Archive for the ‘Translator Interviews’ Category

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.

An Interview with Stephen Snyder

By Melek Ortabasi, Vancouver

SnyderStephen Snyder translated Kanae Minato’s novella Confessions, winner of a 2015 Alex Award. He responded to this interview by Skype.

Congratulations on the Alex Award for your translation of Kanae Minato’s Confessions. The award was “created to recognize that many teens enjoy and often prefer books written for adults, and to assist librarians in recommending adult books that appeal to teens.” Were you surprised to hear of the award?

Yes, surprised; it’s a pretty shocking book for someone of my generation. It may not be that shocking to you.

Oh, I don’t know. It’s very tight and exciting, plotwise. I couldn’t put it down! But I found it pretty jarring myself.

Even so, one could regard the novel as rather mild by today’s standards; in any case, it certainly deals with social issues that young people commonly struggle with in post-industrial cultures: bullying, identity formation, parental neglect/abandonment, academic pressure, and so on.

But it’s an unrelentingly grim tale and not one of several key characters come out looking good. How do you personally feel about 12-18–year-olds, the age range cited by the Alex Award, reading the book?

I do feel kind of conflicted about it, especially since an adult perspective dominates the work. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is not your garden-variety adolescent fantasy about how stupid grownups are. It profoundly questions adult authority in general, in particular the mother-child relationship and the teacher-student relationship. The vindictiveness of the teacher, the central character in the novel, is something that struck me as a bit beyond the pale; there is no trust left there by the end. In this book, adults have the last laugh and don’t hold back even when dealing with middle school–age children. In a way, the tight plotting and the excitement it generates mask the horror of the content.

ConfessionsDoes the author know about the award, and what was her reaction? I was a little surprised to find out that, like the central character in the book, she was once a schoolteacher . . . Given the genre and the middle school characters, I guess I assumed as I was reading that she was a younger author. But then again, her insight into the tween/adolescent psyche is definitely that of a more mature person.

Oddly, I’ve never met the author; I don’t think she knows about the Alex Award, either. I haven’t even had email contact with her. It was mediated through the publishing company, who had bought the foreign rights; they didn’t really seem to know her either. Up until now I’ve always been introduced to authors and worked with them to some extent on my translations. For example, I see Yoko Ogawa, an author I’ve translated several times, once a year.

Confessions reminded me a bit of another book you have translated, Natsuo Kirino’s Out—at least in terms of its dark topic and blunt style. Do you have a thing for the thriller/mystery genre? Or did something else draw you to the book?

How I got into this project is more a testament to the vagaries of being an established literary translator of Japanese in the US than an indicator of my own literary taste. The backstory of how and why how the book got picked up as a candidate for translation into English reveals much about the contemporary international publishing business. I have a research project on this topic that’s been brewing for some time, and I almost think I’ll devote a chapter to Confessions.

We know that translations do not have a big market in the US; Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was the only translated novel that made it onto the New York Times bestseller list for a long time. Then came Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2005. This is not a great work of art; it’s a good thriller and as we know sold very, very well. As a result, several major presses decided they would form imprints specializing in the murder genre. So off the editors go to find other “foreign” thrillers that fit the Stieg Larsson bill. Mulholland (part of Little, Brown) is one such imprint, and the editor, Wes Miller, began looking for properties that he could acquire and found Confessions, since it was a bestseller in Japan. He also saw the 2010 film adaptation, which had a limited release overseas and was actually quite good—it was nominated as Japan’s entry in the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards. Then he eventually approached me. I had translated Out, which actually led to other projects as well—given its similarity to Confessions I guess I was a logical choice.

Confessions has won awards in Japan, and was made into a movie, as you mentioned. How would you describe the book’s position in the Japanese market?

Confessions is entertainment more than anything else; the mystery/horror genre is a major strand in contemporary popular literature. As far as precedent for this sort of dark, graphic, and cynical novel, I would cite Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies (1980). It’s an old book now, but it was very influential in establishing a more “gritty” modern Japanese literature. Along with Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, Murakami sought at the time to shatter the static aestheticism of postwar Japanese literature (think Yasunari Kawabata, Japan’s other Nobel Prize winner). This blackness, though, has found its most popular expression in gleefully cruel novels like Confessions.

The genre also seems deeply connected to film. I would guess that the US vogue for J-Horror—an example would be the American remake of the 1998 film Ringu—has something to do with your translation winning the Alex Award. In what way does the book address a US audience, do you think? This perspective can often change when a book travels across borders, I find.

