Sunday, December 2, 2012

Giving through Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--2012 Donation to Hope for Tomorrow

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories is a benefit anthology of young adult fiction, and it is a pleasure to announce the first donation resulting from the sales of this collection of Japan-related stories. As explained in previous Tomo Blog posts (here and here) the first donations from the sales of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction will go to Hope for Tomorrow (, the Japan-based NPO that provides three methods of support (Educational Support Program, the International Exchange Support Program, and the Foreign Language Support Program) to high school students in areas of Tohoku hardest hit by the major tsunami and earthquake of 2011.

A donation of 100,000 yen (at the current exchange rate about 1,200 USD) was made today to Hope for Tomorrow. This money includes royalty earnings for the first half of 2012 (Tomo was published in March 2012) plus Stone Bridge Press publisher donations for that same period (rounded up with an additional 727 yen from the editor for a total of 75,000 yen), as well as editor's advance money (25,000 yen). Note that the editor's advance has otherwise only been used for printing Tomo publicity postcards, and a small amount has been set aside to enable more cards to be printed.

A huge thank you to all the Tomo authors and translators for donating their stories and their time. Also thanks to Peter Goodman at Stone Bridge Press for the generous publisher donations and for making this project possible. And thank you to Hope for Tomorrow, for providing much needed long-term support for teens in Tohoku.

Please continue to support this project--tell your friends about Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction. Tell teachers and librarians about the Tomo Reader's Guide, which is full of discussion questions and writing activities, and remind them about the extensive cache of author, illustrator and translator interviews on the Tomo Blog. And consider purchasing copies of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction as holiday gifts--order through your local bookseller, your favorite online bookseller, or through Stone Bridge Press.

The teens in Tohoku need our long-term encouragement and support. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The TOMO Reader's Guide--Now Available

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction is a rich collection of 36 stories relating to Japan, ideal for classrooms, libraries and book groups. Now the Tomo Reader's Guide is available for download. 

To download the PDF of the Reader's Guide click here or visit the Reader's Guide section of this Tomo Blog. Included in the Reader's Guide are writing activities (creative writing, translation and academic writing) and discussion questions, both general and story by story, to accompany the Tomo anthology. 

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction is a benefit anthology, with proceeds going to benefit teens in the Tohoku areas of Japan affected by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

Feel free to share feedback about the Reader's Guide, as it will be periodically improved and updated. Thank you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Eye on Stories features Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction

The August issue of Eye-Ai magazine featured Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction in the Eye on Stories section, and magazine editor Terri Nii has sent us the PDF of the article. Written by Tomo contributor Louise George Kittaka, the article includes background of the Tomo project and features interviews with editor Holly Thompson and contributors Trevor Kew, Ann Tashi Slater and Juliet Winters Carpenter. 

Printed out, the article provides a great introduction to the Tomo anthology for libraries, book groups, teachers and students.

Here's a link to Holly Thompson's Tomo page with the PDF file link located below the Tomo cover image.

And here's a sneak peek of the two full magazine spreads:

Thank you, Louise and thank you, Eye-Ai!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kenji Miyazawa’s Poem “Ame ni mo makezu”--Interview with TOMO Translators David Sulz and Hart Larrabee

David Sulz
David Sulz (translator of the Tomo epigraph “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” Ame ni mo makezu) is a librarian at the University of Alberta. He spent four years in the nineties on the JET program in Miyagi (Sendai and Towa-cho) and tries to return often to visit the kindred spirits there who remain among his closest friends. Other translations include Jiro Nitta’s Phantom Immigrants (Mikkosen suian maru), Kenji Miyazawa’s “The Poison Powder Police Chief,” and lyrics from songs performed by Miyagi friends.
Hart Larrabee
Hart Larrabee (translator of the Tomo story “Anton and Kiyohime”) was born in New York State and majored in Japanese at Carleton College in Minnesota. He also earