Nishiwaki Junzaburō 1894–1982
Japanese poet, essayist, and critic.
A scholar of medieval English literature, Japanese poet Nishiwaki is recognized for introducing literary modernism in Japan with the publication of his poetry collection Ambarvalia. Fluent in Latin, Greek, German, French, and English, Nishiwaki translated many works of Western literature into Japanese, including Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. A devoted English professor for nearly sixty years, Nishiwaki was also a primary proponent of English literary scholarship at Japanese universities. In Donald Keene's estimation Nishiwaki "has probably exercised the greatest influence of any Japanese poet of the post-1945 generation."
Born January 20, 1894 in Ojiya, Japan, Nishiwaki went to Tokyo in 1911 to pursue painting, but instead studied economics at Keiō University. Upon graduation in 1917 he had a brief stint writing for the English-language periodical Japan Times. In 1920 he began teaching in the English department at his alma mater. Two years later, Nishiwaki had the opportunity to travel to Oxford, England, where he studied Old and Middle English literature. Here, he became acquainted with the modernist writing and aesthetic theories of Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and French surrealist poet André Breton; he also published his first poetry collection, Spectrum (1925). Nishiwaki returned to Japan in late 1925 and began his lifelong work as an English professor at Keiō University the next year. Between 1928 and 1931 he regularly contributed essays and poetry to the influential avant-garde literary journal Shi to Shiron, which he used to launch Surrealism in Japanese verse. In 1933 Nishiwaki was hailed as a new kind of Japanese poet with the publication of Ambarvalia. He continued his English literary studies through the 1930s, but during World War II he stopped writing to protest the fascist policies of Japan. Nishiwaki broke his silence in 1947 when he published Tabibito kaerazu (No Traveller Returns), which marked a departure from his earlier poetry. He published several more books of poetry and English literary scholarship during his lifetime, and he was named Person of Cultural Merit in Japan in 1971. He died June 5, 1982 in Ojiya.
Nishiwaki's poetic debut, the disjointed and allusive Spectrum, was written in English and shows the influence of Eliot's early poetry. Nishiwaki published his first volume
of poems in Japanese under the Latin title Ambarvalia, which denotes the pagan springtime crop processions. The modernist language of Ambarvalia revolutionized Japanese poetics with its free associations and its surrealistic, convoluted verse. Nishiwaki's next book of Japanese poetry, No Traveller Returns, represents a transformation of his poetic language. Comprised of longer narrative poems, this collection turns to Eastern poetics with its primary concern of transience and the culture of his native Japan. Other notable verse collections include Kundai no gûwa (1953), Raiki (1967; Record of Rites), Jûka (1969), and Jinrui (1979). In addition, Nishiwaki published a study of William Langland, an introduction to Old English literature, and criticism on Charles Beaudelaire, among many other prose works.
Despite publishing some poetry in English, Nishiwaki is relatively unknown among English-speaking readers. Revered in Japan, Nishiwaki "has been widely acclaimed as the founder and teacher of a modern Japanese poetry of the world," according to Keene. Critics have commented on the European influences in Nishiwaki's Japanese poetry, which has led others to question the "Japaneseness" of his canon, particularly of his later poetry. For instance, Hosea Hirata suggested that Nishiwaki appropriated both Japanese and Western literary history in his No Traveller Returns to construct the text's "Japaneseness." Hirata, perhaps the leading English-speaking critic of Nishiwaki's work, has also studied the "translatory" nature of Nishiwaki's poetic language in Ambarvalia and the similarities between Nishiwaki's theoretical writings and those of French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida.
*Poems Barbarous 1930
†Ambarvalia [Ambarvalia] 1933
Tabibito kaerazu [No Traveller Returns or The Traveler Does Not Return] 1947
Kindai no gùwa 1953
Dai san no shinwa 1956
Ushinawareta toki 1960
Hōjō no megami 1962
Hōseki no nemuri 1963
Raiki [Record of Rites] 1967
Teihon, Nishiwaki Junzaburō zenshishu (collected poems) 1981
Other Major Works
‡Chōgenjitsushugi shiron [Surrealist Poetics] (criticism) 1929
Beiei shisoshi (philosophy) 1941
Koeinbungaku kenkyu josetsu (literary history) 1947
Shigaku (criticism) 1968
Nishiwaki Junzaburō zenshu 12 vols. (poetry, essays, criticism, history, and philosophy) 1982-83
*These works were written and published in English.
