Yoko Tawada: Writer in Two Tongues

Novellist and poet Yoko Tawada is a best selling author both in her native Japan and in her adopted home, German. She has just launched her new book, The Naked Eye.


Senin, 17 Feb 2014 14:11 WIB


Ric Wasserman

Yoko Tawada: Writer in Two Tongues

Japan, Yoko Tamada, Naked Eye, art, Ric Wasserman

Some say Yoko Tawada is a writer that has a split cultural personality. Half Japanese-half German. After thirty years she still fights with the differences.

”Like two personalities , they don’t want to be one. They didn’t want to tell one story. I couldn’t put them together. It’s impossible.”

Yoko Tawada is in Sweden to launch her 23rd book, The Naked Eye, a story with links to her own experience on a train, from Japan to Germany.

”I came to Europe by the transsiberian railway. It is a slow way, it’s not flying to Europe. You’re in Siberia and all the other cities and places that are between Japan and Europe.”

Somehow, Tawada has stayed in limbo, between two worlds: Asia and the West. After moving to Germany, she saw that Germans looked at things very differently than the Japanese.

”In Germany people try to understand the world as a problem, and they criticize it and they try to find the answer, how to change it.”

Not so in Japan, a country where Confucianism has string roots, and so a different, softer approach is taken.

”You try to understand the universe as one, and you are a part of something that you criticize.”

There are many examples. In the west one often directs anger at an inanimate object, says Tawada.  Not in Japan.

”In the Japanese tradition tools, like a pen for the writer, or knife for the cook. They have respect from those tools. It’s their personality. So you can’t say ”stupid pen!” If someone is stupid, it’s you, not the knife or the pencil.”

Standing in line at the book signing is Niklas Broman, a long-time admirer of Tamadas works of alienation in society.

”As a European myself I can relate to it . maybe because I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in.”

For the launch of her book Tawada is hosted by the German Goethe Institute for a reading and discussion. Such an event would not happen in Japan. Reading, for the Japanese, is a personal experience... not something shared with an audience, says Tawada.

”In Japan the readers don’t ask questions to the author. So you never have  to answer the question. You just write.”

Yoko Tawada has inspired many people to start writing themselves, like Miniko Vaneuler.

”I also cherish a dream of writing something in Swedish and Japanese and I actually translate and interpret sometimes. So I wondered if I could try. Even I. Like she did.”

Is it hard to write in two languages ? Yes, says Yoko Tawada. But there are special rewards.

”When I think in the German language, it’s like a dialogue. There are two persons in my head and they’re discussing about something. In Japanese I do a monologue.”


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