One Passage, Six Translations – Nahoko Uehashi

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

The website Books from Japan has launched a page devoted to Japanese children’s and teen books, in time for the 50th Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy. All titles on the Fresh Japan page are available for translation and publication abroad.

One title is Koteki no kanata Koteki no kanata cover(Beyond the Fox Whistle), a YA fantasy novel by Nahoko Uehashi. Uehashi authored the Moribito novels that earned the Batchelder Award and Batchelder Honor for Arthur A. Levine Books in 2009–10, in translation by Cathy Hirano.

At SCBWI Tokyo Translation Day 2010, Cathy Hirano led a workshop that focused in part on Koteki no kanata. Five participants submitted translations of the novel’s opening, which were blinded and discussed.

Below is the opening of Koteki no kanata followed by the five translators’ renderings and, at the end, Cathy Hirano’s. The six translations give a sense of the choices that will face the translator if (when!) a publisher releases this novel in English.

Note: Cathy Hirano explains that Nobi, the name of the animal in the passage, means wildfire. “In the Japanese, the speed of the red fox cub Nobi racing through the fields is reinforced by his name.”

一 野火駆ける







[Source: Koteki no kanata by Nahoko Uehashi (Rironsha, 2003)]

Translator A:

Nobi’s Chase

A fox cub raced across the windswept field at sunset, looking like a flame of fire blazing through the field as his red coat shimmered brightly in the setting sun.

From a distance, the sound of dogs barking chaotically, seemingly half-crazed, chased the fox cub.

A sharp pain raced through the fox’s belly, making it shudder for an instant.

The fox cub, Nobi, could feel the breath of life disappear from him like a thin trail of smoke.

The smell of fresh, warm blood still filled his nostrils–the sour smell of the blood splattered him as he tore open the jugular of his prey.

This was his first human kill, and, despite his training with Master, this warrior was not an easy prey to kill. He had learned well from someone, as he carried a sword to ward off evil spirits.

Translator B:

1. Nobi Runs

A single fox cub ran across a windswept field at twilight, his red coat glinting like flame.

Behind him, the bays of dogs, barking as if crazed, neared steadily.

A sharp pain shot through his abdomen. He shook it off.

The cub, Nobi, could feel his life leaving him, little by little, trailing off like wisps of smoke.

The stench of warm blood filled his nose. It was the blood that had spurted from his victim when he ripped apart his windpipe.

This was the first time he had ever killed a person on orders from his master. The warrior had not been an easy target. Who knows where he had gained his knowledge, but he had carried a sword with a charm to ward off evil.

Translator C:

Nobi’s Flight

Winds whistled over the fields. A young fox, fur glinting in the evening’s glow, fled like a streak of wildfire racing over the fields. From behind came the sound of hounds baying, crazed voices jumbling in the pursuit.

Nobi, the little fox, felt the thread of his life force trail out as if into a wisp that might vanish at any moment. A searing pain tore through him, its spasms gripping his belly as he ran. In his nostrils lingered the fresh smell of blood, the blood that had gushed forth when his jaws closed over the windpipe of his quarry.

It was the first time he had killed a human since the Master first ordered him out, and the warrior had not been easy prey. The man had had some special knowledge and had carried a sword endowed with the power to protect him from evil.

Translator D:

1. Running Wildfire

Winds roared across dry fields as a lone young fox ran through, quick as a blaze, its red fur flashing in the setting sun.

Behind him, he could hear the crazed barking of his hunters, discordant and relentless.

Sharp heat flashed through his abdomen and for a moment, his belly shivered in pain.

The young fox—Wildfire, could sense his lifespirit waver and wane like smoke in the wind.

The pervasive and sickening smell of fresh warm blood clung to his nostrils. It was the blood that had spattered him when he slashed through his target’s windpipe.

Although this was the first time he had ever assassinated a human for his master, the warrior had hardly been an easy kill. Someone must have advised him well for he had carried a warded sword.

Translator E:

Nobi Runs

With his red fur shining like a burning flame, the young fox runs across a field at dusk through which a lonely wind blows.  From behind, many dogs bark dissonantly as they chase him.  A scathing pain ran through the young fox’s belly, and for an instant, his belly shudders.  That young fox—Nobi—felt his life hang like thin trails of smoke disappearing into the air.

On his nose, the smell of lukewarm blood closed in.  It is the smell of the blood that sprayed out when the young fox bit the target’s windpipe.  Made to do it by his master, this was the first time he killed a person, but the warrior was not an easy target.  Someone must have warned the warrior, or he had an amulet on his sword.

Cathy Hirano:

Chapter 1

Nobi Runs

The wind swept across a field at sunset. A lone fox cub, his fur flashing like flame, raced through the long grass. Close on his heels came the crazed cacophony of hounds in pursuit. A sharp pain seared his belly and a shudder ran through him. He could feel his life stretch like a wisp of smoke, dissipating slowly. His nose was still rank with the raw smell of warm blood; the blood that had spurted from his victim’s throat when Nobi had ripped it out.

This was the first time Nobi had ever killed at his master’s bidding, and the warrior, armed with a sword protected by warding spells, had been no easy target.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Encore! SCBWI Tokyo Translation Group has received another translation of this passage by an anonymous translator. Here it is:

    Across the windswept fields a lone fox cub dashed like a racing flame, his red coat gleaming in the setting sun. Behind him, the mad clamor of barking hounds grew nearer. A searing pain shot through his belly and he shuddered momentarily. He could feel his life fading away like a wisp of trailing smoke. His nostrils were still close with the warm stench of blood – the blood that had spurted over him as he ripped out his target’s throat.

    It was the first time Wildfire had killed a man at his master’s behest, and putting the warrior down had been no easy task. It was a mystery how the man had known to do so, but he had carried a magically protected sword.


  2. […] The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Translation Group has posted an article by Avery Fischer Udagawa called “One Passage, Six Translations”  illustrating the variation of translations of a passage from Beyond the Fox Whistle, a YA fantasy novel by Nahoko Uehashi. To read it, click here. […]


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