SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Ban Kōkei and the creation of eighteenth century Japanese prose

Dr Rebekah Clements

Date: 11 October 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 11 October 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Seminar

Rebekah Clements Abstract


The scholar Ban Kōkei (1733-1806) is best known for his published collection of biographies of eccentrics, Kinsei kijinden (Eccentrics of our Times, 1790), which was one of the best-selling books of Japan’s late eighteenth century, and for his Japanese-style poetry (waka). However, Kōkei was also an ardent proponent of writing what he called kunitsubumi (prose in the national style). At a time when most prose writing in Japan used either the medium of written literary Chinese, or a hybridized mixture of Chinese and Japanese elements, Kōkei advocated a move towards a purer Japanese style that drew upon precedents in Japan’s literary past while incorporating contemporary linguistic developments. Much like the well-known European example of Cicero, who developed his rhetorical Latin language centuries earlier by translating from classical Greek, the main methodology advocated by Kōkei for cultivating his ideal prose style was translation, or as he called it utsushibumi (“transferred” or “translated” text).    This talk will examine what Kōkei meant by utsushibumi, and look at his use of translation in the creation of a Japanese prose style. I will put Kōkei’s efforts at language reform in the context of eighteenth century developments in intralingual translation from classical into vernacular Japanese, and explain the role of translation in his attempts to develop a “national” prose language for Japan nearly one hundred years before the national language advocacy of the genbun itchi movement of the Meiji period.

Rebekah Clements

Speaker Biography

Dr Rebekah Clements is an Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) of Japanese Studies at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, Durham University. She obtained her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2012, and was a Research Associate at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge sponsored by the Leverhulme Foundation, while holding an overlapping Junior Research Fellowship at Queens' College Cambridge.  Her first monograph, A Cultural History of Translation in Early Modern Japan, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015, and examined the formative role played by translation from classical Japanese, Chinese, and Dutch in the lives of Japanese scholars and the rapidly-developing Tokugawa print industry, arguing that Japan's culture of translation did not begin in the Meiji period. Dr Clements has recently been awarded a five year European Research Council Starting Grant, to study the aftermath of the Imjin war in seventeenth century East Asia.

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office & SOAS Japan Research Centre

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