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date: 22 March 2018

The Reception of Mark Twain in Japan from the Meiji Period to the Heisei Period (1860s–2000s)

Summary and Keywords

Why have so many Japanese people been fascinated with one of the most distinctively “American” writers, Mark Twain? Over the past hundred years, Mark Twain has influenced Japanese culture in a variety of ways. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe claimed that Huckleberry Finn was one of the “roots of his inspiration as a writer” and called Huck one of the heroes who means the most to him in world literature. However, it was often necessary for Japanese writers to “Japanize” Twain’s works in accordance with the cultural and political norms of contemporary Japanese society. For instance, Kuni Sasaki’s Huckleberry Monogatari (1921), the first Japanese translation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, significantly bowdlerized Huckleberry for Japanese juvenile readers, following the period’s genteel conventions of juvenile literature. In Jiro Osaragi’s samurai novel Hanamaru Kotorimaru (1939), an adaptation of Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, the elements of didacticism, rigid class hierarchy, and patriarchal relationships, all significant in contemporary imperial Japan, were particularly emphasized. During the American occupation after World War II, a number of Japanese juvenile translations of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn appeared. They not only idealized Tom and Huck as democratic American heroes, but also considerably tamed them out of concern that those untamed heroes might justify juvenile delinquency, which was common in the post-war moral confusion. In the sphere of Japanese popular culture, Twain is everywhere. Twain and the characters in his works frequently appear in popular science fiction, television commercials, musicals, repertory theaters, documentary films, and theme parks. An animated TV series depicting Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer achieved record-breaking popularity among Japanese children in the 1970s and 1980s. These popular cultural adaptations sometimes reflected the changing trend of Japanese juvenile television anime and the development of themes in late 20th-century Japanese society, such as the empowerment of women and increasing awareness of the necessity to represent blacks.

Keywords: Mark Tawin, Japan, translation, adaptation, reception, children’s literature, comparative literature, censorship, animation, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In a cursory glance at the long relationship between Japan and Mark Twain, what is most noticeable is that Japanese people have selectively adopted Twain’s writings and, in some cases, have changed them to suit their needs depending on cultural and social conditions in each period of Japan’s history. A study of the relationship between Mark Twain and the common people of Japan, in particular, shows that there is not only a “reception history” but also what can be called a “transformation history.” This process was necessary for assimilating the works of the writer Mark Twain, products of America, into the culture of Japan with its vastly different language and value system. This essay is a comprehensive overview of studies of Twain’s influences on Japan and the relationship between Twain’s works and Japanese people, in roughly chronological order from the Meiji period (1868–1912) to the Heisei period (1989–2000s), with a focus on the major translations and adaptations.

Translations of Twain’s Works in the Meiji Period (1868–1912)

“Māku touein no tamoto dokei,” published by Matsushige Watanabe in 1888, appears to have been the first translation of Twain’s work in Japan.1 It translates Twain’s essay “My Watch” (1870) and is included in Nnū nashonaru daigo rīda chokuyaku, the translation of Charles J. Barnes’s New National Fifth Reader (1884), which was used as an English-language textbook for elementary and middle school students in the United States. Although this translated book was used as reference material for an English textbook meant for students and teachers in that period, it contains numerous mistranslations, and the unique humor of the source text is almost completely lost. It makes no effort to bring out the intriguing quality of the original by carefully unraveling its contents. The translation must have been annoying for students who were good at English, and there is little significance to it other than its being the first Japanese translation of Twain.

In fact, the translation of Twain’s novella “Is He Living or Is He Dead” (1893) should be cited as the first real translation, even though it was published slightly later. “Is He Living or Is He Dead” was translated by Isoo Yamagata under the title “Seishi ikaga” and published in Shōnen Bunko in November 1893.2 Isoo Yamagata also submitted “Ōji to kojiki” for the February 1892 edition of Shōnen Bunko, a magazine still in circulation, but there is no evidence that it was actually published. Thus, “Seishi ikaga” is now considered the first translation of Twain to appear in a Japanese magazine. In regard to quality of translation, there are many inaccurate, dramatized, or exaggerated expressions; “cabbage” is translated “sweet potato,” or “a long time ago” as “it happened tens of years ago.” Overall, however, the translation closely reconstructs the original text’s doubting voice and mockery of human sentiments, which are easily duped when one hears about death, and the translated work provides a clear glimpse of Yamagata’s excellent English-language skills.3

In 1898, the Japanese translation of Twain’s major novel The Prince and the Pauper was published under the title Kojiki ōji. Co-translated by Kawasanjin Kawada, Kozanjin Kuroda, and Sazanami Iwaya, this work appeared in installments over a one-year period in a popular children’s magazine, Shōnen Sekai (see Figure 1).4

The Reception of Mark Twain in Japan from the Meiji Period to the Heisei Period (1860s–2000s)Click to view larger

Figure 1. Kawa Sanjin et al., trans., “Kojiki Oji,” Shonen Sekai, 15 January (1898), 35.

In consideration of young Japanese readers, the translation contains many striking modifications, such as leaving out the folk songs about cheating wives that the prince’s follower Miles Hendon used to hum, or the scene of cruel punishment. Furthermore, the addition of a fairy-tale ending in which people praise the British prince in chorus shows the Japanese reverence for the imperial family in those days. Moreover, as many reviewers have pointed out, not only are there differences from the original, but there are also many characteristics unique to the translation, such as over-decorative language, explanatory tone, and dramatized tone of kodan (a style of traditional oral Japanese storytelling). However, when compared with other translations of the same period, which were criticized for being exaggerated or erroneous, this work is relatively faithful to the original and employs the then newly emerging genbun’itchi style (using the colloquial form of the Japanese language) most of the time, which makes it extremely easy to read even today.

