Archive for the ‘The Translator’s Craft’ Category

One Passage, Nine Translations—Mieko Kawakami

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

At SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2018 on October 20, Louise Heal Kawai critiqued participants’ translations of a passage in Ichigo jamu kara ichigo kara hikeba (Strawberry Jam Without the Strawberries) by Mieko Kawakami, from the volume Akogare (Longing). As yet unpublished in English, Ichigo jamu features the same characters as Ms. Ice Sandwich, translated by Kawai. It takes place two years later, when the main characters are in sixth grade. It unfolds from the perspective of Tutti, the narrator’s female classmate in Ms. Ice Sandwich.

In one part of the workshop passage, Tutti expresses disgust with adults who make silly YouTube videos, which are the obsession of another classmate in the stories, nicknamed Doo-Wop.

Below are the original passage by Kawakami; eight blinded translations by participants in Translation Day; and a translation and commentary by Louise Heal Kawai.

For reference, Tutti is Kawai’s localization of a punny nickname, Hegatī, based on an incident in which the character’s fart smelled like tea.

 

Original Passage

大人にもいろいろな人がいるんだろうけれど、そんな大人ってちょっと、いや、だいぶいやじゃない? そう話したら、ヘガティーはわかってないね、今この人たちがいちばんすごいんだよ、とドゥワップは鼻をふくらませて言うのだった。

いちばんっていったいどこのいちばんなの、何のいちばんなの、すごいっていったいどういう意味で、というわたしの質問には答えずに、ドゥワップはすごくうれしそうに話をつづけた。僕らみたいな小学生とか子どもとかが毎日毎日こうやってみてるじゃん、すっごいみるじゃん、で、僕らがみればみるだけ、この人たちにいっぱいお金がいく仕組みになってるの。それは本当なの? 本当だよ。その大人にどれくらいお金が入るの。そりゃもう、すごいお金だよ、やばい感じだよ。うそ。本当だよ。じゃあコーラ風呂とかそういうのみるたびにドゥワップはお金払ってるの? 僕はべつに払ってないよ。じゃあ誰がそのやばいくらいのお金払うの。それは、その、わからないけど、誰かだよ。

[Source: Akogare by Mieko Kawakami (Shinchosha, 2015). ISBN-13: 978-4103256243]

 

Translation A

I’m sure there are all kinds of grownups, but don’t you kinda—no, don’t you really hate that kind? When I said that to Doo-Wop he got all snooty and said, You just don’t get it, huh, Hegarty? These guys are the absolute coolest right now.

“Absolute”? Of what? What kind of absolute? And what does “coolest” mean? But Doo-Wop didn’t answer my questions; he just happily chattered on. Elementary-schoolers like us—kids, I mean—are watching every day—like a ton! And just by us watching, these guys make loads of money. Is that true? Yeah. How much money do they make? Oh man, so much. It’s crazy. No way. It’s true. So do you pay every time you watch that soda bath video or whatever? Nope, I don’t pay. So who pays that crazy amount of money? Well, I’m not sure, but someone.

Then computer time started as usual.

 

Translation B

I mean, I know there are various grownups in the world, but aren’t these people a little (actually, extremely) awful? When I suggested this to Doowop, his nostrils flared as he said, “Hegarty, you just don’t get it. These grownups are the most amazing ones.”

The most amazing? In what world are they the most amazing?! Amazing at what? What do you mean by “amazing?” Ignoring my barrage of questions, Doowop happily continued on. “So elementary school students like us, and other kids everywhere, are watching this stuff every day. I mean, we watch it a lot. And the more we watch, the more money these people make. That’s how the system works.” Really? “Yep, really.” Exactly how much do these grownups make? “They make tons of money. It’s almost scary!” No way. “Yep, it’s true.” So, you pay money each time you watch a cola-filled bathtub? “No, I’m not paying any money.” Then who is paying these scary amounts of money? “Well, that’s, um, I’m not sure. But somebody is paying.”

And so, computer class began again, as it always does.

 

Translation C

Adults come in all sorts too, but isn’t that kind of adult a bit, no, a lot, weird? But when I say that, Doo-wop flares his nostrils in disgust and retorts ‘Tutti, you don’t get it, these people are so great, they’re the best’.

Doo-wop ignored me asking about them being the best of what and of where, and what makes them so great, and just kept talking excitedly.

Loads of primary school kids like us watch them every day, you know, we watch them a lot, and the more we watch, the more money these people get.

Is that true?

Yeah, it’s true.

How much do those adults get?

It’s, you know, a lot. Like a serious amount.

No way.

Yes way.

So like every time you watch that bath full of cola, you pay money?

I don’t pay anything.

So who is paying all that money?

It’s, that’s, I don’t know, but someone does.

 

And with that, computer class starts the same way as always.

 

Translation D

There are probably some strange adults, but these ones are not just strange – they are way too weird. When I said that, Duwap snorted, “You don’t know anything do you, Hegaty. These people are the tops today. They’re amazing!”

What do you mean by tops? What are these people tops at? What’s so amazing?

Duwap didn’t answer my questions. He just kept on talking, excited.

