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[Columns]“Clouds above the Hill” soars into the world sky

It could be said that the most popular Japanese writer after World War II was Ryotaro Shiba. His series of works is rich in the attractiveness that has affected many Japanese people’s historical views. Even now, many writers follow his works, many of which have been re-interpreted in such forms as movies and TV dramas. Partly because he used actual Japanese historical events as material for most of his works, some of those works were translated into Chinese, but did not receive much international recognition in the English- and French-speaking worlds.

Recently, “Saka no Ue no Kumo,” one of his most famous works, was translated into English. All four volumes of this work are scheduled for translation; Vols. 1 and 2 are already on the shelves of bookstores in Japan.

The story is set in the time of Japan’s historical transition during the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the country was opened to the world by breaking away from its feudal system and shifting toward modernization, to the Sino-Japanese War (1894 - 1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904 - 1905). It describes how the Japanese people of those days strove ever up the hill, believing that there were white clouds above the hill.

The title of the English translation is “Clouds above the Hill.” One of the translators, Juliet Winters Carpenter, says “This work is comparable to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. ”Furthermore, Phyllis Birnbaum, a writer involved in editing this work, says “I am spending many fulfilling days while learning quite many things. As I was given an opportunity to see the Russo-Japanese War and World War II from the Japanese people’s viewpoint, based on deep historical knowledge, my eyes have been opened while reading this story.”

Although Ryotaro Shiba declined offers to visualize this work, saying that he wanted to be careful about doing so, a long historical TV drama adapted from this work in 2009, 13 years after his death, was valued highly. With the recent publication of this English translation, the value of Mr. Shiba’s work is expected to rise.

written by Junzo Tanaka