Sunday, September 19, 2010

translators who blazed the trail (2)

In 1991, OMF Books published an English translation of Yuki no Arubamu under the title A Heart of Winter. The translators were Mark Caprio and Clyde Moneyhun. They did a great job of it-- the translation makes for smooth reading. It is a slim, pocket-sized book, easy to give as a gift or carry around and read in spare moments. The copy on the back cover says: "This novel captures the depth of hurt and need for healing and wholeness... [it] illustrates, without maddening pat answers, that the bitter pain of abandonment, ridicule, betrayal and revenge need not be the final experience... Above all, this is a story of hope!"

Two months ago, one of my several attempts to contact the translators by email finally reached Mark Caprio, and I was able to ask him about his experience translating this book. This is part of what he shared with me:

We started out just looking for something to translate. Clyde and I had met at an Aikido dojo in Nagoya. By coincidence we had both studied at the University of Arizona in Tucson a few years prior to our meeting. I was an avid reader of Japanese literature at the time, making my way through Kawabata, Endo, Sono Ayako, and others.

Clyde was rather new to Japan, arriving after having completed studies in creative writing. I stumbled on Miura Ayako through a Brother George Pope. We were taught at Nanzan University and often talked over lunch about different things. I believe he mentioned Miura to me. Since he could not read Japanese I said that I would see if I could translate one of her books. Both Clyde and I were after the experience of completing a translation anyway.
I remember that it was Hyoten that I first read. The story moved me to the extent of wanting to translate it. I wrote Miura asking for permission and she answered by saying that it was already being translated. Flattered that she had even answered my letter, I decided to press my luck and ask her to suggest a book to translate. She recommended her latest book, Yuki no Arubamu [album of snow]. I read it and talked with Clyde about it. We decided to translate it.

Our division of labor broke down as follows: I put her words into English, Clyde molded my crude English into prose, and I checked to ensure that his writing honored Miura's original Japanese. We had been given us a deadline--which I believe we just missed--and a contact in Tokyo who would check our work. She also had a second person, a native English speaker, in Sapporo read our manuscript.
After passing the above checks we had to find a publisher. We tried Tuttle [but they turned it down] . Miura's Tokyo agent then recommended we try OMF based in Singapore [who agreed to publish it].

Unfortunately, A Heart of Winter is out of print. But like other out-of-print English translations of Miura's works, it can sometimes be found for sale on online used-book sites, so I encourage you to look for it if you don't already have a copy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

translators who blazed the trail (1)

The first book by Miura Ayako that I ever read in English translation was The Wind is Howling (InterVarsity Press, 1977), an abridged translation of Michi ariki, the first in Miura's autobiographical trilogy that includes Michi ariki, Kono tsuchi no utsuwa o mo, and Hikari aru uchi ni.

I had been reading Miura's works in the original Japanese for some time by then, and was nurturing my own dream of becoming a professional translator. Totally impressed by the smooth and authentic readability of The Wind is Howling, I immediately became curious about the translator, Valerie Griffiths. But it wasn't until recently (over thirty years later!) that I made an effort to contact her, and even in the age of the internet, this wasn't easy. Finally, one of my email queries reached her, and I was honored to receive a reply from Valerie herself! What a thrill this was!

I'd like to share a little of what Valerie told me about how she came to translate Michi ariki:

My husband and I served in Japan with OMF from 1958-1967 when OMF asked us to move to our international HQ in Singapore. [...] While in Singapore we began to hear about Mrs. Miura and when I started a small lending library of Japanese books I included hers. I had never achieved the 1800 kanji for reading. When a Japanese child was dying I lent some books to his parents who were spending all their time at the hospital. His father got engrossed in Michi ariki and began relaying the story to me. I felt it was much more effective to translate a book like that than to write English books about Japan so I started translating in my spare time.

Valerie went on to say how the limitations of her Japanese reading ability made the task time-consuming and arduous. But with the help of a friend who offered to write reading clues next to the harder kanji, she managed to complete the translation. That was the only Miura book she ever translated, and she says she could never do it again. But I --along with many other Miura fans-- will always be thankful that she did this wonderful work.

