April 23 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the greatest dramatist of the English speaking world. The anniversary has a particular resonance here: Few countries in the world have embraced Shakespeare with Japan's sustained passion.
The great literary theorist Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859-1935) made the first translation of the complete works of Shakespeare between 1909 and 1928, and since then a cascade of new translations have poured forth from the pens of eminent Japanese scholars, translators and writers. The greatest problem facing anyone wishing to read the Bard in Japanese is choosing from so many accomplished translations, including translations into the speaking style of kabuki or the Tohoku dialect.
From 1868 to the end of the Taisho Era (1912-1926), Shakespeare became so naturalized in Japan that he assumed his own Japanese name, "Sao." Japan's opening up to the West in the late 1800s coincided with the heyday of the British Empire and Shakespeare's propulsion to the status of a worldwide literary icon. In the postwar era, some of Akira Kurosawa's greatest films were influenced by Shakespeare, such as "Throne of Blood" and "Ran," which were inspired by "Macbeth" and "King Lear" respectively. And Japan's great theater director Yukio Ninagawa has produced "Hamlet" eight times.