A JapanFocus article by Yoko Tawada (her name given, with the venue’s Japan focus, in Japanese order as Tawada Yoko) discusses all sorts of language-related things, including whether European languages couldn’t also be written using ideograms; she starts by bringing up a new Japanese translation of The Brothers Karamazov, and I found this passage interesting enough to want to pass it along:
When I was in high school, I read The Brothers Karamazov in the translation by Masao Yonekawa. I also bought a Russian edition as a first-year university student, but it was too difficult for me, and so I continued to rely on the Japanese translation. This didn’t make me sad, I enjoyed the Japanese words and expressions I hadn’t known before. This translation dating from 1927 was linguistically far more unfamiliar to me than, say, the stories written by Kawabata Yasunari around the same time. It seemed to me as if the translator had collected Japanese words from a number of regions, classes, times and places and masterfully assembled them to translate a foreign culture. Therefore this translation made the range of the Japanese language appear much larger than the Japanese literature of the time did. But this quality of the translation also demanded patience, calm and persistence on the part of the individual reader. I would try to extract a cultural concept unfamiliar to me from an unusual combination of two adjectives. Certain concepts would appear in unexpected places and glow. I learned a great deal about the uncompromising nature of a competent translator. Reading a bestseller, on the other hand, I never had the feeling that there was something I couldn’t immediately understand. Indignantly I rejected the secret that bestsellers sometimes offered the weary reader as a pick-me-up. I was interested in more radical drugs and looked for them in the Dostoevsky translation, which was difficult to digest.
Obviously there are a lot of people who prefer translations that are easy to digest, but I know exactly how she feels.
Another interesting bit, on modern Japanese newspapers:
The fonts used for headlines are now so subtly differentiated that they can influence a reader’s attitude toward an article even before he’s read the first sentence. A certain font can be instantly recognized as having to do with earthquakes, while a second one suggests poverty in the so-called Third World, and a third awakens readers’ curiosity because it’s used to recount sweet little stories, for example about young schoolgirls saving the ducks in an industrial canal. Right from the start, the reader is forced to become part of an audience united by a particular mood: witnesses to a natural catastrophe or a political event. Most readers find this not coercive but helpful. The information is perfectly presented in graphic form and therefore makes a sealed-off impression. I try to find a weak spot in this wall of typefaces in which I can insert the first sentence of my text, but there isn’t one.