From John Nathan “Who Can Put Across Genji” (The New York Review of Books, Jan. 14 2016 issue) on Dennis Washburn’s English translation of The Tale of Genji (Norton, 1,320pp)


<img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-942" src="; alt="‘Lady Fugitsubo watching Prince Genji departing in the moonlight’; Japanese woodblock print of a scene from The Tale of Genji, 1853″ width=”1600″ height=”767″> ‘Lady Fugitsubo watching Prince Genji departing in the moonlight’; Japanese woodblock print of a scene from The Tale of Genji, 1853

The Tale of Genji (《源氏物语》げんじものがたり) by Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部) in 1008 is definitely a hard reading already, not to mention to translate.

As John Nathan said, “The difficulty of translating the Genji begins with how impossibly hard it is to read. Heian-period (平安时代) Japanese was distinctive and short-lived: two hundred years after it was written, the text was already close to undecipherable to even the most literate native readers and had to be heavily annotated. For those of us who have done battle with Japanese as a foreign language, deciphering, not to mention interpreting, the Genji is a disheartening challenge.

One example will suffice. There is no shortage of personal pronouns in the modern language, which as at least five words for “I” and more than five for “you,” each conveying subtly different shadings of rank and status as perceived by the speaker. Heian Japanese, on the other hand, uses no personal pronouns and frequently omits names. The question who is addressing whom must consequently be intuited from context, with some help, rarely adequate for the average reader, from the agglutinated verbs that drops into place at the end of dismayingly long sentences and contain, in addition to tenses and modes, verbal suffixes that signal the rank and status of the speaker vis-a-vis the personage being addressed.

Even Tanizaki Junichiro, the canonical twentieth-century storyteller, acknowledged the difficulty when translating the Genji into modern Japanese, of preserving “that indirect manner of speaking, fraught with implications, yet so understated that it can be taken in several difficult senses.” In the end, Tanizaki, who created not one but three modern-language versions of the Genji, concluded that he was unable to achieve the economy of Murasaki’s Japanese: “If we posit that the original expresses ten units of meaning using five units of expression, then i have express them with seven.”

《源氏物语》在日本开启了“物哀”的时代, “物哀”即见物而生悲哀之情。 此后日本的小说中明显带有一种淡淡的悲伤,而“物哀”也成为日本一种全国盛行的民族意识。

丰子恺译本 1980年12月人民文学出版社初次出版是史上第一个简体字全译本。