We primary schoolers and other kids watch these videos every day, right? We just watch so much, right? Now here’s how it works – the more we watch, the more money these people get! Really? Yeah! How much do these adults get? Huge, huge amounts! It’s crazy! No way. It’s true! Do you pay when you watch coke bath videos? No, not me. I don’t pay. So, who’s paying this crazy amount of money? Well, I don’t know, but it’s gotta be someone.

And so, the PC lesson would start as it always did.

 

Translation E

I know there are all kinds of adults but an adult like that is not okay, right?

When you say the best, what kind of best, what sort of best, what does amazing mean—Doo-wop didn’t answer my questions, but just kept talking on and on happily. So, there are lots of children, school kids like us, doing this every day, which is crazy, because just us watching means those people get lots of money, right? How much do they get? Well, a lot—a ton of money. You’re kidding, I said. It’s true, he said. So then, do you pay for your cola baths and video binges? I asked. I’m not the one paying. Then who’s paying for all that? I’m not sure, he said, but someone is.

And so our computer activity class begins again.

 

Translation F

Adults surely come in a wide array, but the ones who’d make these videos are sort of weird, don’t you think? No—really weird! When I said so to Doo-Wop, he just flared his nostrils and said, “Ah, Tutti, you don’t get it, do you? These days, they are the cool ones!”

“Cooler where? How? What does cool even mean?” I asked, but without answering, Doo-Wop kept chatting gaily. “See, children and students like us are watching these vids day in and day out, right? Isn’t that amazing, if you think about it? And, the more we watch, the more money the people who make the videos get. That’s how it works.” “Really?” “Really.” “How much do they get?” “A ton, more than you can imagine.” “No way.” “It’s true!” “So, every time you view the cola bathtub video, are you paying money?” “Nah, I’m not paying anything.” “So who’s paying the ton of money?” “I don’t know, but someone is.”

And thus, a typical computer class began.

 

Translation G

I get that there’s all kinds of grown-ups out there, but aren’t people like that kinda…lame? Kinda really lame?

But when I said that to Doowop, he just scrunched up his nose at me.

“You don’t get it, Hegarty,” he said. “These guys are geniuses.”

“Geniuses at what? What do they even do?”

Doowop didn’t answer my question. He just kept on talking with a huge smile on his face.

“See, loads of grade schoolers and kids like us watch their videos every day, right? And it’s set up so they get money from us watching them.”

“For real?”

“Yeah, for real.”

“How much money do they make?”

“They get rich. Like, CRAZY rich.”

“No way.”

“Way.”

“So does that mean you’re paying every time you see them take a bath in a tub full of soda or something?”

“Nah, I’m not paying them.”

“Then who is?”

“Beats me… But someone’s gotta be.”

And so started another average day of computer lab.

 

Translation H

Of course, there are all kinds of adults, but isn’t that type a bit – no, well-and-truly – off? When I said that to him, Doo-Wop just replied with, “you wouldn’t understand, Hegarty”, and infuriated me by saying these people are the best.

He just ignored all my questions – “What was so great about them? What did he mean by ‘great’ anyway?” – and happily kept rabbiting on about them.

“If primary school kids like us keep watching these things day after day, hour after hour, well, the more money these adults get from us.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“How much do they make?”

“Heaps. It’s outrageous.”

“No way.”

“True. So when you watch videos like the cola bath, aren’t you paying them, Doo-Wop?”

“I haven’t paid anything.”

“So, who pays them all that money then?”

“No idea, but someone must.”

Then computer time began as usual.

 

Translation by Louise Heal Kawai

I mean I guess there are all kinds of grown-ups in the world, but don’t you find these kind of people a bit gross, don’t they freak you out? When I said this to Doo-Wop, he snorted.

“You don’t understand anything, Tutti. These are the top people, the coolest.”

The top? Top of what? And how were they cool? But Doo-Wop didn’t bother answering my questions, just kept on talking, all excited.

“Every single day, kids like us watch their videos, and every time someone watches them, there’s like a thing set up that gives them loads of money.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“How much money do these grown-ups get?”

“Tons. Tons and tons of money. Like you wouldn’t believe.”

“No!”

“I swear.”

“So you – Doo-Wop – give them money every time they get in a cola bath or stuff like that?”

“Well, no, I’m not paying anything.”

“So who’s giving them this tons of money?”

“Well…. I dunno exactly, but someone is.”

And so computer class began the same way as usual.

 

Comments by Louise Heal Kawai

“I was rather freer with my translation of the first part of this section than any of the participants. Perhaps it was because I knew my translation wasn’t going to be analyzed in a workshop (!) but in general I feel taking a few liberties as long as the meaning is not lost is something to be encouraged rather than discouraged. And I do believe that ‘a bit gross’ moving on to ‘freak you out’ is very much in the spirit of the original. I also cut a bit of Doo-Wop’s exaggeration of how much kids watched the videos, as it sounded too repetitive and I felt took away from the ‘tons of money’ speech later.

“As for the second half dialogue, I think breaking it up line by line makes it clearer, but the use of italics versus regular font also works nicely and avoids the crowded look of quotation marks or he said/she said in the run-on text.

“Although at times the vocabulary and grammar choice seemed a little mature for a twelve-year-old, in general I loved the variety of phrases used by the participants to bring these kids’ speech to life.

“Thank you to the eight brave participants who took the time to submit a translation, and to everyone who attended the workshop.”

