Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Creative Exchange and Bonenkai Lunch 2020

Post by Mari Boyle

December 5th, 2020 was our final SCBWI Japan meeting of the year. Like all our meetings since March 2020, our Creative Exchange and Bonenkai Lunch was a virtual affair. Despite the disappointment of not being able to meet up in person, these virtual meetings have the advantage of enabling members to take part from far and wide, and on this occasion, we had friends join us from around Japan, Thailand, and the USA to share works in progress and catch up.


SCBWI Japan members after sharing critiques and good wishes for the New Year


Our group submitted a mix of picture book manuscripts, dummies, middle grade manuscripts and translation works for critique. While many comments were specific to the manuscripts we reviewed, others led to some valuable discussions. For example, how to retell culturally specific folktales in more universal ways as well as considering the risks involved. Additionally, there were suggestions on how illustrators can create new angles or vary perspective to add layers to a story.

Topics on translations were also highlighted. Translations are challenging for a variety of reasons not least because of issues of cultural references. How much explanation is needed for the target audience can be problematic, but sometimes something as simple as a character’s name can cause considerable debate as we discovered with one of the picture book submissions. The main character’s name in Japanese directly related to that character’s temperament, but this was lost in the English version. The author/translator wondered if the name should be changed. While the final decision, of course is up to them, it can be useful to gauge others’ opinions.

Having finished our Creative Exchange, we moved into the second part of the session, our virtual Bonenkai Lunch. This is the Japanese custom of co-workers or friends getting together to share a meal plus a drink or two, celebrate the year gone by, and look forward to the year to come. The word bonenkai literally means “forget-the-year gathering,” and given the disruption COVID-19 has caused throughout 2020, it might seem an apt description. However, as we went round the group, sharing achievements big and small over the past year, as well as our goals for the coming year, I was struck by how positive everyone was. Some of our members had realized success in publishing their work, others had begun new projects, re-drafted old manuscripts, taken online courses, entered writing competitions, discovered podcasts, and viewed many SCBWI digital workshops, but most notably, everyone had goals for the coming year.

The adage “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind in reflecting on this year’s need to maintain connections despite physical distancing. Our SCBWI Japan Regional Team has indeed needed to be inventive in coordinating our virtual meetings. Therefore,  a huge thank you to Holly Thompson  and  Mariko Nagai, Co-Regional Advisors; Naomi Kojima, Regional Illustrator Coordinator; and Avery Fischer Udagawa, Translator Coordinator, for maintaining, developing and hosting the fabulous and varied programs of events over the past year, and here’s looking forward to the new year and new opportunities.

Mari Boyle is a writer and teacher.