With its subtle balance of fantasy and historical reality, a rare combination in children’s literature of the time, Kojiki ōji was well received by readers. For example, years later, one of the most admired Japanese novelists, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, reminisced about being fond of it in his childhood, saying, “It was interesting because the story seemed possible in real life.”5 Even though The Prince and the Pauper depicts the exchange of social classes, the revolution eventually takes place from the top down, and the feudalistic order of the royal authority remains intact. This made the story acceptable in imperial Japan, where an authoritarian social order with the emperor at the top was still in place. Of all Twain’s full-length works, The Prince and the Pauper became the most widely read in prewar Japan. In that sense, it can be said that the success of the translated book had wide influence.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many translations and adaptations of Twain’s works, primarily episodes from travelogues and his short stories, were published. Among them, the bestselling novelist Fūyō Oguri, a disciple of the renowned author Kōyō Ozaki, released in the 1900s three adapted works set in Japan: “Gaikotsu monogatari” (1902; adaptation of “A Curious Dream”, “Aoume” (1907; adaptation of “The Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup”), and “Kaibutsu yashiki” (1907; adaptation of “A Ghost Story”).6 However, even though all three adaptations follow the storyline of the originals quite faithfully, they have a gloomy literary style, with Twain’s nonchalant, cheerful humor lacking while a tone of horror is emphasized in some places.

Translation of Twain’s Works by Hōitsuan Hara

Among the translations published at the beginning of the 20th century, it was Hōitsuan Hara’s series that gained the most attention in Japan. Hara went through much hardship to become a disciple of the translator Shiken Morita, who was known at the time as the “God of English.” Hara became known for political novels, grew popular, and published many translated works, such as works by Bulwer Lytton and Guy de Maupassant, using Shiken Morita’s kanbun (Chinese classical literature) style. But Hara translated Twain’s works most frequently, publishing five of Twain’s short stories in newspapers and magazines during 1903 alone. His debate with Isoo Yamagata over alleged mistranslations in the Japanese version of “The Killing of Julius Caesar,” published in a newspaper in the same year, is particularly notable.7 Yamagata harshly attacked mistranslations in Hara’s work in Tokyo Asahi Shimbun, a widely circulated national newspaper, and in an English literature journal that Yamagata published. One example that was later often discussed is Hara’s mistranslation of “a lion at bay” as “a lion crouching at the bay.” A correct translation would be “a lion at the jaws of death after being chased,” as Yamagata pointed out during their debate. Not only was there a huge difference in their English-language skills, but Hara, who touched on Twain’s style only superficially, saying that “Twain is insignificant and not worth a mention,” was no match for Yamagata, who had insight into the spirit of criticism and sense of justice in Twain’s writing.

Although there is no doubt about who won the debate, the arguments about mistranslation during the period clearly indicated the difficulties involved in Twain being accepted in Japan, caused by the traditional view of translation and the literature of the era. Shiken Morita’s heavy, old-fashioned kanbun style, which Hara embodied, was not suitable for translating Twain’s witty language. Moreover, it must have been difficult to understand the pathos and righteousness hidden behind the cheerful humor in Twain’s writing through the period’s traditional perspective on literature. After the debate, Hara, who was as sensitive about his public reputation as he was boastful, died in a mental hospital at the early age of thirty-nine. Along with Hara’s irresponsible outlook, the incompatibility between Twain’s literature and the contemporary perspectives on translation and literature played an important role in Hara’s tragedy.

Translations of Twain’s Works by Kuni Sasaki

A humorous novelist, translator, and English literature scholar, Kuni Sasaki had considerable impact on the translation of Twain’s works, not only in the Taishō period (1912–1926) but up to the pre-World War II period.

Sasaki had already published translations of Twain’s short stories, such as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” in various magazines.8 From the 1910s to the 1920s, he translated Twain’s major full-length works, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson.9 Sasaki modified the originals because the translations were meant particularly for children. For example, in Sasaki’s Tomu souyā monogatari (1919), famous scenes—such as the one in which Tom and Becky become engaged—are changed to different scenarios altogether, with no romantic content. Sasaki’s translation contains neither the original’s words “I love you” nor the kiss. As the renowned critic Tadao Satō earlier suggested, “Children’s literature in Japan was absolutely devoid of romantic love” at the time when Sasaki translated Twain.10 The changes Sasaki made in his translations were the result of such unspoken rules. This is evident in other translations as well; for example, scenes that hint at romantic love in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) are completely excised in Shūho Kitada’s Shōfujin (1906), the first translation of the novel.11

Moreover, Sasaki’s translation Hakkuruberī monogatari(1921) is modified more drastically than the translation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In Sasaki’s translation, the vibrant vernacular words and expressions of the original become polite Japanese, sentimentalism is pronounced, and Huckleberry is portrayed as a relatively refined boy with a good education, unlike Twain’s character. For instance, Sasaki’s Huck does not steal and knows his multiplication tables well. Even more surprising, in the famous scene from chapter 31 of the original, where Huck decides to “go to hell” as a criminal and heads off to rescue Jim, who has been captured as a runaway slave, Sasaki’s translation shows Huck going to rescue Jim after saying something completely different. Not only does Huck not decide to become a criminal, he says, “You have to suffer hardships if you want to become a good boy.”12 Furthermore, in the case of Jim, scenes depicting his family love and dignity as a human being are removed, making the character appear meek and shallow. Yet the scene Sasaki translates faithfully is the one that takes place on the Phelps farm, where Tom sets up his fantasy drama of Jim’s escape. In exchange for omitting elements like the irony-laden social criticism of the original, Sasaki rendered a faithful and lengthy translation of the elaborate rescue drama by the main character Tom. In other words, Sasaki was perhaps creating another Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn. He was looking for young Tom’s romantic world of childlike imagination, not Huck’s real world, where Huck cannot avoid serious confrontation with an adult society full of insincerity, dishonesty, brutality, and discrimination. In that sense, for Sasaki, Tom is the perfect savior who helps rescue Huckleberry Finn from Twain’s dangerous world filled with irony and social criticism.

