Archive for the ‘Japanese Children’s Literature Introduced’ Category

One Passage, Seven Translations—Natsuki Koyata

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

On November 19, Day 2 of SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2022, Takami Nieda led participants in a translation workshop using a passage from 望むのは by Natsuki Koyata. This is a YA-appropriate novel that Nieda is translating as The Brief Colorful Year of Being Fifteen; her engaging synopsis and several pages of context for the workshop passage appear here.

Six translators submitted translations of the passage, which were then blinded and discussed in a session open to all participants. Below are the original passage by Koyata, the six submitted translations, and a sample translation by Takami Nieda. The two characters speaking are the teens Koharu (who speaks first) and Ayumu; Ayumu is a ballet dancer.

Original Passage

「それが何? イメージと違ってがっかりって言いたいの?」口をついて出たその言葉は、しかし、その瞬間に小春の胸を貫いた。歩くんが都合のいい弱者でなかったことがどんなに自分を失望させたか、その失望がどんなに醜く、恥ずべきものだったか、小春はその痛みで初めて奥まで理解した。「あんたのイメージなんかどうだっていい」とそれでもなぜだか、自分自身を打ちのめしたくて言葉を継いだ。「これが現実のわたしだもん。あんたのイメージなんか、あんたのイメージする小春なんかぶっ殺してやる」

「殺せないよ。ぼくのイメージは本物だもん」たじろぎもせず、歩くんは返した。「ぼくのイメージはいつだって本物。いつだって現実だよ。脚はどの軌道を通るか、指先はどの高さまで達するか、イメージするからきれいに飛べる。イメージがすべてだ」そこで不意に、小春はぐらりと足元が揺らぐのを感じたが、「ぼくは白鳥だ。ぼくは王子だ」という屈強な宣言が、反対側から跳ね上げて小春を立たせた。「誰が気に入らなくたって、ぼくはイメージし続ける。そうして現実を作り続ける。つまらない幻想に、もうこれ以上振り回されたくないから」 

[Source: Nozomu no wa by Natsuki Koyata (Shinchosha, 2017)]

Translation A

“So, what? Disappointed I wasn’t like you thought?” Koharu spat.

Yet even as the words flew from her mouth, pain lanced across her chest. The hideous disappointment of Ayumu’s revelation, the sharp sting of shame, was like a physical blow.

“Who cares about what you think of me anyway,” she continued, inexplicably, somehow bent on making the situation worse. “This is who I really am. So whoever this imaginary version of Koharu is in your head, it’s time for her to die—bury her. She doesn’t exist.”

“You can’t just erase her,” Ayumu replied, unruffled. “What do you mean ‘not real’? My perception of you is a real thing—imagination is the beginning of reality. I can leap when I dance because I first imagine the arc of my legs, how my arms will extend. Perception is everything.” He paused.

“I become a regal swan. A prince.”

Koharu, who had begun to sag under the weight of his words, startled to attention at this sudden change of direction.

“If someone doesn’t like me,” he continued, “I continue with my image of myself anyway. This is how you create reality. I refuse to waste my time any more being boxed in by what is ‘normal.’”

Translation B

“So what are you getting at? Are you saying that you’re disappointed because I’m not who you thought I was?”

The words flew out of her mouth, but at the same time, they also pierced her heart. She had been disappointed when she realized that Ayumu wasn’t just some wishy-washy wimp, and this pain made her realize for the first time deep inside just how disgusting and disgraceful that disappointment was.

“I don’t care what your image of me is.”

But for some reason, she wanted to find words to continue bashing herself.

“This is the real me. Whatever image you have, I’ll destroy it – I’ll kill your Koharu.”

“You can’t. My images are real.”

Ayumu countered without hesitation.

“My images have always been real. The arc my feet will draw. The height my toes will reach. I can execute a jump well because I envision it. My images are everything.”

A sudden weakness in the legs caught Koharu off guard, but the defiant cries of “I am a swan. I am a prince.” bouncing up from the other side helped her stay on her feet.

“I’ll keep creating my images even if people don’t like it. This is how I create my reality. I’m tired of going around chasing some empty fantasy.”

Translation C

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are you saying you’re disappointed that I don’t live up to your image of me?” The words that came rushing out of Koharu’s mouth somehow stabbed her chest in the same moment. The pain caused her to perceive fully for the first time how ugly and shameful her own dismay had been, over Ayumu not being some weakling who could make her own life easier. “What do I care about your image of me?” she added, feeling that she wanted to clobber herself. “This is the real me,” she said. “Your image is nothing. I’ll murder the Koharu in your image!”

“You can’t murder her. My images are real,” Ayumu replied, not even flinching. “My images are always real. They become reality. I can jump because I visualize the arc my legs will trace, the height my fingertips will reach. The mental image is everything.

“I am a swan. I am a prince!”

Koharu felt her legs tremble as she listened to him, but his firm declaration from across the way brought her to her feet.

“No matter who hates it, I am going to keep visualizing,” he told her. “I am going to keep creating reality. I am sick of being tossed around by silly fantasies.”

Translation D

“What’s that all supposed to mean? I’m not like you imagined and now you’re disappointed?” Those were the words that spilled out, and the instant Koharu said them they pierced her soul. She suddenly understood how letdown she was that Ayumu wasn’t some weakling she could walk all over. On top of that she was crushed to realize how malicious that disappointment was—how shameful. And the pain of that shame took the revelation even deeper. “Well, I couldn’t care less how you think of me.” Now she felt like she was lashing out at herself, not Ayumu. “This is me. It’s who I am. I’ll murder that Koharu you think you know. The one in your head.”

“You can’t kill her. My images are the reality,” Ayumu came back without flinching. “Every image I’ve ever had is reality. I know which direction your legs will take you and how high your fingers can reach. You can fly because I’ve imagined it. My images of you are everything.” At that moment Koharu felt her knees buckle, until she heard Ayumu declare, “I’m a swan. I’m a prince!” and the words flew over from him to stand her back up. “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, I won’t stop creating images, or reality. I’m not going to let myself get sucked in to any more inane illusions.”

Translation E

“So what? Do you want to say that you are disappointed that the picture you had of me is wrong?” These words were pouring out of Koharu’s mouth but, at the same time, they penetrated her heart. For the first time, deep down, Koharu understood how disappointed it had made her that Ayumu is not a pitiful and weak person; how ugly and embarrassing this disappointment is, and the hurt. “I don’t care what picture you have of me,” and still, for some reason, carried on beating herself up. “Because this is the real me. I will kill your picture, the picture you have of me.”

