Posts Tagged ‘Sally Ito’

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:

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


Are You an Echo? Showcased at Tokyo Event

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi Japan


From left: Toshikado Hajiri, Michiko Tsuboi, and David Jacobson

On February 4, the illustrator, one of the translators, and the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko spoke at an SCBWI Japan event in Tokyo.

Author David Jacobson (above right) began by telling how he was introduced to the works of Misuzu Kaneko (1903–1930), by friends who were Kaneko fans. He began to do research and work out a plan and funding for a book of her poetry.

The first order of business was finding a translator. The “translator” turned out to be an aunt-niece team: Michiko Tsuboi, based in Japan, and Sally Ito, an ethnic Japanese born and raised in Canada. Both of the women had already translated Kaneko poems for “fun,” according to Tsuboi. Jacobson found in these two women the enthusiasm for Kaneko’s work he felt was needed to translate her poetry. He also wanted a feminine interpretation of the “motherly” and “girlish” language Kaneko used in her poems.

Jacobson, Tsuboi and Ito first met in person when they, with illustrator Toshikado Hajiri, took a trip to Senzaki (now Nagato City) where Kaneko spent her life. Thus motivated to get on with the project, their real work began.

Tsuboi told us about the endless emails and Skype sessions she, Jacobson and Ito shared. From my point of view as a translator, one of the most interesting points was how Tsuboi and Ito were so involved in Jacobson’s narrative of Kaneko’s life. Tsuboi mentioned how shocked she was when her Canadian niece criticized Jacobson’s work at times, but seeing that the author was paying attention, she joined in with her own unvarnished opinions. In the end, all three of the group were credited for narrative and translation. In the process, the story of Kaneko’s life became the prominent feature of the book. But Jacobson was determined to include many of her poems.

are-you-an-echo-cover-1024x855Tsuboi said her role in translating the poetry was to convey the nuances of Japanese culture to her niece, and Ito’s job was to make the poetic interpretation. The two thought the simple poems would be easy to translate, but they ended up in endless arguments about wording and interpretation.

As a reader thoroughly enchanted by Are You an Echo? I enjoyed the back story about the trip to Senzaki, the arguments and critiques and endless rewriting. As a translator and writer, I was in awe of the dedication to the work and the ability of all involved to set their egos aside, to create a book that so eloquently honors the tragedy and unique sensitivity of a little known poet.

The event on February 4 continued with a showcase of works by SCBWI Japan members, including Ginny Tapley Takemori, translator of The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui.

Misuzu Kaneko: The Sad Life of a Happy Poet

misuzu-kanekoBy Sally Ito, Winnipeg, Canada

When Misuzu Kaneko (1903–1930) started writing poetry, she lived in the town of Senzaki in Yamaguchi prefecture. It is a picturesque place on a finger of land extending into the Sea of Japan. Misuzu would have been in her late teens, just out of high school. An avid reader with ready exposure to books in the family bookstore, she took to writing poetry with natural, unaffected ease. And she was happy then. Or so I would like to think.

Like Yazaki Setsuo who re-discovered Misuzu’s poetry in the sixties, my encounter with Misuzu began first with the poetry which I, too, found startlingly fresh and arresting. The poetry led naturally to the question ‘Who is this Misuzu?’ and much like Yazaki I was drawn to finding out who this voice belonged to. What I discovered was both astonishing and yet somehow predictably tragic. Misuzu had a short life which she ended herself after a terrible arranged marriage that left her physically unable to look after her daughter. For only a brief period in her early twenties did she enjoy literary success before everything came crashing down around her.

As my aunt Michiko and I began translating Misuzu’s poetry together (which eventually resulted in the publication of the book, Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko) we did so with the weight of her sad life on our minds. Her life was incongruous with the poetry, written as it was, for children. Michiko wondered if Misuzu was happy. Some of her poems were dark; Misuzu was mindful of mortality, and she was unafraid of death. However, as we worked through the poems together, Michiko sensed that Misuzu was happy, and happiest when she was writing of the things she observed with the particular child-like vision she had of the world. And this happiness was deep and true and worth recording.

