Strong Women, Soft Power — by Ginny Tapley Takemori

May GLLI Blog Series:  Japan in Translation, No. 24

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Armstrong, for the Documentist Photography

The Briefcase Toddler_HuntingPuppet Master

In 2016, I and my colleagues Allison Markin Powell and Lucy North realized we would all be attending the London Book Fair. We decided to take advantage of this to organize a reading at the Society Club in Soho, hosted by editor Yuka Igarashi, where we each read from one of our translations of Japanese women authors: Allison from Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo (US edition: The Briefcase), Lucy from Taeko Kono’s Toddler Hunting, and I from Miyuki Miyabe’s Puppet Master. We named the event Strong Women, Soft Power to highlight the role of women authors.

It just so happened that many other translators from many different languages had started noticing that the proportion of women authors making it into translation was woefully low, and an impromptu meeting of a huge group of translators took place during the London Book Fair to discuss strategies to address this, including encouraging bookstores to participate in Women in Translation Month and making lists of works we would love to see in translation for the Literary Hub website (ours is here), among other ideas.

Looking into matters further, we discovered that although Japanese women authors are thriving in publishing at home, this is not reflected in translated works of Japanese literature. Despite achieving parity in the prestigious Akutagawa and Naoki literary prizes and bestselling lists at home, and a whopping 550-page Waseda Bungaku edition dedicated to women writers that sold out within one week of publication last September, works by women authors have been regularly well under half of all Japanese titles in English translation.

We therefore decided to hold a symposium in Tokyo to address this issue. The Strong Women, Soft Power Symposium #1 was held in November 2017 in Jinbocho, with an opening panel where the three of us presented our reasons for holding the symposium and what we hoped to achieve from it, a panel of translators demonstrating a workshop style useful for forming translator communities, a panel of representatives from Japanese publishing discussing their experience of promoting works in translation, and culminating with the fantastic author-translator pair Minae Mizumura and Juliet Winters Carpenter in conversation, with Lucy as moderator. Tickets sold out in advance, and the venue was filled to capacity with translators, academics, authors, editors, and literary agents. We had evidently struck a chord with people across the industry.

We intended to start a discussion, and it seems we have succeeded, as many UK and US editors are now sitting up and taking notice, and the Japan Times has just announced a series of articles focusing on women authors. With the #metoo movement also keeping the focus on women, perhaps women in publishing will finally get the recognition they deserve.

Record of a NightNakano Thrift ShopConvenience Store

Allison, Lucy, and I, of course are also playing our part in bringing Japanese women authors into translation. Other than the works mentioned above, recent titles to look out for include Hiromi Kawakami’s A Record of a Night Too Brief (Lucy) and The Nakano Thrift Shop (Allison). One author that I’m championing is Sayaka Murata, who was named a Freeman’s Future of New Writing” author. She has a unique vision, with an eye for the absurd and the grotesque that can be both funny and disturbing, and shows us society in a rather different light. You can read a short excerpt of Convenience Store Woman, out in June, here. And all three of us are currently working on more titles to come, so watch this space!

Editor’s note:  An article about the Strong Women, Soft Power collective and its symposium appeared in The Japan Times here.

Appearing tomorrow:  Sako Ikegami on war in Japanese children’s literature.  

Ginny TakemoriGinny Tapley Takemori lives in rural Japan and has translated fiction by more than a dozen early modern and contemporary Japanese writers, from bestsellers Ryu Murakami and Kyotaro Nishimura to literary greats Izumi Kyoka and Okamoto Kido. Her most recent book publications are Miyuki Miyabe’s five-volume Puppet Master and Tomiko Inui’s The Secret of the Blue Glass, shortlisted for the Marsh Award, and her short fiction translations have appeared in GrantaFreeman’s, Words Without Borders, and a number of anthologies. Her translation of Sayaka Murata’s Akutagawa Prize-winning novel Convenience Store Woman will be published in June 2018.

10339360_10203703467893736_1000817698243960595_oDavid Jacobson organized this series on Japanese literature in translation. He is the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, a 2017 NCTE notable poetry book. A longtime journalist, David has written news articles and TV scripts that have appeared in the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times and on CNN and Japan’s NHK. Since 2008, he has worked with Seattle book publisher Chin Music Press. An experienced Japanese translator, he is on the board of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative.

And in case you missed it…

May 1:  Roger Pulvers on Ishikawa Takuboku (Japan-in-Translation, No. 1)
May 2:  Kathryn Hemmann on outsider stories in contemporary literature (Japan-in-Translation, No. 2)
May 3:  Deborah Iwabuchi on memorable translations (Japan-in-Translation, No. 3)
May 4:  Eve Kushner on kanji’s punning potential, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 4)
May 5:  Eve Kushner on kanji’s punning potential, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 5)
May 7:  Translator roundtable on Shiba Ryōtarō’s Ryōma!, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 6)
May 8: Translator roundtable on Shiba Ryōtarō’s Ryōma!, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 7)
May 9: Librarian Ash Brown on manga in translation (Japan-in-Translation, No. 8)
May 10: Excerpt from Mori Eto’s Dive!! (Japan-in-Translation, No. 9)
May 11: Tony Malone on translations of Natsume Sōseki (Japan-in-Translation, No. 10)
May 12: Poet Michael Dylan Welch on translating haiku (Japan-in-Translation, No. 11)
May 14: Smithsonian BookDragon’s Favorites, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 12)
May 15: Smithsonian BookDragon’s Favorites, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 13)
May 16: Sally Ito on Misuzu Kaneko’s Compassionate Imagination (Japan-in-Translation, No. 14)
May 17: Frederik Schodt on The Four Immigrants Manga (Japan-in-Translation, No. 15)
May 18: Stone Bridge Press Publisher Peter Goodman (Japan-in-Translation, No. 16)
May 19: Melek Ortabasi on Japanese Literature as World Literature (Japan-in-Translation, No. 17)
May 20: Selected Japanese Picture Books by Andrew Wong (Japan-in-Translation, No. 18)
May 21: Murakami translator Jay Rubin (Japan-in-Translation, No. 19)
May 22: Zack Davisson on translating sound effects in comics (Japan-in-Translation, No. 20)
May 23: Translator showdown: where manga meets the novel (Japan-in-Translation, No. 21)
May 24: Kirkus YA Editor Laura Simeon on cultural messages in Japanese picture books (Japan-in-Translation, No. 22)
May 25: Q&A with Translator Cathy Hirano on Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player (Japan-in-Translation, No. 23)



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