Posted by: biblioglobal | April 29, 2013

More translation games: One Hundred Frogs

One Hundred FrogsA few weeks ago I wrote about McSweeney’s 42 in which stories were sequentially translated between English and another language and back again. One Hundred Frogs, in contrast, consists of a single haiku translated repeatedly from Japanese into English. It’s a famous haiku, written by Basho, about (surprise!) a frog.


A typical translation:

Ancient pond;

frog jumps in;

sound of water.

As you might expect, many of the translations bear quite a bit of similarity to one another.  Yet none are exactly the same.

They quibble, perhaps, over whether the pond should be described as ‘ancient’ or ‘old’ or ‘still’. Or for that matter, is it not a pond at all, but rather a lake or a mere?

But the translational argument I found most interesting was over what produced the sound. Some translations, like the one above, attributed the sound to the water while others attributed the sound to the frog. When a frog jumps into the water what makes the splash?

Luckily, one of the translations resolves this puzzle (koan?):

Old pond-

and a frog-jump-in


Other translations are less literal. There’s a limerick and a sonnet and a prose-poem. The book’s beautiful illustrations form a flip-book which itself could be considered a translation of the haiku, though not into English!

My favorite of the more playful translations takes the minimalism of haiku to its logical extreme:





This frog is ready to jump.


  1. How interesting! The role of judgment/discretion in translations is a fascinating subject.

    • The importance of judgement becomes especially obvious in something as short as a haiku where every word counts for so much!

  2. Hello Biblio, I have given you the sunshine award!

  3. I do like the last one, but it is funny how translations can drastically change things.

  4. Whenever I read a translated book, I’m glad it’s been translated so I can read it, but I also wonder what I’m missing. In so many pages of text, something is bound to be lost, after all.

    I’ve nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. If you don’t accept awards, no worries, consider yourself an inspiration I wanted to share with others. 🙂

    If you do accept awards, click on this link for the rules:

    • My conclusion from this book and the McSweeney’s book is actually that less seems to be ‘lost in translation’ than I had feared. At least if it’s a good translation! But of course by definition it will never be a perfect reproduction.

      Thanks for the nomination!

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