Yoko Tawada

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Yōko Tawada
Yōko Tawada in 2022
Yōko Tawada in 2022
Native name
Born (1960-03-23) March 23, 1960 (age 62)
Tokyo, Japan
LanguageJapanese, German
GenreFiction, poetry
Notable works
  • The Bridegroom Was a Dog
  • Suspect on the Night Train
  • Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts / Anata no iru tokoro dake nani mo nai
Notable awards
Yoko Tawada: The Official Homepage

Yōko Tawada (多和田葉子 Tawada Yōko, born March 23, 1960) is a Japanese writer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She writes in both Japanese and German. Tawada has won numerous literary awards, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, the Noma Literary Prize, the Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature, the Gunzo Prize for New Writers, the Goethe Medal, the Kleist Prize, and a National Book Award.

Early life and education[edit]

Tawada was born in Nakano, Tokyo.[1] Her father was a translator and bookseller.[2] She attended Tokyo Metropolitan Tachikawa High School.[3] In 1979, at the age of 19, Tawada took the Trans-Siberian Railway to visit Germany.[4] She received her undergraduate education at Waseda University in 1982 with a major in Russian literature, and upon graduation moved to Hamburg, Germany, where she started working with one of her father's business partners in a book distribution business.[5] She left the business to study at Hamburg University, and in 1990 she received a master's degree in contemporary German literature.[6] In 2000 she received her doctorate in German literature from the University of Zurich, where Sigrid Weigel, her thesis advisor, had been appointed to the faculty.[7][8] In 2006 Tawada moved to Berlin, where she currently resides.[9]


Tawada's writing career began in 1987 with the publication of Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts—Anata no iru tokoro dake nani mo nai (Nothing Only Where You Are), a collection of poems released in a German and Japanese bilingual edition. Her first novella, titled Kakato o nakushite (Missing Heels), received the Gunzo Prize for New Writers in 1991.[7]

In 1993 Tawada won the Akutagawa Prize for her novella Inu muko iri, which was published later that year with Kakato o nakushite and another story in the single volume Inu muko iri.[10] Arufabetto no kizuguchi also appeared in book form in 1993, and Tawada received her first major recognition outside of Japan by winning the Lessing Prize Scholarship.[11] An English edition of the three-story collection Inu muko iri, translated by Margaret Mitsutani, was published in 1998 but was not commercially successful.[5] New Directions Publishing reissued the Mitsutani translation of the single Akutagawa Prize-winning novella in 2012 under the title The Bridegroom Was a Dog.[12]

Several other books followed, including Seijo densetsu (Legend of a Saint) in 1996 and Futakuchi otoko (The Man With Two Mouths) in 1998. Portions of these books were translated into English by Margaret Mitsutani and collected in a 2009 book titled Facing the Bridge.[13] Tawada won the 1996 Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, a German literary award for non-native speakers of German.[14] In 1997 she was writer in residence at Villa Aurora, and in 1999 she spent four months as the Max Kade Foundation Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[15][16] She won the Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature for her 2000 book Hinagiku no ocha no baai,[17] and both the Sei Ito Literature Prize[18] and the Tanizaki Prize in 2003 for Yogisha no yako ressha (Suspects on the Night Train).[19][20]

Tawada took a bilingual approach to her 2004 novel Das nackte Auge, writing first in German, then in Japanese, and finally producing separate German and Japanese manuscripts.[21] The novel follows a Vietnamese girl who was kidnapped at a young age while in Germany for a youth conference. An English version, translated from the German manuscript by Susan Bernofsky, was published by New Directions Publishing in 2009 under the title The Naked Eye.[22] In 2005, Tawada won the prestigious Goethe Medal from the Goethe-Institut for meritorious contributions to German culture by a non-German.[23] From January to February 2009, she was the Writer-in-Residence at the Stanford University Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.[24]