Despite these numerous problems, not only was Sasaki’s work the only translation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn available until just before the Pacific War, but major publishing houses issued it, mainly for children, until the 1960s. That a translation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so different from the original remained in circulation for a long time in Japan shows how difficult it would have been for Japan to accept Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in its original form. In other words, the world of Huckleberry Finn was extremely different from the world of traditional children’s literature in Japan, making Sasaki’s modest translation greatly preferable even though it was full of major errors.

Twain from the Taishō to the Pre-World War II Period: 1912–1941

Sasaki was not the only author who contributed to the introduction of Twain’s writings during the Taishō period (1912–1926). After the tradition of the Sazanami Iwaya style of fairy tales, there was a boom during the Taisho era in artistic children’s literature that emphasized children’s innocence and humanity. The pioneer of this movement, Miekichi Suzuki, also translated Twain’s works. Suzuki published a translation of The Prince and the Pauper as Kojiki no ōji (1925) in installments over a nine-month period in the magazine Akai Tori, which he himself edited.13 Although incomplete, the story resembled a fairy tale with an emphasis on fantasy. In addition to Suzuki’s Akai Tori, another magazine, Dōwa, played a role in the children’s literature movement of the Taishō period. Shōzo Chiba, its editor, also translated some of Twain’s works. Unlike Miekichi Suzuki, who is believed to have called Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer “unrefined,” Chiba regarded both works highly and even considered them benchmarks for his own writings. Chiba, too, published an abridged edition of Tom Sawyer as Nishōnen no bōken (1923) in Dōwa.14 The story ran in installments over seven months, under the pseudonym Keishi Kawamata. However, because it was a digest edition, many episodes from the original had to be left out, and the story seems like a hurried adventure.

One of the best-known Japanese authors in Taishō era, Takeo Arishima, wrote a short play, Domomata no shi (The Death of Domomata, 1922), an adaptation of Twain’s short story “Is He Living or Is He Dead?”15 Unlike Twain’s dramatization of the same story, Is He Dead?: A Comedy in Three Acts (2003), this Japanese adaptation obviously sentimentalized Twain’s original by adding a love story between a female model and an artist. It includes a happy ending and also ignores the elements of hoax in Twain’s original, which features François Millet as its main character. The play circulated among intellectuals and a small group of students, and has been given a great amount of scholarly attention in Japan.

A decade into the Shōwa period (1926–1989), after Twain’s works were introduced in the Taishō era, Japan’s confrontation with Britain and the United States became apparent, and readers preferred historical and other tales set in Japan over translations of British or American works. In this nationalistic context, the adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper under the title Hanamaru kotorimaru (1939) by Jirō Osaragi stands out. This adaptation, set in medieval Kyoto, tells the story of an heir to a high-ranking aristocrat and the child of a beggar who switch identities. The adaptation was published over a year in the most-read boys’ magazine of the time, Shōnen Kurabu.16 Although many of the episodes in the original were retained, closer study reveals that the adaptation took the form of a moralistic, educational children’s novel based on hierarchical values, such as the fixed class system of the prewar era and didacticism; the tale of a social revolution against feudalism is mostly missing. Then, Iwanami Shoten published Tameji Nakamura’s translation of Huckleberry Finn in February 1941, the year of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. After that, no other translations of Twain’s works were published during the Pacific War.

Kenzaburō Ōe’s Encounter with Huckleberry Finn

Yet Twain was not entirely neglected even during World War II. Tameji Nakamura’s faithful and complete translation of Huckleberry Finn was still available during the war.17 Although it did not render Huck’s vernacular voice into equally vernacular Japanese, Huck was finally faithfully re-created in Japan fifty-six years after the publication of Huckleberry Finn in America. Nakamura’s Huckleberry Finn must have attracted a number of readers in spite of wartime negative sentiment toward American literature, since this was published as an inexpensive paperback edition by one of the most prestigious publishers, Iwanami shoten. A very sensitive Japanese country boy living in a remote mountain village on Shikoku Island was greatly impressed by this edition. He read it at the age of nine during the war. This boy’s name was Kenzaburō Ōe; he would later become an acclaimed writer and Nobel Prize laureate in literature.

In an interview given in English at the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Ōe remembered his encounter with Huckleberry Finn:

I didn’t read many books before nine years old. I was fascinated by the telling of tales of my grandmother. She was talking about almost everything about my family and my district; so it was enough for me. I didn’t need any books at that time. But one day, there was some discussion between my grandmother and my mother. And my mother got up very early in the morning, and she packed one kilogram of rice … and she went to the small city of our island through the forest. Very late at night she returned. She gave a small doll to my sister, and some cakes for my younger brother, and she took out two pocket books. Tome one, tome two. I found Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. I didn’t know the name of Mark Twain, the name of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, but my mother said―and this was the first talk between my mother and me about literature, and almost the last talk. She said, “This is the best novel for a child or for an adult. Thus your father said.” (The year before my father had passed away.)18

