In our new series of interviews with children's book translators, translators explain just what goes into their work. The second interview is with Avery Udagawa, who translates children's literature from Japanese to English.
A pagoda and narrow street in Kyoto, Japan

How did you become interested in Japanese? 

My parents traveled to Japan once when I was small, bringing back dolls and mobiles and fans. My parents also hosted exchange students from Asia and made it a priority that we meet others. By the time I had the chance to try a Japanese class, in my second year at university, it made sense to do so. Then I got hooked!

How did your Japanese become so good? 
With the help of patient professors. I also received a good push at a summer immersion program. After my undergraduate years, I also had the great fortune to receive a Fulbright Fellowship, which let me study at Nanzan University, Nagoya, for nearly two school years. After that, some angels at Columbia University and the College Women’s Association of Japan helped me study for another year at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama, and I earned my MA from the University of Sheffield later.

Looking back, I was beyond lucky to receive fine teaching and to be able to focus on Japanese during my years in Japan. I have since lived in Oman for two years and Thailand for twelve and a half (and counting), and I know that learning a language on the side, while doing a job or raising children, is far harder.

What made you want to translate for children?

When my husband and I were preparing to start a family, I looked for ways to connect my language background with children and became involved with SCBWI. The supportive community of SCBWI Japan — my 'home' chapter though I live in Thailand — makes it possible for colleagues and me to run translation events and a blog, to interview publishing professionals and to explore paths to publication in an area of kidlit for which there is no manual. I am deeply grateful to SCBWI Japan’s Co-RA Holly Thompson, Co-RA Mariko Nagai, and Illustrator Coordinator Naomi Kojima. What an honor it is to serve on the regional team with them!

Avery Udagawa and fellow children's book translators at fifth biennial translation day of SCBWI Japan, October 2018
Avery and fellow translators at SCBWI Japan's fifth biennial Translation Day, 20 October 2018

I am also profoundly thankful that SCBWI added a Translator member category in 2014 (editor: thanks largely to Avery's hard work), and has opened the Work In Progress grant to translators. Starting in 2019, translators can follow the instructions here and here to submit to the WIP Translation category. Tell the world!

Screenshot from SCBWI website showing that categories of SCBWI membership now include Translator
SCBWI's new category

Avery translated 'Festival Time' by Mogami Ippei for The Best Asian Short Stories 2018, just launched November 7 at the Singapore Writers Festival.

How did this translation "find" you?

Cover of J-Boys by Shogo Oketani, translated by Avery Udagawa,  illustrated with archival photos

In the course of translating J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani, a historical middle grade novel, I learned that workers from rural Japan played a pivotal role in building Tokyo as we know it. Farmers grew crops in the warm months and worked in the city in the cold months — the rest season for rice and other crops — constructing highways, buildings and subway lines. 

This left villages without household heads for as much as half of the year and separated families, but it stemmed from economic necessity. I learned while doing my Master’s that this milieu produced some children’s literature — even a fiction series about kids defending their town from a predatory real estate developer and other ills while their fathers were gone! — and I encountered the writing of Ippei Mogami. In his story 'Festival Time', labor migration and urbanisation have taken their toll on a village, but as an annual spring festival rolls around, a boy sees his town revive.

How long did the translation take you?

The story took a few months to translate and a few years to get published.

How did you go about translating the story?

I began with repeated readings and a literal draft, and then I put the original away to revise my English for a while. I later went back the original story to make sure I had not strayed too far. With 'Festival Time', I also drew on feedback that I had received on another story by Ippei Mogami, 'Swing', which I translated for Kyoto Journal 82. Finally, I benefited from a pass by Dr. Debotri Dhar, editor of The Best Asian Short Stories 2018. (For anyone unfamiliar with Dr. Dhar’s work, please see this lovely interview!)

“Son, I want you to play well today,” Masashi’s father said suddenly. He took the kane and played the cadence himself. 

Masashi had never seen him do that. He watched his father move his head jauntily to the beat. He’s known it for years, Masashi realised. Not only his father, but all of the village men had taken their turn on both kane and flute. 

Were there any specific difficulties caused by Japanese?

In 'Festival Time', I struggled a bit with a passage describing an ailing grandmother’s slide from speaking in local pronunciation, to speaking in standard Japanese pronunciation, as speech itself comes to require deliberate effort for her. I also spent time working with some onomatopoeia that both children and adults use in the story, to transmit a percussion line played at the village festival every year. Instead of using musical notation to transmit the line, the villagers say: To-te-to-te-chin, to-te. To-te, ton, chin. The pronunciation of this line also varies by the age of the speaker.

Did you find names hard to translate, or do you leave them as is?

I typically leave names as-is — transliterating them, of course, from 正志 to Masashi, ハツ to Hatsu and so on. In 'Festival Time', I even leave the respectful suffix -san on the name of a man whom children wouldn’t dream of addressing by his name alone. I trust that as Japanese culture grows more familiar in the world, a -san can work sometimes, rather than Ms., Mrs. or Mr.

What do you hope to translate next, if anything?

I have a middle-grade novel translation coming out next year from Chin Music Press: Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba. This novel unfolds in a regional Japanese city and includes an embedded fantasy story, which makes it hard to put down.

I am also tinkering with a middle grade first-romance novel by Taki Kusano, and a YA sports novel about divers by Eto Mori. I hope to pitch a few picture books soon. We’ll see what finds a publisher!

Do you have an ideal project?

Akiko Beppu, the editorial director at Kaisei-sha [a Japanese children's book publisher] in Tokyo, once asked me that question, and I mumbled something about rural settings and music. That conversation led directly to working with the stories 'Swing' and 'Festival Time' by Mogami Ippei, which both involve music and take place in small towns.

I am not sure what my next ideal project will be. Perhaps we should ask Beppu-san!


Avery Fischer Udagawa, children's book translator
Avery Fischer Udagawa grew up in Kansas and studied English and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She holds an M.A. in Advanced Japanese Studies from the University of Sheffield (UK). She has studied at Nanzan University, Nagoya, on a Fulbright Fellowship, and at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama. She writes, translates, and teaches north of Bangkok, where she lives with her bicultural family.

She serves as SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator and SCBWI International Translator Coordinator. She is the translator most recently of 'Festival Time' by Mogami Ippei, illustrated by Saburo Takada, a story for middle grades and up that appears in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018

Twitter: @AveryUdagawa
SCBWI Japan Translation Group: Japanese Children’s Literature in English

Interview by Julie Sullivan
Twitter: @Webwight

Pictures: Translation keyboard button from Max Pixel
English cover for J-Boys: Illustrated with archival photos
Ippei Mogami's Gumi iro no namida (Oleaster Coloured Tears) which contains 'Festival Time', illustrated by Saburo Takada
Photo of Kyoto: Yasaka Pagoda in Kyōto, Japan, by Sharat Ganapati, on Flickr
Other photos from Avery Udagawa

1 comment:

  1. This has been a lovely interview. Thanks. I feel myself really inspired to take a look at The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 hoping that will give me a short cut to being more culturally aware of stories from that part of the world. Thanks again.


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