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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Thomas Mann’s reception in Japan between cultural heteronomy and emancipatory impulses

 October 2023 - ongoing

While renowned German literature critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki has referred to Thomas Mann‘s Tonio Kröger as "novel of the century" ("Jahrhunderterzählung"), this not only rings true for the European and American audiences Reich-Ranicki had in mind, but especially for 20th century Japan. Immediately after the first translation into Japanese had been released by the prestigious publishing company Iwanami Shoten in 1927, it became a seminal text for Japan’s academic kyōyōshugi elite who projected their own struggle with hastily-imported Western culture onto Tonio’s ideological dilemma between artistic sensibilities and societal norms.

While this first translation until recently has remained highly influential for Japanese intellectuals, it was followed by a slew of 14 other Japanese retranslations which were all based on Tonio Kröger. Each of these retranslations tells a rich story about the historical contexts they emerged from: Saneyoshi Hayao’s first translation, praised by kyōyōshugi academics for its exceedingly "faithful", i.e. foreignizing reproduction of Mann’s stylistics and even syntax, was followed, for instance, by retranslations which were censored due to political reasons, by other retranslations which hugely benefitted from the post-war world literature boom, and by newer attempts to rewrite Tonio’s 19th century story for a modern-day Japanese audience. This timeline not only allows us to retrace shifting Japanese attitudes towards Mann and kyōyōshugi, but also gradual changes in Japanese translation culture and in Japan’s cultural self-image towards the West.

These changes are explored and contextualized through a digitally augmented, i.e. Topic Modeling-based full text analysis of all 15 Japanese Tonio Kröger retranslations. The approach does not primarily focus on each retranslation’s degree of "faithfulness" to the source text, but on the relationships among different retranslations. The predominantly stylometric analysis of those relationships sheds light on the hidden mechanisms which have shaped Japan’s scholarly translation culture in the context of kyōyōshugi, i.e. on patterns of similarity and influence between different retranslations, which can then be traced back to various types of relationships (such as colleague, rival, or mentor) among the translators.

Recent Publications

Müller, Nicole (2024). "日本の『トーニオ・クレーガー』再翻訳の時代的変遷 : デジタル分析、関係的翻訳分析を通じて (Japanese Retranslation of ‘Tonio Kröger’ and its Historical Change, assessed through Digitally Augmented Relational Analysis)". 日本語と日本語教育 (Nihongo to Nihongo Kyōiku), 52 (pp. 133-156). LINK