One Passage, Seven Translations—Natsuki Koyata

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

On November 19, Day 2 of SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2022, Takami Nieda led participants in a translation workshop using a passage from 望むのは by Natsuki Koyata. This is a YA-appropriate novel that Nieda is translating as The Brief Colorful Year of Being Fifteen; her engaging synopsis and several pages of context for the workshop passage appear here.

Six translators submitted translations of the passage, which were then blinded and discussed in a session open to all participants. Below are the original passage by Koyata, the six submitted translations, and a sample translation by Takami Nieda. The two characters speaking are the teens Koharu (who speaks first) and Ayumu; Ayumu is a ballet dancer.

Original Passage

「それが何? イメージと違ってがっかりって言いたいの?」口をついて出たその言葉は、しかし、その瞬間に小春の胸を貫いた。歩くんが都合のいい弱者でなかったことがどんなに自分を失望させたか、その失望がどんなに醜く、恥ずべきものだったか、小春はその痛みで初めて奥まで理解した。「あんたのイメージなんかどうだっていい」とそれでもなぜだか、自分自身を打ちのめしたくて言葉を継いだ。「これが現実のわたしだもん。あんたのイメージなんか、あんたのイメージする小春なんかぶっ殺してやる」

「殺せないよ。ぼくのイメージは本物だもん」たじろぎもせず、歩くんは返した。「ぼくのイメージはいつだって本物。いつだって現実だよ。脚はどの軌道を通るか、指先はどの高さまで達するか、イメージするからきれいに飛べる。イメージがすべてだ」そこで不意に、小春はぐらりと足元が揺らぐのを感じたが、「ぼくは白鳥だ。ぼくは王子だ」という屈強な宣言が、反対側から跳ね上げて小春を立たせた。「誰が気に入らなくたって、ぼくはイメージし続ける。そうして現実を作り続ける。つまらない幻想に、もうこれ以上振り回されたくないから」 

[Source: Nozomu no wa by Natsuki Koyata (Shinchosha, 2017)]

Translation A

“So, what? Disappointed I wasn’t like you thought?” Koharu spat.

Yet even as the words flew from her mouth, pain lanced across her chest. The hideous disappointment of Ayumu’s revelation, the sharp sting of shame, was like a physical blow.

“Who cares about what you think of me anyway,” she continued, inexplicably, somehow bent on making the situation worse. “This is who I really am. So whoever this imaginary version of Koharu is in your head, it’s time for her to die—bury her. She doesn’t exist.”

“You can’t just erase her,” Ayumu replied, unruffled. “What do you mean ‘not real’? My perception of you is a real thing—imagination is the beginning of reality. I can leap when I dance because I first imagine the arc of my legs, how my arms will extend. Perception is everything.” He paused.

“I become a regal swan. A prince.”

Koharu, who had begun to sag under the weight of his words, startled to attention at this sudden change of direction.

“If someone doesn’t like me,” he continued, “I continue with my image of myself anyway. This is how you create reality. I refuse to waste my time any more being boxed in by what is ‘normal.’”

Translation B

“So what are you getting at? Are you saying that you’re disappointed because I’m not who you thought I was?”

The words flew out of her mouth, but at the same time, they also pierced her heart. She had been disappointed when she realized that Ayumu wasn’t just some wishy-washy wimp, and this pain made her realize for the first time deep inside just how disgusting and disgraceful that disappointment was.

“I don’t care what your image of me is.”

But for some reason, she wanted to find words to continue bashing herself.

“This is the real me. Whatever image you have, I’ll destroy it – I’ll kill your Koharu.”

“You can’t. My images are real.”

Ayumu countered without hesitation.

“My images have always been real. The arc my feet will draw. The height my toes will reach. I can execute a jump well because I envision it. My images are everything.”

A sudden weakness in the legs caught Koharu off guard, but the defiant cries of “I am a swan. I am a prince.” bouncing up from the other side helped her stay on her feet.

“I’ll keep creating my images even if people don’t like it. This is how I create my reality. I’m tired of going around chasing some empty fantasy.”

Translation C

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are you saying you’re disappointed that I don’t live up to your image of me?” The words that came rushing out of Koharu’s mouth somehow stabbed her chest in the same moment. The pain caused her to perceive fully for the first time how ugly and shameful her own dismay had been, over Ayumu not being some weakling who could make her own life easier. “What do I care about your image of me?” she added, feeling that she wanted to clobber herself. “This is the real me,” she said. “Your image is nothing. I’ll murder the Koharu in your image!”

“You can’t murder her. My images are real,” Ayumu replied, not even flinching. “My images are always real. They become reality. I can jump because I visualize the arc my legs will trace, the height my fingertips will reach. The mental image is everything.

“I am a swan. I am a prince!”

Koharu felt her legs tremble as she listened to him, but his firm declaration from across the way brought her to her feet.

“No matter who hates it, I am going to keep visualizing,” he told her. “I am going to keep creating reality. I am sick of being tossed around by silly fantasies.”

Translation D

“What’s that all supposed to mean? I’m not like you imagined and now you’re disappointed?” Those were the words that spilled out, and the instant Koharu said them they pierced her soul. She suddenly understood how letdown she was that Ayumu wasn’t some weakling she could walk all over. On top of that she was crushed to realize how malicious that disappointment was—how shameful. And the pain of that shame took the revelation even deeper. “Well, I couldn’t care less how you think of me.” Now she felt like she was lashing out at herself, not Ayumu. “This is me. It’s who I am. I’ll murder that Koharu you think you know. The one in your head.”

“You can’t kill her. My images are the reality,” Ayumu came back without flinching. “Every image I’ve ever had is reality. I know which direction your legs will take you and how high your fingers can reach. You can fly because I’ve imagined it. My images of you are everything.” At that moment Koharu felt her knees buckle, until she heard Ayumu declare, “I’m a swan. I’m a prince!” and the words flew over from him to stand her back up. “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, I won’t stop creating images, or reality. I’m not going to let myself get sucked in to any more inane illusions.”

Translation E

“So what? Do you want to say that you are disappointed that the picture you had of me is wrong?” These words were pouring out of Koharu’s mouth but, at the same time, they penetrated her heart. For the first time, deep down, Koharu understood how disappointed it had made her that Ayumu is not a pitiful and weak person; how ugly and embarrassing this disappointment is, and the hurt. “I don’t care what picture you have of me,” and still, for some reason, carried on beating herself up. “Because this is the real me. I will kill your picture, the picture you have of me.”

“You can’t kill it. My picture is the real thing,” Ayumu argued without flinching. “My picture is always the real thing. Always reality you know. What trajectory my feet will take; what height my fingertips will reach; because I picture it, I will fly beautifully. Visualisation is everything.” At that point, Koharu suddenly felt her confidence waver. Ayumu made a strong statement, “I am a swan. I am a prince”, which made things clear to Koharu. “Even if someone doesn’t like it, I continue with the visualisation. That way I can create my own reality. Because I don’t want to be affected by a meaningless illusion anymore,” said Ayumu.

Translation F

“And so what? You’re disappointed ’cause I’m not the kinda girl you thought I was, is that it?”

The words flew out of her mouth before she knew it, but at the same time, it sliced through her own heart. As soon as it stung her, Koharu realized deep down just how much she’d been disappointed that Ayumu wasn’t the convenient underdog that she’d imagined him to be, and just how ugly that disappointment was, something to be ashamed of.

“I don’t care what you think of me,” she pressed on, somehow feeling the urge to keep beating herself up. “This is the real me. Who cares how you see me? That Koharu in your head? I’ll just kill her off.”