“You can’t kill it. My picture is the real thing,” Ayumu argued without flinching. “My picture is always the real thing. Always reality you know. What trajectory my feet will take; what height my fingertips will reach; because I picture it, I will fly beautifully. Visualisation is everything.” At that point, Koharu suddenly felt her confidence waver. Ayumu made a strong statement, “I am a swan. I am a prince”, which made things clear to Koharu. “Even if someone doesn’t like it, I continue with the visualisation. That way I can create my own reality. Because I don’t want to be affected by a meaningless illusion anymore,” said Ayumu.

Translation F

“And so what? You’re disappointed ’cause I’m not the kinda girl you thought I was, is that it?”

The words flew out of her mouth before she knew it, but at the same time, it sliced through her own heart. As soon as it stung her, Koharu realized deep down just how much she’d been disappointed that Ayumu wasn’t the convenient underdog that she’d imagined him to be, and just how ugly that disappointment was, something to be ashamed of.

“I don’t care what you think of me,” she pressed on, somehow feeling the urge to keep beating herself up. “This is the real me. Who cares how you see me? That Koharu in your head? I’ll just kill her off.”

“You can’t kill her. How I see you is real,” Ayumu answered, without batting an eyelash. “How I see things is always real. It’s always reality. It’s because I visualize it in my head—the arc that my legs will trace, how high my fingertips will reach—it’s because I see all that, that I can do a clean leap.” Koharu’s legs suddenly felt wobbly, but what Ayumu said next, his iron declaration, made her shoot up straight.

“I’m a swan. I’m a prince.”

He went on, “No matter what anyone says, I’ll keep envisioning things. And that’s how I’ll create the reality. I’m tired of getting pushed around by useless illusions.”

Sample Translation by Takami Nieda

“What? You’re disappointed I wasn’t who you imagined, is that it?” she shot back.

As the words tumbled out of her mouth, something pricked her heart. It was the shameful sting of having assumed Ayumu was a pushover who needed protecting.

“Who cares what you think anyway?” She continued in spite of herself, “This is who I am, Ayumu. So that precious illusion of Koharu you have in your head has to die.”

“You can’t kill her. My perception is real,” he said, without batting an eye. “When I’m dancing, I just have to imagine the arc of my legs, the shape of my arms all the way down to my fingertips—that’s how I can land a perfect jump. It all starts with perception.”

Raising his arms, he continued, “I can be a swan. I can be a prince!”

Just as her legs wobbled beneath her, Koharu felt herself being propped up by his confident declaration.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks about me,” he said. “I’m going to keep on imagining and making my own reality. I’m tired of getting yanked around by people’s assumptions.”

Wendy Uchimura on the New Edition of The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom by Manabu Makime, translated by Wendy Uchimura, is a humorous YA novel that is also action-packed, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and full of tantalizing food. Set in the vicinity of a large and ancient lake northeast of Kyoto, it features two families with mysterious powers somehow connected to the lake, which have propelled them to prominent social status but also obliged them to deal with a generations-old conflict. The novel’s main character, a 15-year-old boy in one of the families, who comes to stay with his lordly cousin the same age—on the grounds of the clan’s main branch, essentially a castle—struggles to comprehend this situation while fitting in at a new school. I got to ask the translator, Wendy Uchimura, about her experience translating The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom, which came out for the Sony Reader in 2014 but got reborn in Kindle format in 2022.

Wendy Uchimura

Avery: Hi Wendy! What led to The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom getting launched in the Kindle format? Do I understand correctly that you got to do another editing pass to refresh it?

Wendy: It’s been on the cards for a long time from what I can tell. It’s just there are a lot of excellent books getting relaunched from the Shueisha English Edition series, so it had to wait its turn! And I did get to look at it again. It was strange delving into the story once more after eight or so years and quite daunting – I’m one of these translators who once I’m completely satisfied with how I’ve translated a work, I’ll release it into the world and let it make its own way. There will undoubtedly be a few flaws, but at least I can say I did my best.

So, I was nervous going back in, but it was like meeting an old friend that had just improved with time. Looking at it with more experienced translator and editor eyes gave me a new appreciation for what a great story it is.

Avery: If I’m not mistaken, all the lineages and powers and myths that come up in this book are made-up—but am I off there? Does Japan have real-life myths to do with Lake People who turned into powerful clans? Has the water at Lake Biwa been considered divine, and/or the lake associated with a dragon??

Wendy: Makime is amazing at building realistic worlds that are steeped in history, culture, and fantasy. It means that as you’re reading you can imagine these things happening as they’re not that far removed from reality and yet they go a step beyond. More than once while I was translating, I found myself checking the maps and topography of the area around Lake Biwa because I thought I could pinpoint exactly where the Hinode Castle was. Maybe I did! It made me realise too that there is a huge amount of mythology tied to water in Japan. It has the power to purify, provide life, and give rise to legends.

I didn’t know before translating this book that lakes have lifespans. Most of the lakes we know now are less than 18,000 years old. Lake Biwa is estimated at being more than four million years old! That’s a lot of history and you can’t help feeling that something that ancient must have mystical powers. It’s a fact that its shores have been inhabited since around 9,000 BCE and a great number of shrines dot the area. Who knows what type of people gathered there and what they did.

The island located on Lake Biwa and featured in the story is Chikubushima and there have been several water goddesses enshrined there. Originally the main deity was Azaihime-no-Mikoto, who protected wayfarers across the lake and later on, from the Heian Period, Benzaiten took her place, who is both a Buddhist and a Shinto deity, as well as being both a goddess of water and of knowledge. Although more associated with the island of Enoshima, legend says that Benzaiten married a dragon king with her residing atop the island and the dragon below. As the story unfolds, you can see how these myths are drawn on and flow into a more modern setting.

Readers might be excited to know you can go to that island and see the clay cups that play a small yet important role, as well as write a wish on them and throw them down into the waters of the lake, just like Ryosuke and Patter-ko did.

 

Avery: I relish how the book serves up humor alongside its drama. The Hinodes’ menu selections alone make for endless comic relief, from the abalone packed for lunch (and mistaken as a mushroom) to the French toast served (and stolen) in the Castle dining room near the climax.

Wendy: The mentions of food are wonderful, aren’t they? This again is an example of how Makime balances that line between fantasy and reality. There are almost urban myth-like stories in Japan of children appearing at school with their lunchboxes stuffed full of lobster and other delicacies, either by parents wanting to establish some kind of status for their child or just very overenthusiastic and doting grandparents. But here this comic effect is very much in matching with Tanjuro and building up the impression that he is indeed a lord. I love the contrast between his huge lunches and Hiromi’s paltry rice balls. The scenes in the castle dining room just get more and more extravagant too, especially the serving of noodles!

