Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Britton’

A Memoir in Translation Opens a Hidden Door

By Malavika Nataraj, Singapore

Two years ago, I attended a concert where I heard an Okinawan all-women’s group sing melodious ballads about the rich, natural beauty of the Ryukyu Islands. The shaman-like lead singer, with her waist-length grey hair, played an ancient snakeskin sanshin. As the beautiful voices rose in song, I felt their pain and sadness vibrating within me.

From then on, I was fascinated by Okinawa with its waving palms and turquoise waters—Japanese, yet so different. I wanted to understand the pain of the Okinawan people, their pride and their plaintive cry for peace. It was at about this time that I came across The Girl with the White Flag, and feeling inexplicably drawn to it, began to read.

The book begins with Tomiko Higa’s recollections of an almost idyllic childhood, growing up on a farm in rural Shuri, the old capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom. After her mother’s death, she spends early childhood years with her father, digging up sweet potatoes from their field for lunch and listening to the wisdom he has to share. But soon, the threat of war looms large and seven-year-old Tomiko must prepare to flee with her siblings, when her father does not return from a trip into town. Hiding in caves that dot the coastline nearby, the children travel south with other refugees to find shelter, away from falling bombs and gunfire. Not long afterward, Tomiko’s brother Nini falls prey to a bullet-wound in his head, and little Tomiko becomes separated from her two older sisters.

Here begins Tomiko’s solo, nightmarish journey of survival. She spends weeks searching for her sisters, dodging the bullets and bombs that chase her very footsteps. Hiding in the tall pampas grass, ducking in and out of caves, she somehow lives on, all the while believing that her dead brother’s spirit is watching out for her. Throughout her ordeal, she also believes that her father’s voice is in her head guiding her and keeping her alive.

And maybe it is. For in this miraculous tale of survival in a land torn apart by war, a seven-year old child with no real survival skills finds raw carrots in an abandoned field, food in the haversacks of dead soldiers, and drinkable water where all the rivers run red with the blood of her fellow Okinawans.

After weeks of traversing this landscape, little Tomiko finally stumbles upon an underground cave, inhabited by an old, ailing couple. Grandma and Grandpa, as she calls them, become her family for a little while, before the old man sends Tomiko out of the cave, telling her that she is too young to die with them, that she must live. So into the sunlight she finally emerges, waving a white cloth torn from Grandpa’s clothing, tied to a stick.

At the end of the Second World War in 1945, a young American war photographer named John Hendrickson was documenting the surrender of Japanese civilians on the island of Okinawa, when he stopped to take a picture of a little girl holding a white flag.

This photograph re-surfaced in Japan decades after it was taken, and the girl in the picture became a symbol of strength, love and hope—an emblem of survival and peace in a place once devastated by war. The child, meanwhile, had grown up and re-built her life, burying her painful memories. It wasn’t until the discovery of the photo set off a chain of rumours about the girl’s identity, that Tomiko Higa thought of sitting down and penning her own true story.

Left: Dorothy Britton (RenaissanceBooks.co.uk)

When Dorothy Britton—a well-known poet, translator and composer who spent a large part of her life in Japan—translated Higa’s book into English, she opened a door hidden behind a tangle of vines, and let the English-speaking world into a place it knew very little about.

In today’s world where terrorists, bombings and security threats are all a part of our lives, the desire for world peace is as close and as personal as it was—and still is—for the Okinawan people.

Dorothy Britton loved Japan and deeply understood the sentiments of Japanese people. She was often described as being “Japanese but in western skin.”  During her lifetime, she wrote poetry and articles about the country she loved and also translated several well-known works such as Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s famous memoir Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, as well as A Haiku Journey (Oku no hosomich) by the famous poet Matsuo Basho. Britton also authored the historical work Prince and Princess Chichibu and translated The Japanese Crane by Tsuneo Hayashida. Britton passed away in 2015, at her home in Hayama, a week before her memoir Rhythms, Rites and Rituals: My Life in Japan in Two-step and Waltz-time was to be released.

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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

 

In Memory of Dorothy Britton and Miyoko Matsutani

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Totto-chanInai inai baa

Recently the world of Japanese children’s literature lost two important figures. They are not connected—except perhaps in our hearts—but I would like to note their passing here and express great appreciation for their long careers.

Translator Dorothy Britton (February 14, 1922–February 25, 2015)

The Girl with the White FlagDorothy Britton was a translator known for her renderings of bestseller Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (above left), as well as The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa (left).

Britton was British but born in Japan, a survivor of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake while an infant. She spent much of her life in Japan. The Japan Society in London had planned a launch (fully booked!) this month for Britton’s memoir, Rhythms, Rites and Rituals: My Life in Japan in Two-step and Waltz-time, but it was learned days beforehand that Britton had died. The launch became a memorial gathering. A Japan Society page provides more information on Britton’s eventful life and many accomplishments.

Author Miyoko Matsutani (Feb. 15, 1926–Feb. 28, 2015)

Little MomoAnyone who has raised a child in Japan since the 1950s will have read at least one picture book—and probably many—by prolific author Miyoko Matsutani. The titles perhaps most mentioned in Japanese media are Tatsu no ko Taro (Taro the Dragon Boy) and Chiisai Momo-chan (Little Momo, left), but many, many Japanese were introduced to reading as infants with Matsutani’s Inai inai baa (Peek-a-Boo, top right of post), published in 1967. My own children were! The Miyoko Matsutani Official Website offers photos and information about this beloved author, and the Goodreads website includes an English bio.

Matsutani enjoyed a writing career of some six decades, and dedicated herself to children’s literature. She opened up part of her home in Tokyo as a lending library, which she named Hon to ningyo no ie (The House of Books and Dolls). She was often on hand to read books to young visitors. The House of Books and Dolls remains open to the public on a regular basis.

A quick check online shows that many of Matsutani’s books have been translated into English. Many are no longer in print but available secondhand.

The works of Dorothy Britton and Miyoko Matsutani will enrich children’s lives for generations to come.

Dorothy Britton memoirThe Crane Maiden