The Wind is Howling is out-of-print, but can sometimes be found for sale through online used book shops. Keep searching, and you may uncover this treasure yet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

short story bitou/taillights posted

Bitou (Taillights) was written in the 70s, at the peak of Japan’s economic boom years when it was normal for Japanese “corporate warriors” to fully commit their time and energy to their workplace, and men spent little, if any, time with their wives and children. This story gives us a glimpse into the absence of purpose and broken relationships that awaited one such man in his retirement years. Even without particular knowledge of the cultural and economic background of the story, the situation should be familiar enough to 21st century Western readers. Bitou is included in the short story collection titled Dokumugi no toki (Season of the tares) published by Kodansha in 1983.

Last fall, I posted a call for Miura fans who would be willing to take time from their busy schedules to read my translation of this short story and give me feedback on several points. I am deeply indebted to the generous souls (you know who you are) who shared their time and thoughts with me. My translation of Bitou has undergone many transformations, and could certainly use even more polishing, but I'm eager to share it with you all, and have decided to go ahead and post it in its entirety on the Miura Ayako home page. I appreciate any feedback via the comment box below, although I may not be able to post them all. If you have thoughts about the story that you do not want me to post, please say so, and I will keep it between the two of us.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

upcoming miura book club events

I would like to introduce several Miura Ayako Book Club events taking place around the world this summer.

A lecture on
the topic of Miura Ayako's historical novel Kairei, (Hidden Ranges) will take place from 10:00 AM to 12:00 Noon on July 6 (Tues) at the following location:

Makiki Christian Church
829 Pensacola Ave
Honolulu, Hawai'i  (English)  (Japanese)

The Miura Ayako Book Club member group that had its first meeting on March 19, will be meeting for the second time on June 16, Wednesday. If you would like details, please let me know.

A Miura Ayako Book Club event is scheduled for July 10 (Saturday) to 12 (Monday) with a series of lectures to be presented at three different locations. Mr. Yoshimitsu Hasegawa, founder and representative of the Miura Ayako Book Club, will be the speaker on all three occasions.

(1) Date & Time: July 10 (Saturday) 14:00~16:00

Location: Auckland Baptist Tabernacle Church
(429 Queen Street, Auckland 1010 tel: 09-377-4065)

Topic: Michi Ariki (Miura Ayako's autobiography, translated into English as The Wind is Howling)

(2) Date & Time: July 11 (Sunday) 14:00 ~ 15:30

Location: Auckland Japanese Christian Church
(3-5 Ngaire Ave. Epsom Auckland tel: 09-523-3346)

Program: A viewing of the DVD "Footprints of Miura Ayako" and lecture

(3) Date & Time: July 12 (Monday) 13:00~15:00

Location: Mairangi Bay Community Church      
(49 Maxwelton Drive, Mairangi Bay, North Shore, Auckland tel:09-476-0919)

Topic: Michi Ariki (Miura Ayako's autobiography, translated into English as The Wind is Howling)


A Miura Book Club event is planned for August. I will post details as soon as I can.

Friday, May 7, 2010

silvery trace

Most of the posts on this blog have to do with Miura's works of fiction, but I hardly need tell you that she has written a huge number of wonderful and influential works of non-fiction as well. Silvery Trace is the English translation of Gin-iro no Ashiato, a dialogue between Miura Ayako and Hoshino Tomihiro, a former gymnastics teacher who became paralyzed from the neck down after a serious accident in the school gymnasium. During his long hospitalization, he learned to write and draw with an ink brush he held in his mouth.

"It was when I was bed-ridden on my back in the hospital that I read [Miura's] novel Shiokari Pass," Hoshino writes in the postscript to Silvery Trace. "The book shocked me with its amazing insight into life, though at that time I was quite ignorant of its author; [...] I was, at that time, like a straying sheep walking along a lonely path in the heart of darkness without knowing where to go. When I met Ms. Miura through her books, I felt as if I had encountered a person walking before me with glorious light and joy..." Soon after, Hoshino encountered the Bible and was baptized as a Christian.

Miura and Hoshino are now sister and brother in the faith. They share a love of and skill in poetry. They share a history of despair and suffering. But most of all they share the attitude expressed in Psalm 119:71-- It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Hoshino's artwork, which is in the etegami style, brings the good news of hope in Christ to the afflicted all over Japan and in many other countries. It has been published as books, as postcards, and as calendars. Both the original Japanese version and the English translation of Silvery Trace were published by Inochi no kotoba-sha, but appear to be out of print at this time. Used copies can be found on the web. It is worth adding to your collection of Miura literature.

