Archive for the ‘Translator Interviews’ 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.

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

 

Interview with Michael Blaskowsky, Translator of Sato the Rabbit

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

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

Translator Michael Blaskowsky with the Japanese title that started it all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Nanette 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.

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.

World Kid Lit Month Interview: Helen Wang Talks with Cathy Hirano

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

To ring in World Kid Lit Month 2017, SCBWI: The Blog has an interview in which Helen Wang, a master Chinese-to-English kidlit translator, interviews Cathy Hirano, a master Japanese-to-English kidlit translator. The interview features Hirano’s latest publication, a translation of the chapter book Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake. Enjoy!

 

Moribito Giveaway at Cynsations!

IMG_1917Members of SCBWI Japan Translation Group have published an interview with translator Cathy Hirano at Cynsations, the children’s literature blog.

The interview includes a giveaway (open to entrants worldwide) of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano.

This title won the 2009 Mildred L. Batchelder Award for publisher Arthur A. Levine Books, and Uehashi later won the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. The hardback version of Moribito is now a collector’s item. Four more days to enter!

Cathy Hirano and Cynsations‘ own Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), 25-29 May 2016.

 

Museyon Releases Picture Books from Japan

Gon, The Little FoxNew York-based publisher Museyon has released several picture books translated from Japanese. These include Timothy and Sarah: The Homemade Cake Contest by Midori Basho and Gon, The Little Fox by Niimi Nankichi, illustrated by Genjiro Mita, both translated by Mariko Shii Gharbi and edited by Richard Stull. The publisher is Akira Chiba.
For an interview with Chiba and Gharbi, see Misa Dikengil Lindberg’s June 2015 post on the SCBWI Japan main blog:

An Interview with Ginny Tapley Takemori

Ginny Tapley TakemoriBy Sako Ikegami, Kobe

Ginny Tapley Takemori is a British translator based in rural Ibaraki, Japan, who has translated fiction by more than a dozen early modern and contemporary Japanese writers. Two of her translations are due out this year from Pushkin Children’s Books: The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka and The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui.

Takemori will discuss both titles at an event in Tokyo on June 20, 2015: On Whales, Blue Glass, War and Young People.

Here she introduces The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine.

Sako Ikegami: First, please allow me to congratulate you on the publication of such a historically important translation. It’s a beautiful rendition of Akiyuki Nosaka’s seminal, autobiographical work.

Ginny Tapley Takemori: Thank you very much. I’m honoured to have had the opportunity to translate it, and delighted that you enjoyed my translation.

Could you tell us a bit about Nosaka and the background of this story collection?

Nosaka experienced the war as a child, and lost his adoptive parents in the bombing of Kobe. He was evacuated along with his younger sister, who died of starvation. He went on to become an extraordinary public figure in Japan, famous as a prolific writer, scriptwriter, chanson singer, comedian (rakugo and manzai), TV personality, and even politician. The stories in The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine reflect his horrifying wartime experiences, and their profoundly antiwar message is emphasised by setting them all on 15 August 1945, the day of Japan’s surrender. Nevertheless, they are sweetly and sensitively written, retaining the innocence of the child, and highlight aspects of war that are often overlooked.

Whale cover

Would you tell us a little bit about your own background, how you came to learn Japanese, and what got you interested in children’s literature translation, in particular? Is there any genre of books that you particularly enjoy working on?

