Post by Cam M. Sato, Tokyo, Japan
On June 22, 2019, we gathered at Tokyo Women’s Plaza in Shibuya, Tokyo, to hear translator and educator Takami Nieda discuss her translation of Kazuki Kaneshiro’s novel Go, a story about a teenage boy struggling with prejudice, identity, and belonging in Japan.
Takami grew up as a second generation Japanese American in New York and New Jersey and never felt completely accepted by either culture. No Asian American authors were taught in school, so she looked to authors of color to help her navigate a dominantly white society. When she read Go, she felt an immediate connection to the main character—a second-generation Korean Japanese growing up in Japan. Like Takami, he deals with the issues of in-betweenness. Takami decided she had to translate this book by third generation Korean-Japanese author Kaneshiro.
After getting permission from the author and securing the rights (via Japan Uni Agency) from the Japanese publisher Kadokawa to translate the novel, Takami began the work of translating Go into English. It was a seven-year process, which resulted in her translation of Go finally being published by Amazon Crossing, the translation imprint of Amazon Publishing, in 2018.
According to Takami, there were some advantages to publishing with Amazon Crossing such as a robust editing process, getting a bigger cut of the royalties and having some control over what the cover of the book would look like. Many traditional publishers give translators little, if any, say in what appears on the cover, which can be heartbreaking.
While Amazon Crossing will help with some things, Takami has done much of the marketing herself. But that shouldn’t be a big surprise, as even traditional publishers these days expect authors, translators and/or illustrators to play a significant role in promotion.
I was thoroughly impressed by the way Takami took up the challenge of promoting her book, particularly her mission to get her translation of Go into high schools, universities and libraries. In her presentation, she shared her suggestions for different ways the book could be used in classes, from relating thematic connections to offering historical and diversity contexts.
Takami hopes more stories like this will be translated and taught in schools, because a single story can create stereotypes that give an incomplete picture of the culture or situation.
Though my Japanese is nowhere near good enough to think about translating, I found Takami’s talk valuable with many takeaways I can use as an author. I’ll start thinking seriously on how to market my own books, and how teachers can use them in their classrooms.
Thank you to Takami for sharing her expertise and experiences!
Please consider joining us on July 12, 2019, at the Tokyo Women’s Plaza for an opportunity to meet art director Kerry Martin. Even if you don’t illustrate or write picture books, ideas and inspiration often cross forms and media. Details about the session can be found here.
Cam M. Sato is a poet, author, and editor. You can learn more about her at camsato.com.
An additional write-up of this event by translator Andrew Wong appears at the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog.