IJLLL 2017 Vol.3(3): 73-85 ISSN: 2382-6282
DOI: 10.18178/IJLLL.2017.3.3.114

Translation as ‘Bakemono’: Shapeshifters of the Meiji Era (1868-1912)

Daniel J. Wyatt
Abstract—Bakemono (化け物) or obake (お化け) are Japanese terms for a class of yōkai: preternatural creatures of indigenous folklore. In English they might be referred to as apparitions, phantoms, goblins, monsters, or ghosts. In the literal sense, bakemono are things that change, referring to a state of transformation or shapeshifting. Japan’s period of ‘bunmei kaika’ (civilization and enlightenment) in the Meiji era (1868-1912) signifies the stigmatization of supernatural shapeshifters and concurrent burgeoning of bakemono of a literal kind: translation. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, translation of foreign literature became tantamount to the dissemination of modern thought and propelling the new governments’ efforts towards the creation of a modern state. Meiji translated literature reveals the various cultural systems through which new knowledge was processed and transitioned during this period, resulting in translations which—like the traditional bakemono motif—demonstrated an adaptability that allowed texts to transform and shapeshift according to their intended purposes and readerships. Accordingly, through a diachronic investigation of a selection of supernaturally-themed texts translated from English into Japanese in the Meiji era, this paper examines the treatment of ‘bakemono’ both in translation and as translation.

Index Terms—Bakemono, meiji, supernatural, translation.

D. J. W. is with the Department of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University, Japan (e-mail: djwya1@gmail.com-CL025).

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Cite:Daniel J. Wyatt, "Translation as ‘Bakemono’: Shapeshifters of the Meiji Era (1868-1912)," International Journal of Languages, Literature and Linguistics vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 73-85, 2017.

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