Sonja Arntzen

Professor Emerita

Areas of Interest

  • Kanshi (the Chinese poetry written by Japanese authors throughout the pre-modern era and even into the modern period)
  • Women’s writing in the Heian period


My research interests focus on two literary topics. One is kanshi , the Chinese poetry written by Japanese authors throughout the pre-modern era and even into the modern period. I am fascinated by the shifting roles that a “China of the imagination” nurtured by the actual practice of writing in literary Chinese has played in Japanese culture. The second topic is women’s writing in the Heian period. Spurred by an engagement with feminist literary criticism, I have felt that this comparatively large body of writing by women from a thousand years ago should receive more attention on the world literary stage and to that end I have produced new translations of two major texts, the Kagerō Diary and Sarashina Diary. My research methodology is essentially that of the scholar-translator, aiming to produce translations that are not only accurate with respect to content but also to literary style and to frame those translations so that the widest possible range of readers can gain insight into the literary, social and personal contexts of the writing.

Selected Publications

The Sarashina Diary: A Woman’s Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, co-authored with Itō Moriyuki. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014
The Kagerō Diary: A Women’s Autobiographical Text from Tenth Century Japan. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 1997
Ikkyū and the Crazy Cloud Anthology, University of Tokyo Press 1986, Second Printing, 1988
• “Heart of History: Tale of Genji.” In Education About Asia, 10:3 (Winter, 2005) 25-30
• “The Wakan rōeishū: Cannibalization or Singing in Harmony?” Proceedings of “Acts of Writing” Association of Japanese Literary Studies Annual Conference 2000, Summer 2001, 155-171
• “Of Love and Bondage in the Kagerō Diary: Michitsuna’s Mother’s Relationship to her Father.” In The Father/Daughter Plot: Japanese Literary Women, eds. Rebecca L. Copeland and Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen, University of Hawaii Press, 2001, 25-48


BA, French and Fine Arts, University of British Columbia, 1966
MA, Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, 1970
PhD, Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, 1979