In 2011, inspired by the story of the orphaned polar bear Knut, Tawada wrote three interlocking short stories exploring the relationship between humans and animals from the perspective of three generations of captive polar bears. As with previous work, she wrote separate manuscripts in Japanese and German.[25] In 2011 the Japanese version, titled Yuki no renshūsei, was published in Japan. It won the 2011 Noma Literary Prize[26] and the 2012 Yomiuri Prize.[27] In 2014 the German version, titled Etüden im Schnee, was published in Germany.[2] An English edition of Etüden im Schnee, translated by Susan Bernofsky, was published by New Directions Publishing in 2016 under the title Memoirs of a Polar Bear.[28] It won the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.[29]

Tawada won the 2013 Erlanger Prize for her work translating poetry between Japanese and German.[30]

In 2014 her novel Kentoshi, a near-future dystopian story of a great-grandfather who grows stronger while his great-grandson grows weaker, was published in Japan.[31] An English version, translated by Margaret Mitsutani, was published in the US by New Directions Publishing in 2018 under the title The Emissary.[32] and as The Last Children of Tokyo by Portobello Books/Granta Books in the UK.

In 2016 she received the Kleist Prize,[33][34] and in 2018 she was awarded the Carl Zuckmayer Medal for services to the German language.[35] Also in 2018, she received the National Book Award for Literature in Translation (the inaugural year of that award) for her novel The Emissary, translated by Margaret Mitsutani.

Writing style[edit]

Tawada writes in Japanese and German. Scholars of her work have adopted her use of the term exophony to describe the condition of writing in a non-native language.[36][37] Early in her career Tawada enlisted the help of a translator to produce German editions of her Japanese manuscripts, but later she simultaneously generated separate manuscripts in each language through a process she calls "continuous translation."[38] Over time her work has diverged by genre as well as language, with Tawada tending to write longer works such as plays and novels in Japanese, and shorter works such as short stories and essays in German.[39] She also tends to create more neologisms when writing in German than when writing in Japanese.[40]

Tawada's writing highlights the strangeness of one language, or particular words in one language, when seen from the perspective of someone who speaks another language.[41][42] Her writing uses unexpected words, alphabets, and ideograms to call attention to the need for translation in everyday life.[43] She has said that language is not natural but rather "artificial and magical,"[44] and has encouraged translators of her work to replace word play in her manuscripts with new word play in their own languages.[45]

A common theme in Tawada's work is the relationship between words and reality, and in particular the possibility that differences in languages may make assimilation into a different culture impossible.[46] For example, Tawada has suggested that a native Japanese speaker understands different words for "pencil" in German and Japanese as referring to two different objects, with the Japanese word referring to a familiar pencil and the German word referring to a pencil that is foreign and "other."[47] However, her work also challenges the connection between national language and nationalism, particularly the kokugo/kokutai relationship in Japanese culture.[48]

Tawada's stories often involve traveling across boundaries.[49] Her writing draws on Tawada's own experiences of traveling between countries and cultures,[50] but it also explores more abstract boundaries, such as the boundary between waking life and dreams,[51] between thoughts and emotions,[52] or between the times before and after a disaster.[43] For example, the main character in her short story "Bioskoop der Nacht" dreams in a language she does not speak, and must travel to another country to learn the language and understand her own dreams.[51] Tawada's work also employs elements of magical realism, such as the animal and plant anthropomorphism in Memoirs of a Polar Bear, in order to challenge otherwise familiar boundaries, such as the distinction between human and animal.[53][40]

Tawada has cited Paul Celan and Franz Kafka as important literary influences.[54][55]


Originally in Japanese[edit]

  • Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts / Anata no iru tokoro dake nanimo nai, 1987, Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, OCLC 55107823 (bilingual edition)
  • Inu muko iri, Kodansha, 1993, ISBN 978-4-06-206307-4
  • Arufabetto no kizuguchi, Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1993, ISBN 978-4-309-00860-8
  • Seijo densetsu, Ōta Shuppan, 1996, ISBN 978-4-87233-285-8
  • Futakuchi otoko, Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1998, ISBN 978-4-309-01244-5
  • Hinagiku no ocha no baai, Shinchōsha, 2000, ISBN 978-4-10-436101-4
  • Yōgisha no yakō ressha, Seidosha, 2002, ISBN 978-4-7917-5973-6
  • Yuki no renshūsei, Shinchōsha, 2011, ISBN 978-4-10-436104-5
  • Kentoshi, Kodansha, 2014, ISBN 978-4-06-219192-0 (published in 2018 in English as The Last Children of Tokyo (UK) and The Emissary (US))
  • Ōkami ken, with Ikuko Mizokami, Ronsosha, 2021, ISBN 978-4-8460-1972-3

