Yoko Tawada, 2022
Yōko Tawada, 2022 (Photo: Jindřich Nosek [NoJin] via Wikimedia Commons 4.0)

Yōko Tawada was born in Nakano, Tokyo, on 23 March 1960. She began writing at an early age, attempting to distribute her first novel while still in school. Tawada started to learn German in high school and first travelled to Germany at the age of 19, taking the Trans-Siberian railway via Moscow. This journey (which secondary literature frequently evokes as a foundational moment for the writer) was fictionalized in Wo Europa anfängt (Where Europe Begins, 1991). In this short story, a Japanese woman recounts her journey on the Trans-Siberian railway to Europe and reflects on alterity, otherness and travel.

After returning to Japan and studying Russian Literature at Waseda University in Tokyo, Tawada intended to continue her studies in Poland. When she was denied a visa, however, she took up the chance to work for an acquaintance of her father in the publishing industry in Hamburg. This allowed her to experience the German language in a non-academic context. In 1982, she started to pursue a degree in German literature at Hamburg University where she read Benjamin, Derrida, Barthes, Celan and Bachmann – authors who would influence her later works. Tawada received her doctorate in German literature from Zurich University in 1998 with a thesis on magical language and toys in European literature from E.T.A. Hoffmann to Kafka, which was supervised by eminent Germanist Sigrid Weigel. She has cited Paul Celan and Kafka as some of her literary influences.

Tawada lived in Hamburg from 1982 until 2006 before moving to Berlin, where she currently resides.

Tawada publishes in German and Japanese. Initially she wrote exclusively in Japanese. Her first publications in German, Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts (Only There Where You Are There Is Nothing, 1987) and Wo Europa anfängt (Where Europe Begins, 1991), were translated into German by Peter Pörtner, who continues to translate some of Tawada’s works. Some of her novels – such as Opium für Ovid (Opium for David, 2000) and Schwager in Bordeaux (Brother-in-Law in Bordeaux, 2008) – were originally produced in German and re-written in Japanese by Tawada herself. In comparison, Das nackte Auge (The Naked Eye, 2004) was written simultaneously in Japanese and German, effectively creating two distinct but related books. Tawada prefers to write different genres in each language. Her German works tend to be plays, literary essays and short prose texts. In contrast, Tawada often writes poetry and novels in Japanese.

Tawada juxtaposes critical reflections on the power and dangers of language with light-hearted word games. The focus on the materiality of language in her works serves to highlight the importance of language for mediating issues of gender, migration and alterity. One of the central themes in Tawada’s writings is transformation, or rather forms of metamorphosis that transcend traditional divisions between genders, cultures and the human/non-human divide. Complementing her preference for fluidity and non-stable identities, Tawada’s metamorphoses therefore question concepts such as national and gender identity and monolingualism. In Tawada’s German-language works, plot often takes a backseat to poetological reflections on the fluidity of language, gender and the self. Several of her texts focus explicitly on the female body and body parts. In Ein Gast (A Guest, 1991), one of Tawada’s earliest German-language short novels, the ear and its connection to alterity and femininity are foregrounded. In Das nackte Auge, the eye and the cinematic seeing act bring issues of identity, capitalism and Cold War Europe into focus. In her works published after 2000, such as Schwager in Bordeaux (2008) and Etüden im Schnee (Études in Snow, 2014), Tawada has been preoccupied with questions of colonialism and communism in the European context. More recent publications include the Japanese poetry collection Shutaine (2017), the German-language novel Paul Celan und der Chinesische Engel (2020), and the novel Scattered All Over the Earth (2022), translated by Margaret Mitsutani which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature. 

The protagonists in Tawada’s short novels are often travellers, migrants or refugees, characters shifting between different spaces and identities. The importance of travel to her work also extends to Tawada as a writer. Although she is based in Berlin, Tawada has given more than 900 readings in multiple countries and has also been a writer-in-residence at several universities across the USA., including, MIT Boston (1999), the German House of New York University (2004), Washington University (2007), Stanford University (2008) and Cornell University (2008). She has given more than 1,000 lectures and readings worldwide. 