Note: If you have never heard of the art of etegami and are interested in learning about it, check out my etegami blog at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

introducing iwa ni tatsu- (a carpenter's life)

Based on the real life story of the remarkable man who built the author’s house, this novel is unusual among Miura’s works for several reasons. It is told in the “voice” of the carpenter, capturing the full flavor of an early Showa-era working-class man of limited education and rich in life experiences. The book begins with Suzumoto Shinkichi’s earliest memories of growing up in wretched poverty. His father dies an accidental death before he is born, and his mother works herself ragged to feed her children and the lazy, incompetent man she eventually gets remarried to. The book does not have a tight plot that holds the reader in suspense, like a typical Miura novel. Rather, each chapter follows Shinkichi through a stage of his life, a childhood cut short by the need for another wage earner, his early training as a carpenter, marriage, being drafted to serve in Japan’s war with China, and finally his return from the war and his struggle to regain his life and living. In spite of some dark themes such as poverty, suffering, and doubts about war, the novel is liberally peppered with humorous incidents, another factor that makes this novel stand out among Miura’s works.

The book is not yet available in English translation.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

how did you first learn of miura ayako?

I am notorious for having a poor memory for books and films, but I remember my first Miura Ayako novel as though it were yesterday. I was nineteen, and after two years at an American university, I was back in Japan for summer vacation, visiting my family home. But I had lost contact with most of my childhood friends (this was before Facebook, and even before email!), and I was bored.

I rummaged through my father's bookshelf and was drawn to a certain book by its title: Hitsujigaoka (literally: sheep hill). The author was Miura Ayako. Hitsujigaoka is the name of the area in east Sapporo very near to where I'd attended international school. I began reading, and became so caught up in the book that I could hardly eat or sleep for the three days it took me to finish it. Like all Miura novels, it has a stunning ending. That was the moment I decided to pursue training as a professional translator. Back at college, I threw myself into my studies and began corresponding with Ayako. And for the past 33 years, in the breaks between the translating I do for a living, I have continued to translate and promote this author's works.

How did you first learn of Miura Ayako? Which of her novels impressed you, and why? Please share your story with me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

miura ayako event in jakarta

According to the Miura Ayako Dokushokai (Miura Ayako Book Society) website, and verified by Pastor Matsumoto of the Jakarta Japanese Christian Fellowship, Mr. Hasegawa, the founder and representative of the association, will be in Jakarta to lead a Miura Ayako-related program over the weekend of February 13 and 14 (Sat & Sun), 2010.

Location: Jakarta Japanese Christian Fellowship, Pastor Matsumoto's residence (Jl. Bona Indah A-1, No.31, Lebak Bulus, Cilandak, Jakarta Selatan 12440、62-21-750-8435)

Program schedule:
February 13 (Sat) 10:00 ~ 12:00 Viewing of a DVD: Miura Ayako no Ashi-ato (footprints of Miura Ayako); 13:00 ~15:00 discussion of Miura's autobiography Michi Ariki (known in English as The Wind is Howling)

February 14 (Sun) 13:00 ~15:00 Lecture on the historical novel Kairei (known in English as Hidden Ranges). Mr. Hasegawa will also be speaking at the Bilingual Worship Service in the morning preceding the lecture.

There is no fee for any part of the program. If you plan to be in or near Jakarta at this time, please call the number above to verify date and location of the various events.

If you know of other details, or have new information, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Monday, January 4, 2010

the tongue-cut sparrow, revisited

In 1981, Miura was asked to write a script for a play which would explain the gospel message in a way that even young children could understand. It was to be performed at the Asahikawa Shimin Kurisumasu (Asahikawa city's annual Christmas event) later that same year. It was the first, and as far as I know only, play that Miura ever wrote. She based the plot on a folktale that every Japanese child knows by heart: Shitakiri-Suzume (The Tongue-Cut Sparrow). The illustrations posted here are ones that I drew to accompany Miura's version of the folktale. I have used them kamishibai (story-board)-style at many Christmas events over the years.

Perhaps you are familiar with the original tale. It involves a kindly old man, his bad-tempered wife, and a sparrow. The old man nurses an injured sparrow back to health, but the sparrow infuriates the old woman by nibbling at the flour paste she has prepared for starching the laundry. She decides to punish the sparrow by cutting off its tongue with a pair of scissors. When the old man learns of this, he is mortified, and runs to the forest to look for the sparrow so that he can apologize.

