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Tale of Genji 2007/8/23 16:56
Hi all,

I'd love to read the Tale of Genji; however, there are a couple of English translations to choose from and I wasn't sure which one to go for. The ones I've seen are by Royall Tyler and Edward G Seidensticker. I was just wondering if anyone has any suggestions of which one of these would be best, or any other recommendations?

Thanks for all your help
by Cat  

Re: Tale of Genji 2007/8/24 16:13
Going through the reviews of the 3 translations on Amazon.com might help you decide although there seems to be little consensus and it seems to be highly dependent in what you value in translations. I copied parts of two reviews below, the last one has the same passage from the three different translations and I think that that might you help to decide.

I've read all three translations of The Tale of Genji. For those who don't know there are three translations so far, by Arthur Waley, Edward Seidensticker and this one by Tyler. All of them have their flaws. Waley's translation is known for being a beautifully written, but very freely translated, so free that he left out several chapters. Where Seidensticker's translation is known for being more accurate but the language is not as beautiful. Of all three I think I prefer Tyler's. In addition to the story, he gives an extensive description of the culture and a listing of the Japanese names of the characters which is very helpful for figuring out the intricate details of rank and social position. This may be a bit too much information for those who don't know very much about Heian culture.

Another one contradicting this one :-)
Having loved both the Arthur Waley and Edward Seidensticker versions of The Tale of Genji as well as the bits and pieces of Murasaki Shikibu's classical Japanese I had hammered through as a graduate student in East Asian studies, I was thrilled to hear that someone had done a "stunning" new translation of this work I and so many other Genji fans regard as one of the greatest "novels" ever written. Fortunately, a friend of mine, who is also a Genji fan, had the foresight to forward me some random passages of the Tyler version before I actually shelled out any money. In comparing these quotes to the Waley and Seidensticker versions I was much surprised to find that the Tyler translation comes up short in almost every regard, and that even Seidensticker's version, engaging as it is, is somewhat disappointing. Compare their respective translations of this short passage from a scene in Chapter Five ("Murasaki"), where Genji is visiting a Buddhist monastery in the mountains:

Waley's version:
Genji felt very disconsolate. It had begun to rain; a cold wind blew across the hill, carrying with it the sound of a waterfall--audible till then as a gentle intermittent plashing, but now a mighty roar; and with it, somnolently rising and falling, mingled the monotonous chanting of the scriptures. Even the most unimpressionable nature would have been plunged into melancholy by such surroundings. How much the more so Prince Genji, as he lay sleepless on his bed, continually planning and counter-planning.

Seidensticker's version:
Genji was not feeling well. A shower passed on a chilly mountain wind, and the sound of the waterfall was higher. Intermittently came a rather sleepy voice, solemn and somehow ominous, reading a sacred text. The most insensitive of men would have been aroused by the scene. Genji was unable to sleep.

Tyler's version:
Genji felt quite unwell, and besides, it was now raining a little, a cold mountain wind had set in to blow, and the pool beneath the waterfall had risen until the roar was louder than before. The eerie swelling and dying of somnolent voices chanting the scriptures could hardly fail in such a setting to move the most casual visitor. No wonder Genji, who had so much to ponder, could not sleep.
by Kappa rate this post as useful

Tough call 2007/8/24 16:22
Not easy to answer. I have read both, as well as the Arthur Waley version. I am struggling with a Japanese edition now - perhaps you are aware that many eminent Japanese authors have done their own contemporary versions.

The 3 English translations are all very good. Waley's language is dated, inevitably. And he has taken lots of poetic license.

I have a fondness for Seidensticker. In some ineffable way I feel he has gotten the female 'voice' right. I read his translation before the Tyler version appeared, so it had already established itself in my mind. I also enjoyed S's odd little book Genji Days, a kind of diary of translation.

But I have no criticism of Tyler. Nor of Donald Keene, who has translated the odd section.

I might also recommend Ivan Morris, who translated the Sarashina Diary.
by Laughing Buddha rate this post as useful

wow 2007/8/24 16:27
Kappa - I tip my hat to you. A very fine post.

But I wish I had such "flaws" as those 3 scholars!
by Laughing B rate this post as useful

another 2007/8/25 00:09
There is also the original translation into English by Suematsu Kencho to consider.
by Tay rate this post as useful

Tyler 2007/8/25 11:25
I like Tyler's version the best. Waley's seems... too academic?? His choice of words make me feel like I'm reading an Encyclopedia.
Seldensticker's is too simple and choppy. The tone doesn't seem appropriate.
Tyler's is the best because the text isn't overly intellectual and underly simple... it hits the middle line just perfect and grabs my attention. It flows the best I think and gives the right tone.
by Miko rate this post as useful

Edward Seidensticker RIP 2007/8/28 10:42
by L. Buddha rate this post as useful

interesting 2007/8/28 16:30
Correct me if I'm wrong but to my knowledge Waley is a original translator for this book.
I like his writting, language from old world.
Other translators or writers may have paraphrased a bit to more of a modern English language by reading Waley's translation is my feeling. Do you think?
Not sure if could read it but I would love to get hold of a original Japanese version as it is.
by cc rate this post as useful

To Kappa 2007/8/29 02:23
Excuse me but I have gone thru the chapter of the book where you stated on your post (chapter 5, Murasaki) it was translated by Arthur Waley and I found no similar paragraph in my book chapter.
Maybe I missed so please tell me where this paragraph is in this chapter? Thanks.
by cc rate this post as useful

nope 2007/8/29 11:55
SUEMATSU KENCHO is the original translator.
by Tay rate this post as useful

Seidensticker 2007/8/29 19:33
As far as I know Seidensticker was the first to do a translation into English and it is said to be one of the best. He is a classic and famous as far as you study japanese science in europe. Sadly he died this week.
by mary rate this post as useful

Thanks for all your help! 2007/8/29 21:46
Hi all,

Just wanted to say thanks for all your help and advice, I just wish I was more decisive!!

I'm thinking I might go for the Waley version, of the paragraphs posted by kappa I like that one the most. However, it would be nice to read a more complete and unabridged version - maybe I'll end up reading all of them! :-)

by Cat rate this post as useful

OK 2007/8/30 02:17
There you go! And don't forget SUEMATSU KENCHO.
by Tay rate this post as useful

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