By Wendy Uchimura, Yokohama
Yoshio Kobayashi is a translator and editor associated with Shueisha Creative. He attended SCBWI Japan’s Translation Day 2012 in Yokohama and put a call out for translators of adult and young adult novels from Japan. That became the Shueisha English Edition project. There are a wide range of popular works being released, the most recent of which are Yoshinori Shimizu’s Labyrinth (translated by Deborah Iwabuchi), Novala Takemoto’s Emily (translated by Misa Dikengil Lindberg), and Manabu Makime’s The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom! (translated by Wendy Uchimura).
In the following e-mail interview, Mr. Kobayashi explains more about Shueisha English Edition and the process of translating a book, and gives advice to those wishing to take up literary translation.
A friend of an author read his novel in English and found it was terribly wrong. The original was a sensuous read, although it was categorized as literature, while the translation was a kind of scholarly literal translation and not a bit erotic. Our top people heard that complaint and so we decided to edit our books ourselves in order to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Most English translations so far have been edited by people who didn’t read or understand the original works. This means that they are not reliable or totally faithful. We want to correct that.
How did you come to be involved in the project? What approach do you take with the translating and editing of each book?
I’ve translated novels and stories from English for more than thirty years. I’ve also written book reviews of Japanese novels in English, and I frequently discuss SF at World Science Fiction Conventions. I’ve also helped shepherd some stories to be translated into English. I write my blog in English, too. So they asked me to do the job. My experience of book editing was appreciated as well.
Our current style is like this:
We let our readers read titles that Shueisha and we choose, based on the sales figures, movie adaptations, game or comic adaptations or anything with commercial value, award status and other reputations, and our own likings. Then we discuss each title among the Japanese and American editors. If we all agree on the merit of publishing it in the US, we then set the priority. We cannot publish more than a dozen titles a year, so we have to set this. But we do publish eclectic titles from a vast inventory of the Shueisha backlist.
Choice of Translators
This is the tough part. We pay royalties to the translators with minimum advances. When we find the translator for a particular title, we always ask that person to send us a sample chapter. We extensively examine it and suggest to the translator how to improve it. Then we talk about the deadline for submitting the complete draft. Some titles have a hard time finding an appropriate translator.
Examination of the Draft
We check it with the original text in Japanese and point out to the translator errors and misunderstandings. Then our American editor will revise it as a reader-friendly text. But we don’t stop there. We discuss characterization, the author’s intention and literary style, and how we can enhance the joy of reading it with our extra bonus materials like introduction, footnotes, list of characters, maps, etc. We want to serve both the authors and the readers. When the translator delivers a new revised draft, we edit it again with the new insight from our discussion.
All the material is copyedited by an American copyeditor and our three editors. When it’s done, we’ll ask the translators for further corrections and approval. We do represent the authors, and we retain the final say for the translation, but we grant the translators their copyright, which should be the basis of the royalty.
Sometime we can ask our authors what should be right for a particular part, like title and names. All the materials are authors’ properties. Our authors do care about our titles.
What are some of the challenges you face with a project like this?
Everything has been new. It is very hard to make everybody from translators to our editors, copyeditors, and cover artists understand the heart of each work and the author’s intention. Characterization in Japan is completely different from a US/UK approach. So everything was and still is a big challenge.
A number of works began being released from May 2013. What is the response like so far?
We released them through Sony Reader Store* only, and I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the situation. We are working to improve it. Many people like our Facebook page, but they’ve been unable to buy our books, because Sony stopped selling their Reader devices in the USA. You can read them using PCs or tablet devices with Sony Reader software, but people are waiting for us to expand to other formats.
Are there many YA titles planned to be released? (My translation of The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom! is one.)
What we call light novels can be read as YA, and the Otsuichi books like Black Fairy Tale can be read as YA. And yes, we have some plans.
What advice can you give to translators wishing to develop their literary translation skills?
Read. A lot. At the least, you have to read 500 novels to be confident of your reading ability. I used to read ten novels a month before I decided to be a translator. When I started my career, I had read more than 1,000 novels in English from every genre. I teach translation at a translators’ school and I always tell my students to read. When you have read 500 novels you start to understand an author’s style, what euphemism is and how the author uses metaphor. A lot of translators misunderstand that. You have to read contemporary US/UK novels too, in order to understand the modern usage of English and current trends. Then to translate modern Japanese novels, you need to be able to grasp contemporary vocabulary. I still read about ten titles a month, although now it’s a combined number. I have read ten American novels and five Japanese novels a month for twenty years. So read! And trust the authors. You don’t have to orchestrate the work. Authors write everything that is needed to be described. The rest should be given to the reader’s imagination. Reading is an ability that is developed through reading, so it’s better to help our readers expand that ability. You shouldn’t intervene by explaining too much.
*Editors’ note: The Sony Reader Store, where Shueisha English Edition titles are currently sold, will close on March 20, 2014. A message on the website indicates customers will be transitioned to Kobo.