Avery: Under the surface, this novel touches on a range of social issues from shut-ins (via Kiyoko’s character) to environmental pollution (the litter in the lakebed) to the effects of social stratification (the Castle versus its depressed rural area; the Hinode ancestor’s entitled and tragic intervention in Old Gen’s life). Did you feel as you worked with the novel that it managed to bring up these difficult-to-approach issues precisely because of the author’s deft use of humor and drama? Were there ever moments when it was challenging to reconcile the gravity of the issues raised with the book’s rollicking comedy and excitement?

Wendy: I didn’t find any particular difficulty with the issues introduced and I think that is because the nature of the story and the humor carries across the messages without bordering on lecturing. I felt where it involved the characters, like Kiyoko’s social withdrawal and the treatment of Old Gen, there was sympathy and understanding for their situations. There’s a subtle use of the town as a representation of the separation between the different social levels and both the landscape and characters reflect the natural changes in thinking that occur across generations. The environmental issues are well addressed too and make us think. Water is a precious resource and needs respecting. Going back to my earlier point about the lifespan of lakes, it’s actually a scary thought that some lakes only exist for 1,000 years or even less, 100. That such bodies of water can be lost even within our lifetime should make us respect them all the more.

Avery: What is one scene or section that you felt particularly pleased about translating, and could you please walk us through why it stands out for you, and what challenges you faced when putting it into English?

Wendy: I have a constant reminder in my living room of exactly what scene stands out for me – a Carrom board. Just like Ryosuke, I had never even heard of Carrom until the scene where Kiyoko suggests playing it to take their minds off their impending fate. The scene has the four main young characters sitting around this mystery board with the game pieces being called specific names and moved across the board with particular hand movements. There are instructions available in English, but of course if you’re not familiar with a game, it’s really difficult to explain it using the correct terms and actions. I could really feel Ryosuke’s confusion because I was feeling it too! So I actually imported a Carrom board. It’s mentioned in the story, but it really is true that although Carrom used to be played across Japan, particularly among the upper classes of society, it is now confined to a small area of Shiga prefecture, so it wasn’t like I could just go to a toy shop or local Carrom club to look at one. My board isn’t lacquered or red though!

Wendy even has a dragon as her business logo.

Avery: I understand that your own family has some shared name-characters, like those that come up in the book. Would you be interested in talking about what your family’s shared characters are and what role they play?

Wendy: Yes. The characters in the book use shared kanji characters and elements related to water in their names within their families to signify certain meanings. It’s interesting how names can be used to convey connections. It does make it an extra challenge when translating, especially in this case where it’s an integral part of the story, but it’s also fun.

And in a strange coincidence, as you mention, my immediate family members have a shared kanji too – the character for dragon! Not me, of course, but my husband and two sons all have dragon in their names, so I like to think of myself as a dragon tamer!

Avery: Who would you most like to hand this book to in the English-reading world, and why?

Wendy: I think anyone who wants a glimpse into Japanese life and culture would enjoy this. It has something for everyone – fantasy, history, humor, cuisine, social issues, school life. It kind of covers all the bases for what you’d come across spending some time in Japan. OK, maybe not the bright red uniforms, horse-riding through the town, or something coming up out of the lake at you, but you never know!

And as always when talking about this book, I’d like to finish by giving a shout out to Keiichiro Ito, the designer of the cover for the English version, because where would a book be without its cover.

Japanese Children’s Books 2022: Now Online!

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Every year, the Japanese Board on Books for Young People curates a list of fine new picture books, chapter books/novels, and nonfiction titles published in Japan. The books are described in English for reference by publishers and readers worldwide.

Japanese Children’s Books 2022 is now available to download!

Japanese Children’s Books 2021 and Japanese Children’s Books 2020 also remain online.

Listings from these and prior years are searchable at Japanese Children’s Books—JBBY’s recommendations.

These resources are useful not only for scouting Japanese titles to publish in translation, but also for finding books to buy for a Japanese-language section in a store, classroom or library when the buyer does not read Japanese.

Happy perusing!

Talking with Tang Yaming: Crossing Borders with Picture Books

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, and Andrew Wong, Tokyo

On February 26, 2022, SCBWI Japan hosted editor, author, and translator Tang Yaming, who spoke to us from his home in Tokyo. Born in Beijing, Tang worked as an editor for 35 years at Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, one of Japan’s top children’s book publishers, until retirement. He continues editing and making picture books, collaborating with Japanese and Chinese writers and artists, and publishing through Chinese publishers. Many of the works he mentioned struck us as deserving of translation into English, and his talk had much to offer everyone in children’s books.

 

Some of the many works Tang Yaming has nurtured, in Chinese and Japanese

 

In “Crossing Borders with Picture Books,” Tang Yaming drew on his experience of bridging the Japanese picture book industry with the world. With thoughts of the war in Ukraine hanging over us, Tang first reminded everyone that borders do in fact exist, however much we may hear in the kidlit industry that they don’t. Whether they are natural, national, or cultural, they exist. And Tang recognizes that it is his job as a publisher to cross (or bridge) those borders and help children gain a broader perspective of the world.

In 1983, Tang happened to serve as an interpreter for a group of representatives of children’s books visiting Beijing from Japan, and in this position, he spent a week with Tadashi Matsui, then president of Fukuinkan Shoten.

 

On the Great Wall of China: L to R, Tang Yaming; illustrator Satoshi Kako; former president of Fukuinkan Shoten, Tadashi Matsui

 

Before returning to Japan, Matsui offered Tang a job in Tokyo. Tang had no experience in children’s books and wasn’t sure how serious Matsui was, but decided to go to Japan to find out. He told us that he showed up at Fukuinkan Shoten totally prepared not to have a job, but was determined to stay and study in Japan, even if it meant working as a cook at a Chinese restaurant. It turned out the job was his for the taking. He became the first foreign full-time editor in Fukuinkan Shoten and in Japan’s publishing industry, and thus began his career as an editor of children’s books. Japanese society was just entering the era of globalization, and Matsui’s goal in hiring Tang from China was to bring cultural diversity to children’s literature in Japan.

Taking examples from Japanese long-seller picture books such as Sūho no Shiroi Uma (Suho’s White Horse) and Ōkina Kabu (The Gigantic Turnip), Tang explained that Japanese creators who had deep personal connections to Mongolian and Russian culture were central to the creation of both books, and this was even before Japan underwent a phase of internationalization in the 1980s.

Tang then shared his tale of crossing borders during the production phase of Shika yo Ore no Kyodai yo (Oh Deer, My Brother Deer! 2004), for which he sought a Japanese writer and Russian artist to shape a poetic ode to the circle of life through the lens of the indigenous people of Siberia. This story had been percolating in him for decades since being captivated by the beauty of Siberia’s harsh natural landscape as a young soldier sent to the Soviet border.

