Archive for the ‘The Translator’s Craft’ Category

Talking about Temple Alley Summer

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Avery Fischer Udagawa is the translator of a middle grade novel just out from Yonder, an imprint of Restless Books. Temple Alley Summer was written by Sachiko Kashiwaba, a well-known author in Japan. Her book The Mysterious Village Veiled in Mist influenced the Studio Ghibli movie Spirited Away.

Today, I’m talking with Avery about her work on Temple Alley Summer (TAS). In the past months, I’ve had the opportunity to do a few of these interviews. Each one brings new discoveries, and I’m enjoying it so much that I’m about ready to give up doing translation altogether and just READ translated books so I can talk to the translators about them.

TAS was thoroughly engrossing, and I sailed through the 200-plus pages. There’s no way a brief synopsis without spoilers can do it justice, but let me give it a try. What begins as a story about modern Japanese schoolchildren moves quickly into an old neighborhood legend and a mysterious statuette that can bring people back from the dead. Fifth-grade Kazu witnesses such an event and becomes privy to the truth behind Akari, a girl who suddenly appears in his class. If Akari’s story were not enough, Kazu and Akari end up in pursuit of another, older and darker fantasy, an unfinished story in a magazine that Akari read in her first life, and which Kazu is determined to find the conclusion to. The reader gets to read the story along with Kazu, and is left hanging as he searches for its author. This story within a story keeps the reader glued to the page until the very end. What happens to Akari? And what about Adi in the other story? Rest assured, all the puzzles are solved, but that’s all you’re going to get from me!

Sachiko Kashiwaba, author of Temple Alley Summer

Deborah: Avery, you were interviewed a year ago about another story by Sachiko Kashiwaba that you translated, “Firstclaw,” online at Words Without Borders. In the interview, you also talked about your impressions of TAS, so I encourage blog readers to visit that posting too.

You describe TAS as “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.” Can you tell me how you came to meet Kashiwaba and translate this book?

Avery: I met Sachiko Kashiwaba through translating another of her works for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction: An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. The opportunity to translate for Tomo and the introduction to Kashiwaba both grew out of involvement in SCBWI Japan (then called SCBWI Tokyo) and its network, and the impetus to translate TAS came from a competition connected with the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2016. I asked the author’s permission to submit a translation of TAS to the competition and then, later, to English-language publishers.

Avery Fischer Udagawa, translator of Temple Alley Summer

Deborah: I’d like to look at the different layers of the story. The story begins with Kazu, his family, and a day at his typical Japanese school. I imagine the author wanting to bring her Japanese readers in close with a familiar setting before leading them into the supernatural. I find it difficult to translate beginnings of books that involve Japanese school life. To me, it’s always the most difficult part of a translation. The aspects of Japanese society familiar to people living here are the parts that I as a translator have difficulty explaining for non-Japan-based readers in a way that doesn’t get in the way of the original.

In this case, too, there was a certain amount of school and household terminology to get through to discover the old town map with the name Kimyō Temple—an essential plot element. After that, the story takes off. The cast of characters from Kimyō Temple Alley and the somewhat eccentric former resident, together with Kashiwaba’s fantasy, are all described—and of course translated—thoroughly and engagingly. Every time I thought I had the plot figured out, it took a step in a different direction. Any comments on parts of the translation you found more challenging, and parts that were more fun to do?

Avery: Thank you for your kind words about the translation! The opening was indeed a challenge, due to the setting’s many Japan-specific features. Young readers of English cannot be expected to know that class sections in every grade at Japanese school are numbered, or that these sections routinely subdivide into numbered small groups, or that students will remove their street shoes at school and wear indoor shoes, which they may take home during vacations. The early chapters contain many references to such details, which I needed to try to include without stopping the story to explain. It comforts me that you, too, have struggled with this! I would love to see enough Japan school stories become known in English that a bit of background knowledge can be assumed.

