Posts Tagged ‘Deborah Iwabuchi’

When Translating Japanese Children’s Literature Helps You Meet Ruth Stiles Gannett

Dover Publications edition of My Father’s Dragon

Every once in a while, being a translator of Japanese children’s books puts you in the best place to learn about children’s books of another country. Such was the case when Deborah Iwabuchi agreed to translate the only biography (in Japanese) of Ruth Stiles Gannett, author of My Father’s Dragonand assist Ms. Gannett on her summer 2018 visit to Japan.

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

First of all, a little background for how this came about! In 2010, Ruth Stiles Gannett came to Japan at the invitation of a Japanese newspaper. The well-known author, aged 87 at the time, captured the heart of Akie Maezawa, the interpreter assigned to accompany Ms. Gannett on school visits. Maezawa subsequently made a trip to Ithaca, New York, to visit and talk to Ms. Gannett.

The result was the only book-length biography of the author of the Elmer books, The Woman who Wrote My Father’s Dragon, Ruth S. Gannett (published in Japanese by Fukuinkan Shoten).

I met Maezawa—let’s call her Aki, as Ms. Gannett does—when she attended an SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 in search of a translator for her book, which has been well-received by Elmer fans in Japan.

The Japanese biography of Ruth Stiles Gannett, written by Akie Maezawa, published by Fukuinkan Shoten

One look at the cover, with a photo of a smiling Ruth Gannett holding a huge stuffed Boris doll surrounded by a sunny background of white and yellow stripes, and I was sold! (That’s another story, and yes we are looking for a publisher.) Meanwhile, Aki became involved with Puk, a Japanese puppet theater company. Puk was planning a production of My Father’s Dragon and was facing various problems with copyrights. Aki became their point person to garner support from the author of the book. After the production got the go-ahead, the people at Puk decided they wanted more than anything to have Ruth Gannett in Japan to see it. The author, 94, had recently had an accident that left her bedridden, but in typical style, she miraculously recovered and, accompanied by two of her seven daughters, she made the trip to Japan.

Ms. Gannett and her daughters made it safely to Tokyo at the end of July 2018 and, among side trips to Hakone and other places, attended a Puk performance, much to the joy of the audience and cast. On August 4, a separate event took place at Kinokuniya Hall in Shinjuku: a panel discussion by four people closely connected to the Elmer books in Japan, followed by Q-and-A session with Ms. Gannett. To my great pleasure, Aki asked me to help interpret the event for the three guests of honor.

On the evening of August 4, Ms. Gannett and her lovely daughters, Louise Kahn and Margaret (Peggy) Crone, arrived wreathed in smiles and ready for the big evening. The looks on the audience members’ faces as we all entered the packed Kinokuniya Hall told the story of how much everyone loved the books: My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland. Many families in the room had three generations present, eager to see a beloved author. Feeling like a celebrity myself, I settled with Ms. Gannett’s family in seats about halfway back in the hall, until it was time for Ms. Gannett to go onstage.

Above: Ms. Gannett, her daughters, and a cutout of Ms. Gannett backstage at Kinokuniya Hall.

The first half of the program was a panel discussion with Mr. Shibasaki, the director of the Puk production, Aki Maezawa, Tetsuta Watanabe—son of the late Shigeo Watanabe who translated the Elmer books—and Tomoko Shirota, a member of JBBY who has successfully used My Father’s Dragon for twenty-four years in library programs to get children reading. The initial talks by these four were delightfully full of episodes about Ruth Stiles Gannett, Elmer Elevator, the puppet production and children and adults who have read and loved the books over the years. I wish I had the room to include all the stories here.