Originally in German[edit]

  • Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts / Anata no iru tokoro dake nanimo nai, 1987, Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, OCLC 55107823 (bilingual edition)
  • Opium für Ovid: Ein Kopfkissenbuch von 22 Frauen, 2000, Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, ISBN 978-3-88769-156-1
  • Das nackte Auge, Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, 2004, ISBN 978-3-88769-324-4
  • Etüden im Schnee, Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, 2014, ISBN 978-3-88769-737-2
  • Paul Celan und der chinesische Engel, Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke, 2020, ISBN 978-3-88769-278-0

Book-length works in English[edit]

Selected shorter works in English[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Bettina Brandt, "Scattered Leaves: Artist Books and Migration, a Conversation with Yoko Tawada", Comparative Literature Studies, 45/1 (2008) 12–22
  • Bettina Brandt, "Ein Wort, ein Ort, or How Words Create Places: Interview with Yoko Tawada", Women in German Yearbook, 21 (2005), 1–15
  • Maria S. Grewe, Estranging Poetic: On the Poetic of the Foreign in Select Works by Herta Müller and Yoko Tawada, Columbia University, New York 2009
  • Ruth Kersting, Fremdes Schreiben: Yoko Tawada, Trier 2006
  • Christina Kraenzle, Mobility, space and subjectivity: Yoko Tawada and German-language transnational literature, University of Toronto (2004)
  • Petra Leitmeir, Sprache, Bewegung und Fremde im deutschsprachigen Werk von Yoko Tawada, Freie Universität Berlin (2007)
  • Douglas Slaymaker (Ed.): Yoko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere, Lexington Books (2007)


