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Missionaries and modernist poets: Cultural mediators in Finnish translations of Japanese fiction and poetry

Posted By admin On May 30, 2013 @ 2:39 pm In Abstracts for 2013, History, Philosophy and Religion | Comments Disabled

Saara Leppänen, Ph.D. student

Doctoral Programme in Social and Cultural Encounters

University of Eastern Finland


The first book of Japanese fiction in the Finnish language was published in 1906. Since then almost a hundred works of Japanese fiction have been translated into Finnish directly from Japanese and indirectly from intermediate languages. As Japan and Japanese culture are fairly unfamiliar to most Finnish readers, something has to be done in the translation to reduce the gap in the cultural knowledge of the target audience. One way to compensate for this gap and mediate the foreign culture to the readers is to use peritexts, which are texts that are included in the same volume as the main text but are not part of the main text itself. In these texts it is possible to offer longer explanations and comments than within the main text. In this paper I focus on the writers of these peritexts, specifically writers of prefaces, postfaces, and various notes,  questioning who they are and how do they mediate Japanese culture through these additional texts to Finnish readers.

The main data of the research consists of 91 translations of Japanese fiction and poetry, which were published between years 1906 and 2009. Out of these translations, 65 books include the aforementioned prefaces, postfaces and notes. Some of the peritextual explanations are short, only a word or two, while others may comprise tens of pages. In addition to the peritexts in the translations, the research material also includes interviews with the writers of the peritexts and literary material written by them, as well as texts written about them. Due to the various types of research material, the research methods also vary from interviews and historical background research to content analysis of the peritextual material.

A preliminary analysis of the peritextual material showed that the writers of these texts varied greatly from editors and translators of the main text itself, to translators who were not connected to the main translation and to persons who were connected to the translators of the texts, the last of which usually being posthumous publications of the translations. Not all of these writers could understand Japanese, which could have had an impact on the peritextual material they wrote. Moreover, there are more than 50 translators among the material but only eleven of them have translated more than one book, which means that the number of translations and the amount of peritextual materials are not evenly distributed amongst the writers. Since the overall number of Finnish translations from Japanese is quite low, certain translators have a significant impact on the material.

In this paper my aim is to look deeper into these writers and their agency and impact on mediating Japanese culture to Finnish readers of translated texts. By looking more closely at some of these writers, I will try to create a picture of different kinds of cultural mediators and perhaps even mediating “trends”. The subject positions of these mediators and the prevalence of the different roles of the writers will also be discussed.

Article printed from NAJAKS – Nordic Association of Japanese and Korean Studies: http://www.najaks.org

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