Japanese edition of My Father’s Dragon, translated by Shigeo Watanabe, published by Fukuinkan Shoten

Since this is a translators’ blog, let me talk about Shigeo Watanabe, as described by his son Tetsuta, who traveled all the way from Australia to be with Ms. Gannett that evening. The elder Watanabe was a member of the ISUMI group: writers and translators who met regularly in the years following the end of World War II to discuss the direction in which they hoped to take children’s literature in Japan. Watanabe had first read My Father’s Dragon in 1952, just four years after its publication in the US. He and the ISUMI group eventually chose the book as one they wanted Japanese children to read. In Tetsuta’s words, “They were looking for a book Japanese would enjoy, but probably not write.” My Father’s Dragon was published in Japanese as “Elmer’s Adventure” (Erumaa no boken) in 1964.

Tetsuta, a small child at the time, recalls his father ruminating over aspects of the book—things that would warm the cockles of a translator—such as the relationship of the two wild boars who make appearances throughout the story. Were they siblings? Friends? A married couple? He had to know so he could decide the type of language to use. Inverting parts of words as the excitable Mouse did in the English proved to be an easy task as Japanese syllables are easy to play with. Once the book was out, Watanabe, a young man with a family to support, kept careful records of the number of copies My Father’s Dragon sold, comparing it to Rieko Nakagawa’s Iya-iya-en, a bestselling Japanese book, which came out at about the same time. (Note: It turns out that Nakagawa and her son, Kanta, are both huge Elmer fans! Shirota told the rapt audience how young Kanta had begged his mother to use her publishing contacts to rewrite the book with his name in it and title it Kanta’s Adventure. The little boy only gave up his tearful pleas when Nakagawa explained about copyrights.)

Above: Tetsuta Watanabe and Akie Maezawa pose backstage; Ms. Gannett signs her autograph.

Shigeo Watanabe went on to become a prominent translator of children’s books. I have never read his Japanese translation of Elmer, but I’m sure he deserves his share of the credit for how the books have stood the test of time and remained consistently popular in Japan for the past half-century—as well as for the excitement in Kinokuniya Hall on August 4.

The second part of the program that evening was devoted to Ruth Stiles Gannett. Frail, but elegant and sure, she took the stage flanked by her daughter Louise, who assisted her mother with some responses (the interpreter’s interpreter) and me (the plain old Japanese-to-English interpreter). Aki, who knows Ms. Gannett well, took the job of summarizing and interpreting the author’s responses into Japanese. Ms. Gannett’s English was easy to understand and the audience was perfectly silent as they hung on every word, and remained captivated as they listened to the Japanese that came afterwards. Here are a few of the questions.

Anniversary edition of the Elmer trilogy

Why did you decide to write the books? I had been working at a ski lodge, the snow had melted and I had nothing to do. My parents were busy with their work, so I got busy writing! I did it mainly to entertain myself. I never intended to publish it until someone suggested it.

Why did you choose a dragon for Elmer to save? I was writing a book about my father, and I wanted him to save a creature that was large, strong and unusual.

Why did the dragon have yellow stripes? I drew a different picture of the dragon, and the stripes were the choice of my stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, who did all the illustrations in the book.

Why did you choose for Elmer to eat tangerines (mikan)? When I was young we got tangerines in the toes of our Christmas stockings. They weren’t available much before the Christmas season. Fruit like that was a rare treat for us.

What do you do every day? Oh not much, I like to read, get exercise, do yoga, bake bread and cookies . . . (note: there was more, but I can’t remember it all!).

Ms. Gannett had a question of her own that she mentioned several times during the short time I was with her. I’ll put it out there and would love to hear from anyone who has ideas on the subject so I can let her know. In publishing My Father’s Dragon, she intended it for middle graders to read, but she has found that in Japan it is overwhelmingly read to preschoolers, and she wonders why that is.

The two hours sped quickly by. Just before the evening ended we were joined on stage by Peggy and the Puk cast as the entire hall sang “Happy Birthday” to Ms. Gannett, who will be 95 on August 12. “Don’t forget!” Aki reminded the audience, “Her name is Ruth. Make sure to get the ‘r’ and the ‘th!’”

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My selfie with Ruth Stiles Gannett. I worried that we would wear her out, but Ms. Gannett and her daughters were gracious and she had a beautiful smile for everyone! —D.I.

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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:

Don’t Know What “Ippai Attena” Means? You Will.

By Emily Balistrieri, Tokyo

Rudorufu to Ippai Attena by Hiroshi Saito is a cute chapter book about a little black cat who finds himself lost in the big city, after inadvertently boarding a long-haul truck. He befriends a tough stray who knows a few tricks—including how to read human language. Can Rudolf use what he learns to find a way home?

Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda as Rudolf and Ippai Attena, it’s put out in English by Kodansha in their Eigo Bunko line (which hardcore Haruki Murakami fans might be aware of, as it was the only way to read his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, in English [translated by Alfred Birnbaum] until the 2015 version translated by Ted Goossen). Since Rudolf is a book published in Japan for young English learners, complete with a vocab list in the back, you might wonder how the translators approached it.

At a talk Iwabuchi and Enda gave recently in Tokyo, they said their goal was for English-speaking elementary-schoolers to be able to understand and relate to the story. As such, one of their focuses, besides navigating cultural things like torii and fish varieties, was making street-smart Ippai Attena sound like he could handle a fight without veering into words children shouldn’t use. Iwabuchi described English bad words as similar to Japanese keigo, in that there are various registers and situational uses. When she said this, I immediately thought of how kono yarō can operate on so many levels of English insults, from “Ya little booger” to “You bastard” (and surely beyond).

Speaking of “Ippai Attena,” though, if you’re wondering how this unconventional name made it through as-is, the main rationale was that the title is equally mysterious in Japanese (I won’t spoil what it means here). The translators do work an explanation into the text. While there may have been smoother options, the book’s very clear setting in Japan includes a few other references to the Japanese language, so the rōmaji doesn’t feel entirely misplaced.

As it turns out, the name joke was only one of many the translators had to cope with, including that most brutal pun, sake/salmon. And Ippai Attena’s trademark threat got an amusing localization to make it more evocative for English readers who may not know Doraemon.

Overall, the book’s themes of getting your education and using knowledge to accomplish your goals are good, but I especially like Ippai Attena’s nurturing side; for instance, where he says, “When you talk tough and sound nasty, your mind starts thinking it’s tough and that it’s acceptable to be mean,” I hope readers pause and consider the idea.

Japanese Children’s Books Today with Yumiko Sakuma on Nov. 11

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

Japanese Children’s Books Today with JBBY President Yumiko Sakuma

Time: Saturday, November 11, 2017, 6:30-8 p.m.

Place:  Tokyo Women’s Plaza, Conference Room 2, 5-53-67 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (by the United Nations University) map

Fee:  800 yen SCBWI members; 1,000 yen nonmembers

Reservations required. To reserve, email japan (at) scbwi.org by Thursday, November 9.

Note: This event will be in Japanese with English interpretation provided.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Translator, editor, Japanese children’s literature critic, and current president of the Japanese Board on Books for Young People (JBBY), Yumiko Sakuma will present the history and current state of children’s book publishing in Japan. She will explain the aims of JBBY and discuss the latest issue of the English-language JBBY booklet Japanese Children’s Books, which showcases Japanese children’s books for enhancing international understanding. Sakuma will also describe recent trends in children’s books in Japan and offer recommendations of favorite new titles.

Yumiko Sakuma was born in Tokyo and worked as an editor before becoming a freelance editor, translator and Japanese children’s literature critic. She taught children’s literature at Aoyama Gakuin Women’s College, has translated more than 230 children’s books into Japanese, and has garnered many awards, including the Sankei Juvenile Literature Publishing Culture Award. She also researches African literature and is the current director of the Japan Africa Children’s Books ProjectHer own website バオバブのブログ (Baobab Blog) provides valuable information about Japanese children’s titles. Yumiko Sakuma is the President of the Japanese Board on Books for Young People (JBBY), and her essay「翻訳ってなんだ」 (“What Exactly Is Translation?”) is available in English translated by Deborah Iwabuchi in this post“Pianyan, Little Keys, and Yumiko Sakuma.”

japan.scbwi.org

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.