  1. ^ "リーディングパフォーマンス 雲をつかむ言/雲を飛ばす音" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b Galchen, Rivka (October 27, 2016). "Imagine That: The Profound Empathy of Yoko Tawada". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  3. ^ "第二回 早稲田大学坪内逍遙大賞 多和田 葉子氏に決定!". Waseda University (in Japanese). December 3, 2009. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Pirozhenko, Ekaterina (2008). ""Flâneuses", Bodies, and the City: Magic in Yoko Tawada's "Opium für Ovid. Ein Kopfkissenbuch von 22 Frauen"". Colloquia Germanica. 41 (4): 329–356. JSTOR 23981687.
  5. ^ a b "The Bridegroom Was a Dog by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani + Author Interview [in AsianWeek] | BookDragon". Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center: BookDragon. 2003-09-12. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Itakura, Kimie (October 28, 2001). "Double Wordplay". Asahi Shimbun.
  7. ^ a b c Brandt, Bettina (2006). "Ein Wort, ein Ort, or How Words Create Places: Interview with Yoko Tawada". In Gelus, Marjorie; Kraft, Helga (eds.). Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 1–15. ISBN 978-0-8032-9859-0.
  8. ^ Tawada, Yōko (1998). Spielzeug und Sprachmagie in der europäischen Literatur : eine ethnologische Poetologie (PhD) (in German). University of Zurich.
  9. ^ "Yoko Tawada". New Directions Publishing. 8 September 2011. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Porter, Michael (January 31, 1999). "Never Marry A Dog". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Yoko Tawada: zur Person". University of Hamburg (in German). Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  12. ^ Galchen, Rivka (October 19, 2012). "Yoko Tawada's Magnificent Strangeness". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  13. ^ Cozy, David (September 2, 2007). "Transcending boundaries with writer Yoko Tawada". The Japan Times. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  14. ^ a b "Adelbert von Chamisso Prize of the Robert Bosch Stiftung". Robert Bosch Stiftung. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  15. ^ "Villa Aurora Grant Recipients 1997". Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e.V. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  16. ^ "Yoko Tawada: Max Kade Foundation Distinguished Writer-in-Residence". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  17. ^ a b "泉鏡花文学賞". City of Kanagawa (in Japanese). Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  18. ^ a b "伊藤整文学賞". 伊藤整文学賞の会 (in Japanese). Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  19. ^ a b "Writing across Languages and Cultures: An Afternoon with writer Yoko Tawada". University of Queensland. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  20. ^ a b "谷崎潤一郎賞受賞作品一覧 (List of Tanizaki Prize Award Winners)". Chuo Koron Shinsha (in Japanese). Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  21. ^ Mihaly, Ryan (May 30, 2016). "Conversations with Susan Bernofsky, Part One". The Massachusetts Review. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  22. ^ Manthripragada, Ashwin. "The Naked Eye, by Yōko Tawada". TRANSIT: A Journal of Travel, Migration, and Multiculturalism in the German-speaking World. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  23. ^ a b "GOETHE-MEDAILLE: DIE PREISTRÄGER 1955 – 2018" (PDF). Goethe Institut (in German). Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  24. ^ "Writers in Residence". Stanford University Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  25. ^ Smith, Jordan (February 21, 2017). "Narration Between Species: Yoko Tawada's Memoirs of a Polar Bear, Translated by Susan Bernofsky". Reading in Translation. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  26. ^ a b "過去の受賞作品". Kodansha (in Japanese). Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  27. ^ a b "読売文学賞 第61回(2009年度)~ 第65回(2013年度)". Yomiuri Shimbun (in Japanese). Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  28. ^ Ausubel, Ramona (2016-11-25). "Humans and Polar Bears Share Dreams in This Novel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-17.
  29. ^ a b Dugdale, John (November 17, 2017). "Going for a gong: the week in literary prizes – roundup". The Guardian. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  30. ^ a b "Übersetzerpreis der Kulturstiftung Erlangen für Yoko Tawada". Buchreport (in German). July 19, 2013. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  31. ^ Hungate, Andrew (February 1, 2018). "Yoko Tawada's Dystopian Novel "The Emissary" Delivers a Bitingly Smart Satire of Present-Day Japan". Words Without Borders. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  32. ^ Sehgal, Parul (April 17, 2018). "After Disaster, Japan Seals Itself Off From the World in 'The Emissary'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  33. ^ a b Būrger, Britta (November 20, 2016). "Schreiben über das elfte Gebot". Deutschlandfunk Kultur (in German). Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  34. ^ "2016 Yōko Tawada – Kleist-Archiv Sembdner". Heinrich von Kleist (Kleist-Archiv) (in German). June 6, 2016. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  35. ^ a b Gries, Marika (January 19, 2018). "Lob für die ausgefallene Sprache". SWR2 (in German). Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  36. ^ Tawada, Yoko (2003). エクソフォニー : 母語の外へ出る旅 (in Japanese). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 978-4-00-022266-2.