Louise Heal Kawai leads the workshop at SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2018.

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When Translating Japanese Children’s Literature Helps You Meet Ruth Stiles Gannett

Dover Publications edition of My Father’s Dragon

Every once in a while, being a translator of Japanese children’s books puts you in the best place to learn about children’s books of another country. Such was the case when Deborah Iwabuchi agreed to translate the only biography (in Japanese) of Ruth Stiles Gannett, author of My Father’s Dragonand assist Ms. Gannett on her summer 2018 visit to Japan.

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

First of all, a little background for how this came about! In 2010, Ruth Stiles Gannett came to Japan at the invitation of a Japanese newspaper. The well-known author, aged 87 at the time, captured the heart of Akie Maezawa, the interpreter assigned to accompany Ms. Gannett on school visits. Maezawa subsequently made a trip to Ithaca, New York, to visit and talk to Ms. Gannett.

The result was the only book-length biography of the author of the Elmer books, The Woman who Wrote My Father’s Dragon, Ruth S. Gannett (published in Japanese by Fukuinkan Shoten).

I met Maezawa—let’s call her Aki, as Ms. Gannett does—when she attended an SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 in search of a translator for her book, which has been well-received by Elmer fans in Japan.

The Japanese biography of Ruth Stiles Gannett, written by Akie Maezawa, published by Fukuinkan Shoten

One look at the cover, with a photo of a smiling Ruth Gannett holding a huge stuffed Boris doll surrounded by a sunny background of white and yellow stripes, and I was sold! (That’s another story, and yes we are looking for a publisher.) Meanwhile, Aki became involved with Puk, a Japanese puppet theater company. Puk was planning a production of My Father’s Dragon and was facing various problems with copyrights. Aki became their point person to garner support from the author of the book. After the production got the go-ahead, the people at Puk decided they wanted more than anything to have Ruth Gannett in Japan to see it. The author, 94, had recently had an accident that left her bedridden, but in typical style, she miraculously recovered and, accompanied by two of her seven daughters, she made the trip to Japan.

Ms. Gannett and her daughters made it safely to Tokyo at the end of July 2018 and, among side trips to Hakone and other places, attended a Puk performance, much to the joy of the audience and cast. On August 4, a separate event took place at Kinokuniya Hall in Shinjuku: a panel discussion by four people closely connected to the Elmer books in Japan, followed by Q-and-A session with Ms. Gannett. To my great pleasure, Aki asked me to help interpret the event for the three guests of honor.

On the evening of August 4, Ms. Gannett and her lovely daughters, Louise Kahn and Margaret (Peggy) Crone, arrived wreathed in smiles and ready for the big evening. The looks on the audience members’ faces as we all entered the packed Kinokuniya Hall told the story of how much everyone loved the books: My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland. Many families in the room had three generations present, eager to see a beloved author. Feeling like a celebrity myself, I settled with Ms. Gannett’s family in seats about halfway back in the hall, until it was time for Ms. Gannett to go onstage.

Above: Ms. Gannett, her daughters, and a cutout of Ms. Gannett backstage at Kinokuniya Hall.

The first half of the program was a panel discussion with Mr. Shibasaki, the director of the Puk production, Aki Maezawa, Tetsuta Watanabe—son of the late Shigeo Watanabe who translated the Elmer books—and Tomoko Shirota, a member of JBBY who has successfully used My Father’s Dragon for twenty-four years in library programs to get children reading. The initial talks by these four were delightfully full of episodes about Ruth Stiles Gannett, Elmer Elevator, the puppet production and children and adults who have read and loved the books over the years. I wish I had the room to include all the stories here.

Japanese edition of My Father’s Dragon, translated by Shigeo Watanabe, published by Fukuinkan Shoten

Since this is a translators’ blog, let me talk about Shigeo Watanabe, as described by his son Tetsuta, who traveled all the way from Australia to be with Ms. Gannett that evening. The elder Watanabe was a member of the ISUMI group: writers and translators who met regularly in the years following the end of World War II to discuss the direction in which they hoped to take children’s literature in Japan. Watanabe had first read My Father’s Dragon in 1952, just four years after its publication in the US. He and the ISUMI group eventually chose the book as one they wanted Japanese children to read. In Tetsuta’s words, “They were looking for a book Japanese would enjoy, but probably not write.” My Father’s Dragon was published in Japanese as “Elmer’s Adventure” (Erumaa no boken) in 1964.

Tetsuta, a small child at the time, recalls his father ruminating over aspects of the book—things that would warm the cockles of a translator—such as the relationship of the two wild boars who make appearances throughout the story. Were they siblings? Friends? A married couple? He had to know so he could decide the type of language to use. Inverting parts of words as the excitable Mouse did in the English proved to be an easy task as Japanese syllables are easy to play with. Once the book was out, Watanabe, a young man with a family to support, kept careful records of the number of copies My Father’s Dragon sold, comparing it to Rieko Nakagawa’s Iya-iya-en, a bestselling Japanese book, which came out at about the same time. (Note: It turns out that Nakagawa and her son, Kanta, are both huge Elmer fans! Shirota told the rapt audience how young Kanta had begged his mother to use her publishing contacts to rewrite the book with his name in it and title it Kanta’s Adventure. The little boy only gave up his tearful pleas when Nakagawa explained about copyrights.)