We were talking about lost innocence in America at the beginning; that loss pervades Japanese youth culture as well, so this may be one of those cases where the book didn’t need to transform its basic identity a whole lot.

Interesting. Could you give me an example of a project where your translation was addressed to a completely different public from the one it was originally written for?

Yes: Asura Girl, by Otaro Maijo, was strongly recommended to me by an editor at the elite Japanese publisher Shincho. Even though it has a middle school setting like Confessions, it’s much edgier as a literary text. However, US literary presses had no interest, so VIZ Media ended up publishing it. And in a way it fits into that niche for American manga readers.

Why don’t we finish our conversation with some tantalizing tidbits on the attractions of Confessions? One of the most distinctive things about the book’s structure is that each chapter is a monologue from a different character, told directly to the reader. Sometimes it is presented as spoken language, and sometimes it’s internal. It strikes me that this was probably pretty difficult to render into credible, smooth English.

Minato does a good job with the different voices in the novel; the framework is somewhat reminiscent of the various testimonies presented in the classic Kurosawa film Rashomon. It was pretty interesting to give an English voice to characters of different ages and genders. There’s the psychopath middle schooler, a cross between a vulnerable child and a wise, bitter soul. There’s also the mother of another disturbed student, who is beautifully done. She seems to care for her child, but is really motivated by status. And finally, there’s the teacher—whose wrath at the murder of her child knows no limits.

You’ll have to read the book to meet all the other quirky, twisted characters! Steve, thank you so much for your time—I’ll let you get back to work now. Your insight is most helpful for other translators who’d like to do more in the field, like me.

Likewise a pleasure!

Stephen Snyder is Dean of Language Schools and Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is a prolific and multiple award-winning translator of a wide range of modern and contemporary Japanese literature.

Melek Ortabasi is Associate Professor in the World Literature Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has coedited with Rebecca Copeland a book of translations of Meiji period women’s writing, The Modern Murasaki, and looks forward to doing more literary translation.

A Conversation with Wendy Uchimura

By Tony Gonzalez, Atsugi, Kanagawa

Tony Gonzalez is a cofounder of Bento Books, a publishing company that focuses on contemporary Japanese fiction. He interviewed Wendy Uchimura about her recent translation of The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom by Manabu Makime, published through Shueisha English Edition. Wendy lives in Yokohama.

The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom

Tony Gonzalez: Many literary translators have a separate but related day job. Is that the case with you? How did you get your break into novel translation?

Wendy Uchimura: I do a variety of translation work, both in-house and freelance, as well as proofreading and editing. There are several fields I work in and I find it helps continually hone my skills. I’ve been interested in literary translation since I did my MA in Advanced Japanese through the University of Sheffield, which made me think it would be an interesting challenge to translate a book. The opportunity to do that came up after attending a Translation Day event in Yokohama in 2012 that was run by SCBWI. Yoshio Kobayashi from Shueisha Creative was there and put a call out for people to write book synopses for possible translation. That became the Shueisha English Edition project, which has released a number of works, including my translation of Manabu Makime’s The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom!

If The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom was your first novel translation, how did you find the experience? If not, how was working on this novel compared to others you’ve done?

This was my first novel translation. I’ve worked on large documents before, so I knew there would be a lot of graft work involved in creating the draft and getting the right context and style, all in addition to the actual creative process of translation. I found it was like running a marathon, as there is a certain pace you have to keep and you are your own timekeeper. There was a whole range of emotions I went through too that I didn’t expect. Some days I would really enjoy translating, and then other days I would agonize for hours over word choices and how to describe scenes so that readers would be able to follow what was going on. After the book was released, I did mention to other more seasoned literary translators how I’d felt during the translation process and they confirmed that it can be a real rollercoaster ride (in an overall good sense, of course!)

From the SCBWI Japan Translation Group’s interview with Yoshio Kobayashi, I understand that Shueisha English Edition is using a low advance/high royalties payment scheme. I’m curious as to your thoughts on that, and whether it’s a model that you think is good, bad, or neutral for literary translation?

