‘Genji’ translator Seidensticker dies

by Setsuko Kamiya

Edward G. Seidensticker, renowned American translator of Japanese literature, including a 1975 rendering of “The Tale of Genji,” died Sunday in a Tokyo hospital, sources close to Seidensticker said. He was 86.

Seidensticker had been in a coma since fracturing his skull in a fall four months ago. Though a private funeral is planned according to his wishes, a public farewell gathering will reportedly be held later in the year.

“It’s a great loss. He was one of the pre-eminent translators,” said Donald Richie, a noted commentator on Japanese culture and a close friend of Seidensticker.

Born in Castle Rock, Colo., in 1921, Seidensticker studied Japanese literature at Harvard University and the University of Tokyo. He translated many modern and classic works, including Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s “Snow Country” in 1956. He translated Junichiro Tanizaki’s “Makioka Sisters” in 1957.

A professor emeritus of Japanese at Columbia University in New York, Seidensticker’s scholarly works include “Kafu the Scribbler” (1965), “Low City, High City” (1983) and “Tokyo Rising” (1990).

Seidensticker spent half of the year in Tokyo and the other half in Hawaii for many years, but decided to live in Japan permanently last spring, friends said.

Richie, who called “The Tale of Genji” Seidensticker’s best work, said the translation owes its beauty to Seidensticker’s phenomenal command of English.

“He was reading Jane Austen all the time during the Lady Murasaki (translation). And there was some sort of magical element that the two have sort of come together in that translation,” he said. “It’s the only translation of ‘Genji’ that I know of that is imbued with this kind of love, this kind of delicacy.”