Chapter I - The Earliest Translations -  Anno 1888 - Part I

Hans Christian Andersen, one of the most widely read and translated authors of not just Denmark, but also the world has his works preponderate in terms of international versions to the point of equalling that of the Bible.

Thus, I in my interminable strive for further linguistic punishment and enlightenment am endeavouring to take on 14 distinct translations of The Emperor's New Clothes into the Japanese language, stretching from one of the earliest of 1888 to 1982, thus encompassing more than 100 years.

The very first translation of Keiserens Nye Klæder, as it is known in the original Danish, appeared in Romaji (ローマ字, Japanese transliterated into the Roman alphabet, hence literally meaning "Roman characters") as Ō no atarashiki ishō (lit. "The King's New Clothes") by Yasuoka Shunjirō, in the 1888 (year, not number) issue of the publication Romaji zasshi.

I have unfortunately not been able to acquire myself a digital copy of said earliest translation, so I have instead been able to get the third translation to historically be published: Mikado no aratanaru ifuku  (帝ノ新ナル衣服, "The Emperor's New Attire") by Watanabe Matsushige (渡辺松茂) in 1888 and published in Nyuunashonaru Daigo Riidaa Chokuyaku (ニューナショナル第五リーダー直訳, "Fifth Issue of the New National's Reader, Direct Translation"). This was in very fact one of four translations to appear in 1888, together with the aforesaid Romaji-only translation.

Another of those translations appearing that year - as part of the four - is the one by Takahashi Gorou (高橋五郎), Fuuseikidan Ousama no Shin Ishou (諷世奇談 王様の新衣裳, "Satire World Colourful Story - The King's New Garments"), this along with Watanabe's will be covered in this series of analyses.

We shall in this first instalment look at how these two early pioneers in translating the (in)famous story of a pompous monarch whose dimwitted love for clothes lures him into not only being ridiculed, but also exposing his Imperial Court for mockery due to two swindlers whose offer of a delicate and magical garb proves all too good.

It is a scathing political satire that Andersen also grounded in contemporary political developments where Danish aristocratic politicians saw their ancient mode of life abruptly change in favour of the advent of a modern society according to Mary Tartar in her annotated translation of Andersen's fairy-tales - thus these noblemen wished to cooperate with younger members of their profession, hence the creation of extravagant titles (such as is the case for the Weavers.) Andersen furthermore pokes fun at the upper class that had derided Andersen himself for wanting to become part of it.

Enter, His Majesty:

The Emperor is himself a hapless creature of vanity, a grand adorer of gaudy clothes and above all else a cockalorum with a head too big to admit that he may be wrong - the perfect irreverent satire of how adults - but not one veracious child - may be deceived through deference into believing almost anything.

The choice of translating the monarch's title and indeed name, at this very early stage would set the trend for two currents - one wherewith they would preserve the title of the main character, but use the "international" word for emperor, and the other, a simplification to possibly avoid lèse-majesté by rendering him simply a king.

Hence, Watanabe renders him a 帝 (mikado, "emperor"), which already at this stage was an archaic word for emperor and indeed could refer to the Japanese sovereign at the time as well as the ancient Chinese emperors. The world itself ultimately stems from the name of the mythological king of the gods of Chinese mythology, hence it is more literally "thearch" (god-king). In addition to this Watanabe also uses 皇帝 (koutei, "emperor"), the more usual word for the office, taken directly from Chinese title, itself invented by the very first Qing Emperor, thus steeping it in majestic tradition. Fittingly he uses yo (余), the first person pronoun reserved for nobility as his mode of self-reference in Watanabe's translation that is rendered in Classical Japanese rather than the informal variety at the time, hence the story has a much more stately if archaic ring to it.



Sorera ga ikanaru kanyou naru ifuku de aru de aru to yo to mikado ga shian seshi moshi yo ga karu ifuku wo kise shiwoba yo wa yo no teikoku ni oite ikanaru hito ga karera no shokunin ni muite futekitou de shikaso yo no sninnin yori atainaki mono de aru ka wo miru beku tekitou shite aru te au, shikari yo no sokuji ni tukraretaru korera no ifuku no ichigumi wo motte au ni meirei ga suguni hajimeru beku futari wa routousha ni made ataeworeshi

"To have those manner of clothes would be crucial, thought the Imperial Sire, "mayhaps if We be wearing these We shall be able to see which people of Our Empire be inappropriate and which be even more unworthy of Our credence. We shall then see who is fit of those We have. Yea, We shall have these made forthwith one suit of these garbs, this shall We order and grant to these two roamers."

(Any errors or grammatical mistakes in the above translation are all my own, since Classical Japanese is not my strongest suit. 申し訳ありません)

Thus, it billing itself as a "direct translation" also means that it renders all dialogue in the story in the same Classical Japanese style that in turn means that the Minister of the story also uses the same pronoun as the Emperor, which whilst fitting for both members of the Imperial Court nevertheless flattens the personality nuances and line individualism.