My background is somewhat unconventional, to say the least. I became interested in Japanese literature while working as a literary agent in Barcelona, and translating from Spanish and Catalan. One of our clients was the Japan Foreign Rights Centre, and I read up all the books they sent us in English in order to sell them to Spanish and Catalan publishers. At the same time, a Japanese friend gave me some Murakami Haruki books, and I began seeking out whatever Japanese literature I could find in English (which at the time involved scouring bookshops wherever I went), while also reading the weekly Dragon Ball mangas in Spanish, and watching anime such as Dragon Ball, Yawara, etc on Catalan TV. Completely swept away by the different vision they afforded and also intrigued at the challenge of learning a very different language, I decided to drop everything and enrolled on a BA Japanese course at SOAS (London University) with the long-term goal of translating Japanese literature into English. I became interested in children’s literature as a child, devouring whatever books I could get my hands on, and that interest never left me. I am also keenly interested in adult literature, and now translate fiction for both adults and children. I have a very eclectic taste, from literary fiction to mysteries to sci-fi and fantasy—and everything in between. My only criteria for enjoying a book (as reader or translator) are that it engages me mentally and emotionally, fires my imagination, and leaves me a little bit changed from before I read it.

How did you come to translate The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine?

Thanks to existing translations in French and German, the editors at Pushkin Press had already read it and acquired the rights. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, since Pushkin had just released Ryu Murakami’s From the Fatherland, With Love, which I co-translated. They had already approached me about Tomiko Inui’s The Secret of the Blue Glass, and had actually offered Nosaka’s book to my good friend and co-translator Ralph McCarthy, who instead recommended me. I fell in love with Whale instantly, as I’m sure he knew I would.

Is there any story in Whale that you particularly love?

To be honest, I love all the stories. What struck me very strongly in Nosaka’s voice was his deadpan sense of irony, almost sarcastic in places. He brilliantly captures the raw experience of war, while at the same time remaining tender—a combination I find devastating. The stories are all very powerful, and also opened my eyes to aspects of the war I had never known about. This edition only contains seven of the original twelve, but Pushkin had me translate all of them with the intention of including the remaining stories in future editions. I hear they are contemplating releasing an e-book of all the stories, which I very much hope happens. If I had to pick out just one that made a particularly deep and lasting impression on me, it would have to be “The Mother That Turned Into a Kite.” It still brings tears to my eyes when I read it.

I understand that you are from the UK. It seems that while stories about war in juvenile literature are less popular in the United States, many award-winning books in the UK (winners of the Carnegie Medal, Whitbread/Costa Book Award, and more) are stories about children affected by war. Do you believe that the readership in the UK may be more open to stories from Japan that deal with this topic, since the UK experienced intense bombings (such as the Blitz), like Japan? The two countries also share a history of sending children out into the countryside to protect them from bombings. Goodnight Mister Tom is one of my favorite novels.

Britain didn’t suffer anywhere near the extent of the devastation that Japan did, but they did experience the nine-month Blitz (in which mostly factories and docklands, rather than civilians, were targeted) as well as other aspects of war, including all the men being called up to fight, food shortages and rationing, evacuation of schoolchildren, etc. My parents are about the same age as Nosaka and I grew up hearing them talk about their experiences, and how we must never let it happen again. They inculcated in me a strong anti-war sentiment that remains with me today. My mother-in-law lost her house in the Tokyo air raid as a child, and I’m sure her traumatic experience has defined her life. While the US was very much involved in the war and experienced the draft and rationing, other than Pearl Harbor they did not experience bombing raids or fighting on their home territory, so I think the reality was rather different for them, and perhaps that is reflected in attitudes to stories about war for children.

Do you have any thoughts on why The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine has been translated now, so many years after the war? Have we become too complacent? Do we and our children need reminding of the horrors?

I’m not sure Pushkin Press had any particular intention in publishing this book now other than that it’s a very good book that deserves to be available in English. In terms of my own feelings about it, I worry that now the experience of the last world war is disappearing from living memory we seem to be headed that way again. Yes, perhaps we are too complacent. There are many wars going on around the world, many children and families are suffering, but these hardly affect those of us living in peacetime and we become inured to the images of suffering that we see on TV. I feel strongly that people should be aware of the reality of war and why we should do everything in our power to avoid it—whether it affects us directly or not. That is why stories like the ones in this collection are so important.

