SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2018 in Yokohama

By Emily Balistrieri, Tokyo

SCBWI Japan held Translation Day 2018 on October 20 in Yokohama. The fifth in this biennial series of single-day conferences for translators and translation-lovers alike had a fantastic line-up of speakers with both inspiring and practical wisdom to share.

Kicking off the day was a pre-recorded Skype interview with Takami Nieda whose translation of Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro was published by AmazonCrossing this past March. Go is a great example of a book that while not particularly marketed for teenagers in Japan fits perfectly in the YA category in English. Nieda discussed that as well as how nice it was to work with AmazonCrossing. People unsure about Amazon as a publisher might be interested to know that she found the editors friendly and the editing process rigorous.

For aspiring translators, Nieda recommended attending a short translation program, such as the British Centre for Literary Translation summer school or the Breadloaf Translators’ Conference, and pairing with another translator for peer editing. It also sounded like she would recommend having a day job because it allows you to pick and choose your projects more.

After the participants in the day got to know each other a bit and receive some SCBWI, SWET and submission news, the second session began. In another pre-recorded Skype interview, publisher and managing director of Pushkin Press Adam Freudenheim talked about publishing translations in the UK. People often observe a lack of demand for translations, but he said the key is finding your market. Pushkin’s (and Penguin Random House’s) series of six novellas translated from Japanese—including Ms. Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami, which was a centerpiece of this event—has been doing great. Sometimes finding your audience can be tricky, though: Freudenheim shared that the collection of Akiyuki Nosaka stories translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori originally published for children as The Whale that Fell in Love with a Submarine has been doing much better repackaged and expanded for adults as The Cake Tree in the Ruins.

In response to questions about the nuts and bolts of publishing translations, Freudenheim said that it’s easier to publish longer translations or otherwise take risks when there are subsidies or grants available, often from source countries’ governments. If translations can be co-funded by American and UK publishers, that also helps. He noted that it’s possible to be successful approaching Pushkin cold and emphasized sharing your passion for the book when pitching in addition to the whats and the whys.

Before lunch Louise Heal Kawai, translation of Ms. Ice Sandwich among many other books, spoke on the importance of networking, which is how she ended up on that project. She also shared how she localized Mieko Kawakami’s punny nickname for a girl whose fart smells like tea! (Let’s just say that’s what you get when the book’s protagonist is a boy in fourth grade.)

After a sunny lunch break, during which participants could practice her networking advice, Kawai led a translation workshop on an excerpt from the sequel to Ms. Ice Sandwich, Ichigo jamu kara ichigo o hikeba (which can be variously translated as If You Take the Strawberries Out of Strawberry Jam or Strawberry Jam Minus the Strawberries, among other ways) from the volume Akogare (Longing, or Longings or Yearning). Although there were plenty of challenges regarding the Japanese, including the name of a candy bar that was actually fictitious and finding the correct tense, the main exercise turned out to be writing in voice for a sixth-grade girl. Words like “adept,” “disgusted,” and “smitten” were frowned upon, while choices like “super popular,” “stuff like that,” and the exchange “No way,”-“Yes way,” got the nod.

One of the challenges in translating books from Japan, especially for young people, is packaging them for English-language book categories. Author and SCBWI Japan Co-Regional Advisor Holly Thompson led a session explaining some of the most common definitions of middle-grade and young-adult fiction, which can seem strict but do offer room for crossover success. Participants broke into groups for an exercise in classifying novels as MG or YA based on the opening pages. Drugs and sex references were the most obvious markers of YA besides older protagonists, while MG books seemed immediately to contain more family references and simpler vocabulary.

In the last session, Thompson was joined by Japanese Board on Books for Young People president (not to mention prolific translator) Yumiko Sakuma and SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator Avery Fischer Udagawa in a discussion about Japanese book categories vs. US/UK book categories.

In Japan, the consideration is less about age-appropriate vocabulary than age-appropriate kanji. Then, even if a child is the protagonist, you can simply decide as a marketing strategy that it’s a book for adults if you want adults to read it, too, as happened in the case of Tonneru no Mori 1945 (The Tunnel of Trees 1945) by Eiko Kadono, winner of the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. Sakuma also explained that to some extent there’s a belief that it’s better not to set ages for books because kids all read at their own pace. Given what people throughout the day noted appears to be a more fluid mindset about especially protagonist age in Japan, it can be a challenge to make English categories fit.

After this nine-to-five Saturday of kidlit translation immersion, surely even the most exhausted of the participants were feeling inspired to get going on some new projects.

 

 

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