Archive for the ‘The Translator’s Craft’ Category

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 This chapter book, as yet unpublished in English, features a main character named for his facial hair, which is coarse like a scrub brush.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!!”

My First Two Picture Book Translations!

By Holly Thompson, Kamakura

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Miyoshi Town (三芳町) Library in Saitama translating two picture books of local history. Thank you to Avery Fischer Udagawa (via JBBY) for sending this translation job my way!

Both books were created in conjunction with the town’s Yomi-ai Read Together initiative:よみ愛・読書のまち, and I worked closely with librarian Tomoko Shirota throughout the translation, editing and copyediting process.  

In June 2019, I visited Miyoshi Town to attend a performance of Chikumazawa Kuruma Ningyō puppetry by the local troupe and to gain some first-hand understanding of this performance art. Many people know of bunraku puppetry, but few are familiar with kuruma ningyō puppetry in which just a single puppeteer, seated on a small kuruma wheeled cart, controls each puppet. 

This puppetry style developed in the Tama region, and during the Meiji Era, the Maeda family of Chikumazawa began performances. However, as times changed and films and other forms of entertainment gained popularity, demand for puppet shows waned, and the last performance was held in 1921. Kuruma ningyō was put to rest, all but forgotten. Then in 1971, wicker boxes containing puppet parts, costumes, and carts were discovered in a Maeda family storeroom. Fortunately there were two healthy elderly individuals in the community who knew the art of kuruma ningyō puppetry and could train others. Now the Chikumazawa Ningyō Preservation Society troupe performs annually using original puppets, costumes and stories, and the performance art is taught to children in the region. This style of puppetry survives in just three places in Japan: Hachioji City, Okutama, and Chikumazawa in Miyoshi Town. 

The picture book about this type of puppetry, かえってきた竹間沢車人形 (Kaettekita Chikumazawa kuruma ningyō; English title The Puppets Are Back! Chikumazawa Kuruma Ningyo Puppetry) written and illustrated by Noriko Sagesaka, is told from the vantage point of young Yoshiko who helps her father discover the puppets and follows along as he learns to manipulate the puppets and ultimately perform on stage. I was fortunate to meet the real Yoshiko and her father during my visit to Miyoshi Town!

I loved the work of translating this book, especially the rich back matter and the interior “Look Inside!” and “Make It Move!” full-spread sections. 

The second book おいしくなあれ富のいも(Oishiku naare tome no imo; English title Grow, Grow, Grow, Tome Sweet Potatoes!) by Hiromi Watanabe and illustrated by Hiroko Takai was actually the first book published in this reading initiative series. This book focuses on a type of sweet potato cultivated in the Kawagoe area of Saitama. During my visit to Miyoshi Town, I was able to visit the Santome Shinden fields–long rectangular land allotments created some 300 years ago combining space for farm houses, forest for leaf compost, and long fields for the sweet potatoes famous in this area. I was fortunate to meet the farmer of the story, which features a fictional grandson Daichi learning about the growing cycle and the traditional Edo-era method for creating satsuma-doko seed beds for temperature control. 

In the story, Daichi plants his own seed potato in the fields, and in autumn during the fall harvest festival he savors the potatoes of his labor and looks forward to creating the seed bed again in early spring. 

This book, too, is fiction that features child-friendly nonfiction elements: a full spread about the traditional leaf compost method, plus back matter about Miyoshi Town–home of the famous Tome sweet potatoes. 

Miyoshi Town was selected to be an Olympic Host Town, and these books were translated anticipating an influx of tourists to the area this summer. Alas, COVID-19 interrupted those plans! At this time, the English-language translations are only available through special order via the Miyoshi Town Library. Librarians in Japan–PM me if you are interested in a copy!

As a picture book author, I love both crafting and reading fiction picture books that also weave in rich nonfiction contents. And I am always excited to work on projects about the arts, agriculture, rural life and nature. I hope to do more picture book translations in the future!

Cross-posted from the Hatbooks blog with permission.

#WorldKidLitMonth Interview: Andrew Wong on The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Andrew Wong’s translation of the picture book The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (from a Japanese edition by Yoshimi Kusaba, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa) has just been published ★ in English by Enchanted Lion Books. Here, I interview Andrew about the story behind the translation.

Andrew Wong holds his translation The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out (center), the Japanese original (left), and a book about José Mujica, Uruguay’s 40th president.

Deborah: Hi, Andrew. Congratulations on your translation of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out! I ordered the book and fell in love with it instantly. I’ve got lots of questions to ask you. First of all, how did you get involved with this project?

Andrew: Hooray, another reader! Well, my story begins at a bookstore in Tokyo one day. The cover struck me, so I picked it up and read it. I actually didn’t buy it the first time, but I was really drawn to the illustrations—the opening montage—and the very apparent messages. The initial montage works with a preface to introduce Mujica’s speech at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit and build up his personality, particularly his generous, frugal ways, which make him so well-loved by many Uruguayans. Those first few pages set readers up to interpret his speech, expecting to hear something “new” from him.

Deborah: That opening sequence drew me in, too, but of course I was looking at your English version. (Allow me to digress…) I had to know what the Japanese version was, so I got a copy right away. In both versions, there’s a great humor in the way Mujica’s wife sends her husband off to Rio for the +20 Summit. In the Japanese, she gives him the affectionate but unvarying greeting you’d give anyone going off to work for the day and then tacks on a request in a lovely Japanese way that doesn’t translate well. “Good-bye dear. Please feed the chickens.” Andrew, you solved that neatly with “Stay safe and feed the chickens on your way out! (Have a good trip, but don’t expect me to do your chores, Mr. President).” Okay, sorry I interrupted your story! Please continue.

Andrew: About that greeting, I left it as what it means to me, which is quite literal. The fact that Mr. President feeds the chickens on his farm just builds on his character—a person who seeks to live like everyone else. Anyway, I read the book again. And again. And realized how much I wanted to share this. That started my search for how to get the book translated into English, which led me to the SCBWI Japan Translation listserv. Then, at SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016, I met a literary agent from Japan UNI Agency, and Japan UNI hooked me up with Enchanted Lion. A lot of it was chance. (And I think Trump played a part.)

Deborah: 2016 was your first SCBWI Translation event, and there you connected with someone who found a publisher. That was serendipitous! So often connecting with the right people seems like good luck—and some of it probably is—but behind that is usually hard work and good planning. How did you go about the translation?

Andrew: I’m not sure if that was my first event, but it was quite early in my interactions with SCBWI. Anyway, translating the short speech didn’t take very long, and I usually start with a very literal draft. But before revising, I needed more perspective, and I found it in the opening pages of the book. After some forensic work, I found out that Mujica spoke around 8 p.m. in June at the Summit where the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura had also performed (another picture book!). Anyway, that helped to eventually ground the English in environmental and social issues, which were rooted in capitalist greed, competition, and consumerism. Besides reading more on Mujica to understand his ideas better, my search for an English publisher also led me to a Traditional Chinese version (I read and speak Chinese), which had backmatter from reviewers on being content with what you have.

Deborah: I’d like to hear about the difference with the Chinese version. Was it just the backmatter or was the book itself changed at all?

Andrew: The backmatter made the difference. My initial impressions were really close to the Chinese interpretation, perhaps stemming from my Chinese Singaporean roots. So when the editors at Enchanted Lion and I dwelled on how the text could be affected by cultural perspectives, we dug deeper into the many arguments in the speech. A lot had been packed into a speech that lasted just 10 minutes. It touched on many difficult concepts—capitalism, competition, consumerism, economic growth, desire, poverty, happiness—so we realized there was room left to interpretation. To top it off, it drew on philosophy! Along the way, we also referred to the original Spanish, and it guided how we wanted to convey the speech—with clarity and passion.

Deborah (eyes popping out a little bit): So, going back to Mujica’s original speech in Spanish helped iron out some important nuances—after working with the Japanese and Chinese versions of the book.

Andrew: I did share the perspective from the two versions (as far as I know, there’s a Korean one too!), and initially I stuck close to the Japanese because we thought it was going to be straightforward. But I didn’t succeed in making polite Japanese sound quite as passionate. So we worked on the tone based on the original Spanish. As I said, there were many ideas in the speech, so we took a long, deep look because we didn’t want to leave things ambiguous. The editors and I kept a conversation going, exchanging emails in spurts over a few months, and eventually grounded the book in environmental and social issues. I believe that gave us a way to tie things together and wrap it all up nicely for everyone. It was a long and rewarding collaborative thought process, and I am grateful to everyone who was involved in shaping the English into what it is, because I certainly couldn’t have done it alone.

