Class Material

Lektüre klassischer Texte (Reading classical Texts)

Trier, Germany This is a part of a lesson I developed for a German advanced reading class in classical Japanese (kobun) for the Japanologie department at the University of Trier in the winter semester of 2020/2021. Students were asked to test their skills reading a broad selection of poetry. I found published translations of all of these poems into English. Please get in touch if you are interested.

Scholars & Intellectuals

Hermann Bohner

I wrote this post while on a postdoc at the Trier Center for Digital Humanities at the University of Trier from 2017 to 2019 and edited it for accuracy and clarity on January 26, 2022.

A red folder containing a typescript manuscript translation of Zeami’s Ongyoku kuden (1419, Oral instructions on singing)

Trier, Germany Living in Germany and working at the University of Trier, I dream of the chances I had in Japan for coming into contact with archival material. In October and November 2009, for example, my advisor at the University of Tokyo Prof. Matsuoka Shinpei organized an exhibition of the Kanze collection of manuscripts that included many by Zeami in the Komaba Museum. Now I don’t have many opportunities here to hold archival material pertinent to my field of research in my own hands. For a lot of my work now, I use digital archives of primary materials, such as the Kanze Archive, and I have to travel to Japan to look at rare documents that are only available in physical form.

However, I am also interested in translations of pre-modern Japanese texts into European languages. It was through translations that I first encountered Japanese literature. Those early encounters gave me an incentive to stick to my studies. I wanted to read the originals. It’s through that personal experience that I came to understand that translations foster awareness of and curiosity for literature beyond language barriers.

In German, two translators have grappled with Zeami’s treatises. Oscar Benl (1914-1986) produced the more famous translations of seven treatises published by Insel in a beautifully bound volume in 1961. In working with such a popular publisher, Benl edited his translations for clarity to appeal to the market and, in the process, sacrificed some precision found in an earlier version (2). The second translator was Hermann Bohner (1884 ‑ 1963). The German Society for East Asian Natural Studies and Ethnology (Deutsche Gesellschat für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens) published Bohner’s translations of seven treatises (3-9). Watanabe Kō notes in a short biography of Bohner that he translated all sixteen treatises available at that time (10). That comment made me wonder, where were the rest and what were they like?


Phantom Earthquakes

I wrote this post while enrolled as a guest in the philosophy department at the University of Tübingen in the summer of 2012 after graduating with a Master’s degree from the University of Tokyo that spring. I had just spent the previous seven years living in Japan and hadn’t lived in Germany for 15 years despite my own German background. Perhaps that feeling of alienation from a place that should be my own home played a role in my mind as I wrote this piece.

Rereading and lightly editing this during the COVID-19 pandemic has me wondering how Germans think about natural disasters now. I could not have foreseen the pandemic when I wrote,

Life in Germany seems to be, for the most part, without any threat to life in general. No major disaster might suddenly kill thousands.

A younger me in 2012

And that inability to predict or even imagine disaster is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this post.

Edited on January 26, 2022.

The castle of Tübingen, which was supposedly damaged in a 1970 earthquake. Photo by H. McGaughey

Tübingen, Germany A lot has been changing and happening in the world around me because I moved to southern Germany in March and began studying at the University of Tübingen. And with getting used to all the changes, I have not been able to find a perspective on things to be able to write anything interesting on the blog. But that state of affairs can’t last forever. Perspective eventually arises in the chaos, a focus will at some point be found. . . even if its interest dissipates within moments of its having been uttered. The following is about a strange sort of experience I’ve had a few times since coming here.


To Welcome or Let Go

I was in Germany for the winter holidays when I wrote this. I do not remember the winter thunder storm. I do, however, remember visiting these monuments in Eguchi, Osaka. This play became the topic of my Master’s thesis. (Last edited on January 27, 2022.)

The memorial to Saigyo and the courtesan’s encounter at Eguchi, now in present-day Osaka. Photo by H. McGaughey

Tübingen, Germany This morning, from the window in the living room, the rising sun could be seen just above the mountains in the distance. Above the sun, dark clouds, their undersides faintly lined in gold. Then suddenly snow started falling in sheets like rain, lightning flashed, and thunder followed. Today is not a day I want to be outside, walking through the changeable weather.

In the Shin kokin waka shū (c. 1205 New anthology of Japanese poems past and present), a pair of poems exchanged by Saigyō and a courtesan (yūjo in Japanese) on a rainy evening comes to mind. Or rather, these poems, as incorporated in the nō Eguchi, have been on my mind for the last few months, since they comprise a core component of my thesis, but for now I’ll set the thesis aside, because I really just want to tell you the story of these poems as I see it.

Saigyō gave the first poem to a courtesan who had refused him lodging on a rainy evening.


Yo no naka wo itou made koso katakarame kari no yadori wo oshimu kimi kana

To hate the world is hard, but you deny me a moment’s shelter?

Shin kokin waka shū (Vol. 10, Travel poems) Poem 978 by Saigyō (original lightly modified for clarity)

Her reply:


Yo wo itou hito to shi kikeba kari no yadori ni kokoro wo tomu na to omou bakari zo

Hearing you hate the world, I simply thought you should not set your heart on a moment’s shelter.

Shin kokin waka shū (Vol. 10, Travel poems) Poem 979 by a courtesan (yūjo) named Tae (original lightly modified for clarity)

The Maternity Shrine

This post caught my attention now that I am a mother. I certainly would no longer simply consider this shrine creepy like I did in 2011. Something else must have fascinated and saddened me about it then, too. There is so much hope and longing for a child and for a safe delivery out there. I wish I had visited again when I was pregnant.

Edited on January 26, 2022.

Photo by H. McGaughey

Kyoto, Japan I took this picture on a neighborhood tour near Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto. This shrine is located in what looks like the garden of a private home. I did not catch the whole explanation, and I can’t find any information online, because I don’t know the name of this shrine. So, here is the story as I remember it told by the guide.