In addition,Tawada has held several academic lectureships. In 1998 she was a lecturer in poetics in Tübingen; her talks, subsequently published as Verwandlungen: Tübinger Poetikvorlesungen (Metamorphoses: Tübingen Poetics Lectures, 1998), contain poetological reflections on the issues of metamorphosis, language and alterity that reappear in her later works. Tawada was also the inaugural holder of the Guest Professorship in Intercultural Poetics at Hamburg University in 2011. Her lectures were published in the essay collection Fremde Wasser (Foreign Water, 2012) with accompanying secondary literature and an interview with the author. In 2015 she was Visiting Professor and Distinguished DAAD Chair for Contemporary Poetics in the Department of German at New York University.

Tawada has received numerous prestigious prizes in Germany and Japan, notably the Akutagawa Literature Prize (1993), the Adelbert-von- Chamisso-Preis (1996), the Junichiro Tanizaki Literature Prize (2003) and the Goethe Medal (2005), the Kleist-Preis (2016), the National Book Award (2018), and the Asahi Prize (2019). In 2022, she received an honorary doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. 

Compiled by Christin Bohnke (Toronto)


For information on her Japanese publications see http://yokotawada.de/?page_id=22


Nur da wo du bist da ist nichts (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1987)

Sprachpolizei und Spielpolyglotte (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2007)

Abenteuer der deutschen Grammatik (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2010)


Das Bad [short novel] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1989)

Wo Europa anfängt [prose and poems] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1993)

Ein Gast [short-story] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1993)

Tintenfisch auf Reisen: 3 Geschichten [short-stories] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1994)

Aber die Mandarinen müssen heute abend noch geraubt werden [dream texts] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1997)

Opium für Ovid: Ein Kopfkissenbuch von 22 Frauen [short-stories] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2000)

Das nackte Auge [novel] (Tübigen: konkursbuch Verlag, 2004)

Schwager in Bordeaux [novel] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2008)

Etüden im Schnee [novel] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2014)


Wie der Wind in Ei (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1997)

Orpheus oder Izanagi. Till. (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1998)

Die Kranichmaske die bei Nacht strahlt (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1993)

‘Pulverschrift Berlin’ in Literatur und Migration ed. by Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Munich: Text + Kritik, 2006, pp. 97-108)

‘Sancho Pansa’ in Yoko Tawada: Poetik der Transformation: Beiträge zum Gesamtwerk ed. by Christine Ivanovic  (Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 2010, pp. 17-56)

Mein kleiner Zeh war ein Wort: 12 Theaterstücke (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2013)


Talisman (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1996)

Verwandlungen: Tübinger Poetikvorlesungen (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 1998)

Überseezungen (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2002)

‘Ist Europa westlich?’ (Trajekte, 12, April 2006, pp. 34-38 )

Fremde Wasser: Hamburger Poetikvorlesungen (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2012)

Other Works

[with Aki Takase] Diagonal [readings with music] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2002)

Was ändert der Regen an unserem Leben? [libretto] (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2005)

Translations into Foreign Languages


The Bridegroom was a Dog [Translation of Inu muko iri, 犬婿入り by Margaret Mitsutani] (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

Where Europe Begins [Translation of Wo Europa anfängt by Susan Bernofsky and Yumi Selden] (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)

‘Writing in the Web of Words’ [Translation of ‘Schreiben im Netz der Sprachen’ by Monika Totten] in Lives in Translation: Bilingual Writers on Identity and Creativity ed. by Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, pp. 147-155)

Facing the Bridge [Translation of short-stories from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani] (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2007)

‘Dejima and Huis Ten Bosch — Two Dutch Cities in Japan’ [Translation of two scenic readings by Susan Bernofsky and Bettina Brandt] (Transit 5, 2009, pp. 1-29)

The Naked Eye [Translation of Das nackte Auge by Susan Bernofsky] (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2009)

Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation [Translation of Porträt einer Zunge by Chantal Wright] (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2013)


Agnese, Barbara, Ivanovic, Christine and Vlasta, Sandra [eds.]: Die Lücke im Sinn: Vergleichende Studien zu Yoko Tawada (Tübingen: Stauffenburg [Stauffenburg Discussion 30], 2014)

Arnold, Heinz Ludwig: Literatur und Migration (Text + Kritik [special issue], 191/192, 2006)

Baroun, Bernard: ‘L'oreiller occidental-oriental de Yoko Tawada’ (Études Germaniques [special issue] 65.3, 2010, pp. 415-429)

Baroun, Bernard and Ivanovic, Christine [eds.]: Eine Welt der Zeichen: Yoko Tawadas Frankreich als Dritter Raum: Mit dem Tagebuch der bebenden Tage (Fukushima) und zwei weiteren Originaltexten ('Von Pianissimo bis Forte'/ 'Lévi-Strauss und der Hase') von Yoko Tawada (Munich: Iudicium, 2015)

