Friday, 3 March 2017

William Morris in Japan



Morris is fortunate indeed in having as energetic an advocate as Professor Yasuo Kawabata of Japan Women’s University in Tokyo.  In 2013 Kawabata brought out a translation of News from Nowhere into Japanese, an elegant, pocket-sized paperback in the ‘Bunko’ series from the prestigious publisher Iwanami Shoten.  With its maps of the book’s journeys across London and up the Thames, its copious notes and substantial Translator’s Afterword, the volume helpfully orientates Japanese readers towards Morris’s peculiarly English utopia. 


With his appetite for translation apparently undiminished by this achievement, Kawabata then collaborated with Economics Professor Hideaki Ouchi to produce in 2014 a Japanese version of Morris and Bax’s Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (1893), a book which even over here is less well-known than it ought to be.  The volume is a sturdily produced hardback from Shobunsha, and in the accompanying essays, Kawabata situates this work within Morris’s personal and political biography, while Ouchi ranges across the politics and economics of communism. 


More recently still, Kawabata has produced a substantial monograph of his own, William Morris and His Legacy, published in Japanese last year by Iwanami Shoten.  The first part of the book explores the full range of Morris’s own aesthetic production, the second addresses Japanese figures strongly influenced by Morris such as the socialist and children’s literature author Kenji Miyazawa and the philosopher Yanagi Soetsu, founder of the Mingei folk art movement, and the third part reviews a selection of writings on the concepts of anarchy and beauty in the Victorian and modern periods (including some searching analyses of Fiona MacCarthy’s work).  John Ruskin is also a significant presence throughout.  We can perhaps now look forward to Professor Kawabata bringing Morris’s cultural and utopian theory into a full encounter with the complex postmodernity of the early twenty-first-century.

As if these endeavours were not enough, however, the indefatigable Kawabata has also written books on George Orwell and on George Best, and has been a central figure in the Japanese reception of Raymond Williams’s work.  We can no doubt expect much further admirable Morrisian work from him in the future, and all one can say as an English admirer is surely: more power to his elbow!

1 comment:

Kersey Dighton said...

Professor Kawabata's productivity is certainly impressive, Tony, but there are other Japanese Morrisians too. For example, the young scholar Yoshiko Seki of Koichi University, whose 'The Rhetoric of Retelling Old Romances: Medievalist Poetry by Alfred Tennyson and William Morris' was published by Eihosha in 2015 (in English).