I think because I have my ‘day job’ I personally don’t mind this type of scheme. I’m not fully dependent on receiving money, so if the royalties come in, that’s great, but I’m also just happy that a great title has come out in English for more people to read. In general, with Shueisha English Edition they seem to be quite careful in selecting books that are going to be of interest to English readers, so that should theoretically balance out for everyone. I know that if there were higher advances probably more books would be translated, however that would then have to be balanced out by putting a higher price on the book, so there would be fewer readers. When I think about it that way, I think this scheme leans more towards being a good thing for literary translation. More readers means that hopefully more translated novels will appear.

I see that The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom tries to stay very close to the source material, with extensive footnotes to explain aspects of Japanese culture and history that might be confusing to Western readers. How did you and the editors arrive at that decision?

The author Manabu Makime uses a lot of cultural and historical references in his work, so something integral would have been lost if that information was cut out. There’s something fascinating about Japanese castles, Japanese school life, and everything in-between, so I hope that readers can feel more part of Ryosuke’s world through the explanations. If it encourages people to find out more about some of the aspects introduced in this book, that’s even better! I thought I knew a lot about Japan, having lived here for nearly 17 years, but through this work I learnt new things too.

One particular editorial decision we had to make was about the title. There was actually already an English title for this book written on the Japanese edition: The Great Shurarabon. But even in Japanese shurarabon has no meaning. I suggested the word boom instead of bon as there are a lot of loud noises in this book, and the very talented editor Amelia Beamer was the one who suggested breaking up the words to give it some pizazz. And so it became The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom!

YA is currently considered one of the hottest genres in fiction publishing in the West, but books translated from Japanese generally have relatively limited mass-market appeal. Do you have any perspectives as to how we might work toward breaking out of the otaku niche that Japanese YA fiction seems to often be shunted into?

This may be a simplified view I hold, but it seems as if Japanese literature is split into either highbrow classic and contemporary literature or manga. Unfortunately, that means that Japanese YA fiction gets labeled more as something otaku would be interested in. It would be nice to see more translated Japanese works from various genres appearing in the West, as writers here seem to be able to portray things and approach subjects through writing that make you stop and think. It’s like looking at something from the other side of a fence and seeing, say, an everyday occurrence in a new, exciting light. The marketing of such works is probably going to be key to getting more Japanese YA fiction out there in the mainstream.

Do you have any valuable experiences from translating The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom that you would like to share? Was there anything you would have done differently? Did you face any unexpected challenges? Any directions you would like to head in the future?

From a translator’s perspective, the most important thing I learnt was not to stick to one style of translating. When I first approached this work and tried doing it in my usual style of working straight from the text into English, something just wasn’t clicking. It wasn’t until I separated myself from the source text by creating a rough first draft in-between the source text and what would have been my original first draft that I could see the story as it would be in English. The difficulty I had here was that it takes courage to break away and try a new translation style, especially when you’re working against a deadline. But once I switched over, it felt so much better—the sentences flowed, I was more creative. I wished I’d done it sooner. I guess this is a big difference between business translation and literary translation.

As I mentioned above, too, pacing yourself is essential. To a certain extent, you have to be strict on yourself and stay focused by setting sub-deadlines for each chapter and within that, the number of pages you need to get done every day.

I’d definitely like to translate more books and, while I hadn’t considered it up until now, YA fiction is an interesting area for me. I hope I get to translate more works like The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom, which I think works well as both a YA novel and an urban fantasy.