Another challenge, which actually arose after translating, has been conveying that religious practices and objects play a role in TAS yet do not make the story religious—just as religious activities are part of life for many people in Japan who are otherwise secular. Everyone in a community might turn up for a festival at a temple to the bodhisattva Kannon, yet not venerate Kannon otherwise. A small statuette of the Buddha might be experienced as simply a household object. A family altar, more than being a site of worship, might imply something closer to missing departed relatives.

Explaining the role of religion in Japan is hard even for scholars and for Japanese themselves. I have tried to convey that TAS unfolds in a culture that has many religious influences, which nonetheless is often nonreligious. And TAS is not a religious novel, any more than The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood by Tonke Dragt, translated by Laura Watkinson, are religious due to including a chapel, a monastery, a knight saying a prayer, and so on.

Deborah: This is an excellent point. As someone who has been in Japan for decades, I tend to forget about the flexibility of Japanese society when it comes to religion and how unusual it can seem.

Avery: As for especially fun parts of TAS to translate, I relished working with dialogue and narrative voice to bring out the relationships between characters. The love/hate connection between fifth-grade Kazu and his 83-year-old neighbor Ms. Minakami was fascinating to translate, because rough equivalents of their words rarely served anything like the same function in English. For example, in a spot where Kazu harps on Ms. Minakami to do something, she says urusai! to him. I could hardly render this literally as “(You’re) noisy!” because the issue is Kazu’s nagging, not his loudness. Nor could I express urusai! with the commonly used but overly blunt “Shut up!” I needed to fashion some English that preserved the level of respect a child and an elder in the same tight-knit neighborhood would show to each other, even when fighting mad. And they really do get fighting mad!

Deborah: So how did it work out in the end? What did they say to each other in English?

Avery: “Kazu. You’re driving me crazy,” she said on the phone. (かずくん、うるさい!)

“Crazy is as crazy does…” [Kazu] replied. (自業自得ってやつです。)

Deborah: Well done! Both the difficult-to-translate urusai (drive me crazy) and jigō-jitoku (crazy is as crazy does) with one fell swoop.

Avery: The embedded tale within TAS, “The Moon Is On the Left,” also offered many interesting passages to translate, including a dramatic scene with rockfalls, flames, volleys of arrows, and lightning bolts indoors! My daily life doesn’t afford many chances to say rockfalls.

Deborah: One thing I liked about TAS was the fact that it WASN’T written in five volumes—when it very well could have been. On the other hand, there are a few aspects that I’m left wondering about and that I wouldn’t mind visiting in a sequel. What happened to the Kimyō Temple statuette? Did Akari’s first-life mother ever find out she came back to life? Are there any aspects you wanted to know more about, and has Kashiwaba written any other books to follow?

Deborah Iwabuchi and Avery Fischer Udagawa

Avery: Sachiko Kashiwaba has not published a sequel to TAS; I, like you, would certainly love to read more, especially about Akari’s former mother Ms. Ando. At the same time, I appreciate that certain things remain a mystery, and I too like that the book stands alone.

Kashiwaba has gone on to publish a number of other works, including the young adult/adult novel Misaki no mayoiga (The Abandoned House by the Cape), which takes place during and after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. This book has recently been made into a play, and it is also the basis of an anime movie to be released in Japan in August 2021.

Kashiwaba’s other recent works include several fantasy novels, an adaptation of the beloved Tōno monogatari folk legends, and volumes in her long-running Monster Hotel series—rollicking early readers that bring together yokai and western-style monsters.

People interested in her earlier works can check out the film Spirited Away, influenced by her debut novel The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist; and the film The Wonderland, based on another early book. We also have a blog post here at Ihatov with excerpts from a workshop that drew on her 2010 novel Tsuzuki no toshokan (The “What’s-Next” Library).

Deborah: The titles alone are fascinating! Thanks for sharing this book and your experiences with it, Avery. I hope we’ll be seeing more of Kashiwaba in translation before too long. Meanwhile, I’m heading out to look for rockfalls.

Creative Exchange Featuring Translators!

