Posts Tagged ‘eBooks’

Little Keys and the Red Piano—Translation for Ebook (Part 2)

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

This post is the second in a series about translating Little Keys and the Red Piano by Hideko Ogawa for ebook. Read Part 1 here.

New questions cropped up as soon as the translation work began. First of all, we had the matter of names. The main character’s name was Pianyan—which looked to my American eye more like the capital of North Korea than a name for a white female kitten. スクリーンショット 2013-07-04 8.22.13Kazuko and I finally came up with Little Keys to describe a piano-playing feline. Her romantic opposite was Cats, named after the musical, which we changed to Catz to look more like a name. Their mother figure was Futoneko, which translated literally as Fat Cat meant something else altogether. Futoneko finally became Big Cat. The author, Hideko Ogawa, was especially concerned with how we would translate the Niigata dialect spoken by the main character. In my opinion, it’s almost impossible to substitute a dialect in one language for a dialect in another. Other possibilities we considered made the main character sound stupid—which was not at all the intent of the author. Finally we sidestepped the matter, using a word or two of authentic Niigata dialect (eekatta rather than yokatta) with a bit of explanation woven in. I think it worked out well, but more time for thought might have resulted in a different solution.

The next issue was age/marketing category because this would set the tone for the work. Pianyan was of a format that lines the shelves of all Japanese elementary schools: rather thick chapter books in large print. Middle Grade  (MG) would be the closest category in the English-language book world—but of course MG is not exactly the same.

Young Adult (YA) books in English allow for almost anything you’d see in adult literature, but books for children must keep their focus on their target readers. We should have known to expect challenges when the author told us that adults in Japan loved her book even more than children did. Unfortunately, the English version was going to have to choose a category and stick with it. It couldn’t be for children most of the time, and at times lapse into an adult style. For example, the book begins without introduction or background. Pianyan’s human family is being transferred to Tokyo because of Dad’s job. The family can’t take the cat with them, so Little Keys decides to go to Shibuya to become a stray cat. So in the first couple of pages we have the concepts of Tokyo vs the countryside, families being uprooted and assigned to small apartments where no animals are allowed (rather than looking for places of their own), and the complete difference in lifestyle the move will mean, not to mention what or where Shibuya is and how Little Keys—just a kitten—happens to even know about it. There is also the matter of why Yumiko’s father is so excited by the impending move (well, of course, he is most likely being promoted and sent back to headquarters!). And along with everything else, Pianyan–and all other cats–can talk to humans.

Leaving talking cats to suspended disbelief, the book assumes that the reader is familiar with all of the other social aspects. How could we communicate enough background information to catch and hold the interest of children without sounding like a textbook on life in Japan? I’m not a fan of footnotes. I’d rather gently weave the details into the text without upsetting the story. I think we succeeded in doing this. Throughout the book we added bits and pieces of explanation and smoothed out adult-sounding parts or things only Baby Boomers would understand to keep the story anchored in MG. Here’s how we worked with the beginning where Yumiko (the cat’s owner) tells Little Keys that they can’t take her to Tokyo because they’ll be living in an apartment.

“But we’ll be in company housing—a big building with small apartments—cats would disturb the neighbors. There’ll be hundreds of neighbors. That’s what Mom says.”

There were other concepts that we decided didn’t require explanation because they were details not essential to the story. Little Keys has her heart set on trying a hamburger, so the hamburger issue was an important part of the story, 写真but what about when she goes out in town and sees food sold by street vendors? How much description was needed for snacks with a single appearance? Not much we decided.

Okonomiyaki pancakes! And tiny kasutera cakes. Oh, and  there was another (stall) with steamed buns ‘straight from Yokohama Chinatown’—that’s what the sign said.”

Check back next week for Part 3 of this series.

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Little Keys and the Red Piano—Translation for Ebook (Part 1)

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

I recently co-translated a title, Little Keys and the Red Piano, for ebook (Amazon Digital Services, Inc., May 2013). I will be blogging about the experience here in a series of three posts.

First, here is the ebook!

スクリーンショット 2013-06-03 13.22.47Little Keys and the Red Piano

By Hideko Ogawa

Translated by Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda

To give a quick summary, Little Keys is a piano-playing kitten who moves from a comfy home on the Japan Sea to Tokyo, where she plans to become an authentic stray in the big city. Little Keys and the Red Piano is the enchanting story of how she does it.

Rather than going more into the story, I’d like to write today about translating the book. It turned out nicely, but there were some ups and downs that I’d like to have on record for you, my fellow translators, so you’ll have some background when you get a similar opportunity.

My colleague and long-time writing partner, Kazuko Enda, and I were asked by a publishing company just getting into ebooks to translate a children’s book for them. They were publishing an ebook of the original version in Japanese and the author was eager to have it done in English too. It would be the first English book—either digital or in print—that they had ever done. The proposal was that we would translate it for free and then rake in the royalties. While that seemed highly unlikely we were both charmed by the book and even more so by Hideko Ogawa, the author.

Part 1: Meeting the Author

Ms. Ogawa, a woman in her seventies, was active and sharp, passionate about her work, and determined to see it translated into English. Ms. Ogawa wrote Pianyan (Piano + nyan, or “meow”) to describe her own move from her hometown of Itogawa in Niigata to Tokyo. It was originally published by Kodansha in 1994. When we met her, she told us that it had been well-received and dramatized by small acting groups throughout the country—it was a story that resonated with adults who had struggled with homesickness layered on the excitement of life in the city.

写真[6]The three of us decided to meet in Tokyo, and Ms. Ogawa came equipped with the September-October 2011 issue of the journal Nihon Jido Bungaku (Japan Children’s Literature) with a special feature on children’s books in translation, which answered many of the questions we had, especially about how much we could revise a book to make it a more enjoyable read for an English speaking audience.  (An article by translator Yumiko Sakuma—which I eventually hope to translate for this blog—was especially good.) Ms. Ogawa, an editor of the journal, was prepared to accept our proposed revisions in order to make good work of the translation. Not only that, but she was busy taking photographs to illustrate the ebook version, promising a colorful final product that would give readers a good look at Tokyo. She eventually provided maps of Japan and of Shibuya in Tokyo, where much of the book takes place, and accepted links for interested readers to find out more. Little Keys and the Red Piano is now available on Kindle books due in great part to the author’s enthusiasm and unfailing cooperation.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this series.