‡This work was reissued in 1947 under the title Anbaruwaria.
‡Includes the essays...
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SOURCE: "Nishiwaki Junzaburō (1894-1982)," in his Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of The Modern Era, Vol. 2, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, pp. 323-35.
[In the following excerpt, Keene provides an overview of Nishiwaki's poetic career in terms of the European poetic tradition.]
Nishiwaki has been acclaimed as the founder and teacher of a modern Japanese poetry that is part of the modern poetry of the world. A typical evaluation by an admirer states: "Nishiwaki Junzaburō played a decisive role in the fate of the Japanese modern poem. Together with Rilke, Valéry, and Eliot, he is one of four great poets who represent the twentieth century." He has probably exercised the greatest influence of any Japanese poet on the post-1945 generation. Some critics have claimed that Japanese poetry died at the end of the Taishō era in 1926, but many more believe that a great resurgence in Japanese poetry occurred at precisely that time, and that the central figure in the new poetry was Nishiwaki.
Nishiwaki was born in the town of Ojiya in Niigata Prefecture, where his father was a bank president. He displayed a precocious interest in English language and literature while still a middle-school student, even composing some poems in English at the time. He was also talented at drawing, and at one stage in his career went to Tokyo intending to become a professional artist; however, the decadent...
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SOURCE: "Return or No Return: Nishiwaki's Postmodernist Appropriation of Literary History, East and West," in Literary History, Narrative, and Culture: Selected Conference Papers, edited by Wimal Dissanayake and Steven Bradbury, University of Hawaii Press, 1989, pp. 122-31.
[In the following essay, originally delivered at a conference in Honolulu in April, 1988, Hirata discusses the intertextuality of the poems in No Traveller Returns by suggesting that Nishiwaki appropriated both Western and Japanese literary traditions to construct the text's "Japaneseness."]
After the dazzling display of modernist poetic language in Ambarvalia (1933), Nishiwaki Junzaburō's second book of Japanese poetry Tabibito kaerazu (No Traveller Returns), published in 1947, seemed to indicate his complete return to Eastern poetics with its central sentiment of mujō (transience). Indeed the surprising transformation of Nishiwaki's poetic language caused much indignation among the die-hard modernist poets of Japan at that time.
Yet, as recent source studies have revealed, the intertextuality of Tabibito kaerazu is far from a simple nostalgic return to the mode of classical Eastern literature. It is now evident that the text of Tabibito kaerazu traverses not one but many different traditions within Japanese literature and, more important, many Western "pre-texts" as...
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SOURCE: "Violation of the Mother Tongue: Nishiwaki Junzaburō's Translatory Language in Ambarvalia," in Comparative Literature, Vol. 45, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 47-59.
[In the following essay, Hirata suggests that Nishiwaki's "translatory writing"—his use of translation—in Ambarvalia effected "a radical deformation and foreignization of the Japanese language."]
Baudelaire's "Invitation au voyage" evokes our nostalgia for a poetic (thus, oriental?) paradise where only the sweetest language of all, our mother tongue ("langue natale") is spoken. We could well assume that Nishiwaki Junzaburō (1894-1982), who was considered to be one of the best readers of Baudelaire in Japan, was well aware of the homesickness for a purer, more authentic language that would afflict any poet. Yet Nishiwaki's effort to create his own poetic voice took a completely opposite direction from the search for a more authentic, "oriental" mother tongue. Indeed, his first book of poetry written in Japanese, Ambarvalia (1933), presents itself as a surrendering of the mother tongue to the invasions of foreign tongues.
For anyone who would attempt to translate a text such as Ambarvalia, a series of questions will arise. What if the text to be translated is already a translation? What if the "sweet mother tongue" of the original text is already violated by foreign tongues? How can a...
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Hirata, Hosea. "Pure Poetry and Differance: Negativity in Nishiwaki and Derrida." Journal of The Association of Teachers of Japanese 26, No. 1 (April 1992): 5-24.
Discusses the similarities between Nishiwaki's theoretical writings about poetry and Derrida's theory of differance.
——. The Poetry and Poetics of Nishiwaki Junzaburo, Modernism in Translation. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993, 261 p.
Translations of selections from Nishiwaki's work by Hirata, with revised essays which have been excerpted above.
Additional coverage of Nishiwaki's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 107. [obituary]
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