Breger, Claudia: ‘“Meine Herren, spielt in meinem Gesicht ein Affe?”: Strategien der Mimikry in Texten von Emine S. Özdamar und Yoko Tawada’ in AufBrüche: Kulturelle Produktionen von Migrantinnen, Schwarzen und jüdischen Frauen in Deutschland ed. by Cathy Gelbin, Kader Konuk and Peggy Piesche (Berlin: Ulrike Helmer Verlag, 1999, pp. 30-59)

Cho-Sobotka, Myung-Hwa: Auf der Suche nach dem weiblichen Subjekt: Studien zu Ingeborg Bachmanns 'Malina', Elfriede Jelineks 'Die Klavierspielerin' und Yoko Tawadas 'Opium für Ovid' (Heidelberg: Winter, 2007)

Ervedosa, Clara: ‘Die Verfremdung des Fremden: Kulturelle und ästhetische Alterität bei Yoko Tawada’ (Zeitschrift für Germanistik 16.3, 2006, pp. 568-580)

Fachinger, Petra: ‘Cultural and Culinary Ambivalence in Sara Chin, Evelina Galangfand and Yoko Tawada’ (Modern Language Studies 35.1, 2005, pp. 38-48)

Fischer, Sabine: ‘Durch die japanische Brille gesehen: Die fiktive Ethnologie der Yoko Tawada’ (Gegenwartsliteratur: Ein germanistisches Jahrbuch [special issue] 2, 2003, pp. 59-80)

Gelzer, Florian: ‘Sprachkritik bei Yoko Tawada’ (Waseda Blätter 7, 2000, pp. 73-101)

Grewe Maria S: Estranging Poetic: On the Poetic of the Foreign in Select Works by Herta Müller and Yoko Tawada (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009)

Ivanovic, Christine: ‘Exophonie, Echophonie. Resonanzkoerper und polyphone Räume bei Yoko Tawada’ (Gegenwartsliteratur: Ein germanistisches Jahrbuch 6, 2008, pp. 223-247)

Ivanovic, Christine and Tawada, Yoko: Yoko Tawada: Poetik Der Transformation: Beiträge zum Gesamtwerk (Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 2010)

Koiran, Linda: Schreiben in Fremder Sprache: Yoko Tawada und Galsan Tschinag: Studien zu den deutschsprachigen Werken von Autoren asiatischer Herkunft (Munich: Iudicium, 2009)

Kraenzle, Christina: Mobility, Space, and Subjectivity: Yoko Tawada and German-Language Transnational Literature (Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 2004)

—: ‘Travelling without Moving: Physical and Linguistic Mobility in Yoko Tawada's Überseezungen’ (TRANSIT 2.1, 2005, n.p.)

Łącka, Danuta: ‘Trans-gender, Trans-bordering, Translation in Tawada Yoko’s Narratives’ (Language and Information Sciences 7, 2009, pp. 251-258)

Matsunaga, Miho: ‘“Schreiben als Übersetzung”: Die Dimension der Übersetzung in den Werken von Yoko Tawada’ (Zeitschrift für Germanistik 12.3, 2002, pp. 532-546)

Pirozhenko, Ekaterina: ‘Flâneuses, Bodies and the City: Magic in Yoko Tawada’s Opium für Ovid: Ein Kopfkissenbuch von 22 Frauen’ (Colloquia Germanica 4, 2008, pp. 331-356)

Schestokat, Katrin: ‘Bemerkungen zur Hybridität und zum Sprachgebrauch in ausgewählten Texten Yoko Tawadas’ (Germanic Notes and Reviews 31.1, 2000, pp. 33-36)

Slaymaker, Douglas: Yōko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007)

Tachibana, Reiko: ‘Monadic Writers of Japan, Tawada Yoko and Mizumura Minae’ (Proceedings of the Association of Japanese Literary Studies 2, 2001, pp. 400-419)

—: ‘Beyond East and West: Tawada Yoko and Levy Hideo’ (Proceedings of the Association of Japanese Literary Studies 3, 2002, pp. 23-36)

Takanezawa, Noriko [ed.]: Tawada Yoko (Tokyo: Kanae Shobō, 2006)

