Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868

Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868

Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868

Select Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy, 1853-1868

Excerpt

The translation of mid-nineteenth-century Japanese documents is a task that presents many problems. In the first place, most documents of interest to the historian are written in the literary style known as sōrōbun, perhaps the least precise of all forms of Japanese expression. Verbs in sōrōbun, for example, have no tense. It is true that there are other devices by which past, present, and future time can be expressed, but these are not always used, at least in this period; while the rarity of personal and possessive pronouns, the prevalence of verbs of wide and often indefinite application, and the general unwieldiness of the prose (which is usually unpunctuated), all contribute to a state of affairs in which it is easier to understand the general drift of an argument than to produce an exact rendering of any part of it. The translator is often faced with passages that can only be interpreted in the light of context or of events. Sometimes not even this will make the meaning clear. In fact, every translation included in this collection contains passages which offer ground for difference or debate.

Were this volume intended primarily as an aid to language study it would have been necessary to discuss these problems at length. This would have necessitated a multiplicity of footnotes dealing with points of detail--points which would not for the most part, even collectively, greatly affect the meaning of the whole. Their value in a book designed for historians seems open to question. Those who can will wish to consult the Japanese text for themselves; for them this book will chiefly be a means of saving time and labour. Those who know no Japanese--and it is hoped that there will be some among them who may find the book of use--are as likely to be inconvenienced by the critical paraphernalia as to be helped by the discussion. Such discussion, therefore, has generally been avoided. Only where the problems of language seem sufficiently important to affect the sense and meaning of the text as a whole have I indicated the points at issue.

Then again, wherever the intention of the original text has thereby been made clearer, use has been made of English words of a kind for which mid- nineteenth-century Japanese had not in fact developed a specialized term. For instance, most Japanese did not at this time distinguish verbally between 'a treaty' and 'the ratifications of a treaty'. Yet there are occasions on which it would confuse the chronology of events not to differentiate them in English, and I have preferred to do so in the translation rather than by footnote. Similarly, nouns and proper names, omitted but implicit in the original, have been interpolated wherever their insertion . . .

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