How Is This Book Not Translated?!

By Emily Balistrieri, Tokyo

Probably anyone who knows a language besides English can think of at least couple great books that remain surprisingly untranslated. Last month The Guardian’s children’s books site started up a conversation to collect a list.

The GuardianWhich brilliant books have never been translated into English? Join the discussion Children’s books | The Guardian

Avery Fischer Udagawa chimed in wondering how it is that only the first two books in Nahoko Uehashi’s Moribito series have made it over. Any other Japanese children’s titles that seem like obvious candidates? (The inherent dilemma here, of course, is that translators don’t want to give away their next dream projects in the comments. Right?! Man!)

We could also examine the flip side: What are some classic Japanese children’s books that probably wouldn’t work in English (and why not)? If a picture book is a masterpiece but the first page is a visual pun, is there anything to do but sigh and savor the Japanese?

Bonus: As an example of the good work being done to allow beloved children’s lit to flow across language barriers, The Guardian highlights Ginny Tapley Takemori’s translation of The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui with an excerpt. Check it out! An interview with Takemori appears on this blog here.

2 responses to this post.

  1. We published a “Holiday Wishes” post on this blog in December 2013, which lists a number of titles we hope to see translated:

    Lately I’ve perused some books listed by the Japanese Board on Books for Young People in its March 2015 publication “Japanese Children’s Books.” A visually striking find was Tanbo no ichinen (One Year in A Rice Field), written and illustrated by Tomoya Mukaida, which shows a year in the life of a rice paddy with panoramic, highly detailed and labeled illustrations. Sample pages are viewable here by clicking the green button below (not to the right of) the cover image:

    The JBBY pamphlet also lists an absorbing contemporary realistic novel for middle grades, Happy noto (Happy Notes) by Taki Kusano. Sixth grader Satoko can never quite manage to be herself, whether at school, cram school, or home—but then her crush on a boy she likes and her sheer fatigue, from always pretending, lead her to change.

    “Japanese Children’s Books” is available from JBBY:


  2. Posted by averyscbwi on August 10, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Rika Okabe is one of my favorite children’s writers/illustrators in Japan. She did a couple of books entitled “Path to Being a Good Child” (Yoi ko e no michi). The books are collections of child-sized parodies of a typical child’s life in Japan. Our entire family enjoyed and referred endlessly to her gentle alternative-universe versions of sports days, sitting at the kotatsu, and telling ghost stories in the summer, but I wonder how well they would translate. After reading this article and thinking about it, though, I’d like to try.
    —posted on behalf of Deborah Iwabuchi


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