Giorgio Amitrano, 55, the new director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo, is an eminent Italian scholar of Japanese literature who has translated a number of popular Japanese works, including Banana Yoshimoto’s “Kitchen.”
” ‘Kitchen’ became a best-selling book in Italy, selling around 300,000 copies,” said Amitrano, who inspired a boom in Yoshimoto’s works in his country with his translation in the early 1990s.
His other translations include Haruki Murakami’s best-sellers “Norwegian Wood” and “1Q84,” as well as Kenji Miyazawa’s “Night of the Milky Way Railway,” which won Japan’s Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature in 2001.
“Since I believe I understand somewhat how Japanese people feel, I’m hoping that I can introduce Italian culture that can be easily accepted by them,” said Amitrano, who became the institute’s director in January.
Noting the institute has organized operas and other events related to classical Italian culture, he said, “I’d like to introduce a little more modern parts of our culture.”
Amitrano, who served as a judge for the Viareggio Prize — one of Italy’s most prestigious literary awards — for 11 years until 2011, is planning to hold a major event in October related to Antonio Tabucci, an Italian author who died last year but is considered a possible nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature.
A former professor at Naples Eastern University, Amitrano is also known for his friendship with popular essayist and scholar of Italian literature Atsuko Suga (1929-1998).
“I wasn’t a proper student of hers, but I went to listen to her classes both in Italy and Japan,” he said, adding he was very excited when he found her name in a date slip of borrowers at the institute’s library.
What currently troubles Amitrano is that his new post has left him too busy to visit Tokyo’s Jimbocho area, his favorite district and a famed home to secondhand bookstores, despite it being within walking distance of the institute.
“I’ve been there just once to buy a complete collection of Yasunari Kawabata,” he said.