Above: Tetsuta Watanabe and Akie Maezawa pose backstage; Ms. Gannett signs her autograph.

Shigeo Watanabe went on to become a prominent translator of children’s books. I have never read his Japanese translation of Elmer, but I’m sure he deserves his share of the credit for how the books have stood the test of time and remained consistently popular in Japan for the past half-century—as well as for the excitement in Kinokuniya Hall on August 4.

The second part of the program that evening was devoted to Ruth Stiles Gannett. Frail, but elegant and sure, she took the stage flanked by her daughter Louise, who assisted her mother with some responses (the interpreter’s interpreter) and me (the plain old Japanese-to-English interpreter). Aki, who knows Ms. Gannett well, took the job of summarizing and interpreting the author’s responses into Japanese. Ms. Gannett’s English was easy to understand and the audience was perfectly silent as they hung on every word, and remained captivated as they listened to the Japanese that came afterwards. Here are a few of the questions.

Anniversary edition of the Elmer trilogy

Why did you decide to write the books? I had been working at a ski lodge, the snow had melted and I had nothing to do. My parents were busy with their work, so I got busy writing! I did it mainly to entertain myself. I never intended to publish it until someone suggested it.

Why did you choose a dragon for Elmer to save? I was writing a book about my father, and I wanted him to save a creature that was large, strong and unusual.

Why did the dragon have yellow stripes? I drew a different picture of the dragon, and the stripes were the choice of my stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, who did all the illustrations in the book.

Why did you choose for Elmer to eat tangerines (mikan)? When I was young we got tangerines in the toes of our Christmas stockings. They weren’t available much before the Christmas season. Fruit like that was a rare treat for us.

What do you do every day? Oh not much, I like to read, get exercise, do yoga, bake bread and cookies . . . (note: there was more, but I can’t remember it all!).

Ms. Gannett had a question of her own that she mentioned several times during the short time I was with her. I’ll put it out there and would love to hear from anyone who has ideas on the subject so I can let her know. In publishing My Father’s Dragon, she intended it for middle graders to read, but she has found that in Japan it is overwhelmingly read to preschoolers, and she wonders why that is.

The two hours sped quickly by. Just before the evening ended we were joined on stage by Peggy and the Puk cast as the entire hall sang “Happy Birthday” to Ms. Gannett, who will be 95 on August 12. “Don’t forget!” Aki reminded the audience, “Her name is Ruth. Make sure to get the ‘r’ and the ‘th!’”

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My selfie with Ruth Stiles Gannett. I worried that we would wear her out, but Ms. Gannett and her daughters were gracious and she had a beautiful smile for everyone! —D.I.

Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Features Japan, Including Children’s and YA Literature

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Looking for a strong dose of commentary on Japanese literary works online? Try the special Japan-in-Translation series at the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (published throughout May 2018). Organized by David Jacobson, this series offered an entire month of blog posts spanning poetry and prose, manga, light novels, chapter books, picture books, fun with kanji, and onomatopoeia, plus reflections on publishing and reading translated works. Several members of SCBWI Japan contributed.

Here is the full list of posts in the series, including many on children’s literature:

Don’t Know What “Ippai Attena” Means? You Will.

By Emily Balistrieri, Tokyo

Rudorufu to Ippai Attena by Hiroshi Saito is a cute chapter book about a little black cat who finds himself lost in the big city, after inadvertently boarding a long-haul truck. He befriends a tough stray who knows a few tricks—including how to read human language. Can Rudolf use what he learns to find a way home?

Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda as Rudolf and Ippai Attena, it’s put out in English by Kodansha in their Eigo Bunko line (which hardcore Haruki Murakami fans might be aware of, as it was the only way to read his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in English [translated by Alfred Birnbaum] until the 2015 version translated by Ted Goossen). Since Rudolf is a book published in Japan for young English learners, complete with a vocab list in the back, you might wonder how the translators approached it.

At a talk Iwabuchi and Enda gave recently in Tokyo, they said their goal was for English-speaking elementary-schoolers to be able to understand and relate to the story. As such, one of their focuses, besides navigating cultural things like torii and fish varieties, was making street-smart Ippai Attena sound like he could handle a fight without veering into words children shouldn’t use. Iwabuchi described English bad words as similar to Japanese keigo, in that there are various registers and situational uses. When she said this, I immediately thought of how kono yarō can operate on so many levels of English insults, from “Ya little booger” to “You bastard” (and surely beyond).

Speaking of “Ippai Attena,” though, if you’re wondering how this unconventional name made it through as-is, the main rationale was that the title is equally mysterious in Japanese (I won’t spoil what it means here). The translators do work an explanation into the text. While there may have been smoother options, the book’s very clear setting in Japan includes a few other references to the Japanese language, so the rōmaji doesn’t feel entirely misplaced.

As it turns out, the name joke was only one of many the translators had to cope with, including that most brutal pun, sake/salmon. And Ippai Attena’s trademark threat got an amusing localization to make it more evocative for English readers who may not know Doraemon.

Overall, the book’s themes of getting your education and using knowledge to accomplish your goals are good, but I especially like Ippai Attena’s nurturing side; for instance, where he says, “When you talk tough and sound nasty, your mind starts thinking it’s tough and that it’s acceptable to be mean,” I hope readers pause and consider the idea.

