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Yoko Tawada Academic Workshop 2019 Report

On April 13 (Sat), 2019, the Global Japanese Studies held a workshop by Yoko Tawada, who is a visiting professor at Waseda University. In the workshop, graduate students who study ” the writer Tawada Yoko” at Waseda and other universities have participated. The workshop was featured in NHK’s overseas broadcast programs. The following are the comments received from the participants.

1. Ryosuke Tomidokoro (Master’s Program, Second Year, Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University) “Things Poetic and Private: A Consideration Based on the Issue of Translation in the Works of Yoko Tawada and Hiromi Ito”

Yoko Tawada and Hiromi Ito have many things in common, including genre-bending literary creations, impressive readings and performances, moving overseas, and now having attained professorships at Waseda University. This presentation considered the creation of, and differences between, the poetic language of the two writers based on issues of translation that concern their works. A member of the audience noted, “Perhaps now it is more meaningful than ever to consider, through the works of the author Yoko Tawada, which elements—ideas, meanings, words, sounds, and so forth—are chosen to be included in translations and also how these elements are translated.”

2. Mio Hasegawa (Graduate of the Master’s Program of the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University; Staff Member, Niigata University) “That Which Binds Animals and Humans: On Yoko Tawada’s The Trainee of Snow

Animals frequently appear in Tawada’s works. This presentation drew attention to the parts of the novel Yuki no Renshūsei (The Trainee of Snow), whose narrator is a polar bear, that form connections between humans and an animal who can communicate in human language. The purpose was to attempt to understand the motif of the “polar bear inside the human.” The presenter also mentioned small details of which Tawada, herself, had not been consciously aware. During the question and answer session, Tawada discussed thought-provokingly about how—perhaps because of phenomena such as global warming and the Great East Japan Earthquake—characters who are bears, and polar bears, in particular, have begun appearing in creative works with some frequency.

3. Chisa Tanimoto (PhD Candidate, Keio University) “Yoko Tawada’s Experiments with the Replacement of Characters: On the Metamorphoses of ‘The Flight of the Moon”

This presentation considered the significance of using kanji that cannot be understood by German-language readers in German-language texts based on the transformations that occur in the translations of three poems by Yoko Tawada with the same title, “Tsuki no Tōsō” (Die Flucht des Monds; The Flight of the Moon). Based on her experiences, Tawada said, “When you travel to different countries, you are surrounded by languages you have almost no understanding of. However, these languages are intriguing precisely because you do not understand them.” Meanwhile, the presenter noted: “The kanji employed in this poem no longer belong to any one country.” The presentation thus simultaneously suggested the intrigue and possibility of crisis inherent in language.

4. Son Hye-jeong (PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, The University of Tokyo) “Recording the Voice of Yoko Tawada”

Yoko Tawada has now given well over 1,000 readings and performances. The audience was shown seven contrasting videos by the presenter, who has been recording these performances for around a decade. Upon seeing these videos, the author of this report thought that an archive of materials relating to Tawada, including videos of this type, should be created and felt keenly the importance of preserving for the future Tawada’s wide-ranging activities in an accessible form. The presenter said, “Perhaps we can convey through photographs and videos the atmosphere-like aspects of Tawada’s art that cannot be captured merely through words. Surely, this, too, can be referred to as ‘literature.’” This remark seemed to indicate possibilities inherent in Tawada’s literature that cannot be understood from too narrow a perspective.

*The texts are shown in original

Each presentation during the workshop focused on a distinct topic. Beneath the surface, however, it seems that three themes core to any consideration of Yoko Tawada—words/characters, translation, and spaces between—were considered by each speaker. Indeed, in listening to the presentations, there were several parts where what was said in one presentation seemed to be linked to what was said in others. The workshop was lengthy—going on for four hours—and yet it was a calm experience from start to finish. Additionally, perhaps because the writer who was the subject of the presentations was present, herself, the discussions during the question and answer sessions went right to the essence of the workshop’s topic and helped to make the event truly fulfilling.  (Report by: Ryosuke Tomidokoro)

■Workshop Overview

Date & Time : April 13, 2019, 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Venue: Lecture Room 351, Building 33, Toyama Campus, Waseda University

■Media Coverage

The academic workshop was filmed by NHK WORLD TV (the NHK’s broadcasting service targeting overseas viewers), which is available in around 140 countries.

Scenes from the day’s event are shown in a program to air on April 28, 2019.

Broadcast date: April 28, 2019 (Sun.), from 10:10 am to 10:38 am

Live streaming:


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