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A Response to Professor Yulia Ryzhik with Respect
by Izumi Nemoto


When I first met Professor Yulia Ryzhik, on the first day of the International Spenser Society Conference in Dublin in 2015, she told me that she was doing research on Spenser and Donne.  I consequently mentioned my graduate school mentor, who had been one of the key John Donne scholars in Japan.  She was interested in the subject of Renaissance literary scholarship in Japan, and we had a pleasant talk on the way from Dublin Castle to the Irish Academy, where the welcome reception was held.  On the last day of the conference, my wife and I attended the excursion to Kilcolman Castle, and with Professor Ryzhik and all the other attendees we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at Spenser’s home.  I am most honored that this chance meeting led Professor Ryzhik to invite me to respond to her excellent essay!

The key argument in “Spenserian Allegory in Japan” is that “an examination of allegory in Japan more generally can help” scholarly “thinking about Spenser’s own methods.”  First, Professor Ryzhik introduces the history of Spenser studies in Japan, beginning with the translation of The Faerie Queene into Japanese.  The first complete prose translation, by the Kumamoto University Spenser Circle, was published in 1969 and, as she says, “the academic study of Spenser has increased steadily” after its appearance.  One of the most noteworthy projects to emerge from this interest was the textual editing for the new standard edition of The Faerie Queene by A. C. Hamilton (2001).  The labor-intensive editing of A Comprehensive Concordance to The Faerie Queene 1590 (1999) by Japanese scholars was also an enormously significant contribution.  She also refers to the two essay collections on Spenser published by the Spenser Society of Japan: The Prince of Poets: Essays on Spenser (1997) and The Poet’s Poet: Anniversary Essays on Spenser (2006).  I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Professor Ryzhik for her kind attention to the development of Spenser studies in Japan and for introducing this scholarship to a broader audience of Spenserians.

Professor Ryzhik is interested in the fact that Japanese scholars have focused many of their studies on Spenser’s allegorical methods, because, as she notes, “until recently allegory has not been considered a natural fit for Japanese literature or literary study.”  Here she introduces two scholars who recognize the value of “allegoresis.”  One is Susan Blakeley Klein, who did research on the allegorical interpretation of classical texts from the late Heian period to the Kamakura period of Japan.[1] The other is Zhang Longxi, who argues that “the concept of the allegorical is indeed possible to translate across linguistic and cultural boundaries.”[2]  Both lines of research, the historical and the more theoretical, represent important contributions, but in this response I focus on Zhang Longxi’s argument concerning cross-cultural translation of the allegorical in relation to the recent verse translation of The Faerie Queene into Japanese by Shohachi Fukuda, published in 2016.

As Professor Ryzhik says, what drew her to Fukuda’s translation is “curiosity about how Spenser’s allegory is rendered in a vastly different language and within entirely different constraints of form.”  The possibility of doing so is just what Zhang Longxi argues for.  As Professor Ryzhik points out, “a typical line” of a Japanese poem “cannot accommodate as many words as English in the same number of syllables.”  In the 1994 prose translation by Yuichi Wada and Shohachi Fukuda, which followed the 1969 translation by the Kumamoto University Spenser Circle and standardized the number of lines (nine) per stanza, the length of each line is limited to 26 characters.  In Fukada’s 2016 complete verse translation, however, the first eight lines of each stanza are 12 syllables long and the alexandrine 14 syllables, very near to the original text whose each stanza consists of eight lines in 10 syllables and the last line in 12 syllables.  In the translation, the number of syllables of each line is based on the 7-5 or 7-7 cadence which was used in classical Japanese poems and traditional performing arts as well.[3]  As Professor Ryzhik observes, according to Toshiyuki Suzuki, the brevity of Fukuda’s translation “is achieved through some strategic omissions.”[4]  The subtle skill of Fukuda’s translation leads her to wonder “what details in key allegorical moments are considered most salient for the conveyance of signification.” 

The excellence of Professor Ryzhik’s essay lies in her analysis of how richly Spenserian allegory is conveyed through Fukuda’s compressed Japanese translation “across linguistic and cultural boundaries,” and I agree that the translation is successful on this point. Professor Ryzhik focuses on the two episodes from Book III of The Faerie Queene, the transformation of Malbecco into the monster Jealousy and the torture of Amoret.  In the Malbecco episode, Professor Ryzhik reveals some of the fabulous skills Fukuda deployed in his translation, such as the effective omissions of epithets and the creation of onomatopoeic effects, alliteration, and consonance.  What primarily interests her here, however, is translation pertaining to moral allegory.  For example, the canto’s last line, “Forgot he was a man, and Gelosy is hight” is rendered as “ningen no / mi wo wasurehate yobina wa shitto” ([5]  Here “a man” is translated into “mi.”  Professor Ryzhik notes that “mi could mean multiple things: body; oneself; one’s place or position.”  I would like to express respect for her keen powers of observation: the simple word “mi” Fukuda chose is indeed ambiguous in its meaning, and such a subtlety in translation accords the line allegorical richness which fires our imagination.

On the episode of the torture of Amoret, after pointing out many omitted epithets Professor Ryzhik pays attention to a few “admirable intensifications,” such as rendering “wide” into “pakkuri” (, “despoyled quight” into “hagitorare” (, and “Had Deathes owne ymage figurd in her face” into “kao wa shinigami sanagara de” (  Specifically she is interested in the meaning of “shinigami” as “death god.”  This translation seems, as she points out, more mysterious than the original text and lets the reader have some choices of interpretation.

Considering the translation of two episodes above, including the interpretation of “mi” and “shinigami,” which Professor Ryzhik exemplified, I think that Fukuda’s verse translation, in which he omitted non-essential words and chose resonantly appropriate ones, leaves the door open for our own imagination, as traditional Japanese poetry and performing arts do.[6]  I think that, on this point, Fukuda’s translation helps the reader interpret Spenser’s work allegorically.

Finally Professor Ryzhik refers to an increasing presence of Western-style allegory in Japanese literature and culture.  Pop culture and contemporary media are, as she observes, an attractive field where allegory is revealed in ways often easier to understand.  I, however, believe and expect that once people, specifically young ones, get interested in allegory as a richly complex literary mode, they will go back to the original texts.  As Toshiyuki Suzuki persuasively argues, Fukuda’s verse translation of The Faerie Queene marks as “significant milestone in the history of Japanese translation of European poetry”: Spenser’s allegory can now be truly appreciated by the Japanese readers through each line and each word in the poem.[7]

Professor Ryzhik gives a very kind introduction to Spenser studies in Japan.  Though she doesn’t refer to it (having appeared too recently for her consideration), I would like to introduce the first collected essays in English by the Spenser Society of Japan, Spenser in History, History in Spenser: Spenser Society Japan Essays (2018).[8]  Though belatedly, this book was published to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of this society.  As Mari Mizuno writes in the Introduction, “releasing a collection of essays in English has long been a dream of Spenser Society of Japan.”[9]  As seen in Professor Ryzhik’s essay, Japanese scholarship covers a wide variety of subjects.  As well as going ahead with our research, we look forward to continuing to maintain friendly and productive relations with Spenser scholars in the world through communication in English.

Izumi Nemoto (

Ishinomaki Senshu University, Japan



[1] Susan Blakeley Klein, Allegories of Desire: Esoteric Literary Commentaries of Medieval Japan (Cambridge [Mass.]: Harvard UP; Harvard University Asia Center, 2002) 1-11.

[2] Zhang Longxi, Allegoresis: Reading Canonical Literature East and West (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2005) 63.

[3] For a detailed discussion of Fukuda’s translation, see Toshiyuki Suzuki, “The Faerie Queene in Japanese Verse,” The Spenser Review 48.1.6 (Winter 2018).  

[4] See Suzuki, “The Faerie Queene in Japanese Verse.”

[5] Hereafter, all references are from The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton, text ed. Hiroshi Yamashita and Toshiyuki Suzuki (Harlow: Longman, 2001).

[6] Suzuki refers to the characteristics of Fukuda’s translation which derive from basic techniques of haiku. See Suzuki, “The Faerie Queene in Japanese Verse.”

[7] See Suzuki, “The Faerie Queene in Japanese Verse.”

[8] Mari Mizuno, Yoshitoshi Murasato and Harumi Takemura, eds., Spenser in History, History in Spenser: Spenser Society Japan Essays (Osaka: Osaka Kyoiku Tosho, 2018).  

[9] Mizuno, Murasato and Takemura, eds., Spenser in History viii.


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Cite as:

Izumi Nemoto, "A Response to Professor Yulia Ryzhik with Respect," Spenser Review 49.2.3 (Spring-Summer 2019). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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