World Kid Lit Month Interview: Helen Wang Talks with Cathy Hirano

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

To ring in World Kid Lit Month 2017, SCBWI: The Blog has an interview in which Helen Wang, a master Chinese-to-English kidlit translator, interviews Cathy Hirano, a master Japanese-to-English kidlit translator. The interview features Hirano’s latest publication, a translation of the chapter book Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake. Relish!

 

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A Memoir in Translation Opens a Hidden Door

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore

Two years ago, I attended a concert where I heard an Okinawan all-women’s group sing melodious ballads about the rich, natural beauty of the Ryukyu Islands. The shaman-like lead singer, with her waist-length grey hair, played an ancient snakeskin sanshin. As the beautiful voices rose in song, I felt their pain and sadness vibrating within me.

From then on, I was fascinated by Okinawa with its waving palms and turquoise waters—Japanese, yet so different. I wanted to understand the pain of the Okinawan people, their pride and their plaintive cry for peace. It was at about this time that I came across The Girl with the White Flag, and feeling inexplicably drawn to it, began to read.

The book begins with Tomiko Higa’s recollections of an almost idyllic childhood, growing up on a farm in rural Shuri, the old capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. After her mother’s death, she spends early childhood years with her father, digging up sweet potatoes from their field for lunch and listening to the wisdom he has to share. But soon, the threat of war looms large and seven-year-old Tomiko must prepare to flee with her siblings, when her father does not return from a trip into town. Hiding in caves that dot the coastline nearby, the children travel south with other refugees to find shelter, away from falling bombs and gunfire. Not long afterward, Tomiko’s brother Nini falls prey to a bullet-wound in his head, and little Tomiko becomes separated from her two older sisters.

Here begins Tomiko’s solo, nightmarish journey of survival. She spends weeks searching for her sisters, dodging the bullets and bombs that chase her very footsteps. Hiding in the tall pampas grass, ducking in and out of caves, she somehow lives on, all the while believing that her dead brother’s spirit is watching out for her. Throughout her ordeal, she also believes that her father’s voice is in her head guiding her and keeping her alive.

And maybe it is. For in this miraculous tale of survival in a land torn apart by war, a seven-year old child with no real survival skills finds raw carrots in an abandoned field, food in the haversacks of dead soldiers, and drinkable water where all the rivers run red with the blood of her fellow Okinawans.

After weeks of traversing this landscape, little Tomiko finally stumbles upon an underground cave, inhabited by an old, ailing couple. Grandma and Grandpa, as she calls them, become her family for a little while, before the old man sends Tomiko out of the cave, telling her that she is too young to die with them, that she must live. So into the sunlight she finally emerges, waving a white cloth torn from Grandpa’s clothing, tied to a stick.

At the end of the Second World War in 1945, a young American war photographer named John Hendrickson was documenting the surrender of Japanese civilians on the island of Okinawa, when he stopped to take a picture of a little girl holding a white flag.

This photograph re-surfaced in Japan decades after it was taken, and the girl in the picture became a symbol of strength, love and hope—an emblem of survival and peace in a place once devastated by war. The child, meanwhile, had grown up and re-built her life, burying her painful memories. It wasn’t until the discovery of the photo set off a chain of rumours about the girl’s identity, that Tomiko Higa thought of sitting down and penning her own true story.

Left: Dorothy Britton (RenaissanceBooks.co.uk)

When Dorothy Britton—a well-known poet, translator and composer who spent a large part of her life in Japan—translated Higa’s book into English, she opened a door hidden behind a tangle of vines, and let the English-speaking world into a place it knew very little about.

In today’s world where terrorists, bombings and security threats are all a part of our lives, the desire for world peace is as close and as personal as it was—and still is—for the Okinawan people.

Dorothy Britton loved Japan and deeply understood the sentiments of Japanese people. She was often described as being “Japanese but in western skin.”  During her lifetime, she wrote poetry and articles about the country she loved and also translated several well-known works such as Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s famous memoir Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, as well as A Haiku Journey (Oku no hosomich) by the famous poet Matsuo Basho. Britton also authored the historical work Prince and Princess Chichibu and translated The Japanese Crane by Tsuneo Hayashida. Britton passed away in 2015, at her home in Hayama, a week before her memoir Rhythms, Rites and Rituals: My Life in Japan in Two-step and Waltz-time was to be released.

