richie. "Edward Seidensticker: Tokyo's Finest Historian," Metropolis (Tokyo Classified), Vol. 300–301.