Week 1: 人間失格

There was a bit of a discussion regarding the schedule a while ago, and unfortunately we have to stop in the middle of chapters a few times…


Oh yeah! I remember that. Well, first chapter was not that back for me so did it in one go.


In my first session i only managed the first 3 paragraphs, looking up a lot, and checking with my translation sentence for sentence, which was nice. And it’s actually only 15 or so paragraphs more for this week.

The second and third sentences are really quite something! The third one here goes over 8 lines or so.

But you could also see it as several sentences connected with て-form, to simplify (my translation actually inserts periods). And once you get through it and (vaguely) grasp it in your head, it’s quite beautiful and rewarding. Reminds me of Proust.

I like that the Aozora text has furigana, which are missing in the .txt on archive.org. You can kind of identify which kanji are rather rare by them having furigana.

I’m glad that i’ve read this in english before and have my translation, even though the translator (Donald Keene) often translates more freely than i’d like, in my eyes sometimes unnecessarily. So it’s great to read the original and recognize nuances lost in translation.
(the translation i disliked most so far is “if you want proof” for その証拠には. There’s no appeal to the reader in the Japanese. I’d just say “As proof” or so.)


By the way, the grammar wasn’t easy so far (for me).
I just found an N1 grammar point used in the second sentence:

you can kind of figure that out without knowing the grammar, but this construction did confuse me for a bit.
(い-Adj.[く] + もなんともない is a set phrase)



“I’ve lived a life full of shame”

What a great opening line this is. It hits with such force that it stays in your memory and makes you want to keep reading to find out exactly what kind of life this person lived.


I wasn’t sure of the meaning so thx for the info.

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I spotted a big error in the 1958 Keene translation (admittedly in a not very significant passage).
小さい火鉢に両手をかざし is translated as “His small hands are held in front of him”. The word brazier (火鉢, a mobile fireplace / heater) is completely missing, even when 小さい火鉢 occurs again shortly after it’s translated as little heater. And it’s not his hands that are small, it’s 火鉢. The verb 翳す explicitly has a meaning “to hold (one’s hands) out (e.g. towards a fire)” as well.

Of course, in 1958, you didn’t have the tools we now have for translation.

There’s one rather free translation that i like here, for 印象さえ無い, about the photograph: “it fails even to leave a memory” - because it’s a striking thought, and something like “it doesn’t leave an impression” feels a little weaker.
But then we get “it rubs against me the wrong way” for ただもう不愉快, and “Something ineffable makes the beholder shudder in distaste”. Oh well.
Also, 死相 is translated as “death mask”, while i’m pretty sure it only refers to a (facial) look of death (i’ve consulted monolingual dictionaries as well).

I wonder if the 2018 translation “A Shameful Life” by Mark Gibeau is ‘better’; though i don’t like the title, even if it references the opening line after the foreword. I’ve heard that it’s closer to the original, preserving the long sentences etc., which allegedly makes it harder to read, but that’s the kind of translation i’d prefer. You can’t turn Proust (meandering) into Hemingway (snappy, short sentences).

In any case, i’m glad i’m reading the original now :slight_smile:
(though even the translation didn’t fail to make the book one of my favourites immediately, five years ago)


Won for the Polish translation then, we got small heater translated right… but it’s also a translation from 2015 :wink:


I got curious and checked the French version, which was translated in 1962 by Gaston Renondeau (whose wikipedia page states that “His translations of Japanese literature are authoritative.”). He gets the brazier right, but omg he gets so many other things wrong. Or at least both me and Keene disagree with him. Seriously I don’t even know where to start.

I think the worst part is how he turns the anonymous “隣人” into a female friend who tried to commit suicide, but survived, but still died in the end?!

Original Japanese.




English translation by Donald Keene.


I have sometimes thought that I have been burdened with a pack of ten misfortunes, any one of which if borne by my neighbor would be enough to make a murderer of him.