Japan Kidlit for Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation Month! Here are Japan kidlit titles (picture book through Young Adult) by #womenintranslation that have appeared on this blog so far. Click to read more!

The Nurse and the Baker by Mika Ichii, translated by Hart Larrabee

Little Keys and the Red Piano by Hideko Ogawa, translated by Kazuko Enda and Deborah Iwabuchi

The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illustrated by Komako Sakai, translated by Cathy Hirano

Are You An Echo? The Lost of Poems of Misuzu Kaneko by David Jacobson, illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, translated by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi

Totto-chan by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, translated by Dorothy Britton

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Brave Story written by Miyuki Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith

 

TOMO with stories by Naoko Awa, Yukie Chiri, Megumi Fujino, Sachiko Kashiwaba, Arie Nashiya, Yuko Katakawa, and Fumio Takano; translated by Toshiya Kamei, Deborah Davidson, Lynne E. Riggs, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Juliet Winters Carpenter, Deborah Iwabuchi, and Hart Larrabee

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano

Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano

Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder

 

Kamishibai, a Storytelling Form for the Digital Age

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Kids distracted? You might try kamishibai.

Last month at the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) 3rd Asia Oceania Regional Congress in Bangkok, I co-presented on kamishibai with Etsuko Nozaka, a founding member of the International Kamishibai Association of Japan (IKAJA). The best part was watching Nozaka-san captivate the audience.

Etsuko Nozaka (right) performs the kamishibai Grow, Grow, Grow Bigger by Noriko Matsui.

Kamishibai (“paper theater”) involves presenting a story by sliding a series of cardstock sheets into and out of a small stage. The text of the story is printed on back of the sheets.

The sliding motions, bold illustrations, and shape of the stage elicit such strong concentration that Nozaka-san has seen her cat focus on a kamishibai story.

The publishing house Doshinsha has a video of toddlers focusing on kamishibai as well.

Video source: www.doshinsha.co.jp/product/kamishibai.php

The IBBY Regional Congress was themed “Children’s Books in the Digital Age” and featured sessions on promoting literacy in an era of screens and fast-paced entertainment. Kamishibai seems tailored to imparting story schema and nurturing focus, even amid distractions. It also elicits a strong sense of shared feeling, or kyokan, as a group enjoys a story together. (This can be difficult to achieve when reading a picture book to a large group.)

For those who wish to try kamishibai, the Doshinsha kamishibai page lists titles available for order in English and French, as well as the regulation kamishibai stage (butai). The IKAJA Kamishibai Newsletter, which I help translate, offers information about performance techniques, suggested works, and kamishibai activities in different countries. The digital newsletter can be accessed by all IKAJA members, and membership is dues-free. For details, contact: kamishibai@ybb.ne.jp 

In closing, here is a blog post about the kamishibai workshop in Bangkok, written by a participant who tried kamishibai for the first time that day:

Using Storytelling to Engage by Sara Khamkoed

Many thanks to ThaiBBY Secretary General Pornanong Niyomka Horikawa (below left), Etsuko Nozaka (below right), JBBY, IKAJA, and all who explored kamishibai with us in Bangkok!

Kamishibai workshop, 3rd Asia Oceania Regional IBBY Congress, May 2017. Photos courtesy Etsuko Nozaka.

Kenji Miyazawa’s Poem of Strength, Now a Bilingual Picture Book

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Enduring poetry lends itself to being read and reread over time, as it becomes colored by the issues of the day. The poem Ame ni mo makezu by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) heartened many people after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which struck Miyazawa’s home region of Tohoku six years ago this month.

Miyazawa’s poem has since come out in a bilingual picture book edition: Rain Won’t. Translated by poet Arthur Binard and illustrated by Oscar-nominated animator Koji Yamamura, Rain Won’t first presents the text in its original vein and then reframes it in contemporary context, in an afterword.