Are You an Echo? Showcased at Tokyo Event

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi Japan

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From left: Toshikado Hajiri, Michiko Tsuboi, and David Jacobson

On February 4, the illustrator, one of the translators, and the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko spoke at an SCBWI Japan event in Tokyo.

Author David Jacobson (above right) began by telling how he was introduced to the works of Misuzu Kaneko (1903–1930), by friends who were Kaneko fans. He began to do research and work out a plan and funding for a book of her poetry.

The first order of business was finding a translator. The “translator” turned out to be an aunt-niece team: Michiko Tsuboi, based in Japan, and Sally Ito, an ethnic Japanese born and raised in Canada. Both of the women had already translated Kaneko poems for “fun,” according to Tsuboi. Jacobson found in these two women the enthusiasm for Kaneko’s work he felt was needed to translate her poetry. He also wanted a feminine interpretation of the “motherly” and “girlish” language Kaneko used in her poems.

Jacobson, Tsuboi and Ito first met in person when they, with illustrator Toshikado Hajiri, took a trip to Senzaki (now Nagato City) where Kaneko spent her life. Thus motivated to get on with the project, their real work began.

Tsuboi told us about the endless emails and Skype sessions she, Jacobson and Ito shared. From my point of view as a translator, one of the most interesting points was how Tsuboi and Ito were so involved in Jacobson’s narrative of Kaneko’s life. Tsuboi mentioned how shocked she was when her Canadian niece criticized Jacobson’s work at times, but seeing that the author was paying attention, she joined in with her own unvarnished opinions. In the end, all three of the group were credited for narrative and translation. In the process, the story of Kaneko’s life became the prominent feature of the book. But Jacobson was determined to include many of her poems.

are-you-an-echo-cover-1024x855Tsuboi said her role in translating the poetry was to convey the nuances of Japanese culture to her niece, and Ito’s job was to make the poetic interpretation. The two thought the simple poems would be easy to translate, but they ended up in endless arguments about wording and interpretation.

As a reader thoroughly enchanted by Are You an Echo? I enjoyed the back story about the trip to Senzaki, the arguments and critiques and endless rewriting. As a translator and writer, I was in awe of the dedication to the work and the ability of all involved to set their egos aside, to create a book that so eloquently honors the tragedy and unique sensitivity of a little known poet.

The event on February 4 continued with a showcase of works by SCBWI Japan members, including Ginny Tapley Takemori, translator of The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui.

Manga With Miso Soup: A Mini-Joust

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How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 featured a manga mini-joust with translators Zack Davisson and Alexander O. Smith, who discussed the work How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto. Yamamoto attended the event in Yokohama as a special guest.

How Are You? is the poignant story of a family’s break-up, told from the perspective of a girl in their neighborhood. The husband in the family is Japanese; the wife is from northern Europe. Their daughter is a teenager. The story unfolds in urban or suburban Japan.

For the mini-joust, Davisson and Smith each translated the same three pages from How Are You? and discussed their approaches, with Smith in Yokohama and Davisson appearing by Skype from Seattle.

The mini-joust by all accounts ended in a draw. Smith, translator of Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump and Davisson, translator of Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, presented their work in different formats: Smith with his English text handwritten into the graphics, and Davisson in typewritten text with industry abbreviations: numbers to show which panel, FX for “effects.”

Smith (standing) and Davisson (via Skype) discuss their translations of How Are You? Yamamoto is seated at left in the white sweater.

Alexander O. Smith (standing) and Zack Davisson (via Skype) discuss their translations of How Are You? by manga artist Miki Yamamoto, seated at left in the white sweater.

Here are the three excerpts the translators discussed, each followed by Smith’s translation and then by Davisson’s. Following each excerpt are a few notes.

Excerpt 1

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[Source: p. 10, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

 how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-10

Translation by Zack Davisson

P10

1.1 … she only wants to be like her daddy.

1.2 You’re imagining things.

1.3 I’m not! Dying her hair black …

1.4 Straightening it with an iron …

2.1 Sheesh!

2.2 She’s a pubescent high school girl. That’s all.

4.1 So what do you want for dinner?

4.2 Eh? I’m good with whatever Lisa wants.

4.3 His beautiful foreign wife and charming daughter are like vivid flowers blossoming in a garden from one of his drawings. A typical Sunday for the happy Masaoka family.

AU: The translations of this first excerpt show some confusion about who Lisa was (wife or daughter?). The translators at first did not have access to the full book, so had no way of knowing Lisa’s identity.

ZD: I think this shows how ambiguous translation can be, and how sometimes translators have to make a “best guess” . . .  one that is often revised later down the line when you go back and do revisions.

AOS: At the mini-joust, translator Hart Larrabee suggested that instead of saying “foreign wife” we could use the wife’s nationality (I think it was Danish?), as an alternative to removing “foreign” altogether, which is what I did.

