Nahoko Uehashi’s Moribito Series and Japanese-to-English Translation

Holly Thompson, author and Regional Advisor of SCBWI Japan, blogs this week about the conferral of a 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award on Japanese author Nahoko Uehashi. The translator of Uehashi’s acclaimed Moribito novels into English is Cathy Hirano. Holly shares here her post about the Moribito books, Cathy’s translations, and the prospect of more children’s and YA translations from Japan to come! Thank you Holly!

This week at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Awards were announced, and the 2014 author winner is Japanese fantasy author Nahoko Uehashi.

MoribitoMoribito II

Cultural anthropologist Nahoko Uehashi’s Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit captivated me when I first read it—her fantasy world derives from ancient Japan and is rich with cultural and ethnobiological detail. That her complex work was accessible and moving in the English language owes much to the deft work of translator Cathy Hirano and the creative and thorough editing by Arthur A. Levine Books editor Cheryl Klein (visit her blog). Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for outstanding translation in 2009, and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness was awarded a Batchelder Honor in 2010. Kaisei-sha is the publisher of the Moribito series in Japan. Congratulations to all!

Currently Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness are the only books in the series available in English, but, thanks to this Hans Christian Andersen award for Nahoko Uehashi, hopefully more of her books will become available in English.


In the Classroom

Some material for teachers to share with students on the Moribito books and on the fascinating process involved in translating these complex novels might include the following:

Moribito Wiki

Moribito Review on Worlds of Words

Young Adult Fantasy in Translation: An Interview with Cathy Hirano by Misa Dikengil Lindberg, on the Society of Writers, Editors and Translators (SWET) site

Editing Children’s Literature in Translation: An Interview with Cheryl Klein by Sako Ikegami, on pages 4-7 of the SCBWI Japan Fall 2008 Newsletter (PDF)

One Passage, Six Translations: Nahoko Uehashi compiled after an SCBWI Japan Translation Day event held at Yokohama International School, at which Cathy Hirano was the featured speaker

Catching Up with Cathy Hirano by Alexander O. Smith on the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog

Children’s Book Translation: An Interview with Cathy Hirano by Avery Fischer Udagawa, on pages 7-9 of the SCBWI Japan Fall 2006 Newsletter (PDF)

Interview with Nahoko Uehashi about the anime production

Summary of talk by Cathy Hirano and Nahoko Uehashi at the International Library of Children’s Literature, Tokyo (in Japanese only; PDF)


On the general subject of translation of literature from Japanese to English:

Eight Ways to Say You, Horn Book Magazine piece by Cathy Hirano

How Would You Translate Arigato: Alexander O. Smith visits Yokohama International School by teacher and author Trevor Kew

Translator in the Classroom by Avery Fischer Udagawa

Japanese to English Translation Basics by Kathryn Hemmann

Translating Culture to Kids with Kyoto-based former librarian Paul Evans

Tomo translator interviews and posts on the Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction blog

The SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog


Surely the Hans Christian Andersen Award will result in more well-deserved worldwide attention on Nahoko Uehashi and her works. Let’s hope there is also a powerful ripple effect with more attention paid to translation into English of Japanese literature for children and young adults.


9 responses to this post.

  1. A huge congratulations to Uehashi!! I am pleased to learn that both Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness are available in English – I will have to read them soon!


  2. Posted by L on June 3, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Such good news! I love these books and was worried that Scholastic had given up translating the rest of the long series.


  3. Posted by Lucy on June 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

    A well-deserved prize–they really are so incredibly well-translated–not only does she capture the characters personalities the way they sound in Japanese, but the writing style also comes through so nicely.

    Really hope any subsequent Moribito books will be better marketed to the adult sector of the YA market…they really would appeal far more to adult fantasy readers than Scholastic seems to think. It always amazes me how no one in the U.S. seems to have heard of the series when there’s such an intensifying interest in Japanese fantasy novels. Just because there are young characters in a story doesn’t mean that it should immediately be labeled as juvenile book, and plenty of readers are eager for a female protagonist who isn’t 16. There’s such a hunger for good stories in this genre, and such a lack of well-written books…I think the series could really take off if better marketed online.


  4. Posted by Mirela on October 27, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    I’m really sad, that only 2 of 9 books of Moribito series were translated in English. I read them already twice and really really want to know what will happen in the others. The translations are so good that you can really think you’re reading in japanese 🙂 Does anyone translate the others? Please.


  5. Posted by Michael W. on October 6, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Man I would love to see the rest of these books come out… Only 2/9 being released is really sad, such an incredible series.


  6. Posted by JOSEPHINE N. on November 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Moribito is one of my favorite series of all time. I was very disappointed to find out that Scholastic stopped translating the books due to “low sales”. My hope is another publisher would pick up the series and start translating the books into English again.


  7. Posted by Christine Pfeifer on July 25, 2018 at 11:03 am

    My daughter would like to read the rest. I hope she gets the chance. (It sounds like I should read them too.)


  8. Hey,

    I just started the petition “Tell Scholastic to publish the next volumes of the Moribito series! #Moribito_eng” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

    My goal is to reach 1,000 signatures and I need more support. You can read more and sign the petition here:



  9. Posted by lucy miller on November 20, 2020 at 1:13 am

    It’s 2020 and still only two books have been translated. Did they gave up?


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