Ōe’s recollection, however, also demonstrates how Twain’s literature was suppressed in Japan during the war. Ōe’s mother said to young Ōe: “I brought this book [Huckleberry Finn] for you, but the woman who made the barter with the rice between us said, ‘Be careful. The author is American. Now the war between U.S. and Japan is going on. The teacher will take the book from your son. [Tell him] that if your teacher asks you who is the author, you must answer that Mark Twain is the pseudonym of a German writer.’”19 After the war, Ōe read Huckleberry Finn in English and called it a work which “opened the door to the world of literature.”20 In particular, Ōe was greatly fascinated with Huck’s decision to “go to hell” to help Jim out of slavery, and Huckleberry Finn has been his significant “existential hero” since then. Shelley Fisher Fishkin quotes Ōe’s translator John Nathan as saying, “It was Huck’s moral courage, literally Hell-bent, that ignited his imagination. For Ōe the single most important moment in the book was always Huck’s agonized decision not to send Miss Watson a note informing her of Jim’s whereabouts and to go instead to Hell. With that fearsome resolution to turn his back on his times, his society, and even his god, Huckleberry Finn became the model for Ōe’s existential hero.”21 Later, Ōe himself happily admitted that his works were greatly influenced by reading Huckleberry Finn. When Fishkin met Ōe in Austin, Texas, he wrote in her copy of Nip the Buds Shoot the Kids: “To Dr. Shelley F. Fishkin. Yes, I agree with your opinion about Huck, the narrative of my first novel [“Shiiku”] is under the shadow of Huck, Kenzaburō Ōe.”22 As the Japanese Twainian Shoji Goto suggested, since Ōe’s literature had tremendous impact on postmodern Japanese literature, Huckleberry Finn through Ōe indeed had a hand in its development.23 Thus, Ōe’s fascination with Huckleberry Finn proves that Twain’s writings never ceased to provide creative energy to Japanese people, even during the most difficult era of wartime anti-Americanism.

Impact of Twain in Post-War Japan

Apart from exceptions like Ōe, most people in Japan came across Twain’s work again during the period of Americanization after the war. The most frequently translated works of American children’s literature during the post-war occupation period were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.24 In that period translations of these two works overtook in number translations of the popular The Prince and the Pauper for the first time since the late 19th century.25 Considering the condition of Japan and the post-war U.S. boom, characterized by momentum toward democratization and a feeling of liberation from the oppression of war, it seems obvious that stories such as these, which depict democratic American boys living freely in their country, were welcomed over The Prince and the Pauper, set against the medieval feudal society of England. However, excessive expectations from democratization and longing for freedom sometimes also led to extreme idealization of the original works. For example, the subtitle “An American boy’s quest for freedom” was added to Huckleberry Finn, and there were translations that modified the story to depict Huck as a clear-sighted, democratic, egalitarian hero free from prejudice and doubts, unlike the original character who hesitated to help a runaway slave and held common prejudices about blacks.26 There was also an attempt to significantly refine the characters. For example, in the translations meant for children, Huck and Tom did not smoke. This was because people feared juvenile delinquency, in part because of the increasing problem of homeless children who had lost their parents during the war.27

Moreover, Twain’s works were welcomed in the classroom. They were not included in prewar literature textbooks at all, but after the war, Tom Sawyer and episodes related to Twain appeared frequently, especially in the units on humor in Japanese language textbooks, in the post-war era. However, examination of the content shows that even then, there was not much improvement from prewar days in the understanding of Twain’swork. For example, often Twain was only highlighted as the embodiment of cheerful humor, and textbooks did not focus on the pathos and critical spirit behind the humor. The teachers’ manual of the only textbook that included Huckleberry Finn offers the model answer to a question on Jim’s character as “He is a naïve and simplistic person who minds only his own business.”28 The editors of the textbook clearly chose to include the translation without a proper understanding of the original work. Naturally, such shallow understanding led to a decline in the motivation to study Twain, and finally, from the latter half of the 1960s, Japanese-language literature textbooks gradually stopped featuring Twain’s works as study materials.29

Twain in Post-War Popular Culture

Since the 1970s, Japanese children have seen Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in many places other than the classroom. From the second half of the 1970s to the first half of the 1990s, “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn” were broadcast nationally as full-length television animation series.30 However, all three animations created for television drastically modified the originals. For instance, as in the translations immediately after the war, the 1976 animation series of Huckleberry Finn not only shows the protagonist as an egalitarian, righteous hero who has no hesitation in helping a runaway slave, but it also portrays Jim as an aggressive character who expresses dissatisfaction over discrimination.31 The animations were clearly influenced by the image of African Americans during the civil rights movement. Even in the 1980 animation series of Tom Sawyer, some parts still indulge in refining the original, such as diluting the atrociousness of the killer Injun Joe. Still, by highlighting romantic interactions between Tom and Becky, which until then were mostly avoided in translations meant for children, the animation provides a liberated view of a loving relationship between children, quite unlike prewar translations and adaptations.32 Furthermore, the 1994 animation of Huckleberry Finn almost entirely ignores the storyline of the original, making it a comical action fantasy, a trend in Japanese animations of that period. The runaway slave Jim does not make an appearance in this animation, and therefore, it does not deal with issues of discrimination or slavery at all.33

Watching such animations, which largely ignore the spirit of the original works, made it difficult for common Japanese people, and children in particular, to gain a deep understanding of Twain’s works. However, it is not very productive to focus only on criticism based on the differences between the originals and the animations. Indeed, we must also pay attention to the constructive role these animations have played. In particular, these works were exported to other countries along with the general popularization of Japanese animation around the world, influencing the way Twain’s work was viewed internationally, including in the United States. In other words, Japan, which was the receiver until then, sent made-in-Japan Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to the United States after adding a distinct Japanese flavor to the originals. In a way, these animations helped give global dimensions to Twain’s works.

