Tsukusu Jinn Itó
Japanese Reception of Old Norse Mythology
The appreciation of Norse myths in the Far East
Þriðjudaginn 6. mars 2018 kl. 16.30
This talk will present the reception studies that our research group is now conducting on Old Norse Myth and Manga. The project is funded by a Grant-in-Aid for Challenging Exploratory Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. When Japan opened its doors to the world after more than two centuries of national seclusion, Christian Western civilization was introduced and promoted in Japanese cities. Old Germanic mythology, introduced by the nineteenth-century romanticism, was also advanced through the reading and translating of German literature, as well as through the Wagnerian boom in the Meiji period at the turn of the century (circa 1900).
Although a Japanese translation of the Poetic Edda was not published until 1933, students of German philology and literature had enjoyed lectures on medieval as well as modern Scandinavian literature already before 1930. One of the products of this was a Japanese retelling of Old Norse myths by a scholar of English literature. Towards the end of the Second World War, a prominent professor of German philology was killed in the Blitz on Tokyo in 1940. This might have brought this line of study to an end in Japan but sprouts from this tradition survived the war to bloom in various places.
The poet Shizuka Yamamuro (1906–2000), who presided over a literary circle of Modern literature since 1946, was an independent scholar who introduced various Scandinavian literary works, including not only Eddas and Sagas, but also the works of Jens Peter Jacobsen, H.C. Andersen, Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Sigrid Undset, Jón Sveinsson (Nonni), Halldór Kiljan Laxness, Tove Jansson, Astrid Lindgren, Selma Lagerlöf, and others. His works were followed by two scholars of German, Kenji Matsutani and Yukio Taniguchi.
In 1990, Yukio Taniguchi was awarded the Icelandic Order of the Falcon (Hin íslenska fálkaorða) for his academic contribution. Kenji Matsutani inspired the manga artist Ishinomori Shōtarō to create Cyborg Zero-Zero-Nine (1976) about which Jón Karl Helgason wrote that the echo of Ragnarök in the story reveals ‘the critical view of weapons and warfare’ that the Japanese people have ideologically held since the end of the War. Today, manga artists make use of the motifs of Old Norse myth more liberally. Some of them might well reflect the young boys’ bellicose disposition as a commercial strategy.
Tsukusu Jinn Itó is a professor of Medieval English and Scandinavian Philology at Shinshū University. He studied English literature and philology in Tokyo and Icelandic and medieval Icelandic literature at the University of Iceland in 1991-1992.
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