Excerpt 2

 %e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f-%e5%b1%b1%e6%9c%ac%e7%be%8e%e5%b8%8c-p-18

[Source: p. 18, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

 how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-18

Translation by Zack Davisson

P18

1 FX: Chop chop chop chop

2 FX: Chop chop chop

3 FX: Chop chop chop

4.1 FX: Huh

4.2 Oh.

4.3 Crap.

4.4 I think I overdid it.

5.1 Did you get any sleep last night?

5.2 Not really … but

5.3 In case, you know … when he comes home.

5.4 I thought I should have breakfast ready.

7.1 Is this … miso soup?

7.2 Or a bowl of onions …?

8 …. I have to go to school. See you later!!

ZD: Something I just noticed: The text here only says gohan, and Alex made that dinner while I had it as breakfast! Ah, the choices translators have to make when they don’t have enough information…

AOS: It’s interesting how both Zack and I approached the miso soup part on the bottom right of p. 18 the same way, changing what was a statement in the Japanese (direct translation “but this miso soup . . . has nothing but leeks”) to a rhetorical question. My version hews a little closer to the Japanese, but I find myself preferring Zack’s more in-the-moment take on the line.

Zack Davisson, via Skype from Seattle, and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

Zack Davisson and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

Excerpt 3

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[Source: p. 32, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-32

Translation by Zack Davisson

P32

1 What if … what if he never comes back?

What if I never learn anything more than this?

I never know why he left. Where he went.

3

What if … this is it? He never comes back. He’s just … missing. And I …

What do I … what do I … w …what am I s..supposed to d..d..do …

Miki Yamamoto has also authored the works Ribbon Around a Bomb and Sunny Sunny Ann. All illustrations in this blog post are © Miki Yamamoto, and used with permission.

One Passage, Six Translations—Akiyuki Nosaka

hotaru-no-haka-amazon-co-jpBy Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok 

At SCBWI Japan Translation Day on October 22, 2016, Ginny Tapley Takemori presented a workshop on translating excerpts from literature for young adults. One passage was a paragraph from Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) by Akiyuki Nosaka (1930–2015), and portrays a war orphan living in Sannomiya Station, Kobe, after the end of World War II.

Prior to Translation Day, five translators submitted renderings of this paragraph. Their renderings were then blinded for critique by Takemori in a full session.

Two of the submitters and Takemori also tackled a paragraph that follows this one, which comprises a single long, highly challenging sentence in the original.

Below are the original passage and five translators’ versions, the final two of which have the further paragraph (not given in Japanese). Below that is Ginny Tapley Takemori’s rendering of both paragraphs.

This passage may disturb young children.

Original Passage

省線三宮駅構内浜側の、化粧タイル剝げ落ちコンクリートむき出しの柱に、背中まるめてもたれかかり、床に尻をつき、両脚まっすぐ投げ出して、さんざ陽に灼かれ、一月近く体を洗わぬのに、清太の瘦せこけた頰の色は、ただ青白く沈んでいて、夜になれば昂ぶる心のおごりか、山賊の如くかがり火焚き声高にののしる男のシルエットをながめ、朝には何事もなかったように学校へ向かうカーキ色に白い風呂敷包みは神戸一中ランドセル背負ったは市立中学、県一親和松蔭山手ともんぺ姿ながら上はセーラー服のその襟の形を見分け、そしてひっきりなしにかたわら通り過ぎる脚の群れの、気づかねばよしふと異臭に目をおとした者は、あわててとび跳ね清太を避ける、清太には眼と鼻の便所へ這いずる力も、すでになかった。

[Source: America hijiki, Hotaru no haka by Akiyuki Nosaka (Shinchosha, 1968). ISBN-10: 4101112037]

Translation A

Seita sat hunched over against a pillar outside the beachside exit of Sannomiya Station, buttocks pressed to the floor and legs stuck straight out before him. The glazed tiles of the pillar were chipped away in places, exposing the concrete underneath. Though his skin had been burned by the harsh sun, and he had not bathed in nearly a month, Seita’s hollow cheeks were pale and sunken. In the night he watched the silhouettes of men who brandished fire and cursed like raiders swelling with arrogance, and in the morning he watched the children walking to school as though nothing had happened. Those with khaki-coloured uniforms who carried their belongings wrapped in white cloths were from Kobe First. The ones with satchels were from public junior high schools. The girls from Kenichi, Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate all wore loose-fitting pants and middy blouses, but you could tell them apart by their collars. They passed Seita by in an endless stream of legs. Most did not even register that he was there – those who noticed a strange smell and glanced down gave a start and hurried to avoid him. Though it was only a few steps away, Seita no longer had the strength to crawl to the bathroom.

Translation B

Along the government railway line on the ocean side of Sannomiya Station, slouched against the exposed concrete of a pillar whose tiled surface had crumbled away, Seita sat with his backside on the floor and his legs splayed out before him. Despite long exposure to the burning sun and not having bathed in nearly a month, his sunken cheeks were sallow and ashen. At night he stared at the silhouettes of the men who made bonfires and cursed loudly like bandits, animated by the arrogance in their hearts, and in the morning he watched other children heading off to school as if all were right with the world: Kobe Middle School Number One with their white and khaki bundles, Municipal Middle School shouldering school knapsacks, the girls from Prefectural Number One, Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate all wearing loose workpants and sailor tops differentiated by the shape of each school’s collar. Among the endless stream of legs passing by there were those who, glancing down upon detecting a whiff of something foul, hurriedly leapt away to avoid Seita, who by now lacked even the strength to crawl to the nearby bathroom.