I simply don’t understand. I have not the remotest clue what the nature or extent of my neighbor’s woes can be. Practical troubles, griefs that can be assuaged if only there is enough to eat—these may be the most intense of all burning hells, horrible enough to blast to smithereens my ten misfortunes, but that is precisely what I don’t understand: if my neighbors manage to survive without killing themselves, without going mad, maintaining an interest in political parties, not yielding to despair, resolutely pursuing the fight for existence, can their griefs really be genuine?

French version by Gaston Renondeau.


Dix malheurs se sont accumulés sur moi, mais, parmi ces dix, le poids de l’un d’eux n’a-t-il pas été supporté pleinement par une amie à qui il a coûté la vie ?

Finalement, je ne sais pas. La nature, le degré de la souffrance de mon amie, je ne les ai pas devinés du tout. La véritable souffrance, ce fut, après avoir pris un repas, de pouvoir se décider (au suicide) ; ce fut peut-être la souffrance la plus aiguë, une souffrance dépassant de loin les dix peines dont j’ai parlé ; une souffrance peut-être semblable à l’un des tourments de l’enfer le plus profond, je ne sais ; mais ne pas être mort après cette tentative de suicide, ne pas être devenu fou, avoir discuté de partis politiques, n’avoir pas sombré dans le désespoir, avoir continué le combat pour la vie, tout cela n’a-t-il pas été plus cruel ?”

My English translation of the French version.


Ten misfortunes have piled on me, but, out of those ten, was the weight of one of them not borne by a female friend, and it cost her her life?

In the end, I don’t know. The character, the degree of suffering of my female friend, I did not guess at all. The real suffering was, after eating a meal, to be able to make the decision (to commit suicide) ; that was the most acute suffering, a suffering beyond the ten misfortunes I talked about ; a suffering perhaps similar to the deepest torments of hell, I do not know ; but having survived after that suicide attempt, having not become mad, having talked politics, having not given in to despair, having kept fighting to live, wasn’t all that more cruel?

I “like” how he turned 解決できる into “make the decision (to commit suicide)”, with the parenthesis and all.

Oh and there’s also a whole 4 line sentence/paragraph that’s completely missing from the French version.


I like how the French version made that hypothetical person bearing one of those misfortunes a real person. :joy:

Learning this language is so worth it.


At this point it’s practically fan fiction…


I thought this was going to be hard, and


it’s hard! I have very little experience with stringing long sentences together. So far what works for me is trying to make sense of the Japanese, then reading the English and then trying to see how the translator chopped up the huge Japanese sentence into individual English sentences. Super slow, but I think I’ll learn a lot!

It seems to be pretty faithful! It serves my deciphering needs at any rate :slight_smile: Here are his translations of the passages you mentioned:

He sits in the corner of a filthy room (behind him the wall crumbles in three places), warming his hands over a small charcoal brazier.

Unremarkable eyebrows, unremarkable eyes, unremarkable nose and chin. I give an exasperated sigh. His face isn’t simply absent of expression, it fails to leave any impression at all.

There is only disgust, irritation, and the almost overpowering impulse to look away.

Even the face of someone slipping into death holds some kind of expression, leaves some kind of mark.

This is how Gibeau translates it:

Could they be such thoroughgoing egotists, so certain that this is the way things are supposed to be, that they have never once doubted themselves? If so, I suppose it might be easier to bear. I wonder if that is simply the way human beings are and that that is what makes them happy.

He renders 満点 as ‘what makes them happy’.

I imagine posting short parts of the translation is probably ok (fair use), but if not I’ll take them down :slight_smile:


Just finished the first week’s part, it was hard, but rewarding!

Ditto word for word! Even though i really dislike how my translation words things a lot of the time, it really helps me understand the general meaning and grammar better. For example I read the Japanese and think “It’s the 8th hell [in Buddhism] for him? (checks translation) Oh, no, it’s ‘if it was the 8th hell for his neighbor’!”

And then i get annoyed that the translator doesn’t mention that 阿鼻地獄 is the “Avici hell, the eighth and most painful of the eight hells in Buddhism”, although he elegantly circumscribes it as “the most intense of all burning hells”.
At least a footnote would have been necessary here, in my eyes. I guess the translator is going for a kind of “western localization” where you try to cut out Japanese specifics that most people wouldn’t get without explanations, similar to a lot of early video game localizations. It’s less suited to people who actually want to learn about Japanese culture.

But by reading both the Japanese and the translation, it’s easier to both understand the general meaning and appreciate the nuance.

I found a nice wordplay (i think?) near the end of this section:
Even though there’s そら as furigana in the Aozora edition (apparently it can mean “fake”), this can be read in onyomi, resulting in a “rhyme”:
自分は だ、 ふうだ、くうだ.

Ordinarily you would never read these words in onyomi when put like this, of course, and this may not be the author’s intention, but i still like it :wink:


By the way, while I also find it very interesting and somewhat useful to speculate what psychological disorders the protagonist and/or author could have (Asperger, Bipolar, Borderline, Psychotic Depression, etc.), I would propose that it’s not useful to reduce them to a psychological profile. I’m not saying anyone does that of course, and i can understand that they can be hard to relate to, especially if you don’t agree to most of the sentiments towards society either.

But if this book was just a clinical psychology case file (or a “society bad” ramble), it wouldn’t be great literature.
I also don’t think the character ever rambles for the sake of rambling. Every passage is there for a reason, like in music, where they say you couldn’t change a single note from a piece of Chopin. That’s what makes a masterpiece.

Writing this i’ve noticed i’ve put up a bit of a strawman argument, because noone argues what i’m arguing against (yet), but i guess i just want to say that i really like this book, okay? :wink:


Reading through this thread more thoroughly I felt kind of called out by Phyllis here. :sweat_smile:

The main roadblock I have with No Longer Human (especially after the reading the Ito adaptation) in particular, and the category of “literature where an alienated author insularly wanders around being alienated and not handling it super well” in general (like for example The Stranger has gotta be in that ballpark), is that they remind me a bit of stuff I was writing in college creative writing classes.

Like I remember doing a whole lot of what Dazai’s narrator does in these opening bits, taking anecdotes I remember from my childhood and tying them into overarching stories I told about myself while trying to figure out what subset of other people might fall into the same pattern (while having no earthly idea whatsoever whether it was “literally everyone ever” or “basically just me”). And in my late twenties I’ve done a whole lot less of that, less because I fixed anything or have any better idea what it all means, and more just because it all seems like less of a big deal.

Which makes my (very unfair) knee-jerk reaction something like “oh settle down.”
The “I put on a legging such that it looked like a sweater IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER lmao” anecdote, for example, is 100% an innocuous memory about mildly goofing off as a child if he didn’t interpret it as like, literally being jokerfied at a young age.

So it’s hard for me not to suspect he (the character) has gotten heavily wrapped up in (and even obsessive about) the telling of his own self-narrative. “Hey it’s kind of interesting how as a kid I often didn’t notice I was hungry. Did other people have that experience?” turning into “I literally did not feel hunger and that’s an example of how I’m inhuman and have never understood anybody.”

But at the end of the day I think you just have to trust the stories people tell about themselves, since it’s not like you know any better. And he’s certainly a good storyteller…

The main draw for me is definitely the use of language though, so I’m already sure I’ll enjoy the book a lot more in this form than I did in Ito’s version translated to English. (even if, as an over-confident 20-something, it might not end up a favorite :slight_smile:)

I was a little surprised they didn’t use くの字点, like this:


(but I guess that might be more for kana, or might look out of place in a modern prose form, or might be harder to typeset perhaps…)

I think to him, his constant pain and trouble is from constantly questioning himself and never being certain at all about how other people operate or where he fits into that – like he’s hyper-aware of other people in the sense that he feels an intense disconnect from them and is incredibly affected by it and strives to mitigate it by trying to fit into what’s expected of him as best he can, via fakery if possible. So not suffering from that would be “egotistical” in the sense that to him it would be ignoring that disconnect and therefore ignoring other people, and just going about your day as if there is no one else.