Van Dijk, Kari: ‘Arriving in Eurasia: Yoko Tawada Re-Writing Europe’ in Re-thinking Europe: Literature and (Trans)National Identity ed. by Nele Bemong, Mirjam Truwant and Pieter Vermeulen (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008, pp. 163-178)

Yildiz, Yasemin: Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012)

Interviews/in the Media

‘Interview mit der Schriftstellerin Yoko Tawada’ (Neues aus Japan 11, October 2005) available online at http://www.dl.ndl.go.jp/view/download/digidepo_4022406_po_DInterviewtawada.pdf?contentNo=1&alternativeNo=

Brandt, Bettina: ‘Scattered Leaves: Artist Books and Migration: A Conversation with Yoko Tawada’ (Comparative Literature Studies 45.1, 2008, pp. 12-22)

—: ‘The Postcommunist Eye: An Interview with Yoko Tawada’ (World Literature Today, January-February 2006) available online at http://www.academia.edu/1302127/The_Postcommunist_Eye_An_Interview_with_Yoko_Tawada

—: ‘Ein Wort, ein Ort, or How Words Create Places: Interview with Yoko Tawada’ (Women in German Yearbook 21, 2005, pp. 1-15)

Broich, Franziska: ‘“Mit den Differenzen umgehen”: Die japanische Schriftstellerin Yoko Tawada über Integration’ (Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 10 May 2011) available online at http://www.kas.de/wf/de/71.10156/

Buhre, Franziska: ‘Diese Bilder verstehen Japaner nicht’ (TAZ, 15 April 2011) available online at http://www.taz.de/1/archiv/digitaz/artikel/?ressort=ku&dig=2011/04/15/a0151&cHash=8e5edddc24

Dittberner, Hugo: Mit der Zeit Erzählen? fragt er: Marcel Beyer, Heiner Egge, Gundi Feyrer, Yoko Tawada: das zweite Buch (Göttingen: Wallstein, 1994)

Eshel, Amir: ‘A Conversation with Yoko Tawada’ (Stanford University DLCL, 18 February 2009) available online at https://archive.org/details/AConversationWithYokoTawada

Grimkowski, Sabine: ‘“Mit fremder Zunge sprechen”: Yoko Tawada, Schreibende und Reisende’ (Deutschlandradio Kultur, 22 September 2013) available online at http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/mit-fremder-zunge-sprechen-pdf.media.942f8fd9c0965cda5345e6571e6fe594.pdf

Gutjahr, Ortrud: ‘In meinen Poetikvorlesungen werde ich viel über das Wasser sprechen, und der Tsunami kommt auch vor’ in Fremde Wasser: Hamburger Gastprofessur für Interkulturelle Poetik: Vorlesungen und wissenschaftliche Beiträge (Tübingen: Konkursbuch Verlag, 2012, pp. 17-25)

Horst, Claire: ‘“Fremd sein ist eine Kunst” – Interview mit Yoko Tawada’ (Heinrich Böll Stiftung, February 2009) available online at https://heimatkunde.boell.de/2009/02/18/fremd-sein-ist-eine-kunst-interview-mit-yoko-tawada

Karkowsky, Stephan: ‘“Jedes Wort ist ja wie ein Stein”: Japanische Lyrikerin über die deutsche Sprache, rätselhafte CH-Laute und kraftvolle Adjektive’ (Deutschlandradiokultur, 30 July 2013), available online at http://www.deutschlandradiokultur.de/jedes-wort-ist-ja-wie-ein-stein.954.de.html?dram:article_id=255903

Saalfeld, Lerke, von: ‘Die Welt, durch die Augen von Eisbären betrachtet’ (Deutschlandfunk, 2 July 2014) available online at http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/yoko-tawada-die-welt-durch-die-augen-von-eisbaeren.700.de.html?dram:article_id=290796

Tan, Daniela: ‘Im Meer der Mehrsprachigkeit: “Vielleicht sind wir alle zusammen nur ein großes Tier”’ (Neue Züricher Zeitung, 24 November  2012) available online at http://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/buecher/im-meer-der-mehrsprachigkeit-1.17842399

Totten, Monika: ‘Writing in Two Languages: a Conversation with Yoko Tawada’ (Harvard Review 17.17, 1999, pp. 93-100) Zielinska-Elliott, Anna and Schwartz, Peter: ‘Writing Between Languages and Cultures – A Reading and Conversation with Yoko Tawada’ (Centres for the Study of Europe and Asia at Boston University, 22 April 2014) available online at http://www.bu.edu/european/tag/yoko-tawada/