Translation C

Leaning slumped over on the beach side of the Sannomiya Station on the Sho Line against a pillar whose tiles had come off to reveal the bare concrete, butt to the floor, legs sticking straight out in front, completely sunburned, Seita’s emaciated cheeks only became paler, although he hadn’t bathed in almost a month; at night he watched the silhouettes of the men building a bonfires like bandits and shouting curses, perhaps out of pride in their agitation; and in the morning the khakis, whites, and folded cloth bags of Kobe 1 Junior High, the backpacks of the municipal junior high, and top of the prefecture Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate students he could tell apart by the shape of the sailor collar over their monpe work pants; people in the never-ending crowd of legs passing by who looked down at the bad smell they wish they hadn’t noticed hopped, flustered, to avoid him; already, he didn’t have the strength to crawl even an inch to a better place.

Translation D

On the side of the railway ministry’s Sannomiya station facing the ocean, the tiles were peeling off a concrete pillar. A boy sat under it, hunched, ready to fall over anytime. Butt to floor, legs stretched out, at the mercy of the sun, unwashed for nearly a month. Seita lay, cheeks hollowed, sunken, pale white. In the night, he sat gazing out at silhouettes of men who, as if aroused by their memories, swore like bandits, shrilling at the top of their voices, cracking like bonfires. In the morning, students passed by on their way to school as if nothing had happened, Kobe middle schoolers in their khakis and white cloth bundles, municipal city schoolers with their backpacks, and the Prefectural First, Shinwa, Shoin, and Yamate girls differentiated by the collars of sailor-styled uniforms worn over their working clothes. Endless pairs of feet would move along normally, until a nose caught the odor that brought their eyes down to their feet, then they would jump frantically aside, away. No morsel of strength was left in Seita to crawl to a place away from those noses or eyes.

Children, homeless and orphaned, sit at every 3-foot wide pillar, leaning in what felt like the bosom of their mothers, in the train station. They gather here because it is the only place they are allowed to enter. Or maybe because they longed to be among people, like it used to be. Or perhaps because they could always have water. Or in hope of that someone who would give them something to eat. The black market under the railway tracks at Sannomiya station began in September, from a cup of caramelized sugar water dished straight out of an oil drum going for 50sen each. Soon there were steamed potatoes, steamed cakes made from potato flour, rice balls, glutinous rice cakes, fried rice, red bean soup, steamed buns, udon, tempura rice, curry with rice, cake, rice, barley, sugar, tempura, beef, milk, canned fish, shochu or sweet potato liquor, whiskey, Japanese pears, large summer oranges, rubber boots, bicycle tyre tubes, matches, cigarettes, workman’s two-toed shoes, diaper covers, military blankets, military boots, military uniforms, half boots. An alumite lunch box of barley, freshly-packed in the morning by the wife is a “good ten yen, just ten yen.” A weary hand reaches down to remove a shoe, dangle it on one finger, and offer it instead for “how about twenty, twenty yen.” Seita first wandered in, lured by the smell of food. In time, he would find a space the size of a single grass mat to peddle old clothes. Selling off his late mother’s kimono, the inner dress, sash, and outer collar, which had all faded away while soaking in the water in a bomb shelter, he managed to somehow buy food to survive for two weeks. He then sold his school uniform, which was made of good cloth, those cloth bindings from the calf to the ankle, his shoes, but certainly not his trousers? As he dithered, he gradually came to spend the nights in the station. Families with young boys would return from evacuation in full celebratory color, carrying school bags packed with a mess tin, kettle, and metal helmet. Cloth bags dangling, evacuation hoods still neatly folded within. They probably gave out emergency rations in the trains. Relieved to have come thus far, they would leave behind steamed bran cakes for him, strings undone, like some unwanted baggage. A sympathetic soldier back from the frontlines or an old lady who took pity, reminded of her grandchild around the same age, would place a bite of leftover bread or pan-fried soy beans wrapped in paper a polite distance away, like they would in an offering to Buddha. Seita took these gratefully. Now and then, the station master would try to drive him away, making him get up, but the reserve MP manning the ticket gate would stand up for him. We do have lots of water, he reassured. Once he got back, he just sat. Two weeks later, he could no longer get up.

Translation E

Seita sat on the floor of Sannomiya government railway station, the side toward the ocean. His back sagged against a pillar whose tiles had peeled off, exposing the concrete, and his legs splayed out before him. The sun had roasted him. He had not bathed in nearly a month, and his emaciated cheeks hung hollow and pale. At night, he watched the silhouettes of furious men who lit bonfires and cursed like bandits; in the mornings, he watched students commute to school as if everything were normal. Students in khaki who carried white cloth bundles headed to Kobe Middle School Number 1; students with leather backpacks went to Municipal Middle School. Girls bound for Prefectural College Number 1, or Shinwa or Shoin or Yamate, wore monpe pants and sailor tops whose collars told them apart. In the endless stream of legs were those that jumped away, owners’ eyes averted, upon smelling Seita’s stench. He had not the strength to crawl to the toilet nearby.