 

Picture book Shika yo Ore no Kyōdai yo (Oh Deer, My Brother Deer! 2004)

 

In 1969 during China’s Cultural Revolution, Tang had been sent from Beijing to Siberia during the Sino-Soviet border conflict. He’d managed to avoid fighting, and was instead deeply impressed by Siberian flora and fauna. Decades later at Fukuinkan, he decided that the beauty of the nature of Siberia was what he wanted to create a book about. In searching for an author, he found Toshiko Kanzawa, a writer who had spent her childhood on Sakhalin, one of the Kuril Islands north of Hokkaido. Kanzawa had the background Tang was seeking. She knew about the native people on the island and the cultures of people of the northern territories. To write the book, Kanzawa traveled to Siberia to learn about the indigenous tribes on the continent, and it was about them that she wrote. Tang was delighted with Kanzawa’s story and writing. He pointed out that she had even included native language in the text.

The next job was to find an illustrator. Until the 1980s, we learned, Japanese picture books were illustrated almost exclusively by Japanese artists. Yet Tang was convinced that no artist could draw Siberia unless they had actually seen it. He eventually discovered an artist by the name of Gennadiy Dmitriyevich Pavlishin who lived in Siberia and was devoted to portraying indigenous peoples. Pavlishin agreed to illustrate the book, and Tang was excited when the artist finally contacted him to say that illustrations were ready.

Tang flew from Niigata, on the Japan Sea side of Honshu, to Khabarovsk on the Eastern edge of Russia, and then traveled to Pavlishin’s home, where Tang discovered, after a night of obligatory drinking with the artist, that only three pictures had been completed. When he finally got a look at the art, however, Tang knew he’d chosen the right artist because the illustrations were exactly as Tang remembered Siberia.

 

Tang Yaming in Siberia; Left: Tang Yaming and far right: illustrator Gennadiy Dmitriyevich Pavlishin with a woman in traditional clothing

 

The story of Oh Deer, My Brother Deer! made a powerful impression on attendees. The story was from ages that have come and gone; Kanzawa’s childhood home of Sakhalin was lost to Russia after World War II. Tang had begun working in Japan when Sino-Japanese relations were at their best. He traveled with ease from China to Japan, and from Japan to post-Cold War Russia, where he had no problem finding his artist at home. He showed us a photo of himself with Pavlishin and a woman from an indigenous tribe of Siberia in native costume.

For attendee translators, writers and illustrators, many of us who live and work in a culture different from the cultures we were born in, cultural diversity is what we thrive on, so the explanation of how Tang produced this book was especially interesting. In the credits at the back of the book are further notes of diversity: acknowledgments of two translators who must have helped out in translating the book for the sake of the illustrator and ironing out other details. One was Kazuya Okada, a Japanese living in Khabarovsk, Russia, and the other Valentina B. Morozova of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Once-retired after 35 years with Fukuinkan Shoten, Tang has continued to be involved in the publishing business in China, initially by translating Japanese picture books on China so that Chinese children can read about their culture in picture books in their own language. After explaining that in China picture books are sometimes considered wasteful—too much space on the page lacking text—Tang also offered an astute observation that a country’s picture book industry usually starts blossoming when the economy starts growing, opining that that occurs when people start having deeper pockets and the idea of education shifts toward a more holistic one.

Still, Tang noted that an understanding of the market’s tastes and needs is crucial in publishing. For example, while he strives to make picture books that both adults and children can enjoy, he demonstrated how a deeply rooted mindset that children should be educated by adults and that good manners are important drove the China sales figures for a series on manners and etiquette to 900,000 copies—over ninety times the sales figures in Japan where originally published. He also shared how books concerning nature and social issues are selling well because people can relate to them as more young families move to cities in search of better wages.

 

Chinese editions of the Kaisei-sha picture book series on manners

 

However, Tang also noted some misses, such as a carefully crafted informational series on toilets, which covers the history of their development. We might have thought that the pandemic would have boosted sales of this somewhat niche but important topic about the most visited hygiene facility. But Tang heard parents say that their children are busy learning other things and they don’t have time to learn about toilets.

Returning to Tang’s comment connecting economic growth and the picture book industry, it struck blogger Andrew that that reality could have been the reason behind his own lack of exposure to picture books and local literature during his youth a few decades ago when his country was caught up in climbing all sorts of world rankings.

Besides further discussion on making books that venture into foreign places, during the Q&A, Tang also acknowledged the importance of portraying and handing down local history and culture to future generations. Both lines of thought seemed to converge toward finding the stories or voices that need to be heard before they are lost to marginalization, poverty, modernity, and urbanization. This is an idea that echoes strongly with the translator in both of us bloggers, along with the fact that it’s only natural that some stories are more suited to certain markets—which is one more reason to admire and celebrate the work behind successful translations!

Decades ago, when Fukuinkan Shoten president Tadashi Matsui hired Tang Yaming to create some diversity at Fukuinkan Shoten, it was a hopeful era. Matsui could never have foreseen the changes occurring in the current global situation. For us at SCBWI Japan, Tang Yaming’s talk was the perfect moment to be reminded of the wealth of culture we inherit in a book like Oh Deer, My Brother Deer!, as well as the importance of our role as writers, illustrators and translators in ensuring this attention to culture endures.

 

Editor, author, translator Tang Yaming

 

Deborah Iwabuchi runs Minamimuki Translations in Maebashi, Gunma. Have a look at her high-tech operations at Minamimuki.com.

Andrew Wong is a freelance linguist and translator of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out. The happy introvert also keeps a text-heavy blog on books and other stuff at Tales from 2 Cities (or more).

This post first appeared on the SCBWI Japan blog.

How Do You Live? An Interview with Translator Bruno Navasky

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Bruno Navasky is the translator of How Do You Live? by Genzaburō Yoshino, a book known for (among other things) being “the first English translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s book.” Bruno kindly agreed to do an interview for this blog.

Deborah Iwabuchi: Hi, Bruno! On your website, you introduce yourself as “a teacher and writer in New York City.” Could you add a little to this, especially in terms of translation?

Bruno Navasky: Hi Deborah! Thanks very much for including me on your blog.

Translation has always been for me less a vocation than a constant avocation. I first encountered Japanese through a childhood friendship with the conductor Alan Gilbert. The two of us studied French and Latin together as kids, and his family took me on my first trip to Japan, where we traveled with his Japanese cousins during their summer vacation. It was an unforgettable tour, from the onsen at Hakone up to the thatched rooftops of Takayama and down to the gardens and temples of Kyoto and Nara. As we traveled, I picked up random phrases of Japanese, and I remember being struck by the many ways in which it reminded me of the Latin works I was reading at the time (SOV word order, for instance, and regular conjugations that create a surfeit of end-rhymes, and thus a tendency to syllabic verse). I was just at the close of that period when language acquisition happens with minimal effort, and I came away with a budding appreciation of Japanese culture and an abiding love for the language.

Bruno Navasky

In college I studied Japanese language and literature, and I was fortunate to study with Prof. Edwin A. Cranston, the author of A Waka Anthology. My thesis project was a book-length translation and essay on the work of Tanikawa Shuntarō, a beloved poet who emerged from the wasteland of World War II to write life-affirming poems, playful and soulful, for readers of all ages. (For many years, he also translated Charles Schultz’s comic strip Peanuts for publication in Japanese newspapers.)

After college I attended the University of Nagoya as a research fellow of the Japanese Ministry of Education. I found myself again drawn to contemporaries of my college thesis subject, the poet Tanikawa. I loved the crushingly precise portraits of parenthood and childhood in the work of Kuroda Saburō, among others, and the richly allusive, surreal and musical poems of Naka Tarō.

Deborah: Let’s talk a little about How Do You Live? It was first published in Japanese in 1937 as Kimitachi wa dō ikiru ka and was then revised after World War II to make it easier to read. It was produced as a manga in 2017, which brings us to your English translation that came out this year by Algonquin Books. Interest in this translation is being propelled by the fact that Hayao Miyazaki, the Studio Ghibli creator, read and loved the book as a child and is making it into an animated film.

Could you give blog readers an idea of what the book is about?

Bruno: I think at heart for those who love it, How Do You Live? is the story of a boy and his uncle. The boy is learning how to be himself in a challenging world, and the uncle is trying to help him find his way. The boy lives with his mother, in a Tokyo suburb of the 1930s. He has a close group of school friends and together they sail through a series of adventures and misadventures that finally carry him to the stormy seas of a great personal crisis. Or at least, so it seems to him. Throughout the book, both his friends and the adults in his life have important lessons to offer him, particularly his uncle, and those lessons form the framework for what might be considered an ethical treatise by the author Yoshino Genzaburō.

Japanese edition of How Do You Live?

Yoshino himself had been imprisoned for his progressive political associations, and hoped to craft a defense of pacifism, of independent thought, and of the humanities in the face of the rampant militarism, authoritarianism, and censorship of the period. He initially intended the book to be a textbook, one in a series he was editing with a colleague (Nihon shōkokumin bunko, with Yamamoto Yūzō), but partially because of the heavy subject matter, and partially because of the political climate, they decided it would work better as a story. When Yamamoto developed eye problems, it fell to Yoshino to write the book himself.

So in a sense, the book exists on three planes simultaneously: as a work of fiction, as a primer, and as a political broadside. The format that Yoshino hit upon to accomplish this was to interleave narrative chapters about the boy’s experience together with notes that the uncle writes in his own journal. This has the benefit of softening the edge of the didactic material, and allows Yoshino’s own voice to poke through into the story. As an educator, I was impressed with the way the narrative and didactic sections use scaffolding to reinforce concepts after they are introduced — a challenging word or concept is never tossed aside casually in this book, but rather resurfaces and is reinforced in multiple occurrences. And as a reader, as well, I think the book might have been no more than the sum of its parts if the two threads of the book, the narrative and the didactic, had not been knit together, at long last, very neatly in the final chapters, where the book really begins to pull its weight as a novel.

Deborah: I agree with this. The ending is incredibly moving. Each of the episodes in the boy Copper’s life is pulled together, and the lengthy pieces of advice by his uncle move from broad to very specific. This is where we the readers, together with Copper, are grabbed by the scruff of the neck and dragged out of our rather peaceful existences, with Yoshino demanding to know, “How are you planning to live your life?”

Manga version by Shoichi Haga

I confess that the Miyazaki connection is what grabbed my interest at first. Written in the late 1930s, I imagined this book would have a critique of Japan’s militaristic road to war as its theme, something Miyazaki has used in a number of his films. Outside of the story of Napoleon, though, How Do You Live? actually doesn’t have much about war, though war could be the elephant in the room—we can smell it and hear it stomping around without actually seeing it. I greatly appreciate your historical notes at the end of the book; they answer the questions I had as I read.

Bruno: Aside from a brief period when the censors caught up with the book, it has remained in print for nearly all of the eighty-odd years since its publication. Although Japan’s circumstances have changed, and the original text may seem dated in certain respects, the book remains a luminous portrait of Tokyo at a time when Japan was on the brink of profound social changes, a moral beacon that influenced the values of a generation and, I think, a moving story to boot. With the release of the manga version and the forthcoming film by Miyazaki, it’s again selling briskly, and catching the eye of publishers around the world.

In addition to its interest as a historical and literary document, I think the book is of particular interest in countries that are grappling with authoritarianism right now. Since the English edition has been released I have had inquiries from Turkish, Russian, and Brazilian translators. I don’t exempt the United States from this, but I also think the book is of great value to the global generation that is coming of age in a time of so much uncertainty — political and economic changes, new technologies, covid, global warming, and so on — and wondering how to live their lives in the face of it all.

Deborah: How did you get involved with it and what your experience was like?

Bruno: The American publisher, Algonquin Books, acquired the English language rights to the book after news of the manga and the Miyazaki film caught the eye of Elise Howard, an astute editor and publisher of their Young Readers books. Algonquin knew of my translation work through a previous project with a related publisher, and a contact there suggested me for Yoshino’s book, but I did have to audition for the project. I submitted an initial sample for Algonquin and then an extended sample for the Yoshino estate, which was taking great care to safeguard the integrity of the original text, and had secured certain approval rights. So my agreement with Algonquin was conditional upon approval by the estate, and I had to put in a fair amount of work in advance of the contract.

I had heard of the book, but I had never read it. As I got to know it better, I felt very lucky to have been given the opportunity to do this translation. It ticked all the boxes for me — period and genre, but it was also a work intended for readers of all ages, so it appealed to me as an educator; and in the midst of the very authoritarian Trump administration in the United States, it seemed like it might carry an essential message of resistance to brute authority and bullying. On top of all that, I have a beloved uncle, and seven young nephews who are already starting to feel the weight of the social and environmental burden we have bequeathed to them, so I could really feel the book. And finally, my father-in-law grew up in Japan during and after the war, so I felt a special appreciation for the portrait the book painted of life at that time.

Deborah: When I started reading, I felt like it was a book that could have been written eighty-five years ago. It took me back to what I was reading as a child in the 60s, which was books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Looking back, there was a particular kind of wording that describes and savors every detail of the setting, the characters and the action. It worked to get me inside a story and keep me there, wishing I really was there. As a translator, though, I’m not sure I could have kept up so faithfully with all of those words, although I think it was absolutely the way it needed to be interpreted. Can you talk a little bit about how you adopted a style that reflected the age in which it was written?

Bruno: I was fortunate that Yoshino was so good at setting the scene: his portraits of Tokyo’s neighborhoods and street culture are so deftly detailed that I didn’t need to nail down the language to a specific decade or even a particular genre convention. I wanted to create an impression that the book came from long ago, but not too long ago. My touchstones in English were in large measure drawn from the so-called “Golden Age” of children’s literature, British authors such as E. Nesbit, Lewis Carrol, and Edwin Abbott. These were writers who were all, in one sense or another, border crossers: they moved fluidly between the real world and the world of the imagination, they easily balanced formal and informal language, and perhaps most important, they wrote for both children and adults, bringing their concerns about art, politics, philosophy, science, and even mathematics into their storytelling.

Of course, the gradations between formal and informal language are far less explicit in English than they are in Japanese, so to a certain extent I flew by the seat of my pants, moving between language of greater and lesser intimacy, and greater or lesser levels of narrative distance to try to recreate Yoshino’s gentle humor and slightly archaic tone in English. Similarly with the shifts between simple narrative and the quite technical economic, philosophical, and scientific descriptions in the uncle’s interleaved notes. Which is not to say I didn’t agonize over specifics here and there. Throughout the work I was helped by my editor at Algonquin, who maintained a clear vision that the English version needed to be coherent for younger readers, without sacrificing the unique and idiosyncratic format and style of the original.

I had such a great time doing the research for this translation, partly because of the period in which it was set and partly because of the eclectic subject matter. Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to do a first reading of the book “cold,” just to get to know it directly before touching any biographical or critical material, but because my publisher wanted some background on the author and publishing history of the book, I began with that, and then dug into the text. With poetry I’m ready to let the Japanese have its way with the English more often than not, and my first drafts are usually in very fragmented, fractured English, as close to the Japanese vocabulary and word order as I can come, because I’m more worried about getting locked into conventional English phrasing, not at all concerned about “breaking” the English, and want the draft to point back at the original as much as possible as I get to know it better. But in this case, I was very focused on the overall tone in English, and the specific voices of characters, so from the first draft I was looking for my English phrasing, and to keep the work in sync with the original I just kept really extensive notes.

Genzaburō Yoshino (used with permission from Algonquin Young Readers)

Deborah: The suggested ages for readers of How Do You Live? is ten to fourteen years. I imagine fourteen-year-old readers can digest most books, but some of the wide-ranging advice Copper’s uncle gives him was a little beyond me, although when I stuck with it, there was quite a lot to learn.

Bruno: I can’t disagree with you about that, and Yoshino himself says as much in his foreword to the book. There were also moments when I couldn’t help being irritated with this schoolbook of an uncle, and his sections reminded me at times of the proletarian literature in the years immediately preceding Yoshino, but his sincerity always won me over in the end, as did the uncle’s love for his nephew — and I do think the lessons were brilliantly selected to educate both in their eclectic fields and simultaneously as cogs in the powerful ethical argument Yoshino was building. I love the way the many disparate parts of this book seem to be in a bit of a tug of war, but then are knit together in the end. Ultimately, I think that this book may not be an ideal book for every reader (as if there were such a thing!), but it is an absolutely essential book for some special readers — those who are able to see its magic.

Deborah: I agree with you about the magic, but reading all the way to the end is the best way to find it. I do hope that readers of all ages will pick it up, and find out why Hayao Miyazaki loved it so much. I want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience with us. Take care and we hope to see you in Japan someday.

An expanded version of this interview is available at FULL STOP: Reviews. Interviews. Marginalia.

Read more about the book on the World Kid Lit Blog.

Japanese Children’s Books 2021: Now Online!

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Every year, the Japanese Board on Books for Young People curates a list of fine new picture books, chapter books/novels, and nonfiction titles published in Japan. The books are described in English for reference by publishers and readers worldwide.

Japanese Children’s Books 2021 is now available to download!

Japanese Children’s Books 2020 also remains online.

Listings from these and prior years are searchable at Japanese Children’s Books—JBBY’s recommendations.

These resources are useful not only for scouting Japanese titles to publish in translation, but also for finding books to buy for a Japanese-language section in a store, classroom or library when the buyer does not read Japanese.

Happy perusing!

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll Talks with Translator Emily Balistrieri about Soul Lanterns

By Jackie Friedman Mighdoll, San Francisco

Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, translated by Emily Balistrieri, is the poignant story of 12-year-old Nozomi who lives in Hiroshima 25 years after the atomic bombing. When Nozomi notices that her mother sets afloat a white “soul lantern” in memory of someone she doesn’t talk about, Nozomi begins to wonder about the past. Nozomi and her friends decide to hold an art exhibition with the theme of “Hiroshima Then and Now,” and they approach their relatives and neighbors to ask questions about what really happened on August 6, 1945. Soul Lanterns is a powerful and accessible novel about war, peace, art, and healing.

I had the pleasure of talking with Emily Balistrieri about his work on translating Soul Lanterns. 

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll (JFM): Can you give us some background on this project? How did you find Soul Lanterns and how did Soul Lanterns find Delacorte? 

Emily Balistrieri (EB): I do a lot of work for Kodansha’s children’s division in Tokyo, and this book is originally published by them, so it was one of a number of titles I helped prepare promotional material for, including a sample translation. When we went to the 2019 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I got to meet Beverly Horowitz, the senior vice president and publisher of Delacorte Press, who acquired Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I translated. My colleague from Kodansha and I took the opportunity to pitch a few books, and Beverly latched on to Soul Lanterns immediately.  

JFM: Do you remember how you pitched it to Beverly?

EB: I told her that I really enjoyed learning about history through the novel. I felt like it was a good balance of educational information and perspective. But also the family intrigue keeps you reading. Having Nozomi as the protagonist 25 years after the bombing makes her an easy character to identify with. We know the history is that the US dropped the bomb, and how horrible it was, but wrapping your head around it is really difficult unless you keep reading and learning and listening. Going on the journey with Nozomi makes that possible. And then there’s getting the author’s perspective herself, the personal perspective. 

JFM: Can you tell us more about Shaw Kuzki, the author?

EB: She’s the same age as Nozomi (i.e. was 12 years old in 1970, when this story is set.) Originally she specialized in Anglo Irish Literature, and she studied abroad in Dublin. She taught in higher ed for 20 years before focusing full-time on writing. Her debut (published when she was in her 40s, by the way—so no need to rush these things) was a fantasy novel that won two major newcomer awards, and she has continued to write in a variety of genres (one of her YA titles is about boys who play tennis, which was her sport in school) and collect more awards since then. Her main goal in writing about Hiroshima is to pass on the memories so that history doesn’t repeat. She feels a responsibility to remember and warn others. 

JFM: Do you have any general recommendations on how to pitch a translation?

EB: The main thing is to make sure you have your materials together. You need a summary that’s one page that spoils everything. Your sample translation. A cover letter that explains why it’s important to translate it, the awards it has won, and sales figures if you have them. The hardest part is always why it should be translated. Although for this book it was obvious. It could only be written by a Japanese person, and it’s a really good perspective. 

JFM: I imagine there’s also something about persistence.

EB: I recently sold some short stories for the first time. And that was a five-year process. First translating, and then pitching, and then waiting, and then getting rejected. Then tweaking, pitching, and getting rejected. And then I sold them!

JFM: What was the magic?

EB: With the short stories, it was reaching the right people. But it was also timing. Especially when pitching to magazines. Magazines are often trying to achieve a certain balance in their issues. It’s persistence. But I also made sure that between each pitch, I made sure to go back to reread to see if there was anything I was missing. You should be confident but you should also take the opportunity to reread and make edits. 

And recently I sold something on the first try—so you never know. 

JFM: I always love hearing about a translator’s process. What was yours in translating Soul Lanterns

EB: I had read it in full before, and after polishing the sample I felt like I knew how I wanted it to sound, or like the voice was familiar, so it went fairly smoothly. I try to get it pretty close (the first time through), partly because I hate leaving things so-so. Then I go back and tweak it later. Some of the more complicated sentences need re-working. But the dialogue comes naturally. I always work with an assistant, a native Japanese speaker, so I can ask questions.

JFM: Soul Lanterns contains poems by Hitomi Koyama. After World War II, newspapers published her tanka grieving her son’s death. Did you translate the tanka as well? Was your process for translating poetry different than for prose?

EB: I did translate the poems. Poetry is extremely challenging. I worked with poet Bin Sugawara on a collection that was published bilingually last year, which was a great experience and very fun, but it only made me fear poetry more, haha. The drafts I came up with were poems, but some of them turned out to be different poems from the ones he had intended. It makes me really wonder how people translate deceased poets. I guess the poem you end up with becomes the poem. For the tanka in this book, I decided I wanted to focus on the images and emotions and not get hung up on the form. I didn’t want to corner myself with the structure and shoehorn the content in. 

JFM: What were some of the other fun translation challenges in working on this? 

EB: The biggest challenge was working on realistic historical fiction. The vast majority of my translations so far have been fantasy or speculative fiction. I tried not to overthink the fact that I am an American delivering a story about suffering and tragedy that the country I’m from caused, but it was definitely on my mind… Obviously I’m concerned with being as accurate as I can on any project, but the subject matter definitely added weight this time. 

JFM: Did you do other secondary reading as part of the translation? Are there other books in Japanese for children about this topic? Or other resources that you would recommend?

EB: I didn’t read other children’s books, although there certainly are some, including more by Shaw Kuzki. Apart from articles and random research, the main thing I did was actually go to Hiroshima (in 2019) to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and see the dome in person. At the museum, I had a chance to listen to what they call an A-Bomb Legacy Successor talk. Essentially, a volunteer learns the testimony of an elderly first-generation survivor so that the story can continue to be shared. Incidentally, the website of the museum has a ton of resources. You can even browse exhibits online. And if you have a group of 10 or more people, you can request a free talk via video conference from anywhere in the world. I wonder if schools in the USA are aware of this opportunity.

JFM: I appreciate your work on getting Soul Lanterns out to the English speaking world. What are you excited about next?

EB: I don’t have anything finalized for children at the moment, but I really hope to translate Yusaku Kitano’s Doronko rondo (Mud puddle rondo) at some point. The story follows a little girl android and a turtle childcare robot on a journey to search for humans, who can only be found on TV in the far-flung future after the Earth has turned into a mud puddle. It has that classic (timeless?) adventure feel and manages to get quite trippy and philosophical at times while remaining aimed at kids. It’s from the same Fukuinkan imprint as Tetsuya Sato’s Syndrome, which is a masterpiece of YA science fiction that I’m currently pitching with a complete manuscript.  

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll writes for children: poetry, picture books, and middle grade. She translates from Japanese to English. In a prior career, she founded a school for teaching world languages to children from newborn to elementary. Find her on the web at https://jackiefm.com/ On Twitter: @jackiefm

 

New Translations Presented at SCBWI Japan Showcase 2021

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

On April 9, 2021, SCBWI Japan held its first showcase of members’ new publications since January 2017. Sixteen books by thirteen members were presented, and a significant number were translations (seven books by five translators)!

The showcase was offered free of charge and teachers, librarians and other interested parties were—and are—invited. To view the recording of the session, follow the simple instructions here.

Here are the books recently published in translation that were showcased.

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out by Yoshimi Kusaba, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa, translated by Andrew Wong

1945←2015: Reflections on Stolen Youth, compiled by Motomi Murota and Naomi Kitagawa, translated by Deborah Iwabuchi

Of the remaining two, one is just out:

Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki, translated by Emily Balistrieri

And the other will be out this summer:

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa.

We should be hearing more about both of them soon!

View the recording of SCBWI Japan Showcase 2021 to learn more about these and all of the books presented.

Ten Years after 3.11, The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei Still Resonates

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok, and Sako Ikegami, Kobe

The SCBWI Japan (then SCBWI Tokyo) Translation Group launched this blog in April 2011, partly in response to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, or 3.11. One of the first posts published was The Tale of Hamaguchi Gohei and the Tsunami, which, in the decade since, has remained both the most commented-upon and the most viewed post. Yearly views have increased twentyfold over time, from 141 in 2011 to 2,873 in 2020. Something about the story of Hamaguchi Gohei—as told by Lafcadio Hearn in Gleanings in Buddha-Fields—continues to strike a chord, as Sally Ito reflected on the fifth anniversary of 3.11.

Today, on the tenth anniversary, we would like to share a bit more information about the tale, which describes a man warning his village of a tsunami by setting fire to his harvested rice.

The story is based on Hamaguchi Goryo, seventh-generation owner of the Yamasa Shoyu (soy sauce) company in Wakayama. Several organizations maintain web pages about him:

In addition, Goryo’s story is the subject of picture books and kamishibai in Japan, including Tsunami!! Inochi o sukutta inamura no hi (Tsunami!! The Rice Fire That Saved Lives, Chobunsha, 2005; Japanese).