  37. ^ Tawada, Yoko; Wright, Chantal (26 September 2013). Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation by Chantal Wright. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-7766-0803-7. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  38. ^ Kaindl, Klaus (January 28, 2014). "Of Dragons and Translators: Foreignness as a principle of life". In Kaindl, Klaus; Spitzl, Karlheinz (eds.). Transfiction: Research into the realities of translation fiction. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 87–101. ISBN 978-90-272-7073-3.
  39. ^ Yildiz, Yasemin (2012). "Chapter Three: Detaching from the Mother Tongue: Bilingualism and Liberation in Yoko Tawada". Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition. Fordham University Press. pp. 109–142. ISBN 978-0-8232-5576-4.
  40. ^ a b Steinberg, Claudia (October 1, 2017). "The Fabulist: Yoko Tawada". Aēsop. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  41. ^ Kim, John Namjun (2010). "Ethnic Irony: The Poetic Parabasis of the Promiscuous Personal Pronoun in Yoko Tawada's "Eine leere Flasche" (A Vacuous Flask)". The German Quarterly. 83 (3): 333–352. doi:10.1111/j.1756-1183.2010.00087.x.
  42. ^ Stoehr, Ingo Roland (2011). German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 456. ISBN 978-1-57113-157-7.
  43. ^ a b Maurer, Kathrin (2016). "Translating Catastrophes: Yoko Tawada's Poetic Responses to the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, the Tsunami, and Fukushima". New German Critique. 43: 171–194. doi:10.1215/0094033X-3329247.
  44. ^ Totten, Monika (1999). "Writing in Two Languages: A Conversation with Yoko Tawada". Harvard Review. 17 (17): 93–100. JSTOR 27561312.
  45. ^ Sobelle, Stephanie (November 9, 2016). "Susan Bernofsky Walks the Tightrope: An Interview About Translating Yoko Tawada's "Memoirs of a Polar Bear"". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  46. ^ Fachinger, Petra (July 1, 2006). "Chapter 6: Cultural and Culinary Ambivalence in Sara Chin, Evelina Galang, and Yoko Tawada". In Ng, Maria; Holden, Philip (eds.). Reading Chinese Transnationalisms: Society, Literature, Film. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 89–201. ISBN 978-962-209-796-4.
  47. ^ Natiw, Paul (2010). "Experiencing the "Other" through language in Yoko Tawada's Talisman". In Lehman, Wil; Grieb, Margrit (eds.). Cultural Perspectives on Film, Literature, and Language: Selected Proceedings of the 19th Southeast Conference on Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Film. Universal-Publishers. pp. 99–105. ISBN 978-1-59942-548-1.
  48. ^ Tachibana, Reiko (September 30, 2007). "Chapter 12: Tawada Yōko's Quest for Exophony: Japan and Germany". In Slaymaker, Douglas (ed.). Yōko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere. Lexington Books. pp. 153–168. ISBN 978-0-7391-2272-3.
  49. ^ Slaymaker, Douglas, ed. (September 30, 2007). Yōko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-2272-3.
  50. ^ Kraenzle, Christina (2008). "The Limits of Travel: Yoko Tawada's Fictional Travelogues". German Life and Letters. 61 (2): 244–260. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0483.2008.00422.x.
  51. ^ a b Redlich, Jeremy (2017). "Representations of Public Spaces and the Construction of Race in Yoko Tawada's "Bioskoop der Nacht"". The German Quarterly. 90 (2): 196–211. doi:10.1111/gequ.12032.
  52. ^ Tobias, Shani (2015). "Tawada Yōko: Translating from the 'Poetic Ravine'". Japanese Studies. 35 (2): 169–183. doi:10.1080/10371397.2015.1058146. S2CID 146433982.
  53. ^ O'Key, Dominic (May 16, 2017). "Writing Between Species: Yoko Tawada's Memoirs of a Polar Bear". 3:AM Magazine. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  54. ^ Klook, Carsten (16 September 2008). "Yoko Tawada: Die Wortreisende". Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  55. ^ a b Tawada, Yoko (March 1, 2013). "Celan Reads Japanese". The White Review. Translated by Bernofsky, Susan. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  56. ^ Tawada, Yoko (April 1, 2005). "Hair Tax". Words Without Borders. Translated by Bernofsky, Susan. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  57. ^ Tawada, Yoko (March 1, 2015). "The Far Shore". Words Without Borders. Translated by Angles, Jeffrey. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  58. ^ Tawada, Yoko (June 10, 2015). "To Zagreb". Granta. Translated by Mitsutani, Margaret. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  59. ^ Tawada, Yoko (September 20, 2016). "Memoirs of a Polar Bear". Granta. Translated by Bernofsky, Susan. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  60. ^ "The Emissary: Winner, National Book Awards 2018 for Translated Literature". National Book Foundation. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  61. ^ "朝日賞 2019年度" (in Japanese). Retrieved February 14, 2022.
  62. ^ "SOAS Awards 'Academic Luminaries' with Honorary Doctorates as Part of the 2022 Summer Graduation Ceremonies". Retrieved August 9, 2022.

External links[edit]