“You can’t kill her. How I see you is real,” Ayumu answered, without batting an eyelash. “How I see things is always real. It’s always reality. It’s because I visualize it in my head—the arc that my legs will trace, how high my fingertips will reach—it’s because I see all that, that I can do a clean leap.” Koharu’s legs suddenly felt wobbly, but what Ayumu said next, his iron declaration, made her shoot up straight.

“I’m a swan. I’m a prince.”

He went on, “No matter what anyone says, I’ll keep envisioning things. And that’s how I’ll create the reality. I’m tired of getting pushed around by useless illusions.”

Sample Translation by Takami Nieda

“What? You’re disappointed I wasn’t who you imagined, is that it?” she shot back.

As the words tumbled out of her mouth, something pricked her heart. It was the shameful sting of having assumed Ayumu was a pushover who needed protecting.

“Who cares what you think anyway?” She continued in spite of herself, “This is who I am, Ayumu. So that precious illusion of Koharu you have in your head has to die.”

“You can’t kill her. My perception is real,” he said, without batting an eye. “When I’m dancing, I just have to imagine the arc of my legs, the shape of my arms all the way down to my fingertips—that’s how I can land a perfect jump. It all starts with perception.”

Raising his arms, he continued, “I can be a swan. I can be a prince!”

Just as her legs wobbled beneath her, Koharu felt herself being propped up by his confident declaration.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks about me,” he said. “I’m going to keep on imagining and making my own reality. I’m tired of getting yanked around by people’s assumptions.”

Announcing SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2022

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2022

Two days of online presentations, workshopping, and conversation for published and pre-published translators of Japanese children’s and young adult literature into English.

Dates: Saturday, November 12, 2022, and Saturday, November 19, 2022

Time: Meeting Room Opens 8:30 a.m. Sessions 9:00 a.m. – 1 p.m. JST

Place: Remote via Zoom

Fee: 3,500 yen for current SCBWI members; 5,000 yen for nonmembers. One fee covers both days. 

Translations of text for workshop with Takami Nieda due by November 5, 2022. Fee payments due by November 9, 2022.

Registration: To reserve your place and receive event details, send an email to japan (at) scbwi.org.

Recordings will be available to registered participants until the end of November 2022.

This event will be in English and Japanese. All dates and times are Japan Standard Time (JST). 

Schedule

Kathleen Merz

DAY 1: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12

8:30 Meeting Room Opens

8:50 Opening Remarks

9:00-9:45 A Conversation with Editor Kathleen Merz

At Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, half (or more) of the titles published each year are translations. Editorial Director Kathleen Merz responds to questions in a live interview about what it takes to publish children’s books in English translation.

Jocelyne Allen

9:45-10:00 Break

10:00-10:15 Speed Share

Participants join a lightly structured “speed share” of their current projects.

10:15-11:00 Jocelyne Allen on Translating Colorful by Eto Mori

As the translator of Colorful by Eto Mori—a YA novel known in many languages and the basis of multiple films—Jocelyne Allen shares about the process and issues involved in bringing this iconic work to life in a US English-language edition.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:45 Presentation and Discussion of Japan Foundation Grant Funding

Aya Tamura

The Japan Foundation’s Support Programs for Translation and Publishing, and its recent Lifelong Favorites initiative, promise to increase the visibility and viability of publishing Japanese children’s literature in English translation. Avery Fischer Udagawa introduces the role Japan Foundation funding played in the publication of her translation of Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba (11:15-11:30). Then, Aya Tamura of the Japan Foundation presents about its programs (11:30-12:15). Finally, participants in Translation Days have the opportunity to discuss how such support might connect to their projects (12:15-12:45).

12:45-1:00 Closing Remarks for Day 1

Marilyn Brigham

DAY 2: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19 

8:30 Meeting Room Opens

8:50 Opening Remarks

9:00-9:45 A Conversation with Editor Marilyn Brigham

Amazon Crossing Kids is an imprint focused on global literature for children. Marilyn Brigham, senior editor of Two Lions and Amazon Crossing Kids, responds to questions in a live interview about what it takes to publish children’s books in English translation.

9:45-10:00 Break

10:00-10:15 Submission Opportunities

Participants learn about submission opportunities for those who join in this event, from interested publishers.

Takami Nieda

10:15-11:00 Takami Nieda on Translating The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil

As translator of The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil, Takami Nieda describes facilitating the English-language debut of a third-generation Korean born in Japan, whose writing raises key questions about identity and justice.

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15-12:45 Takami Nieda: Translation Workshop

Takami Nieda critiques participants’ translations of an excerpt from 『望むのは』, a title by Natsuki Koyata as yet unpublished in English.

Participants interested in receiving feedback during this workshop must submit their translations of the workshop text by November 5, 2022.

Names will be removed. Participants are not required to submit translations in order to join the workshop.

12:45-1:00 Closing Remarks for Day 2

Speakers

Jocelyne Allen (she/they) is a Japanese translator and interpreter, and has translated hundreds of short stories, novels, and manga, including the beloved Japanese classic Colorful by Eto Mori and the Eisner Award-winning Lovesickness by Junji Ito. As an interpreter, she has worked with Japan’s most celebrated authors and artists, including Sayaka Murata, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Hideo Furukawa, and Akane Torikai. @brainvsbook 

Marilyn Brigham (she/her) is senior editor of Two Lions and Amazon Crossing Kids, the two children’s book imprints at Amazon Publishing. Her noteworthy titles include the upcoming picture book Ruby & Lonely by bestselling author Patrice Karst and illustrated by Kayla Harren; the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series by popular author Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor; and What If Everybody Said That? by Ellen Javernick, illustrated by Colleen Madden, the sequel to the Amazon bestseller What If Everybody Did That?. Prior to joining Amazon Publishing in 2012, Marilyn was at Marshall Cavendish, where she began as an intern and worked her way up to editor. There she edited books for kids of all ages, including popular title Goodnight, Little Monster by Helen Ketteman, illustrated by Bonnie Leick. Marilyn is the author of the board book Swim!, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, and the educational title Dik-Dik (Even Weirder and Cuter Series). When not editing or writing, Marilyn can be found at the beach.

Kathleen Merz (she/her) is the Editorial Director at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She has worked on a number of award-winning titles, including books that have won the Caldecott Honor, the Batchelder Award for translation, the Sibert Medal, and other honors. She studied English and linguistics, and especially enjoys working on translated books and nonfiction picture books. She is always looking for original picture books, narrative nonfiction, and middle grade stories—particularly books that tackle contemporary social issues and celebrate diversity or multiculturalism, and stories that have well-crafted voice and strong characters. Kathleen lives in Michigan, and when she’s not at work editing she can usually be found outdoors biking or kayaking.

Takami Nieda (she/her) was born in New York City and has degrees in English from Stanford University and Georgetown University. She has translated and edited more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction from Japanese into English and has received numerous grants in support of her translations, including the PEN/Heim Translation Fund for the translation of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s GO, which went on to earn a Freeman Book Award for Young Adult/High School Literature from the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia. Her translations have also appeared in Words Without Borders, Asymptote, and PEN America. Formerly an assistant professor of translation at Sophia University in Tokyo, she currently teaches writing and literature at Seattle Central College in Washington State, US. @TNieda

Aya Tamura (she/her) joined the Japan Foundation in 2003. After working in the General Affairs Department and at the Japan Cultural Institute in Paris (Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris), she joined the Arts and Culture Department’s Planning and Coordination / Literary Arts Section in 2021. Support Programs for Translation and Publishing 

Avery Fischer Udagawa (she/her) serves as Translator Coordinator and Japan Translator Coordinator in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her translations include the Mildred L. Batchelder Award-winning novel Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Miho Satake, published by Restless Books. @AveryUdagawa

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A Translator’s-Eye View of the SCBWI Japan 2022 YA/MG Novel Revision Workshop

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Back in May, as the winds brought a change in season, I recalled that SCBWI Japan was holding a MG/YA novel revision workshop over the summer. The initial call for participants was put out in March and included translators. With dates for submission, feedback, and wrap-up provided, participants were given the flexibility to work around their summer schedules. After dwelling on whether to take the plunge right up until late May, I finally did so, with a translation of a book that is a fun family favorite. Having worked on either picture books or excerpts before, a novel was a first for me.

Pushing myself through a full novel from scratch, I experienced among other things the arduous process of keeping the style of the narrative and the voices of the characters consistent—and the enormous discipline required to complete a draft within a set time frame (on spec and after checking the rights, of course!). By the time I had finished translating and thoroughly re-enjoying the story, I was worried that it might read as though I had put the original under a microscope. Unsure whether my rendering would convey the story as well as the original had, clicking that Send button was more frightening than it was liberating at the time.

Screenshot_20220930-225716~2

Holly Thompson kindly shared her revision process with participants

The next part of the workshop was much more relaxing: reading! Assigned to a four-member critique group, I got to read other works in progress, and was reminded to provide, other than synopses, feedback on the positives in each manuscript because “writers in the drafting process get bruised easily!” We were also asked to raise questions to consider when revising.

I was glad when the synopses and feedback from my critique group assured me that my novel translation had gone down well. While there were compliments on the strength of the story and its vivid visualizations, I also received suggestions about parts that left hints of the Japanese original. Recognizing that positive feedback on the story was largely down to the hard work that had already gone into the published title, I was grateful to hear more ideas in the wrap-up session on how to think about shaping the work for English readers, and about how the characters sounded. Having people read our work is one thing, meeting them (even virtually) to actually talk about it is another! To round off the workshop, we shared our plans for revising our manuscripts.

Joining this workshop gave me a new perspective on decisions made in weaving storylines, shaping narrative arcs, and building characters. As creators and storytellers, while aspects of writing and translating naturally overlap, telling the same story well in another language brings about different challenges, some of which I’m sure will be visited by translation-focused events like Translation Days 2022 (just round the corner!).

For a writer’s view of the workshop, check out Alec MacAulay’s post on the SCBWI Japan Blog!

Wendy Uchimura on the New Edition of The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom by Manabu Makime, translated by Wendy Uchimura, is a humorous YA novel that is also action-packed, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and full of tantalizing food. Set in the vicinity of a large and ancient lake northeast of Kyoto, it features two families with mysterious powers somehow connected to the lake, which have propelled them to prominent social status but also obliged them to deal with a generations-old conflict. The novel’s main character, a 15-year-old boy in one of the families, who comes to stay with his lordly cousin the same age—on the grounds of the clan’s main branch, essentially a castle—struggles to comprehend this situation while fitting in at a new school. I got to ask the translator, Wendy Uchimura, about her experience translating The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom, which came out for the Sony Reader in 2014 but got reborn in Kindle format in 2022.

Wendy Uchimura

Avery: Hi Wendy! What led to The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom getting launched in the Kindle format? Do I understand correctly that you got to do another editing pass to refresh it?

Wendy: It’s been on the cards for a long time from what I can tell. It’s just there are a lot of excellent books getting relaunched from the Shueisha English Edition series, so it had to wait its turn! And I did get to look at it again. It was strange delving into the story once more after eight or so years and quite daunting – I’m one of these translators who once I’m completely satisfied with how I’ve translated a work, I’ll release it into the world and let it make its own way. There will undoubtedly be a few flaws, but at least I can say I did my best.

So, I was nervous going back in, but it was like meeting an old friend that had just improved with time. Looking at it with more experienced translator and editor eyes gave me a new appreciation for what a great story it is.

Avery: If I’m not mistaken, all the lineages and powers and myths that come up in this book are made-up—but am I off there? Does Japan have real-life myths to do with Lake People who turned into powerful clans? Has the water at Lake Biwa been considered divine, and/or the lake associated with a dragon??

Wendy: Makime is amazing at building realistic worlds that are steeped in history, culture, and fantasy. It means that as you’re reading you can imagine these things happening as they’re not that far removed from reality and yet they go a step beyond. More than once while I was translating, I found myself checking the maps and topography of the area around Lake Biwa because I thought I could pinpoint exactly where the Hinode Castle was. Maybe I did! It made me realise too that there is a huge amount of mythology tied to water in Japan. It has the power to purify, provide life, and give rise to legends.

I didn’t know before translating this book that lakes have lifespans. Most of the lakes we know now are less than 18,000 years old. Lake Biwa is estimated at being more than four million years old! That’s a lot of history and you can’t help feeling that something that ancient must have mystical powers. It’s a fact that its shores have been inhabited since around 9,000 BCE and a great number of shrines dot the area. Who knows what type of people gathered there and what they did.

The island located on Lake Biwa and featured in the story is Chikubushima and there have been several water goddesses enshrined there. Originally the main deity was Azaihime-no-Mikoto, who protected wayfarers across the lake and later on, from the Heian Period, Benzaiten took her place, who is both a Buddhist and a Shinto deity, as well as being both a goddess of water and of knowledge. Although more associated with the island of Enoshima, legend says that Benzaiten married a dragon king with her residing atop the island and the dragon below. As the story unfolds, you can see how these myths are drawn on and flow into a more modern setting.

Readers might be excited to know you can go to that island and see the clay cups that play a small yet important role, as well as write a wish on them and throw them down into the waters of the lake, just like Ryosuke and Patter-ko did.

 

Avery: I relish how the book serves up humor alongside its drama. The Hinodes’ menu selections alone make for endless comic relief, from the abalone packed for lunch (and mistaken as a mushroom) to the French toast served (and stolen) in the Castle dining room near the climax.

Wendy: The mentions of food are wonderful, aren’t they? This again is an example of how Makime balances that line between fantasy and reality. There are almost urban myth-like stories in Japan of children appearing at school with their lunchboxes stuffed full of lobster and other delicacies, either by parents wanting to establish some kind of status for their child or just very overenthusiastic and doting grandparents. But here this comic effect is very much in matching with Tanjuro and building up the impression that he is indeed a lord. I love the contrast between his huge lunches and Hiromi’s paltry rice balls. The scenes in the castle dining room just get more and more extravagant too, especially the serving of noodles!

Avery: Under the surface, this novel touches on a range of social issues from shut-ins (via Kiyoko’s character) to environmental pollution (the litter in the lakebed) to the effects of social stratification (the Castle versus its depressed rural area; the Hinode ancestor’s entitled and tragic intervention in Old Gen’s life). Did you feel as you worked with the novel that it managed to bring up these difficult-to-approach issues precisely because of the author’s deft use of humor and drama? Were there ever moments when it was challenging to reconcile the gravity of the issues raised with the book’s rollicking comedy and excitement?

Wendy: I didn’t find any particular difficulty with the issues introduced and I think that is because the nature of the story and the humor carries across the messages without bordering on lecturing. I felt where it involved the characters, like Kiyoko’s social withdrawal and the treatment of Old Gen, there was sympathy and understanding for their situations. There’s a subtle use of the town as a representation of the separation between the different social levels and both the landscape and characters reflect the natural changes in thinking that occur across generations. The environmental issues are well addressed too and make us think. Water is a precious resource and needs respecting. Going back to my earlier point about the lifespan of lakes, it’s actually a scary thought that some lakes only exist for 1,000 years or even less, 100. That such bodies of water can be lost even within our lifetime should make us respect them all the more.

Avery: What is one scene or section that you felt particularly pleased about translating, and could you please walk us through why it stands out for you, and what challenges you faced when putting it into English?

