Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Emending a Translation into
“Scrupulous” Translation:
A Comparison of Edward G. Seidensticker’s
Two English Renditions of “The Izu Dancer”


(SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
Department of Japanese Studies))

Key words:

Edward Seidensticker, Kawabata Yasunari, literary translation, “The Izu Dancer”, Perspective of Japan, abridgement, culture-specific items (CSIs), retranslation

This paper will explore how the translation strategy of Edward G. Seidensticker (1921–2007) shifted between his two English versions of “The Izu Dancer” (1954 and 1997). As an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, he majored in English Literature. Seidensticker joined the Navy Japanese Language School during World War II and went to Japan as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. After the War ended, he gave up the idea he had of becoming a diplomat and started to translate modern Japanese fiction. The literature of Kawabata Yasunari was one of his focuses throughout his career; among the works he translated, “Izu no odoriko” 伊豆の踊子 (The Izu Dancer) is of particular importance. It was the very first Kawabata translation that Seidensticker attempted, and since he revised it at the end of his career, it shows his changing approach and method as he matured as a translator.

Seidensticker published his first English rendition of Kawabata’s “Izu no odoriko” in Perspective of Japan: An Atlantic Monthly Supplement in 1954, early in his career as a translator. Bold omissions, interpolations and modulations of the ST (source text, i.e. original text) were made in order to fit the work into the limited space given to him by the editor, but also to tailor it into a more accessible literary form for general readers of that time, who still knew little about Japan. In 1997, however, he retranslated “The Izu Dancer”, this time as an unabridged translation for The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories. All omitted parts were restored, interpolations removed, and further changes were made to bring the TT (target text, i.e. translated text) closer to the ST.

By comparing these two English translations of “The Izu Dancer,” this paper will illustrate the ways in which Seidensticker’s 1997 translation strategy had shifted from that of 1954, focusing on omissions of subsidiary episodes and characters, and the treatment of culture-specific items (CSIs). I will also demonstrate how a translator’s attitude towards translation can change over time along with the maturation of skills, change in understanding of the ST, and more crucially, the social and cultural context of the time when a work is being translated.