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Unformatted text preview: he first modern Western novels to be translated into Japanese
was Bulwer-Lytton’s Ernest Maltravers, the tale of a modern man’s ingenuity and self-motivated drive to succeed (although the translator of this
work saw fit to give it the erotically provocative Japanese title of Karyû
Shunwa or A Spring Tale of Flowers and Willows in the hope of boosting
its sales). For most of the first two decades of Meiji, Japanese translators
of Western fiction concentrated overwhelmingly on the writings of British
authors, a clear reflection of the enormous prestige in Japanese eyes of 258 Encounter with the West British civilization compared to that of any other country of the West.
In addition to Bulwer-Lytton, prominent British authors translated into
Japanese during the early Meiji period included Scott and Disraeli.
The Japanese were especially taken with tales of modern and “scientific” adventures, as can be seen in the popularity of Jules Verne’s Around
the World in Eighty Days and A Trip to the Moon. And from about the early
1880s on, largely in response to the movement for parliamentary government, they became infatuated with political novels. The translated writings of Disraeli and Bulwer-Lytton helped make respectable the practice
of prose writing, which members of the ruling samurai class of the
Tokugawa period had for the most part eschewed as vulgar; and during
the 1880s many prominent members of the embryonic parties tried their
hands at politically oriented novels. A good many of these novels dealt
with the present, but others were set in such disparate times and places
as ancient Greece, Ming China, France during the Revolution, and even
a hypothetical Japan in the 173rd year of Meiji (a.d. 2040, one hundred
fifty years after the opening of the first Diet in 1890).
Some idea of the growing consciousness in the 1880s of Japanese
achievements and the anticipation that Japan would assume a more assertive international role can be seen in a passage from one of these political
novels entitled Strange Encounters of Elegant Females (Kajin no Kigû),
written in 1885 by Shiba Shirò under the nom de plume of the Wanderer
of the Eastern Seas. Far from being an account of romance and passion,
as the title would seem to suggest, Strange Encounters is the story of the
Wanderer’s investigation into revolutionary activities thro...
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- Spring '13