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The Museum of Modern Japanese Literature 日本近代文学館

My wife and I went to the Museum of Modern Japanese Literature, which is a 10-minute walk from Komaba Campus of Tokyo University. I really like the area because you can feel both traditional and academic atmosphere around there. It’s been a while since I was in the neighborhood last time. It was a perfect autumn weather, which made the outing even more cheerful and comforting.

The museum is situated in the corner of Komaba Park, which is a cozy park to stroll around and enjoy fresh and crisp air. The exhibition going on now was “Translation which shaped Japan from the Meiji era to the present day”. Translators and their works were quite comprehensive and displayed chronologically. Among them were Shimei Futabatei (Turgenev), Ogai Mori (Andersen), Masao Yonekawa (Dostoevsky), Bin Ueda (Verlaine), Takeo Arishima (Whitman). Their translations played significant roles in bringing about paradigm shifts in people. Their passions of wanting to convey great works of world literature despite the unimaginable difficulty were so inspirational.

What was even more interesting was the translation of Japanese literature into English. The works of the two most noted American translators, Edward Seidensticker and Donald Keene, were displayed with their letters exchanged with Japanese literary giants such as Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima. What I found intriguing was the different personalities emanating from different languages and media these writers used when exchanging letters with the translators. Both Tanizaki and Kawabata wrote their letters in Japanese whereas Mishima used English. Tanizaki used hand scrolls while Kawabata used manuscript paper. I also found a Christmas card Mishima sent.

I was very much impressed by Keen’s handwriting, which is 10 times more beautiful than mine. I could see through all the incredible efforts he put into learning and practicing the Japanese language from that beautiful and elegant handwriting. This exhibition made me realize again that they were the stellar translators.

After the exhibition, we went to BUNDAN café, which is in the same building. This café is one of the most unique cafés I’ve ever been to. What makes this café very distinctive is the fact that their menu, foods and drinks alike, is inspired by works of Japanese literature. There were so many attractive options available, so it took us long time to decide on what we wanted. I ended up ordering “Breakfast of Hard-boiled Wonderland” (Strasbourg sausage with salad by the way) and my wife ate “Liver pâté toast sandwich”, inspired by Tanizaki’s work.

As for drinks, it was difficult to choose as well! There were Akutagawa (Brazilian), Atsushi (Mokajava), and Ogai (Mandheling). I am a huge fan of Atsushi Nakajima and I respect Ogai Mori very much, but the best fit for Murakami is certainly Akutagawa! Hence, the Murakami & Akutagawa combo. The foods and drinks were impeccable. This café is striving for authenticity in terms of their ingredients as well as their naming of menu.

If you have a passion for Japanese literature, you won’t regret going to this café. While I was indulging in Akutagawa (both coffee and a novel), I thought it would be great to hold an event one day about Japanese literature there. Hopefully that day will come!

Which food and drink would you order and why?

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