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

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!

One Passage, Ten Translations—Eiko Kadono

大どろぼうブラブラ氏 by Eiko Kadono, illustrated by Yutaka Hara. Source text for workshop with Emily Balistrieri at SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020.

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

On November 21, Day 1 of SCBWI Japan Translation Days 2020, Emily Balistrieri led participants in a translation workshop using a passage from 大どろぼうブラブラ氏 by Eiko Kadono. This chapter book, as yet unpublished in English, features a main character named for his facial hair, which is coarse like a scrub brush.

Nine of the translators who submitted translations of the set workshop passage also submitted translations of a “challenge” text about the main character’s grandfather. Below are the nine “challenge” submissions, blinded, followed by Emily Balistrieri’s sample translation. Enjoy!

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri, was published in the US in July 2020.

 

Original Passage 

大どろぼうブラブラ氏の家は、代々続く、ゆうめいな大どろぼうでした。

ひとくちにゆうめいといっても、人によっていろいろです。

たとえば、ブラブラ氏のおじいさまにあたるトレトレ氏は、人がはいているくつを、その人が気がつかないうちにぬすんでしまうということで、ゆうめいでした。そのまほうの技は……「あっちむいて、ほい!」

[Source: 大どろぼうブラブラ氏 (Kodansha, 2010). ISBN-13 : 978-4062851275]

 

Translation A

The Great Thief Bristly Beard came from a long line of famous thieves. Well, they were all sort of famous in their own way. Bristly Beardʼs grandpa Picky Pike, for example, was known for being able to pick the shoes off someoneʼs feet without them noticing. Beware his magic words: “Look that way!”

 

Translation B

Mr. Burabura the thief came from a long line of famous thieves, some more famous than others. For starters, his grandad Mr. Toretore was famous for stealing the shoes right off a person’s feet. His ploy was distraction. He’d point in the distance and say, “Hey, look!” and poof, there went the shoes.

 

Translation C

Mr. Bristle the Terrible Thief came from a long line of famous terrible thieves. Of course they were all famous in different ways. Take for example, his Uncle Gotcha who had been famous for stealing the shoes right off of people’s feet without their noticing. How did he do it? He’d get up close, point a pudgy finger in his victim’s face and yell, “Look over there!” flinging his finger out to the side. Worked every time.

 

Translation D

Master Thief Scrub’s family hailed from generations of the best thieves. Some would say famous, but that means different things to different people. For example, Scrub’s grandfather Scram was famous for stealing people’s shoes off their feet when they weren’t looking. His trick was to say, “Look, it’s a bird!”

 

Translation E

Mr. Brushie-Brushie the Master Thief came from a famous family with many generations of master thieves.

It’s easy to round them all up as “famous,” but each of these masters was unique.

For example, take Mr. Brushie-Brushie’s grandfather, Mr. Clutch-Clutch. He was well known for snatching people’s shoes away while they were still wearing them, right from under their noses! His magic trick? He would come up to them, put his finger in front of their faces, and point: “Hey! Look over there!” Before they knew it, he was gone with their shoes.

 

Translation F

The Great Thief Mr. Scruffyscruff came from a long line of great and famous thieves. Though all were famous, they were each famous for something different. For example, Mr. Scruffyscruff’s grandfather, Mr. Snatchittysnatch was famous for stealing the shoes right off people’s feet. His magic technique was to shout: “Hey, look over there! No, the other way! Now look to the sky!”

 

Translation G

Mr. Scrub Brush’s family had been famous thieves for generations.

Famous in different ways.

For example, Mr. Toretore—his grandpa—was famous for snatching the shoes off people’s feet when they weren’t looking. His trick phrase was, “Oh, look there!”

 

Translation H

The Great Bandit Ole Scruff’s family was and always had been a group of infamous bandits.

However, infamous meant different things for different members of the family.

For example, Ole Scruff’s father, Ole Slipfinger, was famous for stealing shoes right out from under the people who were wearing them without them realizing it. He managed this bit of magic by…“Is that a dollar I see behind your ear? Made ya look!”

 

Translation I

Bristle came from a long line of famous thieves. Of course, famous means different things to different people. For example, Bristle’s grandfather Lightfinger was famous for stealing the shoes off people’s feet when they weren’t paying attention. Lighfinger’s big technical skill involved yelling –  “Hey – look over there!”

