Posts Tagged ‘Noriko Ogiwara’

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


AFCC 2014 (Part 2): Found in Translation


afcc-logoPaul Quirk, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture

2. Translator Cathy Hirano

Cathy Hirano, who has more than 25 years’ experience translating Japanese children’s literature—and is the translator for Nahoko Uehashi, winner of the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing—gave a presentation at AFCC 2014 about the need to provide more Asian content to the world’s children. Cathy-Hirano_130_162_90_s_c1This is a brief summary of some of the topics she covered.

Motivation for translating children’s books 

One of the unfortunate things about the business of translating is that translators can only do one job at a time. Most translators interested in children’s books have to fit their book translations in between other better paying jobs, and many people would ask, why bother?

To answer that question, Cathy discussed the importance of giving children exposure to different cultures through books. By reading books with protagonists from other cultures, children (and adults) can see that, although people may have a different idea of what is ‘normal,’ it doesn’t matter which country they live in, or what language they speak, everyone is capable of laughter, of shedding tears, of feeling pain, love or sadness; they just have different ways of expressing it.

So while it may not be well paid, the translation of literature for children is important. It enables children from different parts of the world to better understand each other.

moribitoGoing beyond the translation 

In the second part of her talk, Cathy gave examples from Uehashi’s Moribito series focused on bringing fluency to a text. In the case of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, Cathy was blessed with enthusiastic editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, who approached the books as if they were actually written in English. Nahoko Uehashi also played an important role in the translation, remaining open to ideas for altering the book for its North American readership. Cathy’s role morphed into the position of mediator, with the final translation becoming a collaboration among author, editor, and translator. Although this collaboration created more work for Cathy, the end result was a book which flowed a lot more smoothly and captured reader’s hearts.

In the audience for Cathy’s talk, there were quite a number of young people interested in translating children’s literature from Asia. Many of them went up to Cathy at the conclusion of her talk to thank her for inspiring them.

Personally, I also felt very inspired from listening to Cathy’s talk and meeting her in person. She is incredibly passionate about translating and promoting children’s literature and it really comes across when she talks. I found myself wondering, does she get all this energy from translating children’s books, or is she able to translate all of these children’s books because she has so much energy . . . ? It might be a bit of both.

The Bear and the WildcatAnd now, having read some of the books that she has translated, I know that she picks great books to translate (other titles she has translated include Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince by Noriko Ogiwara, The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto, and The Bear and the Wildcat also by Kazumi Yumoto, illustrated by Komako Sakai). If you haven’t read these then you really should grab a copy.

One other thing worth mentioning: Cathy didn’t have copies of the Moribito series to show people at the AFCC, but an anonymous donor sent four copies of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit to make sure that Cathy had some available. Of course these sold out in no time, and Cathy donated the money from sale of the books to AFCC, for the cause of promoting children’s literature from Asia.

See Part 1 of this series.

Catching Up with Cathy Hirano

By Alexander O. Smith, Greensboro, Vermont

Cathy Hirano is the translator most recently of Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince, the second volume in Noriko Ogiwara’s Tales of the Magatama series, published by VIZ Media’s Haikasoru imprint.

Her translation of The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto won both the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for children’s literature in translation and the Boston Globe-Horn Book award for fiction. Her translation of Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi also won the Batchelder Award, and Guardian of the Darkness, the second in the Moribito series, was a Batchelder Honor recipient. A native of Canada, Cathy moved to Japan in 1978 where she received her B.A. from International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. She responded to questions from her home on the island of Shikoku.

Congratulations on the release of Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince!

Thank you!!

I know the first volume in the series came out originally in 1993 and was then retranslated for VIZ in 2007. Can you tell me how you came to work on this series?

After graduating from ICU, I reviewed English YA books for possible Japanese publication and occasionally did J-E picture book translations as PR materials. This was a side job for Kayoko Yoneda, a friend from ICU and an editor at Fukutake Shoten. When the first Magatama book Sorairo magatama (English title: Dragon Sword and Wind Child) came out in 1988, Kayoko asked me to review it and write a summary. Farrar, Straus & Giroux read this and asked for a sample translation and then for the whole thing. It was my very first literature translation and it was very hard! There being no Internet at the time, I never heard how it fared; only that it went out of print. Years later, I was contacted by Masumi Washington at VIZ Media. She told me VIZ wanted to publish a retranslation as well as the second book in the series and asked if I would be willing to take on the task. Apparently, Dragon Sword and Wind Child, though long out of print, had acquired a solid fan following, demonstrated by the fact that the majority of library copies had been stolen and used books were listed at several hundred dollars on Amazon. It even had its own fan site developed by a teenager who loved the book and was sad it went out of print. She had the whole book typed and put online so that people could read it! You know, most publishers would shy away from a book that had already been published once and failed to survive. So I am extremely grateful to VIZ for recognizing the book’s value and for giving it a second chance and to the DSWC fans for keeping the flame alive. The knowledge that people were waiting to read Mirror Sword is what kept me going during some pretty rough patches. Readers have power!!!

