"Flower Garden", by Takehisa Yumeji
In the spring when the pandemic is finally over, do you have any suggested activities?
"Because I want to wear my favorite coat, having a date would be pretty good.
I will write a letter tonight before going to bed because I feel like holding a pen.
To transform means into purposes, and to transform purposes into means—this kind of reversal can be quite enjoyable, in fact.
So, it’s good to go out for a walk because you want to wear shoes, it’s good to fall in love because you want to wear your favorite coat."
—— 《Prescription on Earth》
Recently, I undertook some translation work seriously for the first time, only to realize that some things could not be directly translated. Of course, I have always known conceptually about these impossibilities, but now that I have finally experienced it firsthand, it all became much more real to me. I see how language barriers have caused much mutual demonization due to mis- or non-communication and created out-of-control messes born from the frustrations of misunderstandings. Living between the cultures of East and West, I have accumulated some experiential wisdom on how to survive and navigate these miscommunications and where to find a bridge when I need one. For this, I am immensely grateful and happy. I consider this an abundance in my life which should be shared with others so that it might serve some purpose.
Today, I have been wondering how Natsume Soseki would answer some of my questions. Why is it Mr. Natsume Soseki who first came to my mind? Well, he once translated the English "I love you" to Japanese as, "The moonlight tonight is so beautiful". In Japan, you would almost never say, “I love you” because culturally, it is considered too strong an expression. To him, “The moonlight tonight is so beautiful” communicates an equivalent sentiment. Alas, many Eastern languages are often subtle and sometimes even seem to follow no logic! But perhaps when you leave your mind open and quiet, you may see the beauty of the white spaces in words, feel the sentiment, and finally understand it all.
Natsume Soseki is greatly accomplished in both Eastern and Western literature. He is considered one of Japan’s great writers, and his headshot was even once printed on the 1,000 yen banknotes.
Here is another question for him:
What do you think of the many problems and worries in the lives of modern people?
“In life, people face countless questions: To eat millet or to eat rice? that’s comedy. To be an engineer or to be a businessman? that’s comedy. To choose this woman or that woman? that’s comedy. To pick silk with a flower and bird print or silk with a striped print? that’s comedy. To learn English or German as a 2nd language is also comedy—everything is comedy. Only the final question—life or death—is tragedy.
There are 3,600 days in ten years. From morning till night, most questions that people try to answer with great intensity are all comedies. Having performed in comedies for 3,600 consecutive days, they eventually forget about the tragedy.
People are endlessly anxious about and occupied by questions of life, leaving no space for questions of death. As everyone has busied themselves with choosing this “life” or that "life", the bigger questions between life and death are neglected.
Those who have forgotten about death will become extravagant.
To float is life, to sink is life. To raise a hand and plant a foot are also life. And so people begin to believe that no matter how they leap, how they let loose, how they frolic, they will never leave this realm of life and stop concerning themselves with the question of death. The extravagant will become audacious, the audacious will ravage truth and rampage freely across the earth.
—— 《The Poppy》
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My friend Jane recently published a blog post journaling her experiences and thoughts during the month and a half long period following the coronavirus outbreak in China.
As I was reading it, I felt an urge to translate it for my friends in America. I believe this article can bring a refreshing perspective to us who live in America through Jane’s dialogue with herself as she travels from Shanghai to Berlin.