Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

My First Two Picture Book Translations!

By Holly Thompson, Kamakura

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Miyoshi Town (三芳町) Library in Saitama translating two picture books of local history. Thank you to Avery Fischer Udagawa (via JBBY) for sending this translation job my way!

Both books were created in conjunction with the town’s Yomi-ai Read Together initiative:よみ愛・読書のまち, and I worked closely with librarian Tomoko Shirota throughout the translation, editing and copyediting process.  

In June 2019, I visited Miyoshi Town to attend a performance of Chikumazawa Kuruma Ningyō puppetry by the local troupe and to gain some first-hand understanding of this performance art. Many people know of bunraku puppetry, but few are familiar with kuruma ningyō puppetry in which just a single puppeteer, seated on a small kuruma wheeled cart, controls each puppet. 

This puppetry style developed in the Tama region, and during the Meiji Era, the Maeda family of Chikumazawa began performances. However, as times changed and films and other forms of entertainment gained popularity, demand for puppet shows waned, and the last performance was held in 1921. Kuruma ningyō was put to rest, all but forgotten. Then in 1971, wicker boxes containing puppet parts, costumes, and carts were discovered in a Maeda family storeroom. Fortunately there were two healthy elderly individuals in the community who knew the art of kuruma ningyō puppetry and could train others. Now the Chikumazawa Ningyō Preservation Society troupe performs annually using original puppets, costumes and stories, and the performance art is taught to children in the region. This style of puppetry survives in just three places in Japan: Hachioji City, Okutama, and Chikumazawa in Miyoshi Town. 

The picture book about this type of puppetry, かえってきた竹間沢車人形 (Kaettekita Chikumazawa kuruma ningyō; English title The Puppets Are Back! Chikumazawa Kuruma Ningyo Puppetry) written and illustrated by Noriko Sagesaka, is told from the vantage point of young Yoshiko who helps her father discover the puppets and follows along as he learns to manipulate the puppets and ultimately perform on stage. I was fortunate to meet the real Yoshiko and her father during my visit to Miyoshi Town!

I loved the work of translating this book, especially the rich back matter and the interior “Look Inside!” and “Make It Move!” full-spread sections. 

The second book おいしくなあれ富のいも(Oishiku naare tome no imo; English title Grow, Grow, Grow, Tome Sweet Potatoes!) by Hiromi Watanabe and illustrated by Hiroko Takai was actually the first book published in this reading initiative series. This book focuses on a type of sweet potato cultivated in the Kawagoe area of Saitama. During my visit to Miyoshi Town, I was able to visit the Santome Shinden fields–long rectangular land allotments created some 300 years ago combining space for farm houses, forest for leaf compost, and long fields for the sweet potatoes famous in this area. I was fortunate to meet the farmer of the story, which features a fictional grandson Daichi learning about the growing cycle and the traditional Edo-era method for creating satsuma-doko seed beds for temperature control. 

In the story, Daichi plants his own seed potato in the fields, and in autumn during the fall harvest festival he savors the potatoes of his labor and looks forward to creating the seed bed again in early spring. 

This book, too, is fiction that features child-friendly nonfiction elements: a full spread about the traditional leaf compost method, plus back matter about Miyoshi Town–home of the famous Tome sweet potatoes. 

Miyoshi Town was selected to be an Olympic Host Town, and these books were translated anticipating an influx of tourists to the area this summer. Alas, COVID-19 interrupted those plans! At this time, the English-language translations are only available through special order via the Miyoshi Town Library. Librarians in Japan–PM me if you are interested in a copy!

As a picture book author, I love both crafting and reading fiction picture books that also weave in rich nonfiction contents. And I am always excited to work on projects about the arts, agriculture, rural life and nature. I hope to do more picture book translations in the future!

Cross-posted from the Hatbooks blog with permission.

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.