What was it like revisiting the first volume fourteen years after your first translation?

It was fun, embarrassing, unnerving, confirming. I started by reading it aloud to my kids and their cousins, who by then were in their mid and late teens. They loved it, thank goodness! But they also had some good laughs about some of my word choices while I found myself cringing in places where the language I’d used was stuffy and stilted. I then went through the translation line by line against the Japanese and caught things I had missed or misunderstood—not as many as I had feared, but still. After rewriting all the trouble spots, I did a final pass through the whole book. Although it was embarrassing to see the mistakes I had made, it was also confirming to see that I have evolved somewhat as a translator in those 14 years and that I still love to escape into Ogiwara’s world!

The Magatama and the Moribito series which you also worked on are interesting to me in that they both fit snugly within a very Western Fantasy genre and yet their stories and worlds are influenced by Asian history and myth. How did you navigate the process of bringing these worlds into English without losing the flavor of the original? Were you inspired, stylistically or otherwise, by any other books in English?

A hard question! For me, it’s a very intuitive process and I’m never sure if I really have succeeded in keeping the flavor of the original. One thing I try to do is read the translation out loud once I get it to a more polished state. That helps me see whether it “feels” the same. What I’m looking for at a gut level is whether the English grabs me in the same way as the Japanese. To me, Uehashi’s voice is fast-paced, powerful, compassionate, clear and deceptively simple. Ogiwara’s voice, though just as powerful, is completely different. Her rich, lyrical images and sweeping descriptions vividly convey the emotional atmosphere. She has a knack for capturing a focal point or detail that draws in the reader and for mirroring the inner worlds of her characters’ minds and hearts in the outer world. However, this style, which is very Japanese, is less compatible with the English language than Uehashi’s. To give one example, Uehashi’s battle scenes are graphically detailed. You know exactly when and how each bone is broken, whose bone it is and what it feels like (ouch!!). This brings home the reality of life for the bodyguard Balsa.

Ogiwara’s battle scenes, in contrast, convey the emotional intensity of the moment but the smaller details are rather blurred, as if viewed through the subjective lens of a particular character’s mind. At one crucial point, for example, I knew that the heroine, Toko, had stabbed someone but it wasn’t until I tried to translate that part that I realized this fact is not actually stated. Her intent to stab him and subsequently the fact that a knife is protruding from the person’s side are there but not the act itself. In Japanese, readers easily connect these dots but in English, they don’t. So as the translator I had to decide when this act actually takes place and how to convey it without losing the tone.

The Moribito world was, in one way, much easier to render in English than the Magatama world simply because Uehashi invented it from scratch. This means that the Japanese readership is just as unfamiliar with it as the English readership so the descriptions Uehashi provides are thorough enough for everyone to follow regardless of their cultural background. While the positioning of these details sometimes bogged down the flow in English, occassionally requiring relocation in consultation with the author and the English-language editor, translating the cultural context into English was not a problem. In contrast, the Magatama books draw on ancient Japanese myths: Dragon Sword and Wind Child (2007) on the ancient Japanese creation myths and Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince (2011) on the tale of Yamato Takeru, a legendary Japanese hero of the 4th century. To the Japanese reader, these tales and their setting are familiar territory but for English readers they are not. A single word in Japanese can conjure up a hairstyle (mage), clothing (mo), building (miya) or social status (osa) for which no English equivalents exist. Because no explanation is provided in the Japanese, the translation required a hefty amount of background research into the tales’ historical and cultural context and plenty of agonizing over how much of that information was needed for an English speaker and how to unobstrusively convey the essentials.

As for what books inspired me during the translation process, I actually strive not to be influenced stylistically by other authors so that I can remain true to the original. At the same time, however, I do read books in the same genre because exposure to good English helps me avoid an excessively literal translation.  While translating the Moribito books I found myself rereading Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series. I think what appealed was their common themes such as the search for meaning, the painful journey of self discovery and acceptance, and the fact that their voices both evoke the oral tradition of story-telling. When translating Ogiwara, on the other hand, I was drawn to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Again, it wasn’t the style but the story’s epic nature and the use of humor to lighten a serious tale that resonated.