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

SCBWI Japan had a Creative Exchange on Friday, May 14, 2021. Below is a picture of all the participants. It was exciting to see the diversity of (fascinating and brilliant!) ongoing projects. Along with English books, we had several works by non-Japanese being written in Japanese. One book was entirely illustrations—suitable for universal readership.

Pertinent to this blog, three projects were Japanese-to-English translations being pursued on spec. Let’s take a look at them.

Amy Lange Kawamura is translating Kaeru Fukushima by Yasushi Yanai, published by Poplar, for the SCBWI translation contest. This nonfiction children’s story is about frogs endangered due to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as about the people who left the prefecture and have yet to return. Amy asked the group for ideas on the book’s English title. The word kaeru in Japanese can mean both “frog” and “go home,” and frogs are typically used in Japanese messages about—going home. The question for this title was which nuances should be retained to draw interest to the book.

Avery Udagawa is translating portions of DIVE!! by Eto Mori, published by Kadokawa Shoten. The YA novel is about a struggling diving club whose future hangs on whether or not it can produce Olympic contenders. The story begins with the arrival of a new female coach. Much to the dismay of her teenage charges, she starts off by rejecting the athletes’ forms and not even letting them in the water. Avery’s concern was the format of her excerpt. Japanese books often have very short paragraphs, and Dive!! ends one chapter with a string of them only a line long each. She also asked the group for comments on her interpretations of teenage conversations.

Holly Thompson’s latest translation is Chibi ryū (Tiny Dragon) by Naoko Kudo, published by Doshinsha. Here’s Holly’s description of the work: “A lyrical story of a newborn water dragon that befriends, questions and learns from all sorts of living beings until large enough to cradle and love the world.” The narrative’s opening is accompanied and encouraged by a choir of mosquitoes chanting ara yoi yoi! and hoi sassa! Holly wanted to know how the group felt about leaving the untranslatable chanting in the original language and what it might add to the story.

A GLLI Video Interview with Cathy Hirano

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

The global pandemic has forced events online and deprived excellent books of much needed opportunities for promotion. So when the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative announced the winners of its 2021 Translated YA Book Prize and gave 2020 co-winner Cathy Hirano the chance to talk about her translations of The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior, I tuned in to watch her interview (accessible from here) with David Jacobson, introduced by Annette Goldsmith.

Cathy drew on her long career to share her insights into literary translation. For her work with Nahoko Uehashi, she related how Uehashi herself commissioned the entire translation of a Moribito title instead of just a sample, which demonstrated her understanding that the power of that story could only be seen when presented in its entirety. Talking at length about their work together, Cathy also appreciated how Uehashi is flexible, tweaking her work for dramatization and other adaptations, and often engaging deeply to help others convey her work. Cathy would probably be quick to concur that her excellent translations are in part down to what I perceived to be her deeply satisfying collaborative relationship with Uehashi, which in turn contributed to Uehashi clinching the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing.

The conversation also touched on adding information to build cultural bridges—or not—for example, by leaving foreign words as-is, like Toda for the lizards bred for battle, while choosing Royal Beast over Ōjū, which didn’t sound quite so magnificent in English. That Uehashi’s fantasy worlds had to be shaped by the original text meant less bridging work than stories set in specific periods in history.

US editions of The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior (Holt), illustrated by Yuta Onoda

Turning to the themes in the Beast titles, Cathy notes that while Uehashi draws on her background in cultural anthropology to weave complex multicultural relationships in a fantasy world, just as she did for the Moribito series, romance only appears in fleeting episodes. The momentum stays very much in the tussles with power and with the fear and control of the unfamiliar other. While I was particularly drawn to Elin’s development under the guidance of her mentors Joeun and Esalu in The Beast Player, it was intriguing to hear both David and Cathy note the parallel in the political relationships between the symbolic ruler Yojeh and her protectors, and that of Japan and the US in the real world, although Uehashi was leaning more towards an exploration of the situation internally in Japan. Perhaps my reading as a Singaporean was partly what made me simply join Elin and her young family in their flight in the second title, struggling together with them to find the light in a dense tangle of relationships. Then, Elin’s bond with Leelan, a Royal Beast she had cared for since nursing her back to health as a cub, steeled her to do what she had to in the final maelstrom.

As the interview drew to a close, Cathy made the translator in me smile when she said she found great satisfaction from knowing her work helped someone else experience a book the same way she did. By taking the time to highlight this second fascinating epic from the collaborative duo of Nahoko Uehashi and Cathy Hirano, GLLI too has opened more doors to worlds of the other, and extended an invitation to the conversation on translated works for children and young adults.

Every Color of Light: An Interview with Translator David Boyd

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Deborah Iwabuchi: Hi David, thanks for agreeing to interview for our blog. Since you’re not an SCBWI “regular,” let me introduce you as an assistant professor of Japanese at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. You’ve recently translated a couple of novellas by Hiroko Oyamada, and also co-translated fiction by Mieko Kawakami with Sam Bett.

Today we’re going to talk about your translation of Every Color of Light, written by Hiroshi Osada (1938–2015) and illustrated by Ryoji Arai. It was originally published as Sora no ehon, or A Picture Book About the Sky. Arai’s illustrations of a rainy day in a forest are accompanied by Osada’s rhythmical descriptions of the changing scene. The rain begins, gets harder and harder, and then thunder and lightning—every shift changing the colors we see. Finally, the rain subsides, the sun comes out, and night falls. The final illustration is of the moon reflected in the forest pond. Osada was a prominent and prolific author, essayist and translator. Arai is a world-renowned writer and illustrator of books for children. It must have been exciting to work on this book.  Can you tell me a little about how you ended up in children’s lit and translating this book?

David Boyd: Thanks, Deborah. Translating children’s books was something I’d wanted to do for years before I had the chance. For me, the biggest draw was how much attention seems to be given to every decision. Fewer words on the page tends to mean more thought per word. All of my experience in translating books for children so far has been with Enchanted Lion Books. I wonder if other publishers of children’s lit are as careful with their work… I can’t say for sure.

My first book with ELB was What What What (Arata Tendo and Ryoji Arai), which came out in 2017. It’s about a child named Pan who never stops asking questions. At first, the constant questions bother everybody, but in the end Pan’s persistence saves the day. When Claudia Bedrick (ELB) and I were working on What What What, we gave the book the time it deserved. As you know, there are many kinds of editor-translator relationships. When Claudia and I were working on this book, it was very clear to me that this was a relationship that I would want to sustain going forward. Every one of our collaborations since then has been equally satisfying, at least for me.

Since What What What, I’ve worked with ELB on four books in Kaya Doi’s Chirri and Chirra series, Kiyo Tanaka’s Little One (forthcoming), and one other book by Osada and Arai: Almost Nothing, Yet Everything (forthcoming).

All of my experiences with ELB have been extremely positive. On a fundamental level, I think this has to do with the fact that Claudia is a translator herself (from French).

Deborah: So it sounds as though you have a good working relationship with both the publisher/editor you work with. From a translator’s viewpoint, it sounds like an ideal situation.

David: It is. Claudia and I have discussed every book we’ve done, line by line, almost always over the phone. Sometimes this means multiple calls at various stages in the translation process. I can’t tell you how many great solutions have come from this. Email is convenient, to be sure, but it’s nice to be able to actually hear each other.

Most recently, with Almost Nothing, Yet Everything, Claudia and I had a few calls at various points to go over the text in detail. We gave a lot of thought, for example, to the line “inochi no oshikko” (something like “the pee of life”) that appears toward the end of the story. Over a period of months, we came up with several different ways to translate around the idea, before finally deciding that direct was probably the best way to go.

I’m happy to have an editor who’s willing to think about something until it’s actually perfect, or at least perfect to us. With children’s books in particular, it’s important to think about every aspect of the text. You have to give a lot of thought to how the translation agrees with the art and so on.

Deborah: You said “fewer words on the page tends to mean more thought per word,” and you sent me two versions of your translation of Every Color of Light. I wish I could print it all here along with the final version. The process through the revisions is a thing of beauty, where so many things change while remaining true to what the author is saying. 

David: I’m so happy to hear you say that. It’s the sort of book that could have been translated in several different ways. The different drafts that I came up with weren’t completely different, but they definitely called attention to different elements in the story. Repetition is something we often think about when translating from Japanese, and there’s a good deal of repetition in Osada’s poetry. In the final version, I think we found the best way to be faithful to that.

Deborah: Osada’s original uses the word だんだん dandan (gradually, or slowly) over and over. You could pat a child on the arm or the back as you read it each time, and that rhythm would most likely put them to sleep. I see that you translated dandan as “slowly” and used it faithfully in your first translation. By the time you get to the final version, there is a greater variety of words, many that, in English have the same rhythmical, soothing effect as dandan. On one page, a series of dandan dandan is completely replaced by “pitter-patter, pitter-patter,” which has a similar effect as a read-aloud word.

David: That’s right. We decided that it was fine to use a variety of words for dandan, as long as we could keep the strong sense of rhythm. That was our biggest concern.

Deborah: Can you tell me some more about the editing process?

David: There weren’t many changes made between the early drafts and the published version of the book, but I think most of the changes that were made related to one big decision about how to handle the book’s art.

When the artwork for the book was sent to ELB, they loved everything that was happening outside of the frame: Arai’s scribbles, splotches and sketch lines. In the English version, they removed the frame so that readers could see everything that went into making Arai’s art. Along with this came the idea to include Osada’s poetry below Arai’s art rather than over it. In the Japanese, there were usually four lines of writing per two pages, but we ended up going with (as a rule) one line per page. In my opinion, this plays out very well in the English version. It allows the text to slow down a little. It also does something to liberate Arai’s art.

Deborah: At this point I had to put David on hold and run to my local brick-and-mortar book store to get a copy of the Japanese version. The contrast was amazing. Here are a couple of photos illustrating what David has described above.

(You’ve got to remember that I’m a translator and not a photographer) The colors are very deep in the original, but in the English version the pages are larger and we get every bit of the original painting, including the shading and borders, with a single line of text below each page rather than a number of lines on one or two pages of a spread.

David, I agree with your comment about it “liberating” Arai’s art. Reading through the whole book, I can see why this change in the art had such a big influence on the written part of the book. You might feel that there is a risk of limiting what you could actually say, but that obviously has not been the case. I think the text might also be somewhat “liberated” by dividing it in half and using just the single line. On this page, the four lines of Japanese are two separate lines of English:

Raindrops drip from the leaves.

Sparkling like crystals, they fall to the ground.

The separation seems to increase the drama of what is turned into two completely different “actions” of the raindrops.

David: You’re absolutely right. I think that both versions have a lot to offer. They’re the same book, but remarkably different in certain ways.

Deborah: I also want to ask about the covers. The cover for the Japanese version has a daylight sky, and the English version has a nighttime sky. Why the difference?

David: Right, that’s a great point about day and night. Those two halves come together to create the full experience of the book. I didn’t participate in that part of the process (choosing the cover), but I think that ELB made a great decision. The book follows a path from rain to storm to calm. It’s a lullaby. At the same time, I love how the book turns up the volume (i.e., the storm) before ultimately turning it down. Anyway, I see the book as a nighttime read. That being the case, it’s probably best to have a soothing cover in quieter colors. Of course, each cover is stunning in its own way, isn’t it?

Deborah: Indeed they are! Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with SCBWI Japan.

Jackie Friedman Mighdoll Talks with Translator Emily Balistrieri about Soul Lanterns

By Jackie Friedman Mighdoll, San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JFM: What was the magic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exploring a Picture Book on Momofuku Ando, Inventor of Instant Ramen

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

Translators of Japanese children’s literature often find they have much to learn from authors and illustrators of Japan-related books—as Andrew Wong learned at an event on instant noodles.