 

Sample Translation by Emily Balistrieri

Great Thief BrushaBrusha came from a long line of infamous thieves. While all infamous, they were all known for different things.

For example, BrushaBrusha’s grandfather NabNab was known for stealing the shoes right off people’s feet. The magic was done with the art of… “Hey, look at that!!”

Nanette McGuinness Talks with Emily Balistrieri, Translator of Andersen Award Winner Eiko Kadono

By Nanette McGuinness, San Francisco

SCBWI member Emily Balistrieri is the translator from Japanese into English of Overlord, by Kugane Maruyama, and The Refugees’ Daughter, by Takuji Ichikawa, among other titles. His translation of Kiki’s Delivery Service will be released by Delacorte Books for Young Readers in July 2020, after author Eiko Kadono won the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award in Writing. Emily translates books and manga for children and adults, video games, and anime subtitles from Japanese into English, and his latest children’s translation is a bilingual storybook in the “Mashin Sentai Kiramager” universe published by Kodansha in Japan.

Nanetta McGuinness (NM): I’ve read that you started out as a Russian major in college. What then drew you to Japanese and how did you decide to become a translator?

Emily Balistrieri (EB): Switching focus to Japanese was very dramatic because I canceled my study abroad in Russia. I still feel sad about that sometimes. But I just realized that if I was reading manga, into anime, obsessed with Haruki Murakami (this was in 2005ish), watching Takeshi Kitano films, listening to J-pop, playing Japanese video games, etc., there seemed to be a pretty clear path in Japanese, whereas I wasn’t sure what at the time what I would do with Russian. Thinking of it that way, it’s almost embarrassing—like picking which sport to play based on which local team gets more winning headlines. But I guess you have to pick somehow.

NM: I’m in awe of those proficient in a language that uses such a different character system, let alone such a fascinatingly different culture. The wonderful Cathy Hirano, who also works in this realm, has said that “translating between Japanese and English requires “fairly strenuous cultural and mental gymnastics.”* Can you talk about your experience and what it’s like translating from Japanese to English?

EB: I know that in some languages, the nitty-gritty of how well you can preserve the exact punctuation is a thing people consider. In Japanese, it can sometimes be, “Should these sentences even be in this order?” And there are plenty of instances when a question mark in Japanese is not a question mark in English.

As far as the characters go, it’s possible for people to be very creative with them. A great example is Hideo Furukawa’s new book where he takes the kanji for “forest” 森, which is made up of three “trees” 木, and adds three more 木 at the bottom (to make the pyramid shape bigger) for the title that is “pronounced” (and searchable as) おおきな森, “big forest”: the official English translation of the title is FFFFForesTTTT). One of my favorite parts of Japanese is rubi, characters placed over other (usually more complex) characters to show how to pronounce them. It gets interesting when, instead of writing the actual pronunciation, the author might put a word borrowed from another language, an explanation, or other somehow relevant text. In The Saga of Tanya the Evil, author Carlo Zen uses rubi at one point to make a euphemistic conversation about torture explicit to the reader. So the writing system can be front and center at times, but usually it’s easier to deal with than the grammar, at least for me.

The subject-object-verb order of Japanese (“I from Japanese to English translate”) is pretty easy to get used to. It gets tougher when a rarely used phrase pops up—one that you probably studied for a test at some point, but see so infrequently in the wild that you can never remember it properly. Similarly challenging are archaic forms, which some use to create atmosphere in the same way you might find Shakespearian flourishes in English. More common, but often frustrating, are sentences that come with a ton of qualifiers before the subject; they can contain info that, at least to an English reader, seems totally off-topic in the paragraph or just feels super wordy compared to what is actually being said. On the other hand, sometimes the way writers are able to layer in details is impressive, but it can still be a challenge to replicate in English.

NM: Kiki’s Delivery Service is a beloved Miyazaki anime classic with millions of fans worldwide, and its author, Eiko Kadono, won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing in 2018. So it’s very exciting that the book that inspired Miyazaki will be back in print for English-language readers. What was it like to labor in the shadow of such an iconic work and by a lauded, living author?

EB: Honestly, I tried to just take it one page at a time (in the turn-of-phrase sense, not literally, haha) and capture the spirit as best I could. Kirkus Reviews was kind enough to call the translation “descriptive and whimsical,” but of course that’s all Eiko Kadono’s writing; if the English readers are as charmed as Japanese readers are, then I did my job right.

NM: I think I saw that Kiki’s Delivery Service is actually part of a series. Has there been any discussion about translating and publishing more of the series into English?

EB: Yes! There are six books in the main series and then two other volumes. There hasn’t been any discussion (at least not involving me) yet, but maybe if the first book does well, we’ll be able to continue? I sure hope so because a lot happens. Imagine if only Anne of Green Gables had been translated into Japanese and none of other volumes! (Anne is an extremely popular character in Japan; there is a classic animated TV series and even a prequel series made to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the first book’s publication.)

NM: There are a number of differences between the Kiki’s Delivery Service film and the book—as generally happens when switching genres. Did you watch/rewatch the Miyazaki film when you were working on the translation? If you didn’t, it might be interesting to readers to hear why; if you did, could you talk about some of the differences between the book and the film?

EB: I deliberately avoided the movie (although I can still sing the English ending song from when I watched it as a kid), even in Japanese with no subtitles. Incidentally, I avoided the more recent live-action version, too. I didn’t want to be influenced by the way the characters were portrayed there, since this is specifically a translation of Kadono’s work.

Hayao Miyazaki kind of takes his inspiration and runs with it. Kadono has been quoted as saying that when she first saw the movie she was surprised how different it was. But she said she made sure before production started that he didn’t change the title or Kiki’s view of the world.**

NM: It’s always a fascinating process doing a retranslation.*** How did you prepare? Did you avoid looking at the first translation from 2003 so as not to be influenced, or did you read through it to know what you thought worked best? Were you able to have any contact with Lynne E. Riggs, the first translator, or with author Kadono?

EB: It was my first time translating it, so it never felt like a retranslation to me, even though that’s what it ends up as. I definitely avoided the previous translation because I wanted to come to the text completely fresh. A strange coincidence is that I have known Lynne Riggs for years because she is one of the founders of the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators. I knew she had translated Kiki, so I never imagined that I or anyone else would be doing it. I feel almost a bit guilty, but I try to think of it as a sort of torch-passing. I definitely look up to her as a wordsmith community organizer here in the Kanto region (I’m sure she wishes I had more energy to help). She and the other members of SWET have a huge wealth of expertise and experience between them, so their events can be really inspiring.

NM: You’re listed on the title page of the book as the translator: congratulations! As a translator, I know how rare it is for an American publisher to do this. How did that come about? Once you turned in your translation to Delacorte, did you have any input on revisions?

EB: Thanks! I think “name on the interior” is how Delacorte does it. I went ahead and asked if the cover was possible, but it wasn’t this time. Never hurts to ask! The editing process was a bit irregular because the editor who brought me on was different from the one I did the bulk of the work with (Alexandra, if you’re reading this, please don’t be a stranger!), who is different from the one who finished the project. So I essentially did two rounds with them, and I know they made some other adjustments as well. Still, I’m used to just crossing my fingers after I submit a manuscript, so it was nice to be able to have so much back-and-forth for a change. I’m excited to see the final version.

NM: What are you currently working on? Any dream projects or books you’d like to translate next?

EB: Overlord and The Saga of Tanya the Evil are both ongoing series, so I’m always working on those, although they’re not for kids. I am chipping away on a masterpiece of a YA science-fiction novel about a first crush by Tetsuya Sato called Syndrome (and I’m pitching it, too, so please get in touch if this sounds good—it’s fantastic).

Other than that, here’s something to look forward to: I’m working again for Delacorte, to publish Shaw Kuzki’s Soul Lanterns. The protagonist is a 12-year-old girl living in Hiroshima 25 years after the atomic bomb, and the story is about how she and her classmates wrap their head around the horrors of the bomb and war, in general, by connecting with the adults in their community who experienced it firsthand. Kuzki is a second-generation A-bomb survivor, herself, so she’s an important voice to amplify in English. I really hope it’ll be a book that kids can read and discuss at school.

Thank you very much!

*“Catching up with Cathy Hirano,” SCBWI Japan Translation Group, May 14, 2011, https://ihatov.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/an-interview-with-cathy-hirano/ 

** In a Japanese-language interview she did after winning the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2018, https://www.bookbang.jp/article/554311 

*** Kiki’s Delivery Service was first translated into English by Lynne E. Riggs in 2003 for Annick Press, with illustrations by Akiko Hayashi—nearly two decades after it was published in Japan.

Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then (Humanoids, 2018) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second, 2017) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also named a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book and a 2020 GLLI YA Honor Book. Her most recent translations are Little Josephine: Memory in Pieces (Life Drawn, 2020), Super Sisters (Papercutz, 2020), and Undead Messiah #3 (TOKYOPOP, 2020).

Cross-posted from SCBWI: The Blog with permission.

Japanese Children’s Publishers’ Foreign Rights Catalogs for Spring 2020

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Along with much else in the world, the 2020 Bologna Children’s Book Fair was recently cancelled. (An online fair will be held May 4–7.) We in the SCBWI Japan Translation Group know that the BCBF provides a valuable venue for Japanese publishers to showcase their works and market foreign rights, including to visitors who happen by their physical booths.

We would like to use this post to give interested parties access to the beautiful foreign rights catalogs prepared for BCBF 2020 by Japanese children’s book publishers, some of which Translation Group members had a hand in putting together.

Here are links to catalogs from major children’s publishers in Japan.

Also, the Japanese Board on Books for Young People has its curated Japanese Children’s Books 2020 list available to download. Recommendations from this year and prior years are also searchable online at Japanese Children’s Books—JBBY’s recommendations.

If you know of other catalogs we can add, please comment below or email the SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator: japan-tc (at) scbwi.org

Fortunately, reading is one of the few activities not limited by social distancing, and we invite all agents and publishers to take the time to go through these offerings. As Tokyo finally gets the hang of teleworking, you may have trouble making phone calls to foreign rights departments, but emails are sure to be welcomed!

Stay safe!

2020 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize Goes to The Beast Player and Maresi Red Mantle

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The wait for this year’s Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) Translated YA Book Prize is over!

As announced on April 2, GLLI have selected not one but two titles for the top prize, one of which is Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano. This adds to Uehashi’s list of international accolades since Hirano’s translation of the first book in the Moribito series won global recognition in 2009. The Beast Player shares the prize with fellow fantasy title Maresi Red Mantle by Finland’s Maria Turtschaninoff, translated from the Finno-Swedish by A. A. Prime.

One other Japanese title, Kazuki Kaneshiro’s Go, translated by Takami Nieda, also made the 13-strong shortlist.

Lockdown? Another reason to stay home and wander around the worlds created in these books! Stay safe everyone.

The Picture Book Art of Chiki Kikuchi

Chiki Kikuchi (EhonNavi)

By Alexa Frank, Tokyo, and Emily Balistrieri, Tokyo

Though his latest book may be titled Shiro to kuro (White and Black), the world of prolific picture book author and illustrator Chiki Kikuchi is anything but. After debuting in 2012 with Shironeko kuroneko (White Cat, Black Cat; Gakken Plus), which won the prestigious Golden Apple award at the Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB), Kikuchi underwent a major shift in style. Exchanging his sumptuous black lines and white spaces for inventive displays of color, Kikuchi’s books feature animals and children playing amid abstract visions of nature and inner universes. And his words are just as lively as his brushstrokes—Kikuchi’s work gestures toward big questions about loneliness, self-worth, and identity without sacrificing the childlike sense of wonder that has gained him fans all across Japan. 

Art by Chiki Kikuchi on display in Kichijoji, Tokyo, in fall 2019 (photo courtesy Kaori Nagaoka). Click to enlarge.

In fall 2019, Tokyo’s Kichijoji Art Museum held White and Black: A Chiki Kikuchi Picture Book Exhibition, a major showcase of Kikuchi’s original artwork. Longtime fans and Kikuchi newbies alike had the rare opportunity not only to see Kikuchi displays up close, but also to attend Kikuchi-led art workshops and experience live musical and dance collaborations. One of the highlights was a November talk show event that capped off the exhibition: a revealing conversation among Kikuchi, his editor Kaori Nagaoka, and book designer Hideyuki Saito. 

Nagaoka, Saito, and Kikuchi’s relaxed dynamic on stage spoke to the team’s loyal working relationship. They had collaborated on all of Kikuchi’s Kodansha books, and one of the reasons why Kikuchi’s books have been so successful is undoubtedly that this team appears to be on the same creative wavelength. It was Saito who picked the covers for Shiro to kuro and Momiji no tegami (Maple Leaf Letter; Komine Shoten). To evoke the changing of seasons, Saito designed the Momiji no tegami cover with red paper reminiscent of autumn leaves—a choice Kikuchi was very much a fan of. Momiji’s original cover art was notably missing from the Kichijoji exhibit; it had won a plaque at BIB 2019 and was still on display at Bratislava Castle in Slovakia.

Momiji no tegami (Maple Leaf Letter; Komine Shoten)

Kikuchi’s son was born the day of the 2013 BIB Golden Apple award ceremony—and was almost named Ringo (apple in Japanese) to celebrate the occasion. However, Kikuchi instead decided to honor his young son via his next book, Boku da yo boku da yo (It’s Me, It’s Me; Rironsha), inspired by their father and son playtime. 

Boku da yo, boku da yo (It’s Me, It’s Me; Rironsha)

Neko no sora (A Cat’s Sky; Kodansha) was commissioned by Nagaoka. Already a fan of Kikuchi’s paintings, Nagaoka first met him at a gallery exhibition and quickly became a fan of Kikuchi as a person as well. They worked together closely, creating a heartfelt narrative, which Nagaoka describes as “maybe more meta than the other stories about Chiki and his son.”

Neko no sora (A Cat’s Sky; Kodansha)

K: We didn’t decide right away that it was a tree and a cat.

N: But we were thinking it would be good to have a tree.

K: And there was a tree in front of my apartment where I was living, and I thought it was good. The landlord was feeding a bunch of stray cats out there. So the book kind of came together from those images. So okay, the tree will be me and the cat will be my son, I guess? It was all very natural. And when I was writing the scene where the cat takes a step away from the tree, I remember feeling a bit tearful. Like oh, my son will grow up…

When his son was old enough to realize his dad was a picture book author, he requested a book about a tiger, which thrilled Kikuchi. “I was so happy that I wanted to do it immediately!” That became Tora no ko Torako (Torako the Tiger Cub; Shogakukan).

When it comes to Kikuchi and words, Nagaoka says, “Lately, Kikuchi has been writing his text ideas on sticky notes during the draft stage, but maybe he’s always done that in his head. Changing one word in a picture book can change a whole scene. Kikuchi always reads the text out aloud. He thinks so carefully about the number of the characters in a book, what they say and where they’re placed…he really considers every part of the process.” 

The everyday conversations among Kikuchi, Nagaoka, and Saito have often influenced the direction of their books—nothing is ever decided at the beginning, which makes perfect sense for the medium. Words and art in a picture book inform one another: the colorful explosion of Boku da yo boku da yo mimics the way young children can find their own language through exploration. For Shiro to kuro, however, the team strove to strike a balance between black and white and color.

Shiro to kuro (Black and White) on the sign for the fall 2019 exhibition in Tokyo (photo courtesy Kaori Nagaoka). Click to enlarge.

The book stars Shiro, a white cat stand-in for Kikuchi’s son, and Kuro, a black dog, as they explore their surroundings and the complicated emotions we come across as children but lack the words for. Kikuchi has always liked black and white art. Of his earlier work, he says, “I didn’t feel like I was very good at using colors…when you add color, that’s the first thing people notice. But with black and white, I like that people can imagine the colors.” Just as one might when listening to the piano—Nagaoka was studying piano during the initial Shiro to kuro meetings, and lent Kikuchi a CD to listen to. Kikuchi was inspired by Nagaoka describing the spaces between notes as smooth, and wanted to put that feeling into a picture book. 

The making of Shiro to kuro, however, was decidedly bumpy—from the title to the writing to the printing process, the book underwent many changes before it hit the shelves. Kikuchi was unsatisfied with the original title (Ii na Ii na, “I’m jealous, I’m jealous”) and text, and decided to essentially write two books (one starring Kuro, one starring Shiro), and merge them together. This caused the book to undergo a total rewrite, which may have thrown off another editor, but not Nagaoka. She was delighted by the changes. It was only after Kikuchi’s extensive revisions that the book seemed to come together, and Saito, too, was happy to roll with it. Saito encouraged Kikuchi to simplify the cover’s color palette to black, white, and red to create greater contrast between the book’s central characters. The colors also start to thin out by the end of the book, which Kikuchi says mirrors how the sky lightens with the sunrise. “The sky starts brightening because Kuro’s thinking about Shiro. It’s still night, but there are more white scenes because his whole head is full of Shiro…so I used black less and less.” The overall book design was shaped by Kuro’s feelings—a decision Kikuchi credits to Saito. 