Deborah: No matter how long I translate, it’s always a surprise to find out how much effort and thought is required to change a book—one that seems quite straightforward—from one language to another. Did you find it necessary to simplify anything so that children could understand it? I see the target age is 8 to 12.

Andrew: Even though I don’t understand Spanish, I think the Japanese picture book did the hard work of making the difficult concepts accessible to children. Also, don’t you think Nakagawa’s illustrations work so well with the text to build a compelling argument? They also add perspective, for example, about how competition is about outdoing each other (not building each other up); how economic “growth” is driven by a fear of recession, leaving a pile of trash while a wise man stands above; and the importance of happiness for the family, livestock and all. I can go on, because there is so much to talk about in each and every spread. (My favorite is the baby in the cosmos!)

Deborah: I absolutely agree with you. I love the illustrations. I can see how they would help children understand what Mujica is saying! Now, your mention of the sweet baby in the cosmos brings me to a question I’ve got to ask. When I picked up your English translation of the book, I flipped through and was so impressed with the glorious diversity the illustrations represented. And then I got the Japanese version, and my jaw fell. To mention just a few of the differences, in the Japanese version, all the drivers in the smoggy traffic jam were men in Sikh turbans, the sweatshop workers were all brown, and the happy family of farmers and the sweet baby in the cosmos were all white! What was your role in the fortunate shift to inclusion in the English version?

Andrew: To be honest, I didn’t see the problem initially, but one day Enchanted Lion contacted me saying the Indian people caught in traffic were all unhappy Sikh men. And then the rest became easy to spot. I think the time we took to keep talking also gave us the chance to see and correct the problem, especially for a diverse readership. That experience has made me read more consciously, but I still remind myself to be constantly vigilant about stereotypes and my own biases because I don’t think I realize fast enough when they surface. (I’d be grateful to hear anyone point them out.) By the way, I’m delighted at the way the happy family at the end sits with the inclusive closing!

Deborah: The illustration of the diverse family ended the book for me on a very satisfying note. I was exhilarated and I could feel the dedication to Mujica’s words that everyone involved in making the book must have had. Any other bumps in the road you’d like to share?

Andrew: Well, to start, this was a translation of a translation. So when I was alerted to an existing English translation of the original speech online, I was really thankful, but it also got me worried. Once we were certain that the Japanese we were working from was a distinct work—an adaptation of the speech for children—the existence of another English translation became a non-issue. Enchanted Lion also provided input from the original speech in Spanish, which obviously helped in the revisions. The other huge bump was of course the ongoing pandemic, which has also impacted publishing. The launch date got pushed back a few times, so I’m glad it’s finally out. Hopefully more and more people get to read it and talk about the issues in the book, and, of course, Uruguay’s well-loved former President. It was some journey, and it continues, so I’d be happy to hear from readers!

Deborah: Thanks so much for taking the time to share all of this, Andrew. This is a gem of a book in so many ways, and learning about the background of the English version has been a fascinating lesson in how much goes into creating a translation.

The Japanese version of The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out is Sekai de ichiban mazushii daitoryo no supiichi, Choubunsha Publishing (2014). 

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.

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

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

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicky Harman and Avery Udagawa Discuss “Firstclaw” by Sachiko Kashiwaba

By Nicky Harman, London
On Translation Columnist, Asian Books Blog

NH: I’m delighted to be interviewing Avery Fischer Udagawa, because I have a huge admiration for translators who focus on young readers. I started by asking her about her latest translation piece in Words Without Borders, and why she wanted to translate it.

AFU: “Firstclaw” at Words Without Borders is my rendering of イチノツメと呼ばれた魔女 by Sachiko Kashiwaba, a fairy tale from her collection of linked tales, 王様に恋した魔女 (Kodansha, 2016). I encountered this story on precisely the morning of October 24, 2018, in the large Maruzen Marunouchi bookstore in Tokyo, where I had gone to spend time before a meeting with the author. Since we are all stuck at home these days needing vicarious outings, I’ll share that I savored this book over chiffon cake in Maruzen’s third floor café, glancing out as JR local trains and bullet trains pulled in and out of Tokyo Station. I even exchanged bows with a window washer who floated by in his rigging.