Of further interest amid the Covid pandemic is Goryo’s involvement in education and public health. Sako writes that Goryo was “very involved in education with close ties to Fukuzawa Yukichi and others, who went to New York to have a funeral for Hamaguchi when he passed in 1885 during a tour of the U.S. and Europe.”

Goryo “sponsored the education of Kansai Seki, a leading physician who helped spread modern medicine in Japan, allowing him to study Rangaku (focused on modern medicine from Holland) in Nagasaki. Goryo built schools in his native Wakayama for students of Rangaku, thus contributing to the proliferation of western medical knowledge in post-Edo Japan. He was a philanthropist who believed firmly in preventive medicine and was a supporter of vaccination, providing funds to rebuild a vaccination center (for smallpox) when it burned down.

“Today, as the world eagerly awaits inoculations to allow us to return to a more normal state of life, especially for the children, it seems fitting to reflect on the life of Goryo who not only could act on the spur of the moment to save a village from a tsunami, but also possessed the foresight to ensure the entry of modern medicine into Japan by providing opportunities for education. And further, by supporting the type of preventive medicine that will save the world today.”

We would be keen to see his story published in English in a setting for children.

Meanwhile, we hope that our blog continues to serve as a source of information about both the effects of 3.11 on children (see the Children of Tohoku page), and about Japanese children’s literature in English translation.

Interview with Michael Blaskowsky, Translator of Sato the Rabbit

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The English version of Sato the Rabbit launches in the US today, nearly 15 years since Yuki Ainoya’s delightful picture book of a boy having adventures dressed like a rabbit was first published in Japan. I caught up with translator Michael Blaskowsky, a self-styled digital nomad, as he hopped across Wifi networks across the Pacific to find out more.

Translator Michael Blaskowsky with the Japanese title that started it all

Andrew (A): Hello Michael, thanks for joining us, and happy book birthday to Sato the Rabbit! For a start, how did you come across this book?

Michael (M): Seattle, oddly enough, was where my wife and I first came across Sato the Rabbit. After our son was born, we wanted to make sure we kept reading him Japanese books and thankfully Seattle and the surrounding cities—with their large Japanese/Japanese American population—stock a large variety of Japanese children’s books. My wife found Sato on the shelves one day and we loved the book so much that we bought the entire series the next time we went back to Japan. About a year later, we came across the US edition of Chirri & Chirra at a local library, which is how I learnt of Enchanted Lion Books, so I reached out to see if they were interested. They came back with a resounding yes and we’ve been working with them ever since.

A: Before we go any further, I notice “Shizuka Blaskowsky” is mentioned in the credits page.

M: Shizuka is my wife and very much a part of the Sato team. We discussed it and decided to list just my name for the English translation, but we wanted to make sure that she was credited as well, since we both love and worked on the series. She goes over everything I write and then we talk over every sentence, decide what best reflects the Japanese while flowing well in English, and work to find text that maintains the overall feel of the world. I translate and Shizuka edits, so while I am credited for translation, we’re certainly a team on this and every project.

A: It’s really heartening to hear about the strong family focus behind Sato, and I certainly agree that teamwork and collaboration play a big part in translation. Having seen Chirri & Chirra and then this book, something definitely clicked, so I’m not surprised Enchanted Lion took it up. Sato, though, isn’t a one-story 32-page picture book. Made up of seven separate episodes, I found each episode’s four spreads as imaginative, in a calming and dreamy sense, as the next. My younger daughter and I both like A Night of Stars, where Sato collects shooting stars to fill the observatory on a moonless night. I also like Forest Ice, especially the part about “sipping stories” in bed! Do you happen to have a favorite?

M: Picking one is really difficult. There are some that I like more than others, of course, and in the first book I love Walnuts and Forest Ice. I absolutely adore the creativity and the way that in only eight pages, some common, everyday action takes a fantastical turn to some dreamy place or event. I hope that it sinks into my son’s subconscious and inspires his imaginative play. If he mirrors a Sato story or the flow of the Sato world then I’ll have a huge grin on my face.

A: Speaking of mirrors, after reading both versions separately, putting the English and Japanese versions side by side felt like looking into a mirror. We thought we were reading it back to front, or even turning back time. The layout didn’t affect the translation, did it?

M: The layout was pretty straightforward. Very few things were changed, but as the Japanese text in columns reads right to left, sensible text placement for smooth reading flow is a little different than in English. It didn’t affect much, but we did swap locations of two images in Walnuts to match the text about Sato opening the walnut, to work better with the suspense of what he finds as people turn the page.

A: I thought the second and third pages of each vignette almost always involved a fantastical leap in thought! How did you go about translating the accompanying text?

M: I made the most literal translation of each sentence I could, then went back and tried to make it sound more interesting in English. I took each sentence and wrote down all the synonyms for each word or phrase in every sentence, then tried the combinations to see what I liked. As an example from A Window in the Sky, in the third and fourth pages, I played around with how “particularly”, “especially”, and “peculiarly” sounded with “clear” and “vivid”, like in “particularly vivid”. We went with “luminous” in the end, and while there was some talk about whether that word was too advanced for some readers, I like that more children’s books these days include larger words and so went with a more advanced word here. A counterexample might be in Forest of Ice. I started off with “melancholy” when describing the feelings of the blue ice, but we went with “sad” because it’s easier for kids to connect with.

A: It’s clear a lot was put into every word, and those choices also made Sato really enjoyable to read aloud, so I’m thinking that this was probably one aspect you particularly worked on. Were there any passages or sentiments that were challenging?

M: I really wanted the sentences to flow nicely and sound soothing when read aloud, plus I wanted to use alliteration and similar wordplay when possible (but not puns). Having a fun, imaginative English text that matched the fun, imaginative images was very important to me. I also tried to give everything in the book’s world as much agency as possible and to avoid expressions that conveyed that Sato was controlling the world or making things happen. Instead, I tried to show that he was interacting with the world and was generally rolling with the punches. The longer sentences were challenging, but thankfully Sato doesn’t contain many. Sometimes like when, in Forest Ice, Sato goes out for ice, the description of the ice is one long sentence. Japanese allows for much longer sentences and easier merging of clauses, so it was challenging trying to get all the information into the space without the sentence becoming too awkward. Claudia at Enchanted Lion was a big help with that, talking about how we wanted to phrase sentences so that we reflected the world Sato lives in using language that was natural and associable to children. All those conversations really helped hone the language and make enjoyable sentences that were true to the Japanese.

A: I certainly had fun joining Sato in interacting with his world, so I think you and your team have successfully conveyed the reading experience. As you said, Sato is the first of the series, and I already see a placeholder for the second one. Until then, thank you again for sharing!