Like, replacing “I’m different from everyone, and that’s horrible” with either “everyone is definitely just like me” or “I’m different from everyone, and who cares! I’m the best” which are both, in a sense, “egotistical.”

Which intentionally or not, could be ironic since it casts his own behavior in a righteous light of not being egotistical, when arguably the mistake he’s maybe actually making is dwelling so intensely on his own perceived intractable uniqueness… but that’s my take on what he means, anyway!


With regards to the “egoism” passage it may help to consider the historical context. Dazai was growing up in a rapidly modernizing (and militarizing) Japan and with that there were some major cultural shifts brought along with Western ideas(e.g. egoism itself) and technology. For someone predisposed towards depression, anxiety, alienation, etc, I imagine the sudden changes would be even more disorienting. Thus our dear protagonist is unable to cope and as a result society disqualifies him/he disqualifies himself. @rodan mentioned the Stranger, which I think is very apropos and would make for an interesting comparative analysis. Despite how auto-biographical and confessional Dazai’s novel appears to be, I think we should consider that it sometimes goes beyond the personal and into a broader critique of modern society.


The comparison to The Stranger would definitely be interesting. Though for some reason, even though i read both books within half a year, and The Stranger first, i just hated The Stranger, and loved Dazai. I felt like Camus displayed no talent for literary writing in the book whatsoever. It’s just the protagonist describing his actions drily and caring about nothing.
(I felt similarly about Camus’ short story collection Exile and the Kingdom, but found the purely philosophical writing in The Myth of Sysyphus much more interesting, from the small part i’ve read)

I’ll definitely be interested whether, five years later, I will still like the book as much on my second read, or whether I’ll think similarly to the valid points you brought up, rodan. But i think if you could reduce the book to “society bad, me special”, I wouldn’t have liked it as much in the first place.


I also like the comparison to The Stranger. But I don’t think its dry tone is due to lack of talent; it’s a feature, not a bug.
Same thing as with Sayaka Murata’s (author of Konbini Ningen) style. It’s supposed to show you how the inside of character’s head looks like. I liked The Stranger because of its dry tone.
I read The Stranger last of the trio, and my personal ranking is Murata, Camus, Dazai.
And I’m also reading Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima now, which is also within the genre “I’m different from everyone, and that’s horrible”, and it’s at the last place so far, partly because Mishima is much more whiny than Dazai. :stuck_out_tongue: And the pacing is so slow, everything is so stretched out.
But it also might be just personal preference and what kind of whining is less/more relatable to the specific person :woman_shrugging:t2:

The Stranger’s spoilers below

Btw, when I read the whole trial part, it felt so abstract and overdone. I was thinking that society opinion shouldn’t matter at all, and okay, maybe sometimes it matters a little in reality, but “he is guilty because he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral”? really? he was guilty, because he shot the man, and that should have been the end of it.
And just yesterday something very similar happened in my own life… someone from my close family is accused of something, there will be a trial, and while I hate this person deeply, I can’t say if he did this specific action or not, and I think the whole thing should be resolved with facts and evidence connected to the matter. And now I heard that the defense will include things like “but he has medals from the military, so he can’t lie, so if he says he didn’t do it, then he didn’t do it.”
Whaaaat. Camus was so on point after all.
And to think The Stranger’s 80 years old.
And after that personal experience I appreciated The Stranger even more, so… like I said above, I think everybody likes more what is more relatable to them.
Also sorry for being sorta personal but I so want to shout about it and couldn’t stop myself when seeing conversation shifting to Camus

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Ok so I recently started to think about a personal challenge of reading one book of each literature nobel prize laureate (well, from those who do prose, that is :sweat_smile:), and ideally in their native tongue, and I also recently thought about brushing up my French. Guess I found my first entry :joy_cat:


I know the dry style in The Stranger is intentional, but it just results in very boring and one-dimensional writing, in my humble opinion, it feels like the book is just trying to make a single point. If you’re interested in me ranting about the book more you can read my (spoilery) dialogue style review :wink: