In Isolation but Connected: May 2020 SCBWI Japan Remote Creative Exchange

At SCBWI Japan’s Remote Creative Exchange on 30 May 2020: Translator Andrew Wong, writer Mari Boyle, and illustrator Naomi Kojima, all in Tokyo; translator Avery Udagawa in Bangkok, writer/translator/Exchange moderator Mariko Nagai in Tokyo, writer Suzanne Kamata in Tokushima; writer Amy Lange Kawamura in Fukushima (photo added after Exchange), writer Alana Matsui in Tokyo, and writer/translator Holly Thompson in Massachusetts. Several of the participants contributed manuscripts for friendly discussion by all.

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

At SCBWI Japan’s first-ever Remote Creative Exchange on 30 May 2020, translators connected with writers and illustrators in the U.S., Thailand, and various parts of Japan. Joining from the comfort of my balcony in self-imposed Covid-19 lockdown in Tokyo, while muting wailing sirens and brushing off intermittent distractions, I gleaned invaluable lessons on the craft of translation.

When reading and writing stories involving other cultures, we are faced with a culture gap—both between story and reader, and between translator and text. I hadn’t realized that I had no point of reference for elements in my novel translation that I had not experienced first-hand, either as a child or as an adult. Lacking the linguistic tools to play with, what lay before me seemed like a crevasse. And then, at the exchange, my fellow creators gave me the means to start twining the rope and looking for possible anchors on the other side.

Unlike picture books where imagery comes visually, in textual narratives, intermittent illustrations may prove able guides in some works, while others rely solely on the reader’s imagination to recreate the story world. Some stories may never truly manifest in only the words of a different language, but at our exchange, there were good suggestions of how to recreate a sufficient replica using other cues.

Another topic we discussed was dialogue. When Japanese gender inflections and verbal style combine with social norms to create consistent character voice, translators like me are often left floundering with the flatness of English speech. For instance, we work with only two English defaults for the many ways to say and you in Japanese. Add to that verbal styles in gendered speech, and we see the whole mesh needing to be re-coded. What is already there? Or can be read? How much should be explained?

Also, will kappa and seto go down as well in English as ramen and natto?

Well, if the Bard apparently completed three of his famous tragedies when the bubonic plague hit London in the early 17th century, then we can stay creative and connected in self-isolation today, especially with technology. But watch out for those gaps!

Mari Boyle’s post on the SCBWI Japan regional blog covers this Remote Creative Exchange from a writer’s perspective.

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