As indicated by the production of a very popular year-long TV animation series of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer is often recognized in Japan as one of the most famous characters in American literature. However, most of the popular Japanese cultural versions of Tom Sawyer reflect stock images of this American boy. As he does in America, even in Japan Tom Sawyer usually signifies the boy’s world and, in particular, the spirit of freedom and adventure, courage, fist-fighting, and close ties among boys. At the same time, however, another Japanese work creatively challenges the norm of masculine images in Tom Sawyer’s world, Shin Takahashi’s Tom Sawyer (2007).34 Yet even this work shares conventional views of Tom Sawyer. Although its locations and characters are all Japanese, very much as in the American original the story takes place in a rural village during summer, the young protagonists experience diverse outdoor adventures, and friendship is crucial in the narrative. However, as expected from a work originally serialized in a girl’s comic magazine, its description of the relationships between the sexes is very subtle and significantly emphasizes the female viewpoint. Unlike Twain’s original, the central figure of this adaptation is not a boy but a female college student. Consequently, the story primarily centers on her life and depicts the changes and growth she undergoes. This situation, the transformation of an adult through the stimulation of a Tom Sawyer-like character, does not appear to exist in other stories based on Tom Sawyer. Although Takahashi did not address the issue in a fully developed way, he did deal with sexuality, a subject Twain’s original almost completely neglects. In this way, Takahashi challenges certain conventional images of Tom Sawyer in his adaptation. As evidenced by the publication of the Italian edition of his Tom Sawyer in 2010, Takahashi’s creative interpretation of Twain’s notable work also stimulated global audiences.35

Apart from the works mentioned in this essay, there are many others that have influenced Japanese people’s perception of Mark Twain. From the latter half of the 20th century, in particular, significant Japanese translations of Twain’s major works were published. From the 1960s to the 1970s, for instance, the influential translator Yoshio Nakano translated two of Twain’s darkest writings, The Mysterious Stranger and What Is Man? for the first time into highly readable Japanese. Nakano’s translations almost singlehandedly introduced neglected aspects of Twain’s writing in his later years. (It was later revealed that the editor of The Mysterious Stranger deceivingly altered Twain’s original manuscript, and Nakano’s translation of the work was still in press as of 2016.) Yoshio Katsuura and Hiroshi Okubo should also be credited for the introduction of Twain’s literary world to Japanese readers after the late 20th century. In particular, Katsuura’s translation of Twain’s short stories, published in three volumes in the 1990s, greatly contributed to introducing a number of lesser-known short pieces. In addition, Hiroshi Okubo dedicated a significant amount of his scholarly life to the translation of important works by Twain, including Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee, Joan of Arc, and No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, to name a few. Fortunately, most of his translations were published in either paperback or digital editions, making them highly accessible to general readers even today.

Twain and his works were used and appeared in various kinds of mass media—popular fiction, newspaper and magazine articles, dramas, movies, TV commercials, computer games, Tokyo Disneyland, kamishibai (traditional Japanese picture card stories), and even Japanese rock music. Thus Twain’s influence on Japan spread over a wide spectrum of popular cultural arts. On stage, for instance, Tom Sawyer was adapted as a musical in 1987.36 Big River, the Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, was also performed by leading Japanese stars in 1988, and a revival of this musical played in Tokyo in 2004.37 The famous all-female musical group Takarazuka-kagekidan adapted Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in the 1990s.38 A rock group called “Huckleberry Finn” made its debut in 1999.39 Shrewd Japanese businesses do not ignore the market value of Mark Twain and his works. Nissin Foods employed Tom Sawyer for its massive advertising campaign for The Cup Noodle in 1987. The company declares “[Tom Sawyer] is the character which symbolizes Nissin Food’s spirit of enterprise and pioneer.”40 Twain’s Hartford mansion was also used for the award-winning TV commercial of a Japanese house-building company.41 Twain appeared in a best-selling ninja novel and helped the hero solve the secret of his treasure hunt.42

These Japanese versions of Twain and his works show that the recipients of culture are not always passive. Japan often demonstrated its autonomy by transforming, distorting, and even rejecting some aspects of Twain and his work. Of course, in the process of these transformations and distortions, significant elements of the originals are sometimes lost. As we have seen in this essay, Japan repeatedly neglected Twain’s social satire and sometimes belittled Twain as an innocuous children’s novelist. Most of these versions tend to emphasize only one aspect of Twain, an image of nostalgia and adventurous spirit. In this sense, Japan might need more time to develop a deeper understanding of Twain. However, we do not need to be overly pessimistic about Twain’s future in Japan.

Discussion of the Literature

A variety of farsighted projects and serious scholarly efforts aim to develop Japanese people’s understanding of the complexity of Mark Twain’s works. In July 1996, the leading literary magazine Eureka featured Mark Twain and leading Japanese Twain scholars published insightful essays on Twain from various perspectives.43 In 1997, The Japan Mark Twain Society was founded in response to enthusiastic calls by many Japanese Twain scholars; it has been holding an academic conference on Mark Twain every year. The Japan Mark Twain Society started an annual scholarly journal, Māku Touein: Kenkyū to hihihyō (Journal of Mark Twain Studies), in 2002, and an English-language journal, Mark Twain Studies, in 2004. Each issue features a specific topic on Mark Twain, with a variety of perceptive essays (see Figure 2).

The Reception of Mark Twain in Japan from the Meiji Period to the Heisei Period (1860s–2000s)Click to view larger

Figure 2. The Japan Mark Twain Society, ed., Mark Twain Studies, vol. 4 (2014). Cover design by Youchan (Togoru Company). Edited by Takayuki Tatsumi and Mary A. Knighton.