I attended a fascinating talk you gave in Tokyo with Nahoko Uehashi, author of the Moribito series, in which you described working closely with the author during your translation of her books. Did you have similar access to Ogiwara when working on the Magatama series? What are the pros and cons to working directly with an author?

I think it probably depends on the author. I feel incredibly blessed to have worked with authors who welcome input and who understand and respect the translation process. I corresponded directly with, and also met, Nahoko Uehashi and Kazumi Yumoto. Although I only met Noriko Ogiwara once and did not correspond with her directly, I had an excellent mediator in Rei Uemura, her editor and friend, who has a complete grasp of her works, gives very informed and helpful answers, evaluates or even suggests possible solutions, and filters any questions so that the author only has to deal with essentials.

So for me, working directly with the author is a huge plus. The only drawback might be the extra time involved, but it is well worth it. There is so much to learn during this process. Authors construct their stories and choose the words that bring them to life with care, passion, and creative genius. What a gift to be able to ask them why they chose a particular word that doesn’t quite work in English and what they think about a possible solution. I have worked on books where I got no response from the author and I feel it shows in the end product and in how I feel about it: frustrated and unsure that I’ve understood what the author intended.

On the business side, you’ve worked now with several different publishers and editors. How has your experience been with the publishing side of translation? Has there been a lot of back-and-forth during the editorial process, or is it fairly hands-off?

I think I’ve run the gamut! The Moribito series was the most hands-on I’ve ever experienced, the Tales of Magatama the most hands-off, and Kazumi Yumoto’s somewhere in the middle. It seems to depend on the U.S. editor. Personally, I prefer input despite the extra work involved. It helps me to develop as a translator and, if the editor is good, it makes for a better book.

You mention in a piece on your lovely translation of Kazumi Yumoto’s The Friends that translating between Japanese and English requires “fairly strenuous cultural and mental gymnastics.” I encourage our readers to follow the link at the end to Cathy’s article, which is a great read with excellent insights into the challenges facing translators of this particular language pairing. To follow on your discussion in that article, how do you position yourself as translator with regards to the work, the author, and your audience?

I think that my approach as a translator differs significantly for bread-and-butter translation and for literature. With the former, I am more objective. I keep a clear picture in my mind of the target reader and I focus on conveying the intent and meaning of the Japanese rather than on the style, sometimes extensively editing and rewriting the original. With literary translation, however, I find the translation process more personal and subjective. The author has written the book for me and I’m translating it so that others can enjoy the same experience. In the initial stages in particular, I don’t worry about the readership and instead focus far more on the author, on his or her style, choice of words, rhythm—on the voice. I’m quite faithful to the original. It is only when I go back and reread it, that I regain some objectivity and become rather ruthless. But I am still trying to convey an experience rather than just content or meaning.

How do you approach the nuts and bolts of your work? How do you prepare for a translation? What’s a typical day at the office like?

My approach is simple: I start by reading the book! As I’m reading it, I note the areas that will require research for background information, think about people who can help me research or people I can query. With Mirror Sword, for example, I started reading about Yamato Takeru, got Japanese friends to help me map out where the different events take place, asked my architect husband for help with architecture, and a history buff for pictures of clothing and background on customs. With the Moribito series, I read up on martial arts!

My next step is to create a rough draft. I usually do that by chapter, typing all questions and problem areas directly into the manuscript with the Japanese page numbers and highlighting the corresponding place in the Japanese text. Then I go back and try to answer my own questions. What I can’t answer, I ask my long-suffering husband or daughter. Often my questions are something like this: “How does this particular word make you feel? What’s the image you get?” I keep a glossary of terms, too, for consistency and so that I don’t have to make a decision more than once. I usually leave the rough draft of one chapter while I go on to the next one and then come back to rewrite it. This gives me some distance from the Japanese.

For Tales of Magatama and the Moribito series, once the translation was rewritten and all queries answered, I sent it to my niece and some young friends to read to make sure it communicated to readers in the target age range. And I asked my daughter to read the English against the Japanese to catch any misinterpretations or omissions. This was also the point where I sent all the questions that no one else could answer to the author (or Japanese editor). After processing the feedback, I did a final run through to catch any places that didn’t feel right. That was it.

I have no typical day at the office. I work at home and am involved in too many other things. With literature translation in particular, more often than not I have to squeeze the work into a small window of time each day. During the rewriting stage, however, I block out longer chunks of time because it’s harder to hold onto the voice when there are frequent interruptions.

Thanks again to Cathy Hirano for participating in this interview. Here is Cathy’s previous article concerning her translation of Kazumi Yumoto’s The Friends.

Cathy’s most recent translation is also available through the Haikasoru imprint’s website.