A Conversation with Tony Gonzalez

By Lindsay Nelson, New Berlin, Wisconsin Tony Gonzalez is the translator of Math Girls, the first novel in English translation by bestselling Japanese author and mathematician Hiroshi Yuki. Math Girls combines math and romance in this story of three high schoolers who learn to solve problems seldom found in textbooks. Math Girls Tony is a cofounder of publishing company Bento Books and has been translating video games, technical material, and academic papers from Japanese to English since 1992. He has also worked in a variety of fields, including software development and localization, technical management, and Japanese and mathematics education. In addition to his work with Bento Books, he also runs Mini-Oni, LLC from his office in Portland, Oregon. First of all, you did a really great job on the Math Girls novel translation! It made me want to go to the library and start learning about advanced math, now that I was seeing it in such an aesthetically pleasing light for the first time. Thank you! Is this your first published book translation? I guess I’d call Math Girls my first serious book translation. I’ve done a vanity translation of another novel as a direct hire by the author, but this was the first book I did that’s been edited, published, and promoted in earnest. What was it like working on a book centered around a very specialized subject, and did you struggle at any point with the depth of the subject matter going over your head? Given my background (my master’s degree is in math education, and I taught high school math for a couple of years), Math Girls is a perfect fit for my interests, and its technical content is exactly why I wanted to translate the book; not only am I personally interested in the content, but helping to bring this book to Western audiences is arguably a greater contribution towards mathematics education than I could ever make in a classroom. Math Girls definitely has math content that I’d never seen before, which required a bit of outside study to make sure that I was getting things right in the translation. But I really enjoy that sort of thing, so if it was a struggle, it was a very pleasant one.  How closely did you work with the author during translation? We got the rights to translate and publish Math Girls after I directly contacted the author, Hiroshi Yuki, who then introduced us to Softbank Creative, the Japanese publisher. Perhaps because first contact was with the author, and certainly because Mr. Yuki was highly interested in the English translation project, direct contact was much easier than with most novel translations. As to specifics, I emailed the author several times about, for example, confirming character motivations and other nuances in the source. Mr. Yuki (in addition to a mathematician we hired for the job) also did proof checks of our drafts to look for mathematical errors, formatting issues, etc. How has the response been to a book that’s not only translated, but different from what Americans are used to reading? Response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, as can be seen by our reviews on Amazon.com and in various mathematics and library journals. It’s helpful that Math Girls targets a very specific niche—young adults who are mathematically proficient and likely looking at entering math-oriented studies or careers—and that’s a group that popular media hasn’t paid much attention to in the West. For whatever reason, mathematics study is somewhat vilified in the West, the U.S. in particular, to the extent that young persons who love mathematics are likely to play down that aspect of themselves. For some perverse reason, it’s cool to say “I suck at math,” while one can’t quite so blithely say, for example, “I suck at reading.” So I think that it’s refreshing for many closeted (or, at least, sequestered) math aficionados to stumble across a book like Math Girlspop media that revels and delights in the joys of learning advanced mathematics, without being apologetic, pedantic, or condescending. In this case, the differences of the book are likely key to its success. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a book like Math Girls being written by a Western (again, particularly American) author, who would take on such a project with a lot of hard-to-shed cultural baggage regarding both “math” and “girls” that would take things in a very different direction. I see you have a background in translating academic works. Math Girls seems like it would be a fantastic addition to school curriculums to get students fired up about subjects that teachers may struggle to get kids interested in. Has there been any talk of incorporating the Math Girls novel series into academic programs? We were in contact with one high school that wanted to buy several hundred copies to distribute to students as part of an outside reading program, but due to very limited school budgets for that kind of thing, the purchase remains pending until at least the next school year. But using the full book as a text for some significant part of a formal curriculum is likely tricky, as most schools select texts with careful attention paid to alignment with existing educational goals. Unlike a textbook written to fulfill pedagogical requirements established by some curricular committee, the content in Math Girls jumps here and there as the interests of its characters change. The focus of Math Girls isn’t so much to impart formal education of specific mathematical fields or techniques, but rather to show the reader something of what one reviewer called “the mathematical experience”—what learning advanced mathematics feels like, and some of the challenges future mathematicians will face. I’ve read reviews on Amazon.com written by math teachers who mentioned wanting to take excerpts from Math Girls to use as supplemental material for their classes. I think that’s probably an ideal way to use Math Girls in a formal educational setting. I see Bento Books will soon release the sequel to Math Girls. How many books are in the series, and do you plan to pick up the rest of the installments? Yes, Math Girls 2: Fermat’s Last Theorem is the secondMath Girls 2 cover book in the series, and will be released in English translation this week. Currently there are five books in the series, and the author has been adding approximately one book each year. We’ve been contracting with the Japanese publisher on a book-by-book basis, but certainly hope to translate and publish the entire series eventually . Could you tell us briefly about Bento Books and how it got started? Bento Books is a new company, started in January 2011 by myself and my partners Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder as a way for us as translators to use new technologies and business models to more closely control the translation/publishing process. To keep things brief, I’ll point those interested to an interview with us regarding exactly this topic. What does Bento Books have lined up for future releases? We have several titles lined up for release in 2013. First, there’s the manga version of Math Girls, a unique project in that it was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. We will also be releasing a work of historical fiction about Japanese World War II holdouts in the Mariana Islands, and another novel about con men running scams in the Tohoku region after the 3/11 earthquake. We’ve also cleared the rights for several mystery, fantasy, and science fiction titles from a major Japanese publisher, and are working out the logistics of how to get those to market as quickly as possible.  What have been some of the challenges of running a joint publication-translation company? The biggest challenge has been solving a sort of chicken-and-egg problem: We know that in the long run, after we have many titles in our catalog, Bento Books will be self-sustaining and provide us with sufficient income to live comfortably while we pursue projects that interest us. The problem is that we can’t quit our day jobs—academic/technical work for me, game industry work and non-Bento Books titles for Alex and Joe—until that point, as we each have families to support, bills to pay, and all that jazz. Unfortunately, day jobs tend to take up a lot of time, and not much is left over to devote to what we really want to do.  To solve this, we’re currently looking for creative ways of funding ourselves, bootstrapping us to the point where we can devote all of our energies to Bento Books. We have a few leads that we’ll be pursuing over the next year, so please check back in around the end of 2013 to see where we are then! Thanks again to Tony for participating in this interview. An interview with Tony by the math blog Wild About Math! can be found here. The Bento Books website is available here

