Recently, I’ve begun to wonder

whether the title of this story should be ‘The Legends (plural) of the Eight Samurai Hounds’ rather than the singular ‘Legend’. As I proceed with translations there is a definite feel that the story really is a composition of numerous legends.

The original title:  南總里見八犬伝

*The kanji for 總 (soh) is often and usually replaced by the modern version: 総

Even back in the summer of 2015 when I was contemplating on a suitable title for the blog, I wasn’t totally sure of it. I dug up my notes:

For one thing I’m still wondering about the title; I’m not sure about the ‘Legend‘ and ‘Hounds‘, as 伝 can be easily translated to anything from a tale, story, episode, chronicle, saga, epic, and as for that a saga or epic far better describes the story as it is a very long story half based on history and is written in verses, and hounds only mean a certain type of dogs but the connotation the English word dog has is not as nice as 犬.

My friend Alan Hauk, mentioned in the acknowledgement section, assured that hounds sounded good, for a very good reason that ‘most dogs belonging to samurai and daimyo would have been used for hunting’, and I’m still happy with the choice. However, I sort of let the word legend choose itself.

It was only after I looked up my own blog on the Internet to check its searchability (I might have made up that word – some people hate conjuring up words like that and I usually try to discourage myself from doing it so excuse my Japanese), that I realised there was a well-known Japanese film with a title very close to it: The Legend of the Eight Samurai, which kept coming up above my blog in the search. Although the difference is minimum, (of course) I prefer mine as it doesn’t miss the canine reference and therefore closer to the original, but the film has a good review. I’d love to watch it sooner or later. My guess is it’ll be an extremely abridged recreation of Bakin’s work, but all the same it’ll be fun I’m sure.

Here is a question for you. Back to where I was earlier, I may seriously change the title to the ‘Legends’ but is it even allowed? The Japanese word for it in the original title has no singular or plural sense to it, so I guess it’s up to my creative liberty. What would you fellow Hakkenden lovers, or anyone interested, say?

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2 thoughts on “Recently, I’ve begun to wonder

  1. I would refrain from choosing the plural ‘legends’. It’s maybe tempting because it would take into account that Bakin’s novel is multi-threaded and there are ‘legendary’ events and actions in each of the eight lifelines. But it would just weaken the title and make the novel sound and look like an anthology, a literary format that only few readers enjoy. And then it would be wrong because Hakkenden is definitely not an anthology! The real strength of this vast narration is it’s impeccable unity. Don’t disturb it with a misleading title.
    But speaking of the title, I noticed something else. Pro primo, ‘Samurai Hounds’ sounds odd because it could mean ‘hounds of samurai’. Wouldn’t ‘Hound Samurai’ be better, meaning ‘samurai of canine nature’? Pro secundo, there is the even more difficult question of whether the word ‘samurai’ is permissible at all in the title as the kanji 武士 or 侍 are absent. And our heroes are in no way traditional samurai. I guess that Bakin would have been into deep trouble if he had called them ‘samurai’ because it would have offended the despised and despicable real warrior class of the late Edo period, no? I always understood Bakin’s tale as a form of literary critique of the much hated, unproductive and arrogant samurai class, well wrapped in a legitimizing plot that went in accord with the Tokugawa ideology – lay warriors in the Sengoku jidai re-establish the unity of Japan and secure everlasting peace – and could thus pass the government censorship.
    My impression is that ‘dog warriors’ is the most appropriate translation that solves both of the above mentioned problems.

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    • Thanks so much for offering the interesting insights, Regi! I really appreciate it.

      Good point about integrety. It never occured to me to see it like that. I think I’m very much more inclined towards keeping it as it is now.
      You’re right about the word Samurai not in the original title. I added it mainly because it’s one of the best known Japanese words – in fact I understand it’s one of Japan’s biggest exports so it’s very self explanatory, adding to the fact that I love anything samurai, haha.

      Actually ‘dog warriors’ was one of the strong candidates till the end. The word 八犬 (Hakken) simply means eight dogs, so the original title has no ‘samurai’ in it, or no ‘warriors’ for that matter, so it could very well be ‘The Legend of the Eight Hounds (from South Soh)’. I chose ‘Samurai Hounds’ because it means they are basically hounds but has the nature of samurai, as the word samurai here works like an adjective modifying the following noun ‘hounds’. This is why I thought and still think it’s the closest to the original and clearest.
      You made me think a lot deeper into this. Thanks again!

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