Botchan/Translator's note

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Botchan by Natsume Sōseki, translated by Yasotaro Morri
A Note by the Translator

A NOTE BY THE TRANSLATOR

NO translation can expect to equal, much less to excel, the original. The excellence of a translation can only be judged by noting how far it has succeeded in reproducing the original tone, colors, style, the delicacy of sentiment, the force of inert strength, the peculiar expressions native to the language with which the original is written, or whatever is its marked characteristic. The ablest can do no more, and to want more than this will be demanding something impossible. Strictly speaking, the only way one can derive full benefit or enjoyment from a foreign work is to read the original, for any intelligence at second-hand never gives the kind of satisfaction which is possible only through the direct touch with the original. Even in the best translated work is probably wanted the subtle vitality natural to the original language, for it defies an attempt, however elaborate, to transmit all there is in the original. Correctness of diction may be there, but spontaneity is gone; it cannot be helped.

The task of the translator becomes doubly hazardous in case of translating a European language into Japanese, or vice versa. Between any of the European languages and Japanese there is no visible kinship in word-form, significance, grammatical system, rhetorical arrangements. It may be said that the inspiration of the two languages is totally different. A want of similarity of customs, habits, traditions, national sentiments and traits makes the work of translation all the more difficult. A novel written in Japanese which had attained national popularity might, when rendered into English, lose its captivating vividness, alluring interest and lasting appeal to the reader.

These remarks are made not in way of excuse for any faulty dictions that may be found in the following pages. Neither are they made out of personal modesty nor of a desire to add undue weight to the present work. They are made in the hope that whoever is good enough to go through the present translation will remember, before he may venture to make criticisms, the kind and extent of difficulties besetting him in his attempts so as not to judge the merit of the original by this translation. Nothing would afford the translator a greater pain than any unfavorable comment on the original based upon this translation. If there be any deserving merits in the following pages the credit is due to the original. Any fault found in its interpretation or in the English version, the whole responsibility is on the translator.

For the benefit of those who may not know the original, it must be stated that "Botchan" by the late Mr. K. Natsume was an epoch-making piece of work. On its first appearance, Mr. Natsume's place and name as the foremost in the new literary school were firmly established. He had written many other novels of more serious intent, of heavier thoughts and of more enduring merits, but it was this "Botchan" that secured him the lasting fame. Its quaint style, dash and vigor in its narration appealed to the public who had become somewhat tired of the stereotyped sort of manner with which all stories had come to be handled.

In its simplest understanding, "Botchan" may be taken as an episode in the life of a son born in Tokyo, hot-blooded, simple-hearted, pure as crystal and sturdy as a towering rock, honest and straight to a fault, intolerant of the least injustice and a volunteer ever ready to champion what he considers right and good. Children may read it as a "story of man who tried to be honest." It is a light, amusing and, at the name time, instructive story, with no tangle of love affairs, no scheme of blood-curdling scenes or nothing startling or sensational in the plot or characters. The story, however, may be regarded as a biting sarcasm on a hypocritical society in which a gang of instructors of dark character at a middle school in a backwoods town plays a prominent part. The hero of the story is made a victim of their annoying intrigues, but finally comes out triumphant by smashing the petty red tapism, knocking down the sham pretentions and by actual use of the fist on the Head Instructor and his henchman.

The story will be found equally entertaining as a means of studying the peculiar traits of the native of Tokyo which are characterised by their quick temper, dashing spirit, generosity and by their readiness to resist even the lordly personage if convinced of their own justness, or to kneel down even to a child if they acknowledge their own wrong. Incidentally the touching devotion of the old maid servant Kiyo to the hero will prove a standing reproach to the inconstant, unfaithful servants of which the number is ever increasing these days in Tokyo. The story becomes doubly interesting by the fact that Mr. K. Natsume, when quite young, held a position of teacher of English at a middle school somewhere about the same part of the country described in the story, while he himself was born and brought up in Tokyo.

It may be added that the original is written in an autobiographical style. It is profusely interladed with spicy, catchy colloquials patent to the people of Tokyo for the equals of which we may look to the rattling speeches of notorious Chuck Conners of the Bowery of New York. It should be frankly stated that much difficulty was experienced in getting the corresponding terms in English for those catchy expressions. Strictly speaking, some of them have no English equivalents. Care has been exercised to select what has been thought most appropriate in the judgment or the translator in converting those expressions into English but some of them might provoke disapproval from those of the "cultured" class with "refined" ears. The slangs in English in this translation were taken from an American magazine of world-wide reputation editor of which was not afraid to print of "damn" when necessary, by scorning the timid, conventional way of putting it as "d—n." If the propriety of printing such short ugly words be questioned, the translator is sorry to say that no means now exists of directly bringing him to account for he met untimely death on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by the German submarine.

Thanks are due to Mr. J. R. Kennedy, General Manager, and Mr. Henry Satoh, Editor-in-Chief, both of the Kokusai Tsushin-sha (the International News Agency) of Tokyo and a host of personal friends of the translator whose untiring assistance and kind suggestions have made the present translation possible. Without their sympathetic interests, this translation may not have seen the daylight.

Y. M.

Tokyo, September, 1918.