In many ways these stories are difficult to read because they are honest and there is just so much pain and loss—topics that children’s books tend to avoid. Was it difficult to translate these in a way that would appeal to a child, as well as a general readership?

I translated them the way they spoke to me in Japanese. I imagined them being read to children and tried to make the narrative voice appropriate—especially aiming for a kind of fairy-tale style—but I didn’t change anything in the original Japanese to try to make them more “child-friendly.” I’m not certain that Nosaka intended them specifically as children’s stories so much as stories viewed through the eyes of children. He describes the brutal reality of war, but at the same time he imbues the stories with empathy and humanity, qualities that override all else. I think they are probably more appropriate for young adults than younger children, and of course I think they appeal to adults too—but then, all good children’s books do.

Some of the stories have Japanese children’s songs in them. What was your experience translating these “familiar tunes” into a totally different language?

In this edition of Whale, only two of the stories have songs in them: one, in “The Parrot and the Boy,” is an established children’s song, “Seagull Sailors” by Toshihiko Takeuchi, and the other is an impromptu lullaby sung by the mother to her child in “The Mother That Turned into a Kite.” In the case of “Seagull Sailors,” I looked up the full lyrics and listened to a number of renditions of the song. I also tracked down an existing translation by a certain B. Ito that I thought was very good and better than anything I could produce myself, so I used the relevant lines from that (of course crediting the translator on the copyright page). There is another children’s song in a story not included in this edition that I approached in the same way—although I couldn’t find any existing translation that I liked, so I did my own. The lullaby in “The Mother That Turned into a Kite” is not meant to be a polished song—she makes up the words as she goes—so I simply tried to capture the feelings, anguish, and emotions she expresses through them.

This holds true for Nosaka’s Grave of the Fireflies (not included in this volume): Given the grim settings and outcomes in these stories, I was surprised by how uplifted I was by the characters and their stories. I imagine that this must be why Nosaka’s stories have endured over the decades. Do you have any thoughts on this?

I think what is so important about Nosaka’s writing is that in amongst all the destruction and suffering, he can find love, courage and hope. The characters in his stories are children and animals, innocents who cannot understand, or adults swept up in the tide of history by events beyond their control—but all human, and all tragic. All are portrayed with an empathy that underlines our very humanity. There is no trace of sentimentality. The contrast between the violence and destruction and this tenderness is devastatingly poignant, heartbreaking and beautiful, and I think it is this that makes them ultimately uplifting.

I’ve wondered how readers outside of Japan might accept the way that these, and I guess many Japanese stories in general, don’t really end up with a “happily ever after” type of ending. What has been your experience in that regard?

This is one of the things that first had me so intrigued about Japanese literature. In the West we are so used to there being a satisfying ending that we forget that life often isn’t really like that, and stories don’t need to be like that either. I’ve come to feel that sometimes this “happy” ending stops us from seeking other elements that can make a story meaningful—as in life, the process is often more important than the ending. I do realize that many Western readers struggle with this unfamiliar way of writing, and I don’t have a simple answer to how we can reconcile this, but I do feel that English-language readers are becoming more open to different ways of seeing the world as translated literature gains popularity. In Nosaka’s case, I think the stories are so well constructed and beautifully written that most readers will just be swept away by them—at least I hope they will.

Thank you again for such a sensitive and well-written translation of Nosaka’s stories. I sincerely hope that Whale reaches the wide readership it deserves.

If my translation succeeds in drawing readers into these wonderful stories, I will be very happy.

Ginny Tapley Takemori will speak to SCBWI Japan in Tokyo on June 15, 2015.

Sako Ikegami can lay claim to various titles—clinical pharmacist, medical translator/writer, children’s book reader—but best enjoys working with young adult books. She aspires to bridge her two cultures, US and Japanese, by translating children’s literature. Her translations include Ryusuke Saito’s stories The Tree of Courage and Hachiro, which appears in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories and is introduced here.