Earlier this month, SCBWI Japan invited author Andrea Wang and illustrator Kana Urbanowicz to talk about the making of the picture book Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando. We were treated to an intriguing manifold back story, if you like, about persistence and how translation was very much integral to this story of a Japanese invention, which continues to evolve and fill hungry stomachs across the world, even in space!

Counterclockwise from above: Andrea Wang, Kana Urbanowicz, Mateus Urbanowicz

Andrea started the online session by mentioning how her background in environmental science and educational publications led to an interest in biographies and how her curiosity about who had invented instant ramen eventually led to the creation of the book. For Magic Ramen, she wanted to highlight the scientific approach that Ando, who had no culinary training, took to inventing instant ramen from scratch. However, instead of making it into something overly didactic, Andrea intended for the story to show, not tell, readers the scientific method at work.

But before all of that fell into place, she had struggled to find an emotional core for the story in the academic research on Taiwan-born Ando. Things changed when she received a pleasant surprise in the mail from someone at Nissin—an English copy of Ando’s autobiography. Andrea had had no luck looking for a retail copy of this English publication, because it had been distributed only internally at the company. It was in this translation that she found what the story needed—Ando had wanted to create a quick, warm, nutritious meal for hungry people after seeing the long ramen queue in a black market on a cold night in post-war Osaka.

Image of post-war ramen queue by Kana Urbanowicz

Having found the heart of Ando’s ramen story, Andrea paced Ando’s struggle to show his perseverance and scientific approach to making noodles. When Ando finally created instant ramen, the sakura were in full bloom, a scene that was also described in the autobiography. If you watch Andrea’s read aloud video, you will realize that the story goes on to show Ando selling his product and filling the stomachs of children, adults, and even royalty. With the manuscript ready, of course, more persistence was needed to find a publisher ready to take on a story behind one of the world’s best-selling inventions. While authors do not normally have much say in the choice of illustrator, Andrea specifically wanted a Japanese illustrator for this project.

After the manuscript was acquired by Little Bee Books, it was left to illustrator Kana Urbanowicz to tell the story in pictures. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Yokohama and a copy of the Japanese version of Ando’s autobiography provided visual references for Kana regarding the Osaka black market and Ando’s family. As is often the case in U.S. publishing, the illustrator had little to no direct communication with the author about the manuscript. In fact, this SCBWI Japan event was the first time Andrea and Kana spoke to one another!

Some participants in the Magic Ramen event

For Magic Ramen, both the author and the illustrator shared a valuable resource—Ando’s autobiography—which seemed to act as a mental bridge between them. On the few occasions when they did communicate through the publisher, for instance when Kana asked for a visual reference of Ando and the illustrator note on the sakura scene, it was not surprising that both referred back to the autobiography!

In terms of design and visual storytelling technique, multiple diagonal panels were employed to give a sense of the passing of time and progress in Ando’s trial-and-error process, while the front and back inside covers are another demonstration of fun and wit. And so after about five years, not uncommon for non-fiction picture books, Magic Ramen hit the bookstores.

At this event, illustrators would have noted that language and accessibility played a significant part in helping Little Bee Books find Kana, whose English website and loop animation of a boy deliciously devouring ramen were huge factors in her favor. (We also learned that she got some help from her husband Mateus Urbanowicz, who is an illustrator too.) Translators would have noted that they might one day find themselves in a similar situation to their fellow creative professionals—long waits between editorial feedback and (sometimes) little to no contact with the original author.

This session provided a precious inside look at the motivations and choices made in the creation of Magic Ramen, particularly the story’s focus, the pacing and portrayal of Ando’s scientific process, and the visual cues in the illustrations. Since translators do not normally work with agents, I was encouraged by how Andrea’s individual persistence and perseverance had eventually led to such a heart-warmingly satisfying serving of the science behind the invention of instant ramen.

For a second helping of reflection on this event, tuck into Noodling about Noodles by SCBWI Japan author member Mari Boyle.

The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out in The Linguist

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

Andrew Wong, translator from Japanese of the picture book THE WORLD’S POOREST PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT, has an article about the translation process in the February/March 2021 issue of The Linguist. Free to read online—go to page 22!

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).