Ten Questions for Avery Fischer Udagawa

By Misa Dikengil Lindberg, Vergennes, Vermont

Last summer I had the pleasure of reading Shogo Oketani’s J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 (Stone Bridge Press, 2011), translated by SCBWI Tokyo Translation Group member Avery Fischer Udagawa. Told through the eyes of nine-year-old Kazuo Nakamoto, it is an engaging story that recreates the Shinagawa ward in 1960s Tokyo. Here the youngsters of the city, highly influenced by American culture, rush along with the current of westernization. The parents and adults of Kazuo’s world still hold vivid, painful memories of firebombings and food shortages during the war, but to Kazuo and his friends, American TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and Lassie and the track stars of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics are much more real than the war. Avery Fischer Udagawa, a J-E translator and writer based in Thailand, answered questions via email.

Congratulations on the publication of J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965! This is your first book-length translation, right?

Yes! It is exciting to see it make its way into the world.

J-Boys is a unique work in that it was published in English translation before being published in Japanese (as of this writing, there is not yet a Japanese-language edition). The author, Shogo Oketani, is himself a translator of English to Japanese. How did you get involved in this project and what originally attracted you to it?

I first met Shogo Oketani and his wife Leza Lowitz when I interviewed them for an article that appeared in Kyoto Journal No. 56 (March 2004). Shogo and Leza are both authors and both translators. Leza got me involved with translating for the anthology Inside and Other Short Fiction: Japanese Women by Japanese Women (Kodansha International, 2006). In spring 2008, Leza wrote again to ask if I could translate J-Boys in time for Shogo’s birthday in December of that year. I read the manuscript, a collection of fifteen linked short stories, plus English translations of two stories that had been translated by others. I enjoyed and felt a connection to what I read and knew Leza and Shogo would work hard to find a publisher for it. I signed on to translate the book in its entirety, including the material previously translated by others.

How closely did you work with the author and what was it like working with a fellow translator?

I actually worked more directly with Leza than with Shogo. I would email Leza a translation of a story, or translations of multiple stories in a batch, and she would insert comments and edits to which I could then respond, and we could go back and forth as necessary. If either of us had content-related questions for Shogo, Leza would check with him and relay his answer to me. I was fortunate not only to have a close connection with the author, but also to receive Leza’s feedback on my English. She is a gifted writer.

In the author’s note, Oketani says that he wrote the book to introduce young readers to the world of 1965 Japan—specifically the world of young boys in a rapidly changing postwar Japan that is becoming increasingly influenced by American culture. How much research did you do while working on the translation? Where or to whom did you turn for help with any historical questions?

Shogo’s book itself explains lots of the era-specific themes, ranging from the rise of TV to the 1964 Olympics to the mid-1960s construction rush that transformed Tokyo. To get a visual sense of life in this period, I watched two Japanese movies in the Always san-chome no yuhi series, which is based on manga about childhood in working-class Tokyo during this time. (A third film in this series has just been released.) I also consulted the Internet for help with specific questions—about Japanese TV characters, the status of resident (or zainichi) Koreans in Japan, World War II history and memory, kamishibai storytellers, and even Popeye the Sailor and The Beatles!

The book contains a running glossary in the sidebars defining bolded words throughout the text. More than just definitions of Japanese words, the glossary is also a cultural dictionary, providing cultural and historical information about Japan. For example, April is defined as “The month when school begins in Japan. Japanese students go to school almost all year round, with a shorter summer vacation and time off at New Year’s. Students also wear uniforms, wool in the winter and cotton in the hotter months.” Was the glossary written by Oketani in Japanese? Did you translate the glossary as well?