Art by Chiki Kikuchi on display in Kichijoji, Tokyo, in fall 2019 (photo courtesy Kaori Nagaoka). Click to enlarge.

Towards the end of the talk show, Kikuchi spoke about his son’s contributions to the exhibition. “Sometimes my son is sensitive and you can really see it in his body language, sort of like Shiro and Kuro,” Kikuchi says. As the opening drew closer, Kikuchi employed his son to help him create a paper sculpture of Shiro. The key to Kikuchi’s picture books really seems to be his son, who influences him so much. As his son and other young readers look at Kikuchi’s pages and imagine a great, big world, adult readers take pleasure in how Kikuchi puts them back in touch with their childhood selves, finding excitement in the small pleasures of the everyday. Just as words and images work together to shape a picture book, that white space between childhood wonder and adult understanding informs how we read them. And the Kichijoji Kikuchi exhibition, happily, gave us much room to dwell. 

Shiro to kuro (White and Black) by Chiki Kikuchi and the other titles in this post have not yet been published in English translation. We hope they will be soon! 

Tomo Anthology Supports Kesennuma NPO Sokoage

By Holly Thompson, Kamakura
Editor, Tomo Anthology

March 11, 2020 marked nine years since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and eight years since the Stone Bridge Press publication of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction–An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Port cities along the coast are still in the midst of massive reconstruction projects and neighborhood development and revitalization, and this past autumn brought harsh new challenges to recovering areas of Tohoku with damaging typhoons. Typhoon number 19 (Hagibis) in October caused devastating floods resulting in nearly 100 deaths in Tohoku–the majority in Fukushima Prefecture. The Tomo Anthology community helped to spread the call for volunteers to help with inundation clean-up efforts.

As recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan triple disasters and recent typhoons continues, proceeds from sales of the Tomo Anthology still assist programs for teens in Tohoku. In 2019, the Tomo Anthology donated 100,000 JPY to the certified NPO 底上げ Sokoage in the city of Kesennuma in the northeast Miyagi Prefecture.

In October, I traveled up to Tohoku to participate in post-typhoon volunteer flood clean-up work in Miyagi prefecture, and was able to visit Kesennuma to meet with Takafumi Narumiya, one of Sokoage’s four staff members, in Pier 7’s waterfront Square Ship co-working space.

Narumiya-san explained Sokoage’s broad aims to provide opportunities for youth in the area, foster community, cultivate connections across generations, and support camps and programs for college students to engage with their Miyagi Prefecture communities from wherever they may be based.

The Sokoage Facebook page offers a glimpse at these programs and provides a sense of the spirit and dedication of the individuals at the heart of this NPO.

Your purchases of the Tomo Anthology which include 36 Japan stories for teens, including ten in translation, will help us continue to support teen programs in recovering areas of 3/11 impacted communities in Tohoku. Thank you!

May the Tohoku cities and towns hard hit by the 2011 triple disasters continue to utilize their resilience and determination to come together to create vibrant Tohoku communities for generations to come.

Cross-posted from the Tomo blog with permission.

Batchelder, Printz Honors for The Beast Player

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore

The new decade has begun on a high note for Cathy Hirano: Her translation of Nahoko Uehashi’s YA novel The Beast Player has been named a Batchelder Honor Book and a Printz Honor Book for 2020!

Hirano is no stranger to accolades. As the translator of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Uehashi, as well as The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto, Hirano has three prior Batcheldor Award/Honor books under her belt. In addition, her translation of Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake, was shortlisted for the 2018 UKLA Book Awards, and her translation of the non-fiction book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and its sequel are international best-sellers. She has translated across numerous age categories and genres, from picture books to adult books and from nonfiction to fantasy.

The Beast Player in English encompasses the first two volumes in a series by the cultural anthropologist and author Nahoko Uehashi, recipient of the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing.

The Beast Player is set in a multicultural and complex world. It follows the adventures of a young, biracial orphan girl named Elin who is raised in the mountains by a beekeeper. She is later trained in a school for beast doctors, where she learns to tame huge, winged, wolf-like creatures who help her in her quest to save the kingdom’s throne.

Cathy Hirano’s enchanting translation has made this pacy and thrilling story possible for English-reading audiences to enjoy, about a decade after it took Japanese readers by storm.