There are some people too gentle for this world, I thought, while working on the translations. Misuzu seemed like one of them. And yet what a treasure she left to the world in her poetry!  Feeling that I had to work out my complicated feelings about Misuzu’s short life and her luminous poems, I wrote this essay, “Forgotten Woman,” recently published in Electric Literature.

Photo Courtesy of Preservation Association of Misuzu Kaneko’s Work.


Publishers Weekly Features Poet Misuzu Kaneko

By Deborah Iwabuchi, Maebashi, Japan

Are You an Echo: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko has been featured by Publishers WeeklyIf you are still trying to decide whether to reserve a copy of this picture book from Chin Music Press, due out in late September, be sure to read this in-depth introduction and have a look at a few of the beautiful illustrations. Poetry by Misuzu Kaneko, text and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi. Illustrations by Toshikado Hajiri.

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Picture Book to Share the Poetry, and Life Story, of Misuzu Kaneko

by David Jacobson, Seattle, Washington

“Who was Misuzu Kaneko?”

That’s what my colleagues and I at Chin Music Press asked when we set out to create our forthcoming picture book, Are You an Echo?  The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko (release date: Sept. 13, 2016). The question is probably the first one that comes to mind among those not familiar with this wonderful children’s poet, who, amazingly, is little known in the English-speaking world.



I wonder why

the rain that falls from black clouds

shines like silver.

I wonder why

the silkworm that eats green mulberry leaves

is so white.

I wonder why

the moonflower that no one tends

blooms on its own.

I wonder why

everyone I ask

about these things

laughs and says, “That’s just how it is.”

By Misuzu Kaneko

Translation  © Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi, 2016

Kaneko has a remarkable story. Born in 1903, she grew up in rural Yamaguchi prefecture but became quite well educated for a woman of her time. She was an immediate success when she began submitting her poems for publication in the 1920s, and was one of only two women admitted to a prestigious national society of children’s poets.

At the height of her fame, however, Kaneko suffered tragedy in her private life. She was forced to marry a philanderer who not only infected her with gonorrhea but ultimately forbade her to write. She divorced him after four years, but he refused to give up custody of their one child, which was his right by Japanese law at the time. The night before he was due to take away the child, she committed suicide, exactly one month before her twenty-seventh birthday.

Sadly, Kaneko and her work were nearly forgotten for the next fifty years. But a fellow poet, Setsuo Yazaki, recovered her poetry manuscripts in the 1980s and finally published them in their entirety, most of the poems appearing for the first time in print. Since then, her poems have numbered among Japan’s most beloved children’s poems, and appeared in songs and children’s elementary school textbooks. Her life story has inspired multiple television dramas.

However, it was one poem’s broadcast in a public service announcement after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that solidified her reputation as one of Japan’s most beloved children’s writers.

So what is Misuzu Kaneko’s real “story”? Is it her poetry alone? Should it include her not-so-kid-friendly biography, if the goal is to make her work accessible to kids? And do we bring in the story of the loss and rediscovery of her poetry, and of the impact of her poetry after the tsunami?

While putting together the book, we debated over whether to abandon one of these threads or another. Some contested the claim that the broadcast of her poem after the tsunami had a real impact in Japan. I also heard from an experienced book reviewer that we might consider dropping the frame of the rediscovery of her work, as it might not interest kids. In the end, however, we decided that all these threads were important and that we could not tell her story without them.

And so the book has come together after much intense but fruitful collaboration. With the involvement of co-translators Sally Ito in Canada and Michiko Tsuboi in Japan, illustrator Toshikado Hajiri in Japan and me in the United States, Are You an Echo? is the product of a truly transcultural effort to introduce Misuzu Kaneko to English readers.

Are You An Echo?