Children like him sat in all directions against the three-foot pillars, as if the pillars were their mothers. They had come because the station was the one place where they were allowed, or because they could be near people again here, or because they could drink water, or because they hoped for a handout when someone dropped his guard. As soon as September came, a black market had opened beneath the railroad tracks, beginning with a spot where people paid fifty sen for a cup of sugar water drawn from a steel barrel. Soon there were steamed sweet potatoes, sweet potato flour dumplings, rice balls, daifuku dumplings, fried rice, rice flour dumplings in red bean sauce, manju dumplings, udon, tempura rice, curry rice, cake, plain rice, barley, sugar, tempura, beef, milk, canned fish, shochu liquor, whiskey, pears, sour oranges, rubber boots, bicycles, tire tubes, matches, cigarettes, cloth work shoes, diaper covers, military blankets, military boots, military uniforms, military half boots. A man would hold up some barley meal in an Alumite lunch box his wife had packed that morning and say, “How ’bout it, ten yen?” Another would remove his worn shoes and hold them up by a finger, saying, “Hey, twenty yen, hey, twenty yen.” Seita, lost and drawn in by the food smells, had laid out his dead mother’s under-kimono, obi, false collar, and waist strips for under the obi, all with the colors run and faded due to getting wet in an air raid. These sold for enough to feed him for two weeks, and then he had sold his middle school uniform and gaiters. By the time he was starting to hesitate, wondering if he could really sell his pants, he had begun to spend nights at the station. Families with children sometimes returned by train from bombing evacuation sites, their air raid hoods still folded in canvas bags, their rucksacks holding ration kits, kettles, steel helmets; dressed in their best, they carried the steamed rice-bran dumplings seemingly distributed for emergencies in trains, which they would decide they no longer needed and give Seita to lighten their loads. Or a demobilized soldier or an old person with grandchildren his age might take pity on him. They would leave their items softly a distance away, as if offering them to the Buddha: leftover bread, roasted soybeans. He would receive the gifts gratefully. Sometimes a station employee would chase him off, but a military police reservist at the wickets might knock the employee down and protect Seita, saying they at least had plenty of water here. In that way Seita had put down roots. Two weeks later he could no longer stand.

Translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori

In the mainline Sannomiya Station, bayside exit, Seita sat slumped against a column, its tiles peeling off to expose the bare concrete, with his bottom on the floor and both legs stretched out straight before him. He was sunburned to a frazzle and hadn’t washed for almost a month, yet his emaciated cheeks were sunken and pale. Come nightfall, he gazed at the silhouettes of men conversing rowdily with excessive bravado as they warmed themselves around the watch fire like bandits. In the morning he saw children his age heading off to middle school as if nothing were amiss, khaki-clad boys with white bundles from the top prefectural school and those with satchels on their backs from the city school, and girls sporting sailor blouses over their baggy wartime pantaloons, the folds of their collars indicating whether they attended the prestigious prefectural school or one of the three expensive private academies. The legs of the unseeing crowds filing purposefully past jumped to avoid him only at a whiff of his stench. But Seita no longer had the strength to crawl to the nearby toilet.

War orphans clustered around the base of each of the solid meter-thick columns as if finding in them motherly protection, having gathered here perhaps because it was the only place they were allowed in, or because they yearned to be among the crowds of people, or because here there was water to drink or some hope of scraps of food being tossed their way. Already by the beginning of September someone had started selling burned sugar dissolved in a drum of water for fifty sen a cupful under the railway arches, and almost overnight a black market had sprung up offering steamed sweet potatoes, sweet potato dumplings, rice balls, rice cakes, fried rice, bean soup, bean jam buns, noodles, tempura and rice, curry and rice, and then cake, rice, barley, sugar, tempura, beef, milk, canned fish, rice liquor, whisky, pears, bitter oranges, gum boots, bicycle inner tubes, matches, cigarettes, rubber-soled work shoes, nappies, army blankets, army boots, army uniforms, army boots. Men stood holding out the aluminium lunchboxes of barley rice their wives had packed for them just that morning “Yours for ten yen, yours for ten yen!” or dangling their tired old shoes in one hand “Twenty yen, how about it? Twenty yen!” Drawn singlemindedly by the smell of food, Seita had stumbled aimlessly in and sold the underkimono, sash, collar, and waist tie that were the only mementos he had of his mother from the flooded air raid shelter, the colours faded and run, at a second-hand clothing stall consisting of a single straw mat spread out on the ground, and had thus somehow managed to keep the wolf from the door for a couple of weeks—then went his rayon middle school blazer, gaiters, and shoes, and while wondering whether he could go so far as to sell his trousers, before he knew it he had become a nightly fixture inside the station. Here a boy with his family apparently returning from evacuation to the countryside, fully decked out with his air raid hood neatly folded and placed over his canvas bag, his mess tin and kettle and steel helmet attached to his backpack, left Seita some mouldy ricebran dumplings, no doubt emergency food prepared for the train journey and now it was no longer needed, discarded to lighten the load. Others—a kindly soldier returning from the front, an elderly woman with a grandson his age who took pity on him—left crusts and roasted soybeans wrapped in paper placed quietly at a safe distance, as if making an offering to Buddha, which he gratefully accepted. From time to time he was shooed away by the stationmaster, but the adjunct from the feared military police guarding the ticket gate sent the man sprawling, protecting him, and there was always enough water, so having found some comfort he settled in and put down roots until one day a couple of weeks later he could no longer stand.