Kipling Review

Hugh Cortazzi

KIPURINGU TANPENSHU being selected short stories by Rudyard Kipling, translated into Japanese by Hashimoto Makinori, published by Iwanami Bunko, Tokyo, November 1995, paperback, price 670 yen.

[The reviewer, Sir Hugh Cortazzi, G.C.M.G., is a former British Ambassador to Tokyo, and a leading Western authority on Japanese history, language and culture. In 1988 he and I edited Kipling's Japan, which was published by the Athlone Press. — Ed.]

Nine stories are included in this collection, taken from various books of Kipling's short stories, beginning with Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and ending with Limits and Renewals (1932). They are "Beyond the Pale" (Plain Tales); "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" and "Baa Baa, Black Sheep" (Wee Willie Winkie & Other Stories); "The Disturber of Traffic" (Many Inventions); "The Bridge-Builders" and "The Brushwood Boy" (The Day's Work); "Mrs. Bathurst" (Traffics and Discoveries); "Mary Postgate" (A Diversity of Creatures); and "Dayspring Mishandled" (Limits and Renewals).

Mr Hashimoto, in the explanation which he appends to his translation, comments that he selected these as representative examples of Kipling's stories from the earliest to the final stage of his writing life. It was not easy, he found, to choose a mere nine from among over three hundred. In making his selection he tried to avoid translating any stories that had already appeared in Japanese. In fact, however, only a few had been translated previously, and Kipling's works are comparatively unknown in Japan. He is best known in Japan as the author of the Jungle Books -- through Disney productions! The famous line "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," is often quoted; but he notes that very few Japanese have read the "Ballad of East and West" to the end, which alters the thrust of that first line.

Mr Hashimoto gives a brief summary of Kipling's life and work, in which he touches on the allegation that Kipling was a repressed homosexual, and retained certain childlike qualities of which the classic expression is, he says, to be found in "The Brushwood Boy". He also draws attention to Kipling's reputation as an imperialist, and his right-wing tendencies especially in his final years. He briefly refers to Kipling's visits to Japan in 1889 and 1892: it is a pity that the Japanese translation of George Webb's and my edition of Kipling's Japan has still not appeared.

He ends by noting that Kipling's masterpiece, Kim, has yet to be translated into Japanese. One day he would like to try to produce a Japanese version. But because of the problems of the Anglo-Indian vocabulary, and of slang used in the book, this will be a difficult task.

Inevitably, anyone attempting to select nine stories from some three hundred can hardly do so totally objectively. Certainly many Kipling fans would have chosen differently. Many will regret for instance that the selection does not include any of Kipling's directly humorous stories. Admittedly most of the stories in Soldiers Three are particularly difficult to translate, but there are other humorous stories which do not have an Indian or military background. Many of the ones selected by Mr Hashimoto have a nasty twist to them, which may perhaps appeal to a morbid Japanese taste.

Mr Hashimoto has made a valiant attempt at translating these stories without cluttering up the text with lengthy explanations and footnotes. This undoubtedly makes for easier reading, but inevitably many of the nuances are missed. For instance, at the beginning of "The Bridge-Builders" we learn that Findlayson expected to get a C.I.E. for his work on the Kashi Bridge, but that "he dreamed of a C.S.I." I wonder how many British readers today would understand the inwardness of this statement. Indeed many would not know what the initials stood for. At least in the Japanese they are spelt out.

Then it is almost impossible to convey in Japanese not only the way Rao Sahib (in the same story) speaks, but also the impression Kipling gives, in an indirect way at the end of the story, about Rao's position as an English-educated and wealthy Indian prince. The phrase, "woke me up in the arms of Morphus" [sic] is translated literally: I wonder whether Japanese readers will understand.

None of this is intended to belittle Mr Hashimoto's admirable effort to introduce more of Kipling to Japanese readers. I am sure that the subscribers to the Kipling Journal will wish him all success in his future endeavours, and especially in producing a Japanese version of Kim.

Kipling Journal March 1996