Sunrise, Sunset from the Land of the Rising Sun

One of the most common ways Sholem Aleichem has traveled outside of the United States or the lands where Yiddish was once widely spoken is through translations of Fiddler on the Roof. Even the quickest search on YouTube will reveal videos and audio recordings of Fiddler translated into over a dozen languages, including Hungarian, Hindi, Serbian, Greek, Portuguese, and Mexican Spanish, to name only a few. While comparisons between these translations will likely reveal a plethora of textual difference, most of the productions available on YouTube are staged with remarkable similarity. Costumes, sets, and even choreography in disparate lands resembles each other strongly, suggesting that Fiddler is seen as an authentic representation of American and/or Jewish culture, a text that is not to be altered lest it lose its supposedly genuine flavor. Casting decisions also seem to be made in comparable fashion, as the roles of Teyve and Golde are again and again given to the doyennes and elder statesmen of these various national stages. Helgi Sallo, for instance, who played Golde in the 1990 Tallinn production of Fiddler, is a leading soloist in the Estonian National Opera and beloved actress and singer in her native country.

One of the more surprising international success stories for Fiddler is how immensely popular the show has become in Japan. Urban legend has it that a Tokyo producer once asked how the musical could be American when its lead character was undeniably “so Japanese”. Indeed, according to Yoshiji Hirose, a Japanese scholar of Jewish literature based in Okayama, Fiddler—and by extension much of Yiddish literature about shtetl lifebears a striking resemblance to the how traditional Japanese village culture is remembered and described. Of particular note, for Hirose, is the relationship between Teyve and his daughters: something, he states, that all Japanese people can relate to. This clip comes from a 1982 production of Fiddler in Tokyo.