Bi wa Kizu and the Image of Cultural Globalization in Contemporary Japan

A Case Study of an Indonesian Novel Translation

By: Indah S. Pratidina,

Japan’s role in globalizing Asia has been widely recognized. Ever since the 1990’s, Japan has been exporting waves of it’s cultural products such as anime or animated films, television dramas, music, manga or comics, novels, and so on. These spreads of cultural products across the borders of Asia have sprung new hope for Japan’s relationship with other Asian countries. Through the consumption of Japan’s cultural products, it can promote cultural dialogue, and hopefully Japan can overcome its unfortunate history with the rest of Asia, especially regarding to the World War II.

However, globalization not only demands an integration of cultural diversity in the global community. It also reflects peoples’ (nations’) needs to develop a strong self or cultural identity (ies). In this light, one can see that Japan is not only an exporter of media. Rather, Japan has also been receiving various media from other Asian countries; such as Korea with its television dramas.

Though Indonesia it does not share the same amount of attention as Korea does in the Japanese market, Japan has also been receiving media from the former country as well. This study will look at one of these contributions, the novel Bi wa Kizu (Beauty is a Wound). In 2004, Cantik Itu Luka (Beauty is a Wound) was published in Indonesia by one of the leading publishing bodies of a large Indonesian media group, KOMPAS Gramedia Group.

The novel revolves around the life story of a half-Dutch half-Indonesian woman, Dewi Ayu, from the end of Dutch’s colonial rule to the Japan’s invasion (1942-1945), up until the era of communist revolution in Indonesia (1960s). One of the turning points of her story was the time she was forced to become a comfort woman for the Japan Imperial Army. As a piece of historical fiction, this work has been received widely in Indonesia.

What is surprising is that despite the contents of this novel, in 2006, the Japanese company Shinpusha purchased the publishing rights and a translation of this work was published entitled Bi wa Kizu. For foreign countries to succeed in penetrating a target market, every cultural product must overcome the language barrier; in the case of this study, the language barrier between Indonesian and Japanese. This is where translation plays a major role.

In this study, I found it interesting how a Japanese publisher decided to publish a novel about the life of a comfort woman in Indonesia during War World II, and in the translations I have observed that there certain sections of the novel where the brutality of the Japanese Imperial Army was described stayed unaltered. Nonetheless certain sections were slightly altered, probably for the sake of the Japanese market.

This study wishes to show some samples of the author’s observations, and analyses about how Japan is portrayed by the novel (both the original and translated versions), and, through the consumption of this novel in the Japanese market, whether this can be seen as a sign for Japan’s willingness for self-reflection about its past.

Indah S. Pratidina,, Research student, Institute for the Study of Global Issues, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan. This article was a paperwork for Speaker: MCIA Conference, Nov 2007.