Creative Exchange Featuring Translators!

Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

SCBWI Japan had a Creative Exchange on Friday, May 14, 2021. Below is a picture of all the participants. It was exciting to see the diversity of (fascinating and brilliant!) ongoing projects. Along with English books, we had several works by non-Japanese being written in Japanese. One book was entirely illustrations—suitable for universal readership.

Pertinent to this blog, three projects were Japanese-to-English translations being pursued on spec. Let’s take a look at them.

Amy Lange Kawamura is translating Kaeru Fukushima by Yasushi Yanai, published by Poplar, for the SCBWI translation contest. This nonfiction children’s story is about frogs endangered due to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as about the people who left the prefecture and have yet to return. Amy asked the group for ideas on the book’s English title. The word kaeru in Japanese can mean both “frog” and “go home,” and frogs are typically used in Japanese messages about—going home. The question for this title was which nuances should be retained to draw interest to the book.

Avery Udagawa is translating portions of DIVE!! by Eto Mori, published by Kadokawa Shoten. The YA novel is about a struggling diving club whose future hangs on whether or not it can produce Olympic contenders. The story begins with the arrival of a new female coach. Much to the dismay of her teenage charges, she starts off by rejecting the athletes’ forms and not even letting them in the water. Avery’s concern was the format of her excerpt. Japanese books often have very short paragraphs, and Dive!! ends one chapter with a string of them only a line long each. She also asked the group for comments on her interpretations of teenage conversations.

Holly Thompson’s latest translation is Chibi ryū (Tiny Dragon) by Naoko Kudo, published by Doshinsha. Here’s Holly’s description of the work: “A lyrical story of a newborn water dragon that befriends, questions and learns from all sorts of living beings until large enough to cradle and love the world.” The narrative’s opening is accompanied and encouraged by a choir of mosquitoes chanting ara yoi yoi! and hoi sassa! Holly wanted to know how the group felt about leaving the untranslatable chanting in the original language and what it might add to the story.

A GLLI Video Interview with Cathy Hirano

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The global pandemic has forced events online and deprived excellent books of much needed opportunities for promotion. So when the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative announced the winners of its 2021 Translated YA Book Prize and gave 2020 co-winner Cathy Hirano the chance to talk about her translations of The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior, I tuned in to watch her interview (accessible from here) with David Jacobson, introduced by Annette Goldsmith.

Cathy drew on her long career to share her insights into literary translation. For her work with Nahoko Uehashi, she related how Uehashi herself commissioned the entire translation of a Moribito title instead of just a sample, which demonstrated her understanding that the power of that story could only be seen when presented in its entirety. Talking at length about their work together, Cathy also appreciated how Uehashi is flexible, tweaking her work for dramatization and other adaptations, and often engaging deeply to help others convey her work. Cathy would probably be quick to concur that her excellent translations are in part down to what I perceived to be her deeply satisfying collaborative relationship with Uehashi, which in turn contributed to Uehashi clinching the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing.

The conversation also touched on adding information to build cultural bridges—or not—for example, by leaving foreign words as-is, like Toda for the lizards bred for battle, while choosing Royal Beast over Ōjū, which didn’t sound quite so magnificent in English. That Uehashi’s fantasy worlds had to be shaped by the original text meant less bridging work than stories set in specific periods in history.

US editions of The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior (Holt), illustrated by Yuta Onoda

Turning to the themes in the Beast titles, Cathy notes that while Uehashi draws on her background in cultural anthropology to weave complex multicultural relationships in a fantasy world, just as she did for the Moribito series, romance only appears in fleeting episodes. The momentum stays very much in the tussles with power and with the fear and control of the unfamiliar other. While I was particularly drawn to Elin’s development under the guidance of her mentors Joeun and Esalu in The Beast Player, it was intriguing to hear both David and Cathy note the parallel in the political relationships between the symbolic ruler Yojeh and her protectors, and that of Japan and the US in the real world, although Uehashi was leaning more towards an exploration of the situation internally in Japan. Perhaps my reading as a Singaporean was partly what made me simply join Elin and her young family in their flight in the second title, struggling together with them to find the light in a dense tangle of relationships. Then, Elin’s bond with Leelan, a Royal Beast she had cared for since nursing her back to health as a cub, steeled her to do what she had to in the final maelstrom.

As the interview drew to a close, Cathy made the translator in me smile when she said she found great satisfaction from knowing her work helped someone else experience a book the same way she did. By taking the time to highlight this second fascinating epic from the collaborative duo of Nahoko Uehashi and Cathy Hirano, GLLI too has opened more doors to worlds of the other, and extended an invitation to the conversation on translated works for children and young adults.

Every Color of Light: An Interview with Translator David Boyd

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Deborah Iwabuchi: Hi David, thanks for agreeing to interview for our blog. Since you’re not an SCBWI “regular,” let me introduce you as an assistant professor of Japanese at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. You’ve recently translated a couple of novellas by Hiroko Oyamada, and also co-translated fiction by Mieko Kawakami with Sam Bett.

Today we’re going to talk about your translation of Every Color of Light, written by Hiroshi Osada (1938–2015) and illustrated by Ryoji Arai. It was originally published as Sora no ehon, or A Picture Book About the Sky. Arai’s illustrations of a rainy day in a forest are accompanied by Osada’s rhythmical descriptions of the changing scene. The rain begins, gets harder and harder, and then thunder and lightning—every shift changing the colors we see. Finally, the rain subsides, the sun comes out, and night falls. The final illustration is of the moon reflected in the forest pond. Osada was a prominent and prolific author, essayist and translator. Arai is a world-renowned writer and illustrator of books for children. It must have been exciting to work on this book.  Can you tell me a little about how you ended up in children’s lit and translating this book?

David Boyd: Thanks, Deborah. Translating children’s books was something I’d wanted to do for years before I had the chance. For me, the biggest draw was how much attention seems to be given to every decision. Fewer words on the page tends to mean more thought per word. All of my experience in translating books for children so far has been with Enchanted Lion Books. I wonder if other publishers of children’s lit are as careful with their work… I can’t say for sure.

My first book with ELB was What What What (Arata Tendo and Ryoji Arai), which came out in 2017. It’s about a child named Pan who never stops asking questions. At first, the constant questions bother everybody, but in the end Pan’s persistence saves the day. When Claudia Bedrick (ELB) and I were working on What What What, we gave the book the time it deserved. As you know, there are many kinds of editor-translator relationships. When Claudia and I were working on this book, it was very clear to me that this was a relationship that I would want to sustain going forward. Every one of our collaborations since then has been equally satisfying, at least for me.

Since What What What, I’ve worked with ELB on four books in Kaya Doi’s Chirri and Chirra series, Kiyo Tanaka’s Little One (forthcoming), and one other book by Osada and Arai: Almost Nothing, Yet Everything (forthcoming).

All of my experiences with ELB have been extremely positive. On a fundamental level, I think this has to do with the fact that Claudia is a translator herself (from French).

Deborah: So it sounds as though you have a good working relationship with both the publisher/editor you work with. From a translator’s viewpoint, it sounds like an ideal situation.

David: It is. Claudia and I have discussed every book we’ve done, line by line, almost always over the phone. Sometimes this means multiple calls at various stages in the translation process. I can’t tell you how many great solutions have come from this. Email is convenient, to be sure, but it’s nice to be able to actually hear each other.

Most recently, with Almost Nothing, Yet Everything, Claudia and I had a few calls at various points to go over the text in detail. We gave a lot of thought, for example, to the line “inochi no oshikko” (something like “the pee of life”) that appears toward the end of the story. Over a period of months, we came up with several different ways to translate around the idea, before finally deciding that direct was probably the best way to go.

I’m happy to have an editor who’s willing to think about something until it’s actually perfect, or at least perfect to us. With children’s books in particular, it’s important to think about every aspect of the text. You have to give a lot of thought to how the translation agrees with the art and so on.

Deborah: You said “fewer words on the page tends to mean more thought per word,” and you sent me two versions of your translation of Every Color of Light. I wish I could print it all here along with the final version. The process through the revisions is a thing of beauty, where so many things change while remaining true to what the author is saying. 

David: I’m so happy to hear you say that. It’s the sort of book that could have been translated in several different ways. The different drafts that I came up with weren’t completely different, but they definitely called attention to different elements in the story. Repetition is something we often think about when translating from Japanese, and there’s a good deal of repetition in Osada’s poetry. In the final version, I think we found the best way to be faithful to that.

Deborah: Osada’s original uses the word だんだん dandan (gradually, or slowly) over and over. You could pat a child on the arm or the back as you read it each time, and that rhythm would most likely put them to sleep. I see that you translated dandan as “slowly” and used it faithfully in your first translation. By the time you get to the final version, there is a greater variety of words, many that, in English have the same rhythmical, soothing effect as dandan. On one page, a series of dandan dandan is completely replaced by “pitter-patter, pitter-patter,” which has a similar effect as a read-aloud word.

David: That’s right. We decided that it was fine to use a variety of words for dandan, as long as we could keep the strong sense of rhythm. That was our biggest concern.

Deborah: Can you tell me some more about the editing process?

David: There weren’t many changes made between the early drafts and the published version of the book, but I think most of the changes that were made related to one big decision about how to handle the book’s art.

When the artwork for the book was sent to ELB, they loved everything that was happening outside of the frame: Arai’s scribbles, splotches and sketch lines. In the English version, they removed the frame so that readers could see everything that went into making Arai’s art. Along with this came the idea to include Osada’s poetry below Arai’s art rather than over it. In the Japanese, there were usually four lines of writing per two pages, but we ended up going with (as a rule) one line per page. In my opinion, this plays out very well in the English version. It allows the text to slow down a little. It also does something to liberate Arai’s art.

Deborah: At this point I had to put David on hold and run to my local brick-and-mortar book store to get a copy of the Japanese version. The contrast was amazing. Here are a couple of photos illustrating what David has described above.

(You’ve got to remember that I’m a translator and not a photographer) The colors are very deep in the original, but in the English version the pages are larger and we get every bit of the original painting, including the shading and borders, with a single line of text below each page rather than a number of lines on one or two pages of a spread.

David, I agree with your comment about it “liberating” Arai’s art. Reading through the whole book, I can see why this change in the art had such a big influence on the written part of the book. You might feel that there is a risk of limiting what you could actually say, but that obviously has not been the case. I think the text might also be somewhat “liberated” by dividing it in half and using just the single line. On this page, the four lines of Japanese are two separate lines of English:

Raindrops drip from the leaves.

Sparkling like crystals, they fall to the ground.

The separation seems to increase the drama of what is turned into two completely different “actions” of the raindrops.

David: You’re absolutely right. I think that both versions have a lot to offer. They’re the same book, but remarkably different in certain ways.

Deborah: I also want to ask about the covers. The cover for the Japanese version has a daylight sky, and the English version has a nighttime sky. Why the difference?

David: Right, that’s a great point about day and night. Those two halves come together to create the full experience of the book. I didn’t participate in that part of the process (choosing the cover), but I think that ELB made a great decision. The book follows a path from rain to storm to calm. It’s a lullaby. At the same time, I love how the book turns up the volume (i.e., the storm) before ultimately turning it down. Anyway, I see the book as a nighttime read. That being the case, it’s probably best to have a soothing cover in quieter colors. Of course, each cover is stunning in its own way, isn’t it?

Deborah: Indeed they are! Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with SCBWI Japan.

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll Talks with Translator Emily Balistrieri about Soul Lanterns

By Jackie Friedman Mighdoll, San Francisco

Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, translated by Emily Balistrieri, is the poignant story of 12-year-old Nozomi who lives in Hiroshima 25 years after the atomic bombing. When Nozomi notices that her mother sets afloat a white “soul lantern” in memory of someone she doesn’t talk about, Nozomi begins to wonder about the past. Nozomi and her friends decide to hold an art exhibition with the theme of “Hiroshima Then and Now,” and they approach their relatives and neighbors to ask questions about what really happened on August 6, 1945. Soul Lanterns is a powerful and accessible novel about war, peace, art, and healing.

I had the pleasure of talking with Emily Balistrieri about his work on translating Soul Lanterns. 

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll (JFM): Can you give us some background on this project? How did you find Soul Lanterns and how did Soul Lanterns find Delacorte? 

Emily Balistrieri (EB): I do a lot of work for Kodansha’s children’s division in Tokyo, and this book is originally published by them, so it was one of a number of titles I helped prepare promotional material for, including a sample translation. When we went to the 2019 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I got to meet Beverly Horowitz, the senior vice president and publisher of Delacorte Press, who acquired Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I translated. My colleague from Kodansha and I took the opportunity to pitch a few books, and Beverly latched on to Soul Lanterns immediately.  

JFM: Do you remember how you pitched it to Beverly?

EB: I told her that I really enjoyed learning about history through the novel. I felt like it was a good balance of educational information and perspective. But also the family intrigue keeps you reading. Having Nozomi as the protagonist 25 years after the bombing makes her an easy character to identify with. We know the history is that the US dropped the bomb, and how horrible it was, but wrapping your head around it is really difficult unless you keep reading and learning and listening. Going on the journey with Nozomi makes that possible. And then there’s getting the author’s perspective herself, the personal perspective. 

JFM: Can you tell us more about Shaw Kuzki, the author?

EB: She’s the same age as Nozomi (i.e. was 12 years old in 1970, when this story is set.) Originally she specialized in Anglo Irish Literature, and she studied abroad in Dublin. She taught in higher ed for 20 years before focusing full-time on writing. Her debut (published when she was in her 40s, by the way—so no need to rush these things) was a fantasy novel that won two major newcomer awards, and she has continued to write in a variety of genres (one of her YA titles is about boys who play tennis, which was her sport in school) and collect more awards since then. Her main goal in writing about Hiroshima is to pass on the memories so that history doesn’t repeat. She feels a responsibility to remember and warn others. 

JFM: Do you have any general recommendations on how to pitch a translation?

EB: The main thing is to make sure you have your materials together. You need a summary that’s one page that spoils everything. Your sample translation. A cover letter that explains why it’s important to translate it, the awards it has won, and sales figures if you have them. The hardest part is always why it should be translated. Although for this book it was obvious. It could only be written by a Japanese person, and it’s a really good perspective. 

JFM: I imagine there’s also something about persistence.

EB: I recently sold some short stories for the first time. And that was a five-year process. First translating, and then pitching, and then waiting, and then getting rejected. Then tweaking, pitching, and getting rejected. And then I sold them!

JFM: What was the magic?

EB: With the short stories, it was reaching the right people. But it was also timing. Especially when pitching to magazines. Magazines are often trying to achieve a certain balance in their issues. It’s persistence. But I also made sure that between each pitch, I made sure to go back to reread to see if there was anything I was missing. You should be confident but you should also take the opportunity to reread and make edits. 

And recently I sold something on the first try—so you never know. 

JFM: I always love hearing about a translator’s process. What was yours in translating Soul Lanterns

EB: I had read it in full before, and after polishing the sample I felt like I knew how I wanted it to sound, or like the voice was familiar, so it went fairly smoothly. I try to get it pretty close (the first time through), partly because I hate leaving things so-so. Then I go back and tweak it later. Some of the more complicated sentences need re-working. But the dialogue comes naturally. I always work with an assistant, a native Japanese speaker, so I can ask questions.

JFM: Soul Lanterns contains poems by Hitomi Koyama. After World War II, newspapers published her tanka grieving her son’s death. Did you translate the tanka as well? Was your process for translating poetry different than for prose?

EB: I did translate the poems. Poetry is extremely challenging. I worked with poet Bin Sugawara on a collection that was published bilingually last year, which was a great experience and very fun, but it only made me fear poetry more, haha. The drafts I came up with were poems, but some of them turned out to be different poems from the ones he had intended. It makes me really wonder how people translate deceased poets. I guess the poem you end up with becomes the poem. For the tanka in this book, I decided I wanted to focus on the images and emotions and not get hung up on the form. I didn’t want to corner myself with the structure and shoehorn the content in. 

JFM: What were some of the other fun translation challenges in working on this? 

EB: The biggest challenge was working on realistic historical fiction. The vast majority of my translations so far have been fantasy or speculative fiction. I tried not to overthink the fact that I am an American delivering a story about suffering and tragedy that the country I’m from caused, but it was definitely on my mind… Obviously I’m concerned with being as accurate as I can on any project, but the subject matter definitely added weight this time. 

JFM: Did you do other secondary reading as part of the translation? Are there other books in Japanese for children about this topic? Or other resources that you would recommend?

EB: I didn’t read other children’s books, although there certainly are some, including more by Shaw Kuzki. Apart from articles and random research, the main thing I did was actually go to Hiroshima (in 2019) to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and see the dome in person. At the museum, I had a chance to listen to what they call an A-Bomb Legacy Successor talk. Essentially, a volunteer learns the testimony of an elderly first-generation survivor so that the story can continue to be shared. Incidentally, the website of the museum has a ton of resources. You can even browse exhibits online. And if you have a group of 10 or more people, you can request a free talk via video conference from anywhere in the world. I wonder if schools in the USA are aware of this opportunity.

JFM: I appreciate your work on getting Soul Lanterns out to the English speaking world. What are you excited about next?

EB: I don’t have anything finalized for children at the moment, but I really hope to translate Yusaku Kitano’s Doronko rondo (Mud puddle rondo) at some point. The story follows a little girl android and a turtle childcare robot on a journey to search for humans, who can only be found on TV in the far-flung future after the Earth has turned into a mud puddle. It has that classic (timeless?) adventure feel and manages to get quite trippy and philosophical at times while remaining aimed at kids. It’s from the same Fukuinkan imprint as Tetsuya Sato’s Syndrome, which is a masterpiece of YA science fiction that I’m currently pitching with a complete manuscript.  

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll writes for children: poetry, picture books, and middle grade. She translates from Japanese to English. In a prior career, she founded a school for teaching world languages to children from newborn to elementary. Find her on the web at https://jackiefm.com/ On Twitter: @jackiefm

 

New Translations Presented at SCBWI Japan Showcase 2021

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

On April 9, 2021, SCBWI Japan held its first showcase of members’ new publications since January 2017. Sixteen books by thirteen members were presented, and a significant number were translations (seven books by five translators)!

The showcase was offered free of charge and teachers, librarians and other interested parties were—and are—invited. To view the recording of the session, follow the simple instructions here.

Here are the books recently published in translation that were showcased.

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out by Yoshimi Kusaba, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa, translated by Andrew Wong

1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth, compiled by Motomi Murota and Naomi Kitagawa, translated by Deborah Iwabuchi

Of the remaining two, one is just out:

Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, translated by Emily Balistrieri

And the other will be out this summer:

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa.

We should be hearing more about both of them soon!

View the recording of SCBWI Japan Showcase 2021 to learn more about these and all of the books presented.

Exploring a Picture Book on Momofuku Ando, Inventor of Instant Ramen

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Translators of Japanese children’s literature often find they have much to learn from authors and illustrators of Japan-related books—as Andrew Wong learned at an event on instant noodles.

Earlier this month, SCBWI Japan invited author Andrea Wang and illustrator Kana Urbanowicz to talk about the making of the picture book Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando. We were treated to an intriguing manifold back story, if you like, about persistence and how translation was very much integral to this story of a Japanese invention, which continues to evolve and fill hungry stomachs across the world, even in space!

Counterclockwise from above: Andrea Wang, Kana Urbanowicz, Mateus Urbanowicz

Andrea started the online session by mentioning how her background in environmental science and educational publications led to an interest in biographies and how her curiosity about who had invented instant ramen eventually led to the creation of the book. For Magic Ramen, she wanted to highlight the scientific approach that Ando, who had no culinary training, took to inventing instant ramen from scratch. However, instead of making it into something overly didactic, Andrea intended for the story to show, not tell, readers the scientific method at work.

But before all of that fell into place, she had struggled to find an emotional core for the story in the academic research on Taiwan-born Ando. Things changed when she received a pleasant surprise in the mail from someone at Nissin—an English copy of Ando’s autobiography. Andrea had had no luck looking for a retail copy of this English publication, because it had been distributed only internally at the company. It was in this translation that she found what the story needed—Ando had wanted to create a quick, warm, nutritious meal for hungry people after seeing the long ramen queue in a black market on a cold night in post-war Osaka.

Image of post-war ramen queue by Kana Urbanowicz

Having found the heart of Ando’s ramen story, Andrea paced Ando’s struggle to show his perseverance and scientific approach to making noodles. When Ando finally created instant ramen, the sakura were in full bloom, a scene that was also described in the autobiography. If you watch Andrea’s read aloud video, you will realize that the story goes on to show Ando selling his product and filling the stomachs of children, adults, and even royalty. With the manuscript ready, of course, more persistence was needed to find a publisher ready to take on a story behind one of the world’s best-selling inventions. While authors do not normally have much say in the choice of illustrator, Andrea specifically wanted a Japanese illustrator for this project.

After the manuscript was acquired by Little Bee Books, it was left to illustrator Kana Urbanowicz to tell the story in pictures. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Yokohama and a copy of the Japanese version of Ando’s autobiography provided visual references for Kana regarding the Osaka black market and Ando’s family. As is often the case in U.S. publishing, the illustrator had little to no direct communication with the author about the manuscript. In fact, this SCBWI Japan event was the first time Andrea and Kana spoke to one another!

Some participants in the Magic Ramen event

For Magic Ramen, both the author and the illustrator shared a valuable resource—Ando’s autobiography—which seemed to act as a mental bridge between them. On the few occasions when they did communicate through the publisher, for instance when Kana asked for a visual reference of Ando and the illustrator note on the sakura scene, it was not surprising that both referred back to the autobiography!

In terms of design and visual storytelling technique, multiple diagonal panels were employed to give a sense of the passing of time and progress in Ando’s trial-and-error process, while the front and back inside covers are another demonstration of fun and wit. And so after about five years, not uncommon for non-fiction picture books, Magic Ramen hit the bookstores.

At this event, illustrators would have noted that language and accessibility played a significant part in helping Little Bee Books find Kana, whose English website and loop animation of a boy deliciously devouring ramen were huge factors in her favor. (We also learned that she got some help from her husband Mateus Urbanowicz, who is an illustrator too.) Translators would have noted that they might one day find themselves in a similar situation to their fellow creative professionals—long waits between editorial feedback and (sometimes) little to no contact with the original author.

This session provided a precious inside look at the motivations and choices made in the creation of Magic Ramen, particularly the story’s focus, the pacing and portrayal of Ando’s scientific process, and the visual cues in the illustrations. Since translators do not normally work with agents, I was encouraged by how Andrea’s individual persistence and perseverance had eventually led to such a heart-warmingly satisfying serving of the science behind the invention of instant ramen.

For a second helping of reflection on this event, tuck into Noodling about Noodles by SCBWI Japan author member Mari Boyle.

Ten Years after 3.11, The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei Still Resonates

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok, and Sako Ikegami, Kobe

The SCBWI Japan (then SCBWI Tokyo) Translation Group launched this blog in April 2011, partly in response to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, or 3.11. One of the first posts published was The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami, which, in the decade since, has remained both the most commented-upon and the most viewed post. Yearly views have increased twentyfold over time, from 141 in 2011 to 2,873 in 2020. Something about the story of Hamaguchi Gohei—as told by Lafcadio Hearn in Gleanings in Buddha-Fields—continues to strike a chord, as Sally Ito reflected on the fifth anniversary of 3.11.

Today, on the tenth anniversary, we would like to share a bit more information about the tale, which describes a man warning his village of a tsunami by setting fire to his harvested rice.

The story is based on Hamaguchi Goryo, seventh-generation owner of the Yamasa Shoyu (soy sauce) company in Wakayama. Several organizations maintain web pages about him:

In addition, Goryo’s story is the subject of picture books and kamishibai in Japan, including Tsunami!! Inochi o sukutta inamura no hi (Tsunami!! The Rice Fire That Saved Lives, Chobunsha, 2005; Japanese).

Of further interest amid the Covid pandemic is Goryo’s involvement in education and public health. Sako writes that Goryo was “very involved in education with close ties to Fukuzawa Yukichi and others, who went to New York to have a funeral for Hamaguchi when he passed in 1885 during a tour of the U.S. and Europe.”

Goryo “sponsored the education of Kansai Seki, a leading physician who helped spread modern medicine in Japan, allowing him to study Rangaku (focused on modern medicine from Holland) in Nagasaki. Goryo built schools in his native Wakayama for students of Rangaku, thus contributing to the proliferation of western medical knowledge in post-Edo Japan. He was a philanthropist who believed firmly in preventive medicine and was a supporter of vaccination, providing funds to rebuild a vaccination center (for smallpox) when it burned down.

“Today, as the world eagerly awaits inoculations to allow us to return to a more normal state of life, especially for the children, it seems fitting to reflect on the life of Goryo who not only could act on the spur of the moment to save a village from a tsunami, but also possessed the foresight to ensure the entry of modern medicine into Japan by providing opportunities for education. And further, by supporting the type of preventive medicine that will save the world today.”

We would be keen to see his story published in English in a setting for children.

Meanwhile, we hope that our blog continues to serve as a source of information about both the effects of 3.11 on children (see the Children of Tohoku page), and about Japanese children’s literature in English translation.

Interview with Michael Blaskowsky, Translator of Sato the Rabbit

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The English version of Sato the Rabbit launches in the US today, nearly 15 years since Yuki Ainoya’s delightful picture book of a boy having adventures dressed like a rabbit was first published in Japan. I caught up with translator Michael Blaskowsky, a self-styled digital nomad, as he hopped across Wifi networks across the Pacific to find out more.

Translator Michael Blaskowsky with the Japanese title that started it all

Andrew (A): Hello Michael, thanks for joining us, and happy book birthday to Sato the Rabbit! For a start, how did you come across this book?

Michael (M): Seattle, oddly enough, was where my wife and I first came across Sato the Rabbit. After our son was born, we wanted to make sure we kept reading him Japanese books and thankfully Seattle and the surrounding cities—with their large Japanese/Japanese American population—stock a large variety of Japanese children’s books. My wife found Sato on the shelves one day and we loved the book so much that we bought the entire series the next time we went back to Japan. About a year later, we came across the US edition of Chirri & Chirra at a local library, which is how I learnt of Enchanted Lion Books, so I reached out to see if they were interested. They came back with a resounding yes and we’ve been working with them ever since.

A: Before we go any further, I notice “Shizuka Blaskowsky” is mentioned in the credits page.

M: Shizuka is my wife and very much a part of the Sato team. We discussed it and decided to list just my name for the English translation, but we wanted to make sure that she was credited as well, since we both love and worked on the series. She goes over everything I write and then we talk over every sentence, decide what best reflects the Japanese while flowing well in English, and work to find text that maintains the overall feel of the world. I translate and Shizuka edits, so while I am credited for translation, we’re certainly a team on this and every project.

A: It’s really heartening to hear about the strong family focus behind Sato, and I certainly agree that teamwork and collaboration play a big part in translation. Having seen Chirri & Chirra and then this book, something definitely clicked, so I’m not surprised Enchanted Lion took it up. Sato, though, isn’t a one-story 32-page picture book. Made up of seven separate episodes, I found each episode’s four spreads as imaginative, in a calming and dreamy sense, as the next. My younger daughter and I both like A Night of Stars, where Sato collects shooting stars to fill the observatory on a moonless night. I also like Forest Ice, especially the part about “sipping stories” in bed! Do you happen to have a favorite?

M: Picking one is really difficult. There are some that I like more than others, of course, and in the first book I love Walnuts and Forest Ice. I absolutely adore the creativity and the way that in only eight pages, some common, everyday action takes a fantastical turn to some dreamy place or event. I hope that it sinks into my son’s subconscious and inspires his imaginative play. If he mirrors a Sato story or the flow of the Sato world then I’ll have a huge grin on my face.

A: Speaking of mirrors, after reading both versions separately, putting the English and Japanese versions side by side felt like looking into a mirror. We thought we were reading it back to front, or even turning back time. The layout didn’t affect the translation, did it?

M: The layout was pretty straightforward. Very few things were changed, but as the Japanese text in columns reads right to left, sensible text placement for smooth reading flow is a little different than in English. It didn’t affect much, but we did swap locations of two images in Walnuts to match the text about Sato opening the walnut, to work better with the suspense of what he finds as people turn the page.

A: I thought the second and third pages of each vignette almost always involved a fantastical leap in thought! How did you go about translating the accompanying text?

M: I made the most literal translation of each sentence I could, then went back and tried to make it sound more interesting in English. I took each sentence and wrote down all the synonyms for each word or phrase in every sentence, then tried the combinations to see what I liked. As an example from A Window in the Sky, in the third and fourth pages, I played around with how “particularly”, “especially”, and “peculiarly” sounded with “clear” and “vivid”, like in “particularly vivid”. We went with “luminous” in the end, and while there was some talk about whether that word was too advanced for some readers, I like that more children’s books these days include larger words and so went with a more advanced word here. A counterexample might be in Forest of Ice. I started off with “melancholy” when describing the feelings of the blue ice, but we went with “sad” because it’s easier for kids to connect with.

A: It’s clear a lot was put into every word, and those choices also made Sato really enjoyable to read aloud, so I’m thinking that this was probably one aspect you particularly worked on. Were there any passages or sentiments that were challenging?

M: I really wanted the sentences to flow nicely and sound soothing when read aloud, plus I wanted to use alliteration and similar wordplay when possible (but not puns). Having a fun, imaginative English text that matched the fun, imaginative images was very important to me. I also tried to give everything in the book’s world as much agency as possible and to avoid expressions that conveyed that Sato was controlling the world or making things happen. Instead, I tried to show that he was interacting with the world and was generally rolling with the punches. The longer sentences were challenging, but thankfully Sato doesn’t contain many. Sometimes like when, in Forest Ice, Sato goes out for ice, the description of the ice is one long sentence. Japanese allows for much longer sentences and easier merging of clauses, so it was challenging trying to get all the information into the space without the sentence becoming too awkward. Claudia at Enchanted Lion was a big help with that, talking about how we wanted to phrase sentences so that we reflected the world Sato lives in using language that was natural and associable to children. All those conversations really helped hone the language and make enjoyable sentences that were true to the Japanese.

A: I certainly had fun joining Sato in interacting with his world, so I think you and your team have successfully conveyed the reading experience. As you said, Sato is the first of the series, and I already see a placeholder for the second one. Until then, thank you again for sharing!

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out in The Linguist

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Andrew Wong, translator from Japanese of the picture book THE WORLD’S POOREST PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT, has an article about the translation process in the February/March 2021 issue of The Linguist. Free to read online—go to page 22!

SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020 on Zoom

By Susan Jones, Kobe

The year 2020 has thrown all of our best laid plans awry. Thankfully, SCBWI Japan did not allow that to derail the organization of Translation Day, a biennial event eagerly anticipated by members old and new. The current circumstances meant that the event was held completely online via videoconference. In the capable hands of Translator Coordinator Avery Udagawa who moderated and organized the event along with Holly Thompson, Mariko Nagai, and Naomi Kojima, everything was executed like clockwork.

Unlike past Translation Days, participants enjoyed two half-days instead of one jam-packed day. While this may have been planned to accommodate the time zones of participants from around the world, the result was that participants had time to reflect and digest information between the two days. Holding the event online also meant that it was easy to record and share with participants for a time after the event, and share links and other information concurrently with the presentations and discussions. This format made the event more inclusive than ever with participants and speakers calling in from Japan, the US, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, and the UK.

Editor-publisher Beverly Horowitz

A Conversation with Beverly Horowitz

Day One began with a conversation with Beverly Horowitz, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. She shared important information for translators regarding the type of books she looks for when sourcing works in translation. In a nutshell she is looking for “a perfect book in any language.” That is to say, if the book is captivating in one language it will likely be captivating in translation provided it is translated well.

As for the process of new title acquisition, she uses a combination of visiting foreign rights fairs such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, accepting pitches from foreign rights agents, and connecting directly with publishers. She said that an important point for translators wanting to pitch a book to an agent or publisher is to first make sure that the English publication rights are available.

When talking about the difficulty of pitching works in translation, she mentioned that in the North American market “a vision of the broader world is not part of everyday life” and this limits the appeal of works in translation. There is certainly the impression that translated works might somehow be perceived as difficult or unrelatable—one reason why translator attribution on the cover may often be missing.

Emily Balistrieri on Translating Kiki’s Delivery Service

Emily Balistrieri was another featured speaker on day one. He gave us a fascinating view of his experience translating Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing winner Eiko Kadono’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (Delacorte Press, 2020).

Translator Emily Balistrieri

Balistrieri described some of the translation challenges this project presented such as the description of how Kiki came up with the name for her delivery service and how that description had to be changed slightly since the name is “Witch’s Delivery Service” in Japanese. And “The Infamous Phone Number” episode in which he made Kiki’s phone number 1-800-KIKI-CAN in the original translation, but had to change course when readers began actually calling that number and reaching—well, not Kiki’s Delivery Service, but an entirely different sort of service. (Moral of the story: localization is not always the best choice.) Translation of special effects, puns, and even poetry added to the hurdles presented and handily cleared in Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Translation Workshop

Capping off day one was a valuable opportunity for children’s book translators: Emily Balistrieri’s critique of participants’ translations of an excerpt from Eiko Kadono’s 『大どろぼうブラブラ氏』. From rookie mistakes to more nuanced observations, it was a great way to compare translations and discuss why some choices were better than others.

Click image to enlarge this spreadsheet Emily Balistrieri prepared for the workshop, which compares different translators’ renderings of a name, a phrase, and a food.

A Conversation with Arthur A. Levine

Day two started off with important insights from industry veteran Arthur A. Levine, founder of children’s book publisher Levine Querido. His own childhood peppered with translated books such as Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Mazel and Shlimazel: or The Milk of a Lioness and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, he understands and has a deep love for good books no matter where their origin. But it took time to learn how to publish translations well. From finding the perfect source material via a network developed over thirty years, to working with translators and editors, it is a process he has honed throughout his successful career.

Editor-publisher Arthur A. Levine

Levine had some useful observations about how translations are currently received in the Anglophone market. Like Horowitz, he addressed the issue of translator credit. While it is standard to recognize the translator on the title page, it is still not common to find their name on the book cover. One reason, he says, is practical; it is more information for the reader to remember about the book. Another reason is intuitive; readers may pass over a translation for being “difficult” or not something they would choose for pleasure reading.

Finally, Levine shared his own philosophy regarding translated works: “The reader should have as close to the same experience of reading the text as the reader of the original.” Long experience allows him to discover the right translator for a project, and he encouraged translators to “let your passions be your power” when it comes to deciding what to translate and pitch to publishers and agents.

Andrew Wong: Translating The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out

Andrew Wong shared his experience of translating Yoshimi Kusaba’s adaptation of a speech by Uganda President José Mujica in The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (Enchanted Lion, 2020) for the US market. This project held a significant challenge: the text of Mujica’s original speech was in Spanish, and it was adapted for the children’s book by Kusaba. In other words, Wong’s job was to translate a translation. Translators are well aware of “lost in translation” tropes, but Wong went the extra mile and consulted the original Spanish text to ensure that the book’s message and voice were portrayed clearly and accurately.

Click image to enlarge this slide by Andrew Wong, about the themes in José Musica’s iconic speech.

Wong also faced the problem of biases in the illustrations which were not apparent at first glance. Not only did the publisher successfully lobby the illustrator, Gaku Nakagawa, to make some illustrations more diverse, but that also had a positive impact on the original Japanese publication which began using the new illustrations as well. A translator’s influence on the original work in later editions is certainly not unheard of, and this is an encouraging example.

Panel: Translator Rights from a Range of Perspectives

The final session on day two was an in-the-trenches look at four different paths of Japanese to English translation in the children’s book market. Translators Andrew Wong (The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out, Enchanted Lion, 2020), Holly Thompson (Grow, Grow, Grow Tome Sweet Potatoes and The Puppets Are Back, Miyoshimachi Library, 2020), Avery Udagawa (Temple Alley Summer, Restless Books, 2021), and Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi (1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth, Koro Color, 2020) each described a recent project from inception through publication. From translator’s rights to projects changing mid-course, their stories showed that there is certainly more than one route to successful children’s literature translation, and their work gives hope to those aspiring to follow their lead.

Clockwise from top left: Andrew Wong, Holly Thompson, Deborah Iwabuchi, Avery Fischer Udagawa

One of the highlights for many people who attend Translation Day is the opportunity to meet other members in “water cooler” moments. In a more organized version of that idea, time was allotted for a Speed Share session in which every participant introduced themselves and their current project in thirty seconds. It was a wonderful way to connect with every participant. Instead of repeating the same session on day two, a special Translator Opportunities session (for participants only) provided a wealth of information about who is currently accepting submissions and proposals—indispensable information for those pursuing publication of their work.

The online format of Translation Day hardly seemed to be a hindrance; in fact, it was directly instrumental in allowing participation from people around the world who otherwise might not have been able to attend. All credit goes to the organizers’ impeccable planning and tireless efforts in achieving a fruitful experience for all.