Basil Hall Chamberlain (18 October 1850–15 February 1935), was a professor of Tokyo Imperial University and one of the foremost British Japanologists active in Japan during the late 19th century. (Others included E. M. Satow and W. G. Aston.) He also wrote some of the earliest translations of haiku into English. He is perhaps best remembered for his informal and popular one-volume encyclopedia Things Japanese, which first appeared in 1890 and which he revised several times thereafter. His interests were diverse, and his works included a volume of poetry in French.
Chamberlain was born in Southsea (next to Portsmouth), the son of a Admiral William Charles Chamberlain and his wife Eliza Hall, the daughter of the travel writer Basil Hall. He was brought up in French as well as English, even before moving to Versailles to live with his maternal grandmother in 1856 upon his mother's death. Once in France he acquired German as well. Chamberlain had hoped to study at Oxford, but instead started work at Barings Bank in London. He was unsuited to the work and soon had a nervous breakdown. It was in the hope of a full recovery that he sailed out of Britain, with no clear destination in mind.
Chamberlain landed in Japan on 29 May 1873. He taught at the Imperial Naval School in Tokyo from 1874 to 1882. His most important position, however, was as professor of Japanese at Tokyo Imperial University beginning in 1886. It was here that he gained his reputation as a student of Japanese language and literature. (He was also a pioneering scholar of the Ainu and Ryukyuan languages.) His many works include the first translation of the Kojiki into English (1906), A Handbook of Colloquial Japanese (1888), Things Japanese (1890), and A Practical Guide to the Study of Japanese Writing (1905). A keen traveller despite chronic weak health, he cowrote (with W. B. Mason) the 1891 edition of A Handbook for Travellers in Japan, of which revisions appeared later.
Chamberlain was a friend of Lafcadio Hearn, but the two became somewhat estranged. His youngest brother was Houston Stewart Chamberlain.
- Anglo-Japanese relations
- o-yatoi gaikokujin
Works by Chamberlain
- The Classical Poetry of the Japanese. 1880.
- A Translation of the 'Ko-Ji-Ki'. 1883.
- The Language, Mythology, and Geographical Nomenclature of Japan Viewed in the Light of Aino Studies. 1887.
- Aino Folk-Tales. 1888.
- A Handbook of Colloquial Japanese. 1887.
- Things Japanese. Six editions, 1890–1936. (A later paperback reprint of the fifth, 1905 edition — with the short bibliographies appended to many of its articles replaced by mentions of other books put out by the new publisher — was issued as Japanese Things.)
- A Handbook for Travellers in Japan. 3rd ed. 1891. Cowritten with W. B. Mason. (Earlier editions were not by Chamberlain.)
- Essay in aid of a grammar and dictionary of the Luchuan language. 1895.
- "Bashō and the Japanese Poetical Epigram." Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. 2, no. 30, 1902 (some of his translations are included in Faubion Bowers' "The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology", Dover Publications, 1996, 78pp. ISBN 0-486-29274-6)
- Japanese Poetry. 1910.
- The Invention of a New Religion. 1912. web page, plain text Incorporated within Things Japanese from 1927.
- Huit Siècles de poesie française. 1927.
- . . . encore est vive la Souris. 1933.
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