The sparrow community responds to the old man's love and concern with a banquet. At the end, he is given a choice between two gifts, one packed in a large wicker case, and the other in a small one. Without knowing what is inside, he chooses the small case, explaining that he is old and the large one would be too difficult for him to carry home. After he reaches his house and tells his wife all that has happened, they open the wicker case and are astounded to find it filled with gold, silver, and other valuables.

The greedy old woman schemes to visit the sparrow's home for an insincere condolence call so she can bring back the large case for herself. Half-way home, she opens the wicker case, and is scared witless by the ghoulish creatures that burst out from it. Moral of the story: Greed is bad.

Miura's script gives the familiar story an interesting twist and a bit of humor. Her version begins where the old man has finally tracked down where the sparrow lives. It happens that a Christmas party is in progress at the sparrow community home. The old man has never heard of Christmas before, so the sparrow explains that it is a celebration of the birth of a man named Jesus. The sparrows invite the old man to join the party and they have a wonderful time.

As the old man prepares to return to his home, the sparrows tell him that Santa has a gift for him. The old man chooses the smaller of the gifts offered. When he finally reaches home and opens the package, he finds a book inside. The book's title is "Bible." The old woman is incensed. "A book like this isn't even useful as toilet paper!" she says. So she makes a visit to the sparrow's home to demand the larger of the gifts. And, of course, she opens the package before she is half-way home. Out comes goblins and other ghoulish creatures. Her legs fail her and she falls to the ground calling for help.

Then Jesus appears. The old woman says, "Whoever you are, please save me from these goblins!" and Jesus replies, "Look carefully. Those aren't goblins you see. That is the condition of your own heart." The old woman snorts, " What kind of joke is that?" Then Jesus explains each of the ugly creatures, saying, "This is your greedy heart. And this is your meanness. And that one over there is your stinginess."

The woman denies it for a while, but the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes that Jesus is right. She confesses that she is full of sin. Jesus explains to her that all people are sinners. All people, young and old (the actor points at the audience) care only for their own happiness. They want to get into better schools and get better jobs than anyone else. They want to be rich. They hate those who do better than them. They all want the larger wicker case.

The old woman says, "By the way, who are you anyway? What is your name and your job?" Jesus replies, "My job? Well, I guess it's to help people with their heavy burdens. I carry the heavy burden of sin for them, so they don't have to." Startled, the woman says, "Even my horrible sin?" Jesus assures the woman that her sins have been forgiven, and he lifts her heavy wicker case containing all the ghoulish creatures onto his own back.

Some time later, the old man comes to the forest looking for his wife. He meets Jesus and realizes that this is the man whose birthday was being celebrated at the sparrow community center. "By the way, Mr. Jesus," he says. "Fortunately I'm not like my mean and greedy wife, or like that murderer you forgave just now. I've lived righteously, without having committed a single sin in my life. And that means you won't have to carry more burdens on account of me."

"Is that right?" Jesus says. "But there is not a single person in the world who is righteous." The old man protests, "What about me? Everyone knows that the old man in the story of Shitakiri-suzume is kind and pure-hearted. I don't have any sin." "Then what's that behind you?" Jesus asks. When the old man turns around, he comes face to face with a long-nosed Tengu goblin, the symbol of arrogance. "This is the true condition of your heart," Jesus tells him. "To say that you have no sin is a very serious sin indeed. As bad or worse than anything your wife has done. If you recognize it, you can repent. Otherwise, the sin remains."

After a great deal of soul-searching, the old man replies, "I feel like I've woken from a dream, and I can see what the truth really is. I've always thought of myself as a good man, but all these years, I've secretly scorned and ridiculed my wife." The old man receives Jesus' forgiveness and Jesus adds the long-nosed goblin to the load he already bears on his back. He laboriously walks up a hill to a wooden cross, and the stage lights dim. A narrator explains why Jesus had to be crucified, and directs the audience to the Bible for further explanation.

While preparing this blog post, I learned that a picture book titled Shitakiri-Suzume no Kurisumasu (The Tongue-cut Sparrow's Christmas), based on Miura's script, was published in December 2008. 5000 copies were printed, and unless they are sold out, it can be ordered from the CHEA JAPAN website (Japanese only): for 1680 yen.