In addition, a number of reliable Japanese translations of Twain’s major works and other writings appeared in the first decades of the 21st century. For instance, various Japanese translators and scholars have been undertaking the difficult task of translating Huckleberry Finn, and now we can read a variety of Japanese translations of it in colloquial Japanese.44 An ambitious translation project of Mark Twain’s works was recently completed, comprising twenty volumes, many of them the first Japanese translations.45 Even Twain’s love letters and the complete editions of his Autobiography were translated by leading Japanese Twain scholars.46

The study of Mark Twain’s influences on Japan was pioneered by two distinguished Japanese scholars, Yoshio Katsuura and Shunsuke Kamei. Katsuura’s voluminous bibliographical study, Nihon ni okeru māku toein: Gaisetsu to bunken mokuroku (Mark Twain in Japan: A Survey and Bibliography, 1979) and Zoku nihon ni okeru māku toein (Mark Twain in Japan, Continued, 1988) provide full overviews of Japanese assimilation of Mark Twain from the 1890s to the 1980s. Katsuura’s bibliographical studies are incomparably valuable sources for all scholars who study Twain’s influences on Japan. Katsuura also wrote another book under this theme with a narrower focus, Hon’yaku no konjaku: Māku Toein no kotoba, nihonjin no kotoba (Translations Then and Now: Mark Twain’s Language and Japanese People’s Language, 1980), which looks at various Japanese translations of Twain’s works and closely examines the ways in which their styles differ from one another.

Shunsuke Kamei’s pioneering essay “Nihon ni okeru Māku Toein” (Translation Literature: Mark Twain in Japan, 1979) is another significant study on this topic.47 Although it is a brief overview of Twain’s influences on Japan, Kamei’s essay pays attention to the effects of both American and Japanese cultural and literary traditions on Japanese assimilation of Twain. For instance, he suggests that the genteel literary tradition of Japanese literature might be one of the main reasons why Japanese readers appreciated The Prince and the Pauper earlier than any other major works by Twain. He also writes that the absence of accurate Japanese versions of Huckleberry Finn might be the result of “fundamental differences in cultural formations between Japan and America,” including “geographical and social differences.”48 The essay was republished with slight revision in Kamei’s book on a history of the U.S.–Japan cultural relationship, Meriken kara amerika e: nichibei bunka kōshōshi oboegaki (From Meriken to America: A History of U.S.–Japan Cultural Relationship, 1979).

The most thorough cultural examinations of Japanese translations and adaptations of Twain’s literature are Tsuyoshi Ishihara’s two book-length studies, Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon (2005) and Māku Touein to nihon: Henbo suru Amerika no shōchō (Mark Twain and Japan: The Transformation of an American Icon, 2008). Both books introduce Japanese versions of Mark Twain’s works that have been overlooked by scholars but have had an important impact on the formation of the public image of Mark Twain and his works in 20th-century Japan. They discuss the ways in which both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture transformed Twain’s originals and shaped the 20th-century Japanese versions. Although each provides comprehensive studies of Mark Twain in Japan, the books are considerably different in focus and scholarly interests from Katsuura’s studies. While they have extensive bibliographies, they are not bibliographical studies of Mark Twain’s impact on Japan. Instead, they focus on the works of popular culture and juvenile literature whose main audiences have been the Japanese public rather than scholars and intellectuals, aiming to understand public perceptions of Twain and his works in Japan. Ishihara’s books differ from Kamei’s studies as well. First, although Kamei mainly considers the works of literature for adults, his books discuss works of popular culture and juvenile literature to understand Twain’s influences on the wider Japanese public. Second, the books cover a significantly longer period of time than Kamei’s essay. Although Kamei’s essay ranges from the 1890s to the 1910s, too brief a period to fully examine each work’s social and cultural relation with contemporary Japan, Ishihara’s books span the 1870s to the 1990s and provide more specific examples in explaining the connection between Japanese versions of Twain’s works and contemporary Japanese culture and society.

Finally, various scholarly articles published in the journals of the Japan Mark Twain Society also discuss the relationship between Twain and Japanese culture. In particular, Mary Knighton’s essay “‘Was Huck Burak(k)u?’: Reading and Teaching Twain in Asia Pacific” provides an insightful cross-cultural examination between Huckleberry Finn and Kenzaburō Ōe’s “Prize Stock” (Shiiku, 1958), exploring the connection between black slaves in America and the formerly segregated Japanese underclass of burakumin.49 The Japan Mark Twain Society featured “Twain and Asia” in its English-language journal Mark Twain Studies in 2006, and “Huck Finn and Japan” in its Japanese journal, Māku Towein: Kenkyū to hihyō in 2007. Each issue of Mark Twain Studies also includes a partly annotated bibliography of scholarly books, dissertations, and English-language essays on Mark Twain by scholars in Japan, encouraging further study.

Watanabe, Matsushige, trans. Nnū nashonaru daigo rīda chokuyaku. Osaka: Sekizenkan, 1888.Find this resource:

Sasaki, Kuni, trans. Tomu souyā monogatari. Tokyo: Seika shoin, 1919.Find this resource:

Sasaki, Kuni, trans. Hakkuruberī monogatari. Tokyo: Seika shoin, 1921.Find this resource:

Osaragi, Jiro. Hanamaru kotorimaru. Tokyo: Shōnan Shobō, 1949.Find this resource:

Nippon Animation, prod. Tomu sōyā no bōken, Fuji Television Network, January 6–December 28, 1980.

Takahashi, Shin. Tomusōyā. Tokyo: Hakusensha, 2007.Find this resource:

Official website of rock music group, Huckleberry Finn.

Nissin Cup Noodle’s TV commercials that feature Tom Sawyer;

Misawa Home TV commercial that features Mark Twain’s Hartford House.

Official website of the Japan Mark Twain Society.

Japan Mark Twain Society’s English journal, Mark Twain Studies, vol. 1 (2004).