Hours later, Kashiwaba herself signed my book. That was a story scouting day for the ages!

“Firstclaw” struck me as a skillfully wrought, surprising tale of a reclusive witch, a resourceful princess, and a brave king. I found the ending (which I won’t spoil here) curiously joyful, and I chose to translate it out of readerly pleasure.

When I submitted my translation last year to Daniel Hahn, guest editor of WWB’s April 2020 issue, I also wondered if “Firstclaw” might contribute to discussions in publishing about authors writing outside their own cultural identities. Ms. Kashiwaba’s oeuvre of fantasy writing includes many works with distinctly Japanese characters—kappa spirits, yuki-onna, shape-shifting raccoon dogs, local gods—but she also writes witches, dragons, vampires, and in “Firstclaw,” a “blond sovereign.” She grew up reading western children’s literature in translation and counts Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Chronicles of Avonlea as influential in terms of form. Hahn, for his part, sees a “kinship” with Europe in “Firstclaw” and observes that “the webs of influence in children’s literature are dense and rich.”

Does it matter that “Firstclaw” comes from Japan? Readers may find this question stimulating, but I mostly just hope that the story cheers them up, as it does me.

With Sachiko Kashiwaba on October 24, 2018

NH: I’ll confess to having much less experience translating children’s literature than adult novels, so I’m intrigued by this question: do you think there is an essential difference between the two?

AFU: I don’t think there’s an essential difference at all.

The English-language publishing world categorizes literature as children’s or adult—and as middle grade, young adult, and so on within children’s—largely for marketing purposes and to help booksellers and librarians shelve books. This practice can help to ensure that young readers encounter books appropriate to their developmental level, which no one can argue with. It does, however, sometimes obscure the fact that literature is literature, and much of what sells as children’s literature in fact offers much to adults. The reverse is true, as well. Fiction like Ms. Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Louise Heal Kawai, works not only as adult fiction but also as MG and YA.

NH: When you interviewed my friend and translation colleague Helen Wang (who is a whizz at all things kidlit from Chinese), she said, about her translation of Jackal and Wolf by Shen Shixi: “Some of the fighting scenes are quite graphic and intense, but it was the psychological behaviour that I found more disturbing, especially where Flame tests a potential suitor.” Have you come across similar dilemmas in translating from Japanese and if so, how did you deal with them?

AFU: Yes, Japanese children’s books do sometimes include elements that might disturb young readers of English, due to culture gaps. For example, children of divorce in Japan often experience the trauma of never living with one parent again, which shows up in children’s books involving divorce. This reality may shock young overseas readers accustomed to traditions of joint custody. I have not dealt with this challenge personally.

Sachiko Kashiwaba’s novel 帰命寺横丁の夏, which I am pitching as Temple Alley Summer, includes a nine-year-old whose impoverished father sells her into servitude. While set in a fairy tale section of the book, this character’s plight has historical antecedents in pre-modern Japan, which might make it normal-ish fare for readers of the original. It could trouble some readers of the English, however. As the translator, I would never dream of changing this plot element, but in selecting this book to work on, it mattered to me that it goes on to show the child seeking freedom and agency, ultimately overcoming her past. I believe that English-language publishers will appreciate this aspect, too.

NH: What’s the nicest thing a young person has said to you about one of the books you translated.

AFU: “Mom, would you hurry up and translate the next chapter?” (I have two daughters, aged 8 and 12.)

NH: What kind of promotion do you find yourself doing for a finished and published novel? and what do you find is most effective when promoting a children’s book?

AFU: When promoting children’s books, it’s key to engage not only young readers, but also adult “gatekeepers” such as parents and educators, who are often the ones actually buying the books. With J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani—a historical novel set in Tokyo after the 1964 Olympics—I have done school visits to interact with students, talks for the general public, and presentations to teachers and librarians both on- and offline. In several cases, I have had the privilege of co-presenting with the author. Sharing with my Japan- and kidlit-focused colleagues has also been very helpful. I treasure the professional organizations SWET and SCBWI and conferences such as the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

NH: I can see from your blogs and interviews that you champion Japanese literature for kids, and put a lot of effort into pitching the books you like and finding sources of funding. How do you balance your paid and your done-for-love work?

AFU: Wouldn’t I love balance! Translating J kidlit into E is my passion, but it is a true labor of love. Even the most decorated member of my field, Cathy Hirano—translator of Hans Christian Andersen Award (“little Nobel”) laureate Nahoko Uehashi, among others—cannot live on what her children’s work pays. (Cathy is also the translator of Marie Kondo’s decluttering books; she coined the English phrase “spark joy” for ときめく.Less than five percent of children’s books published in the US each year are translations (I believe the UK is similar), compared with 15 percent or more in Japan. There just isn’t enough demand for #worldkidlit in English. Yet.

Meanwhile, I work as native language coordinator at International School Bangkok, a job that I find meaningful in itself, and I have a family. Under Covid-19, this means I facilitate virtual school on weekdays and chip away at work on evenings and weekends. Translation has to take a backseat. I know from experience, however, that this tough patch will make the future chances to translate, promote, and scout books in cafés all the sweeter.

NH: When you have time, what your current projects?

AFU: I am pitching Temple Alley Summer, a middle grade novel that showcases Kashiwaba’s gift for writing fairy tales, Japan-inspired fantasy, and contemporary realism, all in 52,000 engrossing words. A third-grade teacher who read this manuscript emailed me, “I stayed up reading when I should have turned out the light and gone to sleep.” She hopes to add it to her classroom library when it comes out.

For now, that’ll keep me going!

Cross-posted from the Asian Books Blog with permission.

How Takami Nieda Came to Translate GO

By Louise Heal Kawai, Tokyo

In June 2019, teacher and literary translator Takami Nieda gave a fascinating talk to SCBWI Japan on her translation of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s Go: A Coming-of-Age Novel. She has now followed this up with a wonderfully informative essay for TranNet.

This account of how she got started on her literary translation career is essential reading for those who wonder how to get into the field. I was moved by how she championed Go, a book she loved, and fought to get her translation funded and published; and also by how she manages to combine her career in translation with one in teaching. Her passion for both shines through. A highly recommended read.

Opening of Takami Nieda’s August 2019 essay for TranNet. Click to download full text in PDF.

Takami Nieda On Bringing GO into English

Takami Nieda (holding her translation of Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro) after speaking to SCBWI Japan on June 22.

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

On June 22, 2019, translator Takami Nieda dropped by in person to share her seven-year journey of bringing Kazuki Kaneshiro’s young adult/adult novel Go to English-language readers. The evening began with the opening basketball sequence of an award-winning film based on Go. In this sequence, the term “zainichi” sets the tone for high-schooler Sugihara’s raw, roller-coaster story of love and life.

A third-generation Korean Japanese himself, Kaneshiro positioned Go to explain itself to its original intended readership, the Japanese. So there were few difficulties, Nieda noted, in providing background information—something a translator would often have to add. Nieda did point out some challenging terms she dealt with like oyaji, which she translated as “father” sometimes and as “old man” at other times; ofukuro, for which she chose “mother” over “mom”; and the rhythmical puzzle posed by a reworded version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

The novel’s short time span means Sugihara, a high school student, stays safely within the YA category as defined in the Anglosphere, but the gritty, edgy, often violent original is not considered a YA work in Japan. Coupled with the fact that a title like Go isn’t exactly easy to spot in the digital abyss, we appreciated that, by adding a subtitle to the English-language edition, publisher Amazon Crossing may have helped more readers of YA to find the book. (The book now sells in English as Go: A Coming-of-Age Novel.)

Nieda shared some of Go’s reader figures, which demonstrate its broad appeal: readers above 25 are spread over several age categories. However, while digital downloads have been strong, the title has lacked presence in English-language bookstores. So Nieda went on to talk about other roads for Go to travel, including as a text for studying the relationship between Korea and Japan. (It has won a Freeman Award for Young Adult/High School Literature and also has clear uses in university classrooms.)

There were concerns over the weight of some violent sequences, but those were assuaged by the idea that some sequences could actually be perceived as physical manifestations of affection.

Very early on, Nieda quoted Chimamanda Adichie to remind us of the danger of a single story, and on closing she again drove home the need for stories from diverse perspectives. Certainly an inspiring message for creators of children’s works in SCBWI Japan!

An additional write-up of this event by writer Cam Sato appears at the SCBWI Japan main blog.

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.

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.