SBP Blog

A Japanese childhood explored in "The Silver Spoon"

Peter Goodman - Wednesday, October 07, 2015

We are just now releasing a new translation of Japanese author Kansuke Naka's memoir/novel The Silver Spoon. It is a sharp detailing of life at the end of the Meiji period (1912) through the eyes of a boy as he grows into adolescence.

Naka (b. 1885) was a student of Natsume Soseki and very much involved in the literary movements of his time. He never became a literary giant, but his work was widely admired by other writers.  The Silver Spoon has proved especially popular over the years. It is quite delightful to read. For many Japanese, it evokes an innocent nostalgia with its highly lyrical depictions of children's games and household settings and schoolyards.

But the eponymous silver spoon -- an almost Proustian object described at length in the very beginning of the book -- seems from the outset to suggest that such innocuous items have a bit more heft. They also provoke memories and pain, loneliness, and for Naka especially an enormous frustration at his own awkwardness and inability to fit in. Naka doesn't lack feeling but so often seems trapped in his own mental meanderings, everywhere obstructed by fools (his brother) and tyrants (his teacher).

As is so often the case with Japanese art, much resides below the surface, placed there by a craftsman interested in oblique forms of contemplation.

One side note: The Silver Spoon was my very first exposure to editing Japanese literature. My teacher Etsuko Terasaki asked me to work on her translation draft in 1973, which was published subsequently by Chicago Review Press. How odd that the same book should return to me (a very different me) over forty years later! The scene I remembered from forty years ago -- the last scene in the book -- is just as powerful now in Hiroaki Sato's very different rendering.


We are very grateful to Prof. Meera Sushila Viswanathan for the following comments, a portion of which was used on the back cover of our printed edition. Space did not allow us to reproduce the entire review, but we are happy to do so here:

Over the last four decades, English-speaking aficionados of modern Japanese literature have delighted in the numerous translations, both of prose and poetry, undertaken by the masterful hand of translator, essayist, and poet Hiroaki Sato. Characterized by a disarming simplicity of diction and form, these translations as a whole exude a freshness and immediacy that cannot but rouse us from our literary torpor.

The most recent offering by Mr. Sato is a marvelous new translation of the early twentieth century writer Kansuke Naka's iridescently poignant evocation of recollected childhood, The Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji). Naka's narrative hovers between and among many genres: autobiography, fairy tale, reminiscence, Bildungsroman and lyrical reverie, possessing a delicacy and vulnerability that enrapture and devastate the reader in turn. In Sato's nuanced and subtle rendering, we, as readers, re-experience the strange fluidity of a child's tentative apprehension of the looming world around, that wondrous and unsettling sense of discovery amid the flux.

Sensory perception, the exploration of inchoate emotional terrain, the surreal vistas provided by art, religion and the beauty of the natural world, though experienced bodily, all assume an uncanny and unpredicated air in this work. The child's world though ostensibly grounded in the familial reverberates around the unfamiliar at every stage, underscoring the isolation and loneliness that haunts so much of childhood, or even more the portrait of childhood recollected by the adult artist. Just as Naka's work is said to embody that much vaunted quality in Japan of makoto or "truthful sincerity," so too does Sato's deft translation compel us to confront with honesty the ironic pathos inherent in those irresistible and discomfiting memories of childhood that form the basis of art.

Meera Sushila Viswanathan
Professor of Comparative Literature
Brown University

Like our blog? Please share it!


Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan

Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

China Smart

Essential essays on all things Chinese that inform and entertain travelers, students, and anyone working or living in China

Forty-Seven Samurai

One of the most spectacular vendettas ever: the history and haiku behind the mass-suicide featured in the 2013 film 47 Ronin

Oh, Tama!

A deeply eccentric novel about lives and connections—and a cat of course—in 1980s Tokyo: witty, offbeat, and strangely profound.