The glossary and sidebars were prepared in English well after the translation phase. I played a limited role by reading the draft entries and suggesting some information to add and leave out. As the translator of J-Boys, I initially thought my involvement would end after I translated the book into English, but in my capacity as a close reader of the manuscript, I found I had ideas to contribute in the pre-publication phase as well, such as (in this case) what information young readers might use to understand the text.

You were working on this project for quite a while. How long did the whole thing take? Can you describe the different stages of the process?

The initial translation phase stretched from spring through winter of 2008. I then continued to work with some parts of the book for a project for my Master’s degree. Later, once Stone Bridge Press accepted J-Boys for publication, I worked with Shogo, Leza, and publisher Peter Goodman to support the editing and launch of the book. This pre-publication phase stretched from summer 2010 through summer 2011, and involved everything from emails about the subtitle—Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965—which was added in 2010, to thorough editing passes. Children’s book editor and author Susan Korman came on board early on to shape the book into a novel for a U.S. middle-grade (MG) audience, and seeing and working with her changes proved very educational. Also eye-opening was the experience of reading other historical MG novels with Asian main characters, so as to identify the niche J-Boys fills. This was a valuable exercise both for PR purposes and for me as someone interested in translating more children’s literature. It is important—and exciting!—to read the material already available in the target market.

The book has an impressive website with pages about the author, further information about the characters, and useful links/teaching tools to help teachers use J-Boys in the classroom. How involved were you with the website? Do you think the website makes the book more accessible to American readers?

Thanks for checking out the website! It was created by the author and his wife, who then also solicited my input. I wrote the copy for the Book and For Teachers sections and sent some ideas about organization as well. We definitely hope it makes the book more accessible.

What did you learn about the craft of J-E translation while working on J-Boys? Did you face any eye-opening challenges?

I learned that a translator can play a role in birthing a book that extends far beyond translating to, in my case, drafting photo captions, working with sidebars, developing website copy, and even writing to authors to request endorsements. I conversed with elementary-school educators about the book and recently spoke about it in a visit to a fourth-grade classroom. I have also talked about it via Skype to a joint event of SCBWI Tokyo and SWET, the Tokyo-based Society of Writers, Editors and Translators. This work in the areas of editing and PR has taken time, but it has enhanced my knowledge of the publication process and given me ideas for future projects.

As for challenges, the biggest hurdle was probably translating the manuscript during the infancy of my first child! She was born just a few months before Shogo and Leza contacted me about the project. I remember a haze of weekends and late nights hunched over the computer. Now that my daughter is four, however, it is gratifying to see her read her name in the acknowledgments—where it appears with my husband’s—and to have her understand what kind of work I do. I look forward to reading J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 with her in a few years.

What value do you think J-Boys contributes to the world of MG lit in translation?

There is a lot of great MG lit out there that explores particular moments in Asia’s history through children’s eyes. World War II receives a lot of coverage, for example. But there is not a lot of MG writing about 1960s Japan, or about the real daily life of Japanese kids as opposed to fantasy. In addition, books about Japan are often written in English by non-Japanese authors, so it is good to add a translation to the mix written by someone who grew up in the world he is describing. Shogo Oketani grew up in Shinagawa ward, just like Kazuo, and still lives on the same plot of land where he lived in the 1960s.

J-Boys is also potentially useful in classrooms because it covers historical social issues but is not U.S.-centered; it features a boy; and it conveys weighty content in simple language, making it useful for English language learners. I look forward to learning more about how readers and educators approach this book.

I know you are very busy with a preschooler and a baby right now, but do you have any upcoming translation projects in sight?

You are right that I stay busy as an at-home mom of two—our seven-month-old daughter came into the world just as J-Boys was being published. I do have a short-story translation in the anthology Tomo, a collection of YA Japan stories that will benefit teen survivors of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. I also help lead the SCBWI Tokyo Translation Group, which brings together aspiring and published translators of Japanese children’s lit into English, wherever they are in the world. We offer an email listserv and this blog and periodically offer events in Japan such as SCBWI Tokyo Translation Day. If any translators would like to join us, they are welcome to email me via my website or contact japan (at) scbwi (dot) org.