Posts Tagged ‘Avery Fischer Udagawa’

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.

“Festival Time” in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore
It’s hard to believe that January 2019 is almost over, but the month wouldn’t be complete without some exciting news to share! Avery Fischer Udagawa’s translation of the short story “Festival Time,” a tale for middle grade readers and up by Yamagata-born author Ippei Mogami, illustrated by Saburo Takada, has been featured in The Best Asian Short Stories of 2018 anthology, published by Kitaab of Singapore.
“Festival Time” takes place in young Masashi’s village, where plans for a spring festival are derailed because of seasonal labour migration, as farmers go to cities in search of more lucrative work. In a write-up that appeared in the Japan Times earlier this month, Udagawa said that she appreciated how Mogami told the story through a child’s eyes, and how the author handled the boy’s relationship with both his grandmother, who has dementia, and an elder with “crying palsy.”
Read more on “Festival Time” at Words and Pictures, the online magazine of SCBWI British Isles.

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

By Andrew Wong, Tokyo

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

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

Japan Kidlit for Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation Month! Here are Japan kidlit titles (picture book through Young Adult) by #womenintranslation that have appeared on this blog so far. Click to read more!

The Nurse and the Baker by Mika Ichii, translated by Hart Larrabee

Little Keys and the Red Piano by Hideko Ogawa, translated by Kazuko Enda and Deborah Iwabuchi

The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illustrated by Komako Sakai, translated by Cathy Hirano

Are You An Echo? The Lost of Poems of Misuzu Kaneko by David Jacobson, illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, translated by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi

Totto-chan by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, translated by Dorothy Britton

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Brave Story written by Miyuki Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith


TOMO with stories by Naoko Awa, Yukie Chiri, Megumi Fujino, Sachiko Kashiwaba, Arie Nashiya, Yuko Katakawa, and Fumio Takano; translated by Toshiya Kamei, Deborah Davidson, Lynne E. Riggs, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Juliet Winters Carpenter, Deborah Iwabuchi, and Hart Larrabee

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano

Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano

Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder


Fourth Anniversary of 3/11

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen StoriesThis week marks the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories (Stone Bridge Press) is a collection of YA fiction compiled to help teen survivors of the 3/11 disaster. This benefit anthology was edited by Holly Thompson.

Tomo offers 36 stories including 10 translations from Japanese (one from Ainu). These are:

“Anton and Kiyohime” by Fumio Takano, translated by Hart Larrabee

“Blue Shells” by Naoko Awa, translated by Toshiya Kamei

“The Dragon and the Poet” by Kenji Miyazawa, translated by Misa Dikengil Lindberg

“Fleecy Clouds” by Arie Nashiya, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

“Hachiro” by Ryusuke Saito, translated by Sako Ikegami

“House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa

“The Law of Gravity” by Yuko Katakawa, translated by Deborah Iwabuchi

“Love Letter” by Megumi Fujino, translated by Lynne E. Riggs

“Where the Silver Droplets Fall” by Yukie Chiri, translated by Deborah Davidson

“Wings on the Wind” by Yuichi Kimura, translated by Alexander O. Smith

The epigraph of Tomo, an excerpt from the poem “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” by Kenji Miyazawa, was translated by David Sulz.

All proceeds from sales of Tomo benefit teens via the NPO Hope for Tomorrow. Interviews and an educators’ guide may be found at the Tomo blog. Tomo is also available as an ebook.

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.