Wendy: I have a constant reminder in my living room of exactly what scene stands out for me – a Carrom board. Just like Ryosuke, I had never even heard of Carrom until the scene where Kiyoko suggests playing it to take their minds off their impending fate. The scene has the four main young characters sitting around this mystery board with the game pieces being called specific names and moved across the board with particular hand movements. There are instructions available in English, but of course if you’re not familiar with a game, it’s really difficult to explain it using the correct terms and actions. I could really feel Ryosuke’s confusion because I was feeling it too! So I actually imported a Carrom board. It’s mentioned in the story, but it really is true that although Carrom used to be played across Japan, particularly among the upper classes of society, it is now confined to a small area of Shiga prefecture, so it wasn’t like I could just go to a toy shop or local Carrom club to look at one. My board isn’t lacquered or red though!

Wendy even has a dragon as her business logo.

Avery: I understand that your own family has some shared name-characters, like those that come up in the book. Would you be interested in talking about what your family’s shared characters are and what role they play?

Wendy: Yes. The characters in the book use shared kanji characters and elements related to water in their names within their families to signify certain meanings. It’s interesting how names can be used to convey connections. It does make it an extra challenge when translating, especially in this case where it’s an integral part of the story, but it’s also fun.

And in a strange coincidence, as you mention, my immediate family members have a shared kanji too – the character for dragon! Not me, of course, but my husband and two sons all have dragon in their names, so I like to think of myself as a dragon tamer!

Avery: Who would you most like to hand this book to in the English-reading world, and why?

Wendy: I think anyone who wants a glimpse into Japanese life and culture would enjoy this. It has something for everyone – fantasy, history, humor, cuisine, social issues, school life. It kind of covers all the bases for what you’d come across spending some time in Japan. OK, maybe not the bright red uniforms, horse-riding through the town, or something coming up out of the lake at you, but you never know!

And as always when talking about this book, I’d like to finish by giving a shout out to Keiichiro Ito, the designer of the cover for the English version, because where would a book be without its cover.

Japanese Children’s Books 2022: Now Online!

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Every year, the Japanese Board on Books for Young People curates a list of fine new picture books, chapter books/novels, and nonfiction titles published in Japan. The books are described in English for reference by publishers and readers worldwide.

Japanese Children’s Books 2022 is now available to download!

Japanese Children’s Books 2021 and Japanese Children’s Books 2020 also remain online.

Listings from these and prior years are searchable at Japanese Children’s Books—JBBY’s recommendations.

These resources are useful not only for scouting Japanese titles to publish in translation, but also for finding books to buy for a Japanese-language section in a store, classroom or library when the buyer does not read Japanese.

Happy perusing!

A Conversation with Translator Takami Nieda

By Susan E. Jones, Kobe

Translator Takami Nieda is back with a new YA translation! At SCBWI Japan in 2019, she described the translation and publication process of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s GO (Amazon Crossing, 2018, Freeman Book Award winner). Here, she talks about her latest YA translation: Chesil’s The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart (Soho Teen, 2022).

The source text『ジニのパズル』(Jini no pazuru / Ginny’s Puzzle) was nominated for an Akutagawa Prize in 2016 and stood out to Takami as one ripe for translation. Her depiction of Ginny, a conflicted Zainichi teen, lays bare the struggle many multicultural people experience.

Seventeen-year-old Ginny Park is about to get expelled from high school—again. Stephanie, the picture book author who took Ginny into her Oregon home after she was kicked out of school in Hawaii, isn’t upset; she only wants to know why. But Ginny has always been in-between. She can’t bring herself to open up to anyone about her past, or about what prompted her to flee her native Japan. Then, Ginny finds a mysterious scrawl among Stephanie’s scraps of paper and storybook drawings that changes everything: The sky is about to fall. Where do you go?

Ginny sets off on the road in search of an answer, with only her journal as a confidante. In witty and brutally honest vignettes, and interspersed with old letters from her expatriated family in North Korea, Ginny recounts her adolescence growing up Zainichi, an ethnic Korean born in Japan, and the incident that forced her to leave years prior.

Inspired by her own childhood, author Chesil creates a portrait of a girl who has been fighting alone against barriers of prejudice, nationality, and injustice all her life—and one searching for a place to belong. (Publisher’s synopsis.)

Susan: Given your translation of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s GO, Chesil’s The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart, and your forthcoming Travelers of a Hundred Years (by Lee Hoesung) and Yubi no Hone (by Hiroki Takahashi), we are definitely starting to see a theme in the works you gravitate toward translating. Are you becoming something of a spokesperson for ethnic Koreans in Japan? Have you been noticed or recognized in that community for your work? Have you been called upon to explain their position at any venue in the US?

Takami Nieda

Takami: No, I haven’t, which is a good thing, as there are any number of scholars and ethnic Koreans who can speak to these issues more knowledgeably than I can. I am careful to point out that Zainichi is a term that comes with some controversy, and some might resist that category, which often conflates diverse Korean populations who identify not as Zainichi but as Korean Japanese or Japanese. For this reason, it’s important that they have the agency to decide how they choose to be identified. In the case of Chesil, she identifies as a third-generation Korean born in Japan, and I’ve not seen her refer to herself as Zainichi.

Susan: How smooth was the editing process of this translation? I am particularly interested in the fact that this was a novel marketed to adults in Japan and YA in English regions. Did you or the editor change the writing style to make it more appropriate for a teen reader? Did you know as you translated that it would likely be marketed for teens?

Takami: Soho Teen picked up the translation, so I did know going in that the book would be marketed as YA, but I wouldn’t say that I changed the writing style—maybe in a couple of places here and there. The novel wasn’t necessarily written as a YA but the prose is very clean and economical. I just translated the original text, which is juiced with this righteous indignation and energy and quite lyrical in parts, as it was. I might have had a couple of words like “bad apple,” which the editor pointed out as not age appropriate (or archaic). There was also a reference to Robert DeNiro, which the editor felt needed a little help for a younger reader to understand. Those small changes I’m willing to make, but it was important to retain Chesil’s voice and writing style.

Susan: I want to ask you a bit more about your decision (or your joint decision with Chesil) about gendered pronouns. How did you/she end up deciding on them? For example, on p. 7, “the wearer” of the dirty shoes is referred to as “he” and I wonder if that was specified in the Japanese source text.

Takami: There were several places where I thought there was an opportunity to reinforce a recurring theme in the novel by specifying gender. I thought that gendering the star, which Ginny has a conversation with, as “she” might suggest a bit of a sisterhood between them. Also, gendering the sky as “she” might suggest something about whose fall was being “caught” in the end. I asked Chesil what she thought about it, and she agreed to the first, but opted to keep the pronoun of the sky non-specific, so readers could make their own conclusions about the ending.

(The gender of “the wearer” wasn’t specified in the source text, but I went with “he,” but really by default.)

Chesil

Susan: You mentioned that it was a positive experience to get feedback from Chesil as you translated. Would you prefer to do all of your translations in coordination with the author in this way? Was it a totally positive experience, or were there times when your own idea conflicted with hers but you felt obligated to meet her request?

Takami: This is the first time I was able to consult the author, so it was very exciting. I don’t think Chesil got as many questions from her editor as she’d gotten from me, and she was incredibly patient to answer every last one of them. We communicated entirely over email, but it felt to me that Chesil really understood the translation was going to be its own thing apart from the source text and she was quite keen to learn through our collaboration herself. It’s truly a gift to be able to work with a writer who understands that about translation, and I don’t know if that will ever happen again. I hope so!

Susan: What was the most challenging part of translating this book? I imagine I would have struggled with romanizing the Korean names and making it clear that Ginny is Jinhee. Did you need to do much explicitation to bridge cultural gaps?

Takami: I tried to figure out the romanization on my own, then consulted Chesil to make sure that I’d gotten the names right. We also were lucky to have a copy editor who was knowledgeable in the Korean language and culture, so they pointed out one or two issues with regard to names. Thank goodness for copy editors!

It’s interesting that in GO, Kazuki Kaneshiro purposefully wrote the opening of the book as a way to educate Japanese readers about how the Korean population came to Japan during WWII and the complexities of their citizenship status, knowing that Japanese readers wouldn’t know anything about it. On the other hand, Chesil gave almost no explanation, assuming perhaps that enough people would know about them or that readers would do the research themselves. So, if it’s not in the original text, I try not to add too much expository explanation because that can often get unwieldly and oftentimes takes away from the moment the writer is trying to capture.

Increasingly, I find myself resisting adding anything too much to bridge cultural gaps. In many ways English readers need to get used to the idea that not everything is going to be explained to them or center their experiences and expectations. The writer has allowed them a window into their world, which can be an immense act of courage and generosity, so readers ought to be willing do some work on their own to understand a culture or history they’re not familiar with.

Susan: Do you do anything in particular to absorb current teen lingo to incorporate in your translation?

Takami: As a community college teacher, I’m lucky to be around lots of young people every day, which helps me maintain an ear for lingo. But because a lot of slang tends to be regional or niche, and certainly short lived, the most current lingo isn’t always the best choice in translation. I usually try to go with lingo that’s had some staying power and has been around for a while.

Susan: Was it your idea to change the book title in translation or the publisher’s? Though long, I like it better than “Ginny’s Puzzle” for an English-speaking audience.

Takami: The first editor Amara Hoshijo suggested the title because of the character Ginny’s explanation of the phrase Sorairo wa kokoromoyou in the book. Amara had also mentioned that longish titles were a thing in YA literature and was concerned that the original title might suggest a story aimed at a younger audience. Chesil liked the suggestion, so we went with that.

Jacket for The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart (Soho Teen)

Susan: How has reception of this translation been so far? The theme of self-discovery and search for a place to fit in seem to be a universal struggle for teens (though Ginny obviously faces some extreme challenges). I imagine that this book would appeal to readers totally unfamiliar with Japan or ethnic Koreans in Japan.

Takami: Overall, the reception has been fantastic. Just as you’ve pointed out, many readers have noted the universal themes of identity and belonging, and have had their eyes opened to the ethnic Korean population in Japan. The novel packs a punch in a short 150+ pages, so I hope it will be taught in middle schools and high schools. I’d love to read some teen reviews of the novel as well!

Susan: This is perhaps a really insignificant question, but did you have any control over the fonts used in the hard copy version of the book? I quite liked the font used for handwriting and the chapter titles. (I missed this in the e-book!)

Takami: The typesetting was decided by the editing team and I’m rather fond of that font choice, too. You get the sense that you’re really reading Ginny’s handwritten journal entries as she tries to make sense of her past. I did request the Courier font for the screenplay scene between characters Yunmi and Jaehwan, because that’s the standard font for screenplays.

 

Takami Nieda reads from her work at the Sant Jordi USA Festival of Books, Roses, and the Arts.

Susan E. Jones, Associate Professor at Kobe College and longtime translator and teacher of translation, will serve as SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator beginning in January 2023.

 

The Easy Life in Kamusari and Kamusari Tales Told at Night: A Conversation with Translator Juliet Winters Carpenter

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Juliet Winters Carpenter is well-known for her brilliant translations, and despite her “retirement” to Whidbey Island in the state of Washington, is apparently as busy and productive as ever. Fortunately for this blog, two of her latest books happened to fall into the young adult category, and she kindly agreed to be interviewed. The two books in the title here are also known as the Forest Series, Books 1 and 2. The back matter of the original Japanese version of Tales Told at Night included this snappy synopsis of The Easy Life in Kamusari that definitely serves for both:

A popular title portraying a laid-back youth in the forestry business!

Yuki is 18. After high school graduation, he plans to make a dubious living hopping from one part-time job to the next. But for some reason, he ends up in Mie Prefecture in the forestry industry. He’s out in the mountains without cell phone service! There’s nothing there but hills and dales! Can Yuki make himself into a forester? Pandemonium breaks out on every page of this story about Yuki and the unique people he lives with. (Tokuma Shoten)

Deborah: Juliet, this makes three books you’ve translated for Shion Miura. Can you tell us how you came to translate her books? Have you had any personal contact with her? Did you communicate with her as you did the translation?

Juliet: I came to translate Shion Miura because her novel The Great Passage was featured by JLPP, the Japanese Literature Publishing Project. I was asked to translate the first chapter as a sample for publishers, and a couple of years later, Amazon Crossing picked it up and asked me to do the whole book.

Shortly after the translation came out, just five years ago this month, I had the pleasure of doing a taidan or public discussion with Miura at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, before a packed auditorium.

Poster for the event with Shion Miura and Juliet Winters Carpenter

She was fun and smart and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. That is the only time we ever met in person. While working on Passage, I never did consult with her directly, but the editor and I communicated with her via her agent, mostly about big overall questions like how to present the crazy love letter at the end and whether to include an explanation of the ancient Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which is alluded to so often in the book (in the end, at Miura’s request, I didn’t explain it). All other translation matters I handled myself. For the Forest Series, too, I worked on my own and didn’t consult Miura except to make sure I was reading people’s names correctly.

Deborah: Have you done books in the YA category before?

Juliet: I guess A Cappella by Mariko Koike (Thames River Press, 2013) could count as a YA book. It’s the story of a woman looking back on a major romance that ended tragically in her high school days, set against the backdrop of the counterculture student movement of the sixties. While that book captures “intense, heartbreaking love in adolescence,” as the blurb states, the Forest books are much lighter, more humorous and optimistic in outlook. I also translated “Fleecy Clouds,” a short love story by Arie Nashiya, for Tomo: Friendship through Fiction–An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, edited by Holly Thompson (Stone Bridge Press, 2012). Both the Koike book and the Nashiya short story feature teenage girls, so having a male narrator in the Forest series was a fun change.

Deborah: As soon as I started reading The Easy Life, I was impressed by a couple of things. One was that you use Japanese words such as naa-naa, which was in the original title, and others, such as kappa and the totally inexplainable shirikodama—which you neatly described in a few words following. The other was the way Yuki spoke. You used a lot of colloquial American English in his narration, and it worked perfectly to express the 18-year-old cluelessness of the main character. This kept up all the way to the end of the second book. Yuki never got remarkably adult in the way he wrote, and the effect was hilarious. Did the way Miura write it transfer directly into your translation, or did you go about it in a particular way? What else did you have to keep in mind when the things that Yuki was narrating became more complicated—like all that information on forestry?

The turnout at the event

Juliet: Dialect plays a huge role in defining character and place, and it’s always a bit frustrating not to be able to share those differences fully with my readers; often the best you can do is suggest a certain flavor. Naa-naa works because it’s initially unfamiliar to Yuki as well, so we learn along with him what the word means, how it’s used, and what it tells us about his new community. I didn’t stick naa-naa into the translation every place it comes up in the original, of course. As you mentioned, it’s part of the original title, for example, but using it there in English would be mystifying. However, sprinkling the word in at appropriate junctures, as when Yuki utters it for the first time, worked really well, I thought.

Words like kappa (river imp) and shirikodama (the soul-ball located in the anus) are fascinating and help us to share in Yuki’s other observation about the village––that it’s a place where everyone seems to have “stepped out of a folktale.”

One of the things I played with was characters’ names. The narrator’s name is Yuki, “courage.” He eventually comments ironically on his lack of courage, but in English I decided to provide an explanation early on and squeezed in this sentence in the first few pages: “But I never was much for decisive action, even though my name means ‘courage.’” I also added a disclaimer for the name of the five-year-old boy, Santa, on its first mention: “As I eventually found out, ‘Santa’ is written with characters meaning ‘mountain man’; no connection to reindeer and elves.” I felt that Anglophone readers would be surprised at the Christmassy-sounding name, even if Japanese readers were not. (In Japanese, the visual impact of kanji trumps pronunciation, making it unlikely that readers would make any association with Christmas.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that much later, at the end of Book 2, they actually throw a Christmas party to please little Santa, and he even gets a letter from Santa Claus commenting on the similarity in their names!

I took some other name-related liberties. Yuki lives and works with a guy named Yoki, which means “ax”; that is kind of a cool name in English, too, so I toyed briefly with the idea of calling him “Ax,” but ended up keeping the original name despite the similarity to “Yuki.” However, Santa’s mom is “Yuko” in the original, and that was just too much. Again, as kanji trump pronunciation, the three names do not strike Japanese readers as all that similar, but written in the alphabet, they are too close for comfort. Yuko was rechristened “Risa.” I altered a couple of other names as well, hoping to spare the reader confusion.

As for Yuki’s way of speaking, it needed to sound young, urban, and contemporary, as different as possible from the villagers. I knew what I wanted him to sound like, and I enjoyed finding ways to do it. On his first night in Kamusari, he is served the exotic (to him) dish of wild boar stew. At first, I rendered Yuki’s comment literally: “I was eating wild boar stew.” The editor suggested cutting the line as stating the obvious, but I wanted to keep it because it reflects his amazement at his unfamiliar new surroundings. I came up with “I was legit eating wild boar stew,” which adds clarity to the moment and to Yuki’s persona.

For forestry terms, I searched online and read up about forestry all I could. At first, I intended to retain more Japanese technical terms, but since there were English equivalents, I dropped that idea. Forestry is forestry, and using Japanese terms didn’t seem to serve any useful purpose––except for those denoting which way a felled tree will land. The first time he hears them, Yuki has no idea what they mean, so I left those in Japanese and explained later with glosses. The most interesting one was shombentare, for a tree that comes crashing down straight forward. Shomben tareru is the verb “piss,” but I needed something more, so I expanded it to “piss-pants.” Soon after, Old Man Saburo comments to Yuki, “A shombentare will make you piss your pants, no mistake.”

Deborah: The details on forestry, the myths of the gods, and the elaborate customs of the villagers. I felt as though the book could be used as a text on traditional Japanese culture. Yuki was like a foreigner coming to Japan with no idea of how things worked. Then I thought of my Japanese friends in Tokyo who have had so little contact with the traditional side of things here. I’m imagining the Japanese readership learned a lot from these books too. Do you think Miura was writing to educate them on the value of life outside of the big city?

Juliet: I completely agree that Yuki is like a foreigner new to Japan, surprisingly clueless about all things traditional and highly skeptical of references to gods and spirits–until he isn’t. Of course, since many readers of the English edition will in fact be foreigners with no idea of how things work in Japan, that POV came in pretty handy. I am sure that these books do contain revelations for today’s Japanese, who have so little contact with or awareness of life in places like Kamusari. As Miura shows, villages are withering as young people depart, leaving no one to carry on the work of tending forests or growing rice. It’s heartening to see Yuki gradually falling in love not just with Nao but with all aspects of life in Kamusari, surrounded by lush nature, and to see his growing ability to respect and honor village traditions. Miura’s own grandfather was a forester, and perhaps these books are her tribute to him and his way of life.

Deborah: Did you have a favorite character? Were there any scenes that you particularly enjoyed doing?

Juliet: A lot of the characters appeal to me. One I particularly like is Noko, Yoki’s faithful dog. I was tickled by the scene where they restore Noko’s self-respect by staging a show for his benefit, allowing him to play the hero by “saving” Yoki. I love dogs and it was fun translating Noko’s thoughts, like this bit of Eeyore-like moping: Ah, it’s the young master come to call, I see. I’m sorry, but please just leave me alone. The scene adds a refreshing bit of humor, and it deepens Yuki’s––and our––attachment to the people and the place. As Yuki says, “Kamusari village, a place where grown men had in all seriousness just put on a show for the sake of a dog. A place that was growing on me more all the time.”

Deborah: Let’s talk about that festival at the end of The Easy Life. I really felt like Book 1 was a man’s book about men. Yuki worked with Yoki, who fooled around on his wife and could swing from tree to tree in the forest as he cut down trees with one hand tied behind his back, his loyal dog by his side. Then that scene of the big festival on Mt. Kamusari. It was so full of phallic symbols and testosterone, and it went on and on. What were your impressions while translating it?

Juliet: The festival at the end of Book I––whee! It’s pretty wild all right. And yes, unabashedly phallic. There actually are festivals that involve riding logs down a steep mountainside, going way back, so this is not just Miura letting her imagination run away with her. The ongoing Onbashira Festival is said to date back 1200 years to Heian times. [Note from Deborah: Go to the Onbashira Festival link and scroll down the photos. This is what we’re talking about here!] Miura ties many strands in the novel together in the exciting finale as goddesses hover over our hero and others, protecting them from disaster (lives are regularly lost in the Onbashira Festival). Yoki yields his position as medo––one supposedly having the right to sleep with a village girl of his choice––to Yuki, who has proved himself brilliantly. Cheered on by his teammates and surrogate family, Yuki uses his newly acquired status to work up the nerve to… ask Nao on a date. She agrees, but tells him not to get any funny ideas. So after all the high-flying shows of masculinity, it comes down to a simple, respectful request from a boy in love, and a cautious “yes” from a young woman still weighing her options, and still nursing a love of her own.

Deborah: Tales Told At Night is somewhat less about forestry and men, and more about the myths and practical applications of the mountain gods. Granny Shige comes to the fore with her computer skills, storytelling, and problem solving. Yoki’s wife Miho has tasks other than throwing crockery at her husband and making lunches. Nao, Yuki’s love interest, is a woman with a mind of her own. Any thoughts on the shift between the two books?

Juliet: Tales Told at Night carries on from there, giving us a deeper look at Nao, Miho, and Granny Shige, as you say, but not only them; we also get Old Man Saburo’s backstory, not to mention Yoki’s. We even learn more about odd Mr. Yamane. In general, the characters are deepened and the ties between them become stronger. I loved the midnight scene between Yuki and Yoki on the mountainside. Yoki tells about the tragic accident that killed so many villagers, including his own parents, and shares his regrets, while Yoki shares his fears about not really belonging, not having a tie to Kamusari as indelible as that of native villagers. It’s moving to see this pair of manly men open up to each other, reveal their frailties and vulnerabilities. Miura deftly rounds out her characters and makes them human, relatable.

That said, of the remaining characters, several remain less well defined. We do learn where Iwao lives and that he doesn’t like tomatoes, so I guess that’s something, but his poor wife doesn’t even have a name. Risa, meanwhile, remains a model wife and mother. I confess I wonder why she doesn’t have more children, since Santa’s only playmate in the village is Yuki, and depopulation is such a dire problem. She and Seiichi are well off, and they live in that big house. Anyway, it never comes up. Yoki and his wife are childless. In the movie version, Wood Job, they are trying to conceive without success. Somehow the overabundance of testosterone in the story doesn’t seem to be producing results!

Poster for the movie based on Book 1

Book 2 also shows Yuki’s progress in accepting village beliefs. When he hears about the deadly accident, he immediately says a quick, non-ironic prayer of thanks to the god of Kamusari for allowing Granny Shige to live a long life and watch over Yoki. In fact, there is a complete switch from Book 1. There Yuki was a skeptic who scoffed at the idea of children being spirited away, for example, claiming it was “unscientific.” But in Book 2, once Nao’s missing pen turns up, he becomes convinced that the god Inari can actually work wonders, only to have his teammates scoff and assure him it was just a coincidence. Miura turns things around nicely again, however, as Yuki learns that belief in Inari motivates thieves to repent of their actions and unobtrusively return “lost” objects. The old beliefs still have power to do good; the god Inari lives on in people’s hearts. And so despite his disillusionment (“like a kid who found out there’s no Santa Claus,” Yoki teases him), Yuki ends up replacing the worn-out torii at the Inari shrine in token of his gratitude. He has truly adopted village ways.

Deborah: Is there a Book 3 in the works for the Forest Series?

Juliet: There is no Book 3 in the works that I know of, but if one comes along, I am game to translate it!

Deborah: Juliet, you’ve been a translator for so long and your unending list of publications speaks to the fact that writers and publishers want you. I’ve read a number of your books and loved them all. Thinking about it, I feel that maybe your crowning skill is in how close you manage to get to your material and are still able to express it beautifully in English. I definitely get pulled into anything I translate, but then I have to take a step back when I’m finished so I can edit and smarten up the English. Once at an SCBWI translation event, the subject came up of whether to stick to the original text or adjust it to make it easier for an English-speaking readership to understand. You said you usually decided to trust the readers to figure it out—meaning you were true to the original. In my mind, I was screaming, “No! Don’t trust anyone!” but now ten years later, I’m wondering if that might actually be the key. Any thoughts on that?

Juliet: Thanks so much for your kind words. I confess when I translate something, I feel a little like Yuki, writing with potential readers constantly in mind yet half afraid no one will ever read what I write! It’s wonderful to be reminded that there are still real readers like yourself around.

As for your question about trust, I would say you trust not just any reader, but the specific one you have in mind, the one you are writing to and for. That reader won’t be the same with every project, but once you have settled on a reader, yes, you should show some trust! The reader isn’t a dimwit after all.

The translation process you describe is exactly the same as mine. Translation is a constant dance with the original, now drawing close to it, now pirouetting away, now coming back again. An endless dance. Maybe the goal is to hear the same music, dance to the same beat as the author. I take a kind of musical approach to translation in general––perhaps the real fruit of my piano lessons with the formidable Jasna Bjankini from sixth grade through twelfth. She urged her pupils to learn the music on the page so that it was in our bones, and then to express it with what she called “zambo”––an indefinable, elusive quality that gives zest and life to a performance, keeps it from sounding wooden or merely virtuoso. And if the music is in your bones, you won’t go off the rails (a performer’s worst fear).

An aside, my brother Glenn Winters, who also studied with Jasna and won numerous gold medals in piano contests as a child, is now a composer of opera among other things. I reminded him of zambo and he commented modestly, I only occasionally achieved it, though I tried. 😉

I would like to throw in a word of admiration for Brian Nishii, who performs all of Miura’s works so brilliantly for audiobooks. He does a wonderful job! His rendition of The Great Passage won an Earphones Award for fiction. Brian is a masterful narrator and it’s great fun to hear him bring characters and scenes to life. I urge people to give his work a listen.

Narrator of Miura’s audiobooks

Deborah: I listened to Brian Nishii’s versions of both The Great Passage and The Easy Life in Kamusari, too. Both were great reading experiences. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the big Kamusari festival. As Brian read it, I just closed my eyes and watched the scene play out in my mind. I found it even more fun than reading the text. (As of this writing, the audiobook version can be added for a modest price when you download the book on Kindle.)

Juliet, thank you so much for joining us here to share insights on the books and your creative process! I’m looking forward to your next translations.

The title that got Juliet translating Miura’s work

A Chat about The Cat Who Saved Books

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

I gladly interviewed Louise Heal Kawai about The Cat Who Saved Books, her translation of a fascinating tale of a boy, a bookshop, and a cat, authored by Sosuke Natsukawa.

LouiseHealKawai

Louise Heal Kawai, translator of The Cat Who Saved Books

Andrew: Let’s start with how you came to translate The Cat Who Saved Books. Did you pitch it to a publisher?

Louise: Well I must admit that I didn’t pitch The Cat Who Saved Books. First of all, I was asked by an agent to do a sample translation in order to sell the rights. In case readers of this article are interested in those kinds of details, it was the Japanese publisher who paid me for the sample. It was quite a long one – the whole of Chapter 1 (not including the preface).

The agent kindly let me know who bought the rights, and I followed up with a couple of emails until finally they asked me to be the translator. In the past, I have had bad luck being asked to translate a book after doing a sample. In fact, woeful luck. I think this is the first time it ever worked out for me.

Andrew: That’s something I’ve heard before – being engaged for a sample translation doesn’t mean you eventually get to translate the entire work.

Louise: I have learned never to expect to be asked to do a translation after doing the sample. I do my best to follow up on contacts with publishers, if I can find out who buys the rights. I have had my heart broken many times, but I was persistent with this title and it eventually paid off.

Andrew: Persistence does pay (this time)! What did you feel reading the original? And what did you wish to convey in your translation?

Louise: I most wanted to convey the visuals that are so important in the original. My goal was to have the reader caught up in the quests as if they were there themselves. Whirling paper, booming music, falling books, the visuals were essential to capture. (I hope I was successful.)

Another important aspect of the novel is the author’s thoughts on books and reading. Rintaro, the cat, and particularly Rintaro’s grandfather all express ideas on the topic of reading which I guessed (correctly) would be quoted in numerous reviews. The original Japanese was beautifully stated so I had to be sure that I translated these phrases in a way that would appeal to the English language reader, hopefully sticking in their mind. I tried to take extra care with the wording. Again, I hope I was successful.

A word about “Books have a soul.” Of course the original Japanese was “心” (kokoro).  I felt neither mind nor heart were quite right here. I liked “soul” in this image of a reader leaving something in a book. It felt richer somehow.

Books have a soul.… 

a book that has been cherished and loved, filled with human thoughts,

has been endowed with a soul.”

Andrew: The atmospheres in both the bookshop and the labyrinths certainly drew me into the story, and that quote is an idea that I thought book readers would like to pass down to someone, like how Rintaro’s grandfather passed it on to him. When I went off to my local library, I found the Japanese original next to Natsukawa’s Kamisama no Karute series in the regular fiction section, not the YA section. It’s not uncommon to find young protagonists in novels written for adults in Japan, and it seems that he might have intended The Cat for an older audience. Did that impact your translation?

Louise: The issue of YA versus adult is interesting. Picador (UK) and HarperVia (US) were clear that they didn’t want to package it as a YA book. Both large publishers have YA imprints and it wasn’t those who had bought the rights, so perhaps the reason was as simple as that? Reviewers seem to be divided on the issue. I personally felt because of its subject matter (teens, hikikomori, friendship, adventure “quests”) that it was very YA. However I didn’t aim my language at any particular readership and just sought to translate the Japanese in the voices that I heard in it.

Andrew: As a nice segue into the voices in the book, I wanted to applaud your translation of “二代目” as “Mr. Proprietor” – it’s simply quite brilliant!

Louise: First of all – thank you. I found “二代目” (2nd generation) a challenge to translate. Obviously a direct translation wasn’t going to do it. I thought about the cat’s voice and the level of the language it used, and “Mr. Proprietor” came to me. It manages to say everything that the original does about the cat’s intentions for Rintaro, as well as being slightly sarcastic.

TheCatWhoSavedBooks

The UK edition and the original Japanese text

Andrew: The ginger cat, Tiger, who sits atop a pile of books on the English cover, along with Rintaro and Sayo are the three main voices/characters in the story. I just love Tiger’s voice. It reminds me of a certain sharp-witted lasagne-loving feline from a famous comic strip. What were your references for the style and tone of voice? What about the three men of the labyrinths – the collector of books, reader of books, and the bookseller – who were quite similar, yet unique, characters?

Louise: Well, I didn’t think of Garfield, although I know who he is. I haven’t read many of those comic strips. The thing I took most into account was the fact that (real) cats always seem a little arrogant and do exactly as they want. The voice was tough and not particularly kind in the original – telling Rintaro some uncomfortable truths. I was careful not to make it obviously British or American, so I purposely combined a little British sounding pomposity with a bit of the image of a wisecracking New Yorker from a whole slew of American sitcoms/dramas.

By the way, although I wrote in my translator’s note at the end that I had deliberately not given the cat a gender as the original never specifies, it was obvious from the language that the cat was supposed to be male. I also used that note to explain more about the phenomenon of hikikomori to readers.

About the translator’s note, I have asked many publishers if I may include one (and it’s usually declined) but this time I was offered the chance by the publisher so I jumped at it.

Andrew: The theme of hikikomori stays quietly in the background, so I certainly appreciated your note at the end of the book. Back to the story, Rintaro and his love for books and knowledge of their stories helps him debunk fundamental flaws in their reasoning, changing their relationships with books. As I read, I could not help but think of my own relationship with books. Am I done with a story after reading it once? Do I have the time and energy to read an entire book again? And what of those bestseller rankings and the talk of money and books?

Louise: I felt guilty about my own reading habits. I rarely re-read books myself and I wondered if perhaps I should. I wondered if I was the first opponent from the first labyrinth just getting through as many as possible. But the worst thing was the comments about storage of books. I would be ashamed to show my bookshelves to Rintaro for sure. So many improperly displayed books!! I think that the author’s depiction of the bookseller skewered the publishing industry rather perfectly and a little cruelly.

Andrew: And so we can imagine the bookseller in the third labyrinth rubbing his hands in glee with The Cat – it says “The International Bestseller” on the cover. Do you know how well it’s actually doing?

Louise: The UK edition might have been a little premature with that claim, but it is subsequently true. Before English I knew it had been translated into Italian, Turkish and possibly Chinese. Rights to about 30 languages were sold after Frankfurt in 2019 (including English) but since the English translation was published the number has now grown to rights sold or translations already out in 38 languages. There’s about to be a Croatian version done in relay translation from my English translation. (Andrew: Hooray!)

Andrew: And did it travel from the UK to the US? Or was it vice versa?

Louise: I was hired by the UK publisher but the US publisher was in a hurry to get their edition out before Christmas 2021 so their editor joined in when we were in the editing process. At first I was nervous that there might be too many conflicting ideas, but in the end it was great to have the double input.

Andrew: I’ve seen US and UK editions of some titles around and noticed some subtle changes, but I would really like to hear how things were tweaked for the two editions.

Louise: Changes made for the US edition were minimal – mostly spelling changes and some obvious vocabulary such as “senior” rather than “final year of high school” and “paraffin” for “kerosene”. We decided together not to change “bookshop” to “bookstore” as apparently the word has currency in the US for a smaller kind of shop such as Natsuki Books. I was so happy with that decision.

The Cat was the first time I had the opportunity to work on a US edition, and I had the final say on the edition, which I usually don’t.

I must mention that the ginger tabby on top of the pile of books is just the UK cover. I like it a lot but the US cover deserves a mention as it is by famed artist Yuko Shimizu and is gorgeous.

TheCatWhoSavedBooks--original

The cover of the US edition by award-winning artist Yuko Shimizu – from Louise’s SCBWI page

Andrew: Yes it is! And it’s nice to know you had the final say on the text of the US edition this time. To wrap up, do you have anything in the works?

Louise: I don’t have any children’s or YA titles in the works but Death on Gokumon Island by Seishi Yokomizo (the second book in Kosuke Kindaichi detective series) will be released at the end of June 2022. Another title by Hideo Yokoyama by the end of the year, and I’m currently working on two more classic crime novels.

Andrew: End of June 2022 is not far away! Thank you again for sharing your story with The Cat with us!

AFCC (Part 2): Translating the Picture (Book)

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Having previously joined a few editions of AFCC as an attendee, I was invited to contribute this time to AFCC’s first Translation Forum as a panelist on translating picture books.

Lined up alongside more experienced translators Ajia (English to Chinese) and Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Portuguese and Spanish to English), Helen Wang (Chinese to English) moderated a rich sharing session on how pictures, and sometimes the story, were changed in translated versions. From how a risque calendar was changed to a picture of a volcano in The World in a Second, how the plot was tweaked in The President of the Jungle, to how word rhythm and sounds were integral to translating Uri Shulevitz’s Dawn and Where the Wild Things Are into Chinese, and how representations were made diverse and appropriate in The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out, it is clear how much creativity and attention is put into transforming a picture book for a new readership. Involving not just the gatekeepers of the original, but also the agents, translators, editors, designers and everyone else working on the translated edition, it is a process that might bring a better picture book into the world.

transpicbook

  Clockwise from top left: Moderator Helen Wang, Ajia, Andrew Wong, and Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Before we wrapped up the session, Helen kindly gave us the chance to voice our wishes as translators and for picture book translations, some of which we can certainly work on together.

– Push the boundaries of self-censorship by publishers (in China)
– Use our voices to make the translator’s craft and its importance known
– More adults sharing the experience of reading picture books with children
– Acknowledge the author, illustrator, and translator in reading sessions
– #TranslatorsOnTheCover
– More translations (in the US) and more from the wider, less represented world
– Support translated books so there are more of them!

Other than the sessions in the Translation Forum, I was particularly interested to hear how some publishers were looking at diversity and inclusion, the situation with translation in Southeast Asia, and how stories were being told and retold in this part of the world where there are many linguistic and cultural bridges to cross and build. There’s much to catch at AFCC, so I’m grateful that most sessions are available on demand till the end of the month!

A handful of us from SCBWI Japan were involved at AFCC 2022. Read more in Avery Udagawa’s wrap-up at AFCC (Part 1): Shifting Perceptions.

AFCC 2022 (Part 1): Shifting Perceptions

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

The 2022 edition of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content unfolded in hybrid format—partly online, and partly in-person at Singapore’s National Library. I joined in online, and while I dearly missed traveling to the Little Red Dot, I enjoyed seeing several colleagues grace my screen.

From SCBWI Japan Translation Group, Singapore-born Andrew Wong (top right above) spoke about translating the The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out, edited by Yoshimi Kusaba and illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa, in a session on picture book translation. Emily Balistrieri discussed aspects of translating Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki and Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, the latter in a panel on the translation of humor, moderated by Holly Thompson. I spoke about “shifting perceptions” of translations in English-language children’s book publishing, so that more human languages can be preserved and represented. It was a pleasure to do the Q-and-A with moderator and fellow J-E translator Malavika Nataraj.

A benefit of the hybrid format is that ticket holders can view online sessions on-demand for a month. I am beginning to watch this conversation between Eriko Shima and internationally beloved Japanese picture book artist Shinsuke Yoshitake. I hope they will discuss why translators are not (yet!) credited on the covers of English-language editions of Yoshitake’s works. Here is a New York Times piece that came out on this subject (vis-à-vis adult books) just as AFCC ended.

Here’s to shifting perceptions so that many more international authors, illustrators, and translators can be embraced and enjoyed by young readers everywhere!