Tag Cloud

china smart nhk keanu reeves my year of dirt and water Olympics controversy steve heller new york shamisen the japan times japanese classic how to order in japan donald richie hooked cross benjamin franklin awards Japan graphic novels behavior astro boy hippocampus magazine Japanese art japan travel etiquette zen monks wife' the lion king japanese business amys guide to bes tbehavior in japan yukio mishima japan memoir internment japan behavior shaimsen the fourth string japanese giajin jared cook japanese instruments tomoko aoyama books ritual holocaust japan custom buddhist priest translators comics ex pat literature eli lieberman zazen foreword indies china vacation state of belief Chiune Sugihara fred schodt ibpa publishing university Japanese literature japanese travel journal of a zen monks wife in japan verticle 1960s Korea 4k Alexandra Johnson japan ravel chinese literature amys guide to best behavior in japan UCLA Christianity in Japan book reading religion four immigrants foreword indies award History anne prescott tokyo green tea henry kiyama journal' monks wife Travel pacific rim review of books death pottery china history learning shamisen michael emmerich comic history miyazaki otakuusa wife a mejiro novel book review tricycle magazine musical larry herzberg AAS visitor Korea photography the silver spoon memior Translation classic poetry japan book China new release event ripe mangoes Culture hiaku william f sibley astrology benjamin franklin award monk wife the asian review of books japanese bath janet pocrobba association of jewish libraries Chinese Astrology photography kyoto journal swastika jun hazuki chinese comics summer vacation a shameful life politics and prose memoir in japan namethetranslator japan today Christianity learning in japan kansuke naka japanese book huffpost frederik schodt foreword reviews understandind china through comics hitler buddhist swastika World War II 2019 poet Chinese history walt disney hitler symbol 1960's Japan the inland sea japanese manners expat in japan amy chavez IBPA gaijin expat interfaith japanese people china What You Don’t Know, What You Need to Know— A Past & Present Guide to History, Culture, Society, Language stone bridge press journal living in japan kimba the white lion Shoah alan brill Basho's Narrow Road t.k. nakagaki trip Nikolas Bunton author signing manga jungle emperor book publicity diymfa Japanese aesthetics travel literature osamau tezuka book reviews Okinawan literature hitlers cross disney simba literary review international book award china travel leonard koren shamisen performance japanese music journal of a zen monk's wife matcha sharing a house with the never ending man manji haibun monk bookstore will eisner Spring Festival japanese books review nazi dirt and water publishing washington dc dark horse min kahng Asian Studies PEN AWARD kotaku forest gander VIZ world literature today awards traditional japanese music announcement Art/Design Children's Books Japanese holidays lions roar book blurb jing liu World War Two paul mccarthy japan guide doris bargen travel manners tourist wanderlust eating in japan Second World War kyoto asian review of books china guide frank beyer forty seven samurai japanese drunk damian flanagan publicity japanese history steve alpert catcher in the rye year of zen japan books literary prize japanese instrument japan travel guide Chinese New Year luke patitsas danica davidson mentorship in japan japan restaurant the japan society japan culture japanese translation book hoarding china where igo japan trip evil zen gaijin pot bushido travel etiquette travel Japan budhist swastika how to black jack sensei suicide forty seven ronin japanese cutlure 2020 Olympics janet pocorbba 15 years at studio ghibli non-fiction Anime/Manga/Comics etiquette seppuku author event the fourth string a memoir of sensei and me 47 samurai japan book review symbol japanese books in english learning instruments in japan buddhist blurb pulitzer prize dazai Spirituality janet pocorobba peace symbol book chinese american shamisen lesley university Year of the Dog juddhism classic literature finalist japan manners traditional china book japanese craft gaijinpot japan travel criterion chapters zen monk in japan a memoir performance japan food anime the buddhist swastika classic nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara buddhist symbols studying in japan diy mfa foreigner in japan studio ghibli eastern and western philosophy no longer human japanese culture nara zen monk new york events book award suehiro maruo takuma sminkey best behavior in japan memoir writing podcast Language koun book tour author tour guide literature why we write podcast Coming of Age Day osamu dazai holden caufield polite drinking in japan osamu tezuka how to travel in japan brad hawley japan visitor gallery awa reviews bowing in japan rebecca otowa film center of east asian studies tracy franz sensei and me Children's Literature travel to japan Poetry expert zen monk wife alan moore mark gibeau book talk classic japanese literature tea garden kinokuniya event award traditional japanese instrumenet writing traditional japanese instrument a memoir of sensei and me WWII japan etiquette memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist welton gaddy ningen shikkaku student teacher Ukiyo-e tea haiku tk nakagaki miswest book review buddhism japan vacation new books nova scotia mieko kanai hiroaki sato Korea rachel manley manners shun medoruma japan times kris kosaka koto what do in japan japanese etiquette huffington post lucille cara diary 47 ronin monks wife university of chicago poetry of consciousness Chinese culture hate ancient symbol asia stone bridge cafe memoir education about asia society kyodo news japanese customs ancient symbols the hidden writer donald keene journal of a zen monk fantasy literature oh tama in the woods of memory The Colorado Review peace purification book signing Basho do it right and be polite author talk forewrod reviews indies osaka japanese to english author Tokyo Olympics the millions illustration Interview gratitude in japan manga biography