More nuanced however was Takahashi's translation, the very same year - albeit still rendered a stately prose:


Soko de ousama wa kangaerareta, "Kore wa ikani mo mezurashii kimono da, koresae areba yo ga shinka no uchi no nin ni taenu jinbutsu wo miwakeru koto ga ku mo naku dekiru kashikoimono mo orokamono mo tayasuku wakaru, yoshi yoshi, kore wa zehi tomo naku te wa naranu shina da wai."

Then the King thought unto himself, "That is verily a most rare cloth, indeed. If We had it in our possession We would easily be able to distinguish amongst our retainers who are the sagacious individuals and who are truly fatuous with little to no difficulty. Yes, yes, We most certainly shall need this article, We dare say!"

Things of note here are, his usage of yo, here rendered in the majestic plural; using the archaic negative in the modal phrase nakerebanaranu (ought to); he further more ends his sentence with wai, an emphatic sentence ending that only occurs amongst older dialects. Thus the Emperor, or King (王様, ousama) in this case, has his speech rendered in that of an ageing monarch. His old and trusty Minister (宰相, saishou - the ), uses the same kanji for the pronoun, but it being pronounced ore, the informal first person male pronoun. We shall however return to the venerable statesman later on in this series.

Whilst not couched in Classical Japanese, the language of the King is nevertheless archaic when compared to modern Japanese.

The Imperial Elderly Minister:

We will skip Watanabe's version of the Minister other than mentioning a few details:

  1. His title is translated as shushou (首相), a term that various is translated as "Prime Minister" as well as "Chancellor" (in reference to Germany etc.) and "Premier." Thus marking the Elderly Minister's role as the head of the Imperial Court, acting as an adviser to His Majesty. The word literally means "head (首) of the councillors (相)."
  2. His language is largely the same as the Emperor due to the uniformly "direct" translation style into Classical Japanese, which did in fact have honorifics and the sort, but are avoided to convey a neutral tone.
  3. As such his personality as an elderly if easily flustered statesman is completely ignored when rendered into a homogeneous linguistic context, such as the "direct translation" style that the publication that this 1888 translation first debuted in.

Takahashi's translation gives us a different take from Watanabe's rigid version, he uses the same kanji - as mentioned previously - but pronounces it as ore, the standard masculine pronoun in informal and assertive speech thus conveying his personality as not necessarily geriatric as much as blunt when he is alarmed by his supposed incompetence due to not being able to see the magical cloth.

He is however not incapable of courteous language, since being polite is part of the august post as senior statesman, thus when he feigns being able to see the cloth and replies amicably towards the Swindlers:


"Kore wa kirei da, jitsu nite kirei da, kata to ii, iroai to ii ...... ou sou da, izure kaette, ousama ni juubun manzoku shita yoshi wo moushiageyou zoyo" to omoikitte imashita.

"This is beautiful, truly beautiful! These patterns, these colours. Yes, indeed, I have now more than ample satisfaction to report to His Majesty, I dare say!"

Other than zoyo, a markedly old fashioned emphatic particle that denotes surprise, the speech is standard male speech, albeit with the appearance of the humble verb moushiageru in its volitional mode "I will report most humbly" to communicate the Elderly Minister's part feigning being able to see the cloth and part wanting to reassure himself of his own competence and not making an idiot out of His Majesty, who has summoned the Swindlers under the misconception of them being true weavers.

In terms of his regular speech patterns in greater detail:


Soko de saishou-dono wa mata kangaemashita, "ore wa jitsu ni oroka kashiran, sou demo hito ni sou omowarete wa naranu, ore wa makoto ni munou ka shiran, samo araba are, kono roumen sagete, ima to natte hito ni sore wo shireru no kuchi wo shii, isso kono kinu ga minakatta nado to wa iwanu ga yokarou."

"Then did the Sir Prime Minister once more think, "Am I truly a fool? I musn't be thinking in such a way, am I truly without abilities? If that is so, this oldster's face shall be remove, if people come to know this... 'Twould be best if I say nothing at all."

We see kashiran, an older variaton of kashira (I do wonder), which in modern times is usually associated with female speech, but can also be gender-neutral in older registers. He uses the archaic form of naranai (must not) in the guise of naranu as well as the archaic negative iwanu (say not) instead of iwanai. He ends his sentence with yokarou (it would be better), the adverbial form of yoi, the positive particle, which is also here spelt with the kanji 善 (good/virtuous), possibly hinting at the prudent elderly's thinking - using such kanji for spelling the word itself is also relatively rare and old-fashioned.

The Minister is described here with saishou, an older word for "Prime Minister," typically used for royal ministers that serve a monarch and here the narrator suffixes his name with dono (lord/sir/master), an archaic honorific that is essentially more respectful than the standard san and less so than sama, which is what is used for the king ousama, albeit this term in a fossilised expression.

Him using 余, but pronounced as ore, shows the elderly minister as a member of the nobility, but speaking like a flustered and alarmed fellow.

He uses roumen sagete which I was a bit mystified as to what it meant, literally "hanging (one's) old face" as well as "removing the old face," which admittedly sound cryptic, it may be related to the saying dono tsura sagete (どの面さげて, "to have the nerve (to do something)", lit. "hanging with one's face"), or a pun on him feeling ashamed as such, but I came with as close as a guess I could to the meaning of this expression.

We shall in the next part look at the Swindlers themselves and how the key scenes are translated.