Little Keys and the Red Piano—Translation for Ebook (Part 1)

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

I recently co-translated a title, Little Keys and the Red Piano, for ebook (Amazon Digital Services, Inc., May 2013). I will be blogging about the experience here in a series of three posts.

First, here is the ebook!

スクリーンショット 2013-06-03 13.22.47Little Keys and the Red Piano

By Hideko Ogawa

Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda

To give a quick summary, Little Keys is a piano-playing kitten who moves from a comfy home on the Japan Sea to Tokyo, where she plans to become an authentic stray in the big city. Little Keys and the Red Piano is the enchanting story of how she does it.

Rather than going more into the story, I’d like to write today about translating the book. It turned out nicely, but there were some ups and downs that I’d like to have on record for you, my fellow translators, so you’ll have some background when you get a similar opportunity.

My colleague and long-time writing partner, Kazuko Enda, and I were asked by a publishing company just getting into ebooks to translate a children’s book for them. They were publishing an ebook of the original version in Japanese and the author was eager to have it done in English too. It would be the first English book—either digital or in print—that they had ever done. The proposal was that we would translate it for free and then rake in the royalties. While that seemed highly unlikely we were both charmed by the book and even more so by Hideko Ogawa, the author.

Part 1: Meeting the Author

Ms. Ogawa, a woman in her seventies, was active and sharp, passionate about her work, and determined to see it translated into English. Ms. Ogawa wrote Pianyan (Piano + nyan, or “meow”) to describe her own move from her hometown of Itogawa in Niigata to Tokyo. It was originally published by Kodansha in 1994. When we met her, she told us that it had been well-received and dramatized by small acting groups throughout the country—it was a story that resonated with adults who had struggled with homesickness layered on the excitement of life in the city.

写真[6]The three of us decided to meet in Tokyo, and Ms. Ogawa came equipped with the September-October 2011 issue of the journal Nihon Jido Bungaku (Japan Children’s Literature) with a special feature on children’s books in translation, which answered many of the questions we had, especially about how much we could revise a book to make it a more enjoyable read for an English speaking audience.  (An article by translator Yumiko Sakuma—which I eventually hope to translate for this blog—was especially good.) Ms. Ogawa, an editor of the journal, was prepared to accept our proposed revisions in order to make good work of the translation. Not only that, but she was busy taking photographs to illustrate the ebook version, promising a colorful final product that would give readers a good look at Tokyo. She eventually provided maps of Japan and of Shibuya in Tokyo, where much of the book takes place, and accepted links for interested readers to find out more. Little Keys and the Red Piano is now available on Kindle books due in great part to the author’s enthusiasm and unfailing cooperation.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this series.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Louise on July 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    This book sounds charming. Looking forward to reading part II of the series about it.


  2. […] « Little Keys and the Red Piano—Translation for Ebook (Part 1) […]


  3. Posted by SCBWI Tokyo Translation Group on July 30, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Louise, I just found the comments! Thanks for stopping in.


  4. […] in a series about translating Little Keys and the Red Piano by Hideko Ogawa for ebook. Read Parts 1 and 2 […]


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