Translated in first-person verse, this rendering immediately compels the reader to identify with the poet’s aspirations, at times adding sentiments implied in the original, at others preferring subtlety over wordy literalism. If Binard’s text stays true to the determined tone of the original, then Yamamura’s illustrations flesh out images of farmland and nature in Tohoku’s Iwate prefecture, which Miyazawa would have known so well.

On the cover is Mt. Iwate in the distance, and readers will just about make out a person walking past some stalks of rice in the rain toward paddies in the distance. Hidden in plain sight are other living creatures—a frog, a bee, a grasshopper. Together they frame the poem in its intended setting. The person remains at a distance in the book, acting as a guide or a projection of the poet’s aspirations, only coming at the end to stand close to the reader.


Translator Arthur Binard (photo by Kelia Li), animator-illustrator Koji Yamamura (profile photo). 


 

This textual and visual presentation is followed by Binard’s afterword, an interpretation of the poem post-March 11. It reframes and explains how the poem should serve not only as a source of strength, but also as a reminder and a rallying cry.

The book acknowledges other English translations of Ame ni mo makezu. Among them is “Strong in the Rain,” which accompanied actor Ken Watanabe’s reading of the piece on YouTube just four days after the earthquake (video from kizuna311.com), and “Unbeaten by Rain” which was read on April 11, 2011, in the interfaith service “A Prayer for Japan” at Washington National Cathedral (begins at 29:22 in video from cathedral.org).

Published in 2013 on the day the original poem is dated—November 3—Rain Won’t is available from Japan in the Japanese/English bilingual edition, and in Chinese and Korean editions.

Tomo Anthology Update, Six Years After

By Holly Thompson, Kamakura

March 11 marked the sixth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake  (東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai), and the subsequent tsunami that ravaged the Tohoku region’s Pacific coastline followed by the triple meltdown of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Throughout Japan, a moment of silence was held at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, the time the quake struck.

This month also marks five years since the publication of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Proceeds from sales of Tomo have for five years been donated to the Japan-based NPO Hope for Tomorrow. Hope for Tomorrow has provided much-needed support to high school students in the form of financial assistance to enable students in the hardest hit areas of Tohoku to take costly university entrance exams. Having succeeded at what they set out to do, Hope for Tomorrow will cease operations at the end of this Japanese academic year (at the end of this month). Thank you to Hope for Tomorrow for providing a unique form of support to high school students in Tohoku during the most difficult years after 3/11.

The Tomo anthology has recently gone out of print, but the book is still available as an ebook in Kindle format. Future proceeds will be donated to other organizations that support youth in the areas of Tohoku still struggling six years after. Please continue to read, give and recommend the Tomo anthologya collection of 36 stories including 10 in translation—so that we may continue to offer our friendship and support to teens in Tohoku.

May we remember that many thousands in Tohoku are still displaced, that reconstruction and the delicate work of rebuilding lives continues, and that many thousands still reside in prefab “temporary” housing in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate—the three hardest hit prefectures.

Here are a few articles to read on this six-year anniversary:

SIX YEARS AFTER: 34,000 People in Tohoku Region Still in Makeshift Housing UnitsAsahi Shimbun, 11 March 2017

Six Years After the 3/11 Disasters, Japan Times editorial, 11 March 2017

A New Shopping Center for a Tsunami-Struck Town, Nippon.com, 11 March 2017

Destroyed by the Tsunami, JR Onagawa Station is RebuiltSpoon & Tamago, 10 March 2017

Six Years On, Fukushima Child Evacuees Face Menace of School Bullies, Reuters, 9 March 2017

This blog post also appears at tomoanthology.blogspot.com.

For a running list of news items about 3/11 and young people, please see Children of Tohoku.

Thirty Japan Kidlit Picks

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Looking for good reads? At the last Japan Writers Conference, I recommended thirty Japan titles for young readers (picture books, middle grade, and YA) including about two dozen translations. Here is the full slideshow, downloadable or viewable online. Happy reading!

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Translator Cathy Hirano, the YA novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, and Andersen Award-winning author Nahoko Uehashi. Click image for full slideshow.