Further Reading

Bosha, Francis J. “Mark Twain in Japan: A Checklist of Translations, 1899–1978.” Mark Twain Journal 19 (1979): 8–13.Find this resource:

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Mark Twain in Japan.” South Atlantic Review 65 (2000): 5–12.Find this resource:

Goto, Kazuhiko. “Cultures of Defeat: From Twain to Henry Grady to Faulkner and Mishima.” Mark Twain Studies 3 (2010): 93–112.Find this resource:

Goto, Shoji. “Huck Finn and America in Kenzaburo Oe.” In Postmodernity and Cross-Culturalism. Edited by Yoshinobu Hakutani, 31–42. Madison, WI: Associated University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Ishihara, Tsuyoshi. “Scholarly Books, Dissertations, and English-Language Essays on Mark Twain by Scholars in Japan: 2000–2003.” Mark Twain Studies 1 (2004): 128–138.Find this resource:

Ishihara, Tsuyoshi. Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Ishihara, Tsuyoshi. “Scholarly Books, Dissertations, and English-Language Essays on Mark Twain by Scholars in Japan: 2004–2006.” Mark Twain Studies 2 (2006): 184–187.Find this resource:

Ishihara, Tsuyoshi. “Scholarly Books, Dissertations, and English-Language Essays on Mark Twain by Scholars in Japan: 2006–2010.” Mark Twain Studies 3 (2010): 177–185.Find this resource:

Ishihara, Tsuyoshi. “Shin Takahashi’s Tom Sawyer.” Mark Twain Studies 4 (2014): 52–65.Find this resource:

Kamei, Shunsuke. “Mark Twain in Japan.” Mark Twain Journal. 12.2 (1963): 10–11.Find this resource:

Kamei, Shunsuke. “Mark Twain in Japan, Reconsidered.” In Crosscurrents in the Literatures of Asia and the West. Edited by Masayuki Akiyama and Yiu-nam Leung, 73–81. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Knighton, Mary A. “Was Huck Burak(k)u?: Reading and Teaching Twain in Asian Pacific World Literature.” Mark Twain Studies 1 (2004): 90–110.Find this resource:

Knighton, Mary A., ed. “Special Feature II: Mark Twain and Asia.” Mark Twain Studies 2 (2006): 119–183.Find this resource:

MacDonnell, Kevin. “Mark Twain and Gensai Murai: A Japanese Inspiration for ‘The War-Prayer’.” Mark Twain Studies 2 (2006): 41–44.Find this resource:

Nasu, Yorimasa. “The Japan Mark Twain Society: Its History and Activities.” Mark Twain Studies 1 (2004): 111.Find this resource:

Oki, Hinako. “Scholarly Books, Dissertations, and English-Language Essays on Mark Twain by Scholars in Japan: 2010–2013.” Mark Twain Studies 4 (2014): 113–115.Find this resource:

Takashima, Mariko. “Not Twain, but Twichell: The Hartford Support System of Edward House’s Japanese Students.” Mark Twain Studies 2 (2006): 142–157.Find this resource:

Takashima, Mariko. “The Impacts of the Performances of Maguire and Risley’s Imperial Japanese Troupe on Mark Twain’s Lectures in San Francisco and New York in 1866 and 1867.” Hyōgen gakubu kiyō 14 (2013): 79–96.Find this resource:

Tatsumi, Takayuki. “Collaborative Creativity: Co-editing Mark Twain Studies in the 21st Century.” Mark Twain Studies 4 (2014): 13–19.Find this resource:

Uszawa, Yoshiko. “From ‘Mark Twain’s Pet’ to ‘Mexican Jap’: The Strange Career of Wallace Irwin’s Hashimura Togo.” Mark Twain Studies 2 (2006): 120–141.Find this resource:


(1.) Matsushige Watanabe, trans., Nnū nashonaru daigo rīda chokuyaku (Osaka: Sekizenkan, 1888), 199–204.

(2.) Isoo Yamagta, trans., “Seishi ikaga,” Shonen bunko, November 1893, 250–258.

(3.) See note 7.

(4.) Sazanami Iwaya, Kawasanjin Kawada, and Kozanjin Kuroda, trans., “Kojiki ōji” Shōnen sekai (January–December 1898); and Sazanami Iwaya, Kawasanjin Kawada, and Kozanjin Kuroda, trans., Shōnen shousetsu kojiki ōji (Tokyo: Bunbudo, 1899).

(5.) Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Youshou jidai (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1998 [1957]), 321.

(6.) Fūyō Oguri, “Gaikotsu monogatari,” Taiyō (November 1902), 137–148; Fūyō Oguri, “Aoume,” Shin shichō n. 2 (November 1907): 100–112; and Fūyō Oguri, “Kaibutsu yashiki,” Shin shichō n. 2 (November 1907): 112–123.

(7.) For further discussion on the dispute between Yamagata and Hara, see Indra Levy, “‘Comedy’ Can Be Deadly: Or, How Mark Twain Killed Hara Hoitsuan,” Journal of Japanese Studies 37.2 (2011): 325–349.

(8.) Kuni Sasaki, trans., “Kake kawazu,” Bungei kurabu 18.8 (1912): 67–77.

(9.) Kuni Sasaki, trans., Tomu souyā monogatari (Tokyo: Seika shoin, 1919); Kuni Sasaki, trans., Hakkuruberī monogatari (Tokyo: Seika shoin, 1921); and Kuni Sasaki, trans., “Nuke wiruson,” Māku touēn meisaku shu (Tokyo: Kaizōsha, 1929), 8–200.

(10.) Tadao Satō, “Otoko rashisa” no shinwa (Tokyo: Tōkei sensho, 1980), 71.

(11.) Shūho Kitada, Shōfujin (Tokyo: Saiun’kaku, 1906).

(12.) Sasaki, Hakkuruberī monogatari, 275.

(13.) Miekichi Suzuki, trans., “Kojiki no ōji,” Akai tori (March–November 1925).

(14.) Shōzo Chiba, trans., “Nishōnen no bōken,” Dōwa (March–October 1923).

(15.) Takeo Arishima, adapt., “Domomata no shi,” Izumi (October 1922): 5–41.

(16.) Jirō Osaragi, adapt., “Hanamaru kotorimaru,” Shōnen kurabu (January–December 1939); and Jirō Osaragi, adapt., Hanarmaru kotorimaru (Tokyo: Chuokoronsha, 1941).

(17.) Tameji Nakamura, trans., Hakkuruberī Fin no bōken (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1941). Concerning Nakamura’s translation of Huckleberry Finn, see Yoshio Katsuura, Hon’yaku no konjaku: Māku Touein no kotoba, nihon-jin no kotoba (Tokyo: Bunka hyōron shuppan, 1980), 255–266.

(20.) Ibid.; and Kenzaburō Oe, “Toni Morrison to Hakkuruberī Fin no bōken,” Asahi Shimbun (March 11, 1997), Culture section, evening edition.

(21.) Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 190.

(22.) Fishkin, e-mail to the author, October 27, 2002.

(23.) Shoji Goto, “Huck Finn and America in Kenzaburō Oe,” in Postmodernity and Cross-Culturalism, ed. Yoshinobu Hakutani (Madison, WI: Associated University Press, 2002), 40.

(24.) Tsuyoshi Ishihara, Mark Twain in Japan: The Cultural Reception of an American Icon (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 64.

(26.) Naotaro Tatsunokuchi, trans., Hakkuruberī Fin no bōken: jiyū wo motometa amerika shōnen (Tokyo: Shin shōkokuminsha, 1948).

(27.) See Ishihara, Mark Twain in Japan, chapter 3.

(28.) Anonymous, Kairyūdō kokugo sōgō san-ge kyōhiyō shidōsho (Tokyo: Kairyūdō, 1959), 63.

(29.) For further discussion on Twain in post-war Japanese textbooks, see Tsuyoshi Ishihara, Māku touein to nihon: henbō suru amerika no shōchō (Tokyo: Sairyusha, 2008), chapter 7.

(30.) Grūpu tack, prod., Hakkuruberī fin no bōken, Fuji Television Network (January 1–June 25), 1976; Nippon Animation, prod., Tomu sōyā no bōken, Fuji Television Network, January 6–December 28, 1980; and Enoki Film, prod., Hakkuruberī fin monogatari, NHK BS2 (August 26, 1994–March 3), 1995.

(31.) Grūpu tack, Hakkuruberī fin no bōken.

(32.) Nippon Animation, Tomu sōyā no bōken.

(33.) Enoki Film, Hakkuruberī fin monogatari.

(34.) Shin Takahashi, Tomusōyā (Tokyo: Hakusensha, 2007).

(35.) Shin Takahashi, Tomusōyā (Milan: Edizioni BD, 2010). For further discussion of Takahashi’s Tomusōyā, see Ishihara, “Shin Takahashi’s Tom Sawyer,” Mark Twain Studies 4 (2014): 52–65.

(36.) Masaaki Ōsumi, prod., Adobenchā mūjikaru tomu sōyā (July–August 1987).

(37.) Michael Greif, dir., Big River (March–May 1988); and Jeff Calhoun, dir., Big River (September–October 2004).

(38.) Tetsunori Ōta, dir., Aro Aro Camelot? (Takarazuka kagekidan, 1994).

(39.) The band Huckleberry Finn released its first album in 2002. Tsutomu Sakuma et al., River Dance, 2002.

(40.) Nissin shokuhin shashi hensanshitsu, ed., Shoku soku se hei: Nissin shokuhin shashi (Osaka: Nissin shokuhin, 1992), 314.

(41.) Sakutaro Nakagawa, prod., Misawa Home TV commercial (1992).

(42.) Tetsu Yano, Kamui no ken (Tokyo: Kadokawa shoten, 1975).

(43.) Special issue on Mark Twain, Eureka: shi to hihyō (July 1996).

(44.) The following paperback editions of Huckleberry Finn are available as of January 2016: Hanako Muraoka, trans., Hakkuruberi Fin no bōken (Tokyo: Shinchō bunko, 1959); Minoru Nishida, trans., Hakkuruberī Fin no bōken, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami bunko, 1977); Shozo Kajima, trans., Hakkuruberī Fin no bōken (Tokyo: Chikuma bunko, 2001); Hiroshi Ōkubo, trans., Hakkuruberi Fin no bōken (Tokyo: Kadokawa bunko, 2004); and Kyoko Tsuchiya, trans., Hakkuruberī Fin no bōken (Tokyo: Kōbunsha koten bunko, 2014).

(45.) Sairyūsha Publishing Company’s “Mark Twain Collection” consists of translations of the following works: Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins, Life on the Mississippi, Letters from the Earth, What Is Man?, No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Tramp Abroad, 3000 Years Among the Microbes, The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, The American Claimant, The Prince and the Pauper, Following the Equator, Letters from Hawaii, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain’s Speeches, Europe and Elsewhere, The Gilded Age.

(46.) Keiko Nakagawa and Mitsuko Miyamoto, trans., Māku Touein no rabu retā (Tokyo: Sairyūsha, 1999); and Ryo Waguri et al., trans., Māku Touein, kanzen naru jiden, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Kashiwa shobō, 2013, 2015).

(47.) Shunsuke Kamei, “Nihon ni okeru māku touein,” Kindai nihon no hon’yaku bunka (Tokyo: Kenkyūsha, 1977): 173–201. Kamei also wrote two English essays on this topic: “Mark Twain in Japan,” Mark Twain Journal 12.2 (1963): 10–11; and “Mark Twain in Japan, Reconsidered,” in Crosscurrents in the Literatures of Asia and the West, eds. Masayuki Akiyama and Yiu-nam Leung (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997), 73–81.

(48.) Kamei, “Nihon ni okeru māku touein,” 200.

(49.) Mary Knighton, “‘Was Huck Burak(k)u?’: Reading and Teaching Twain in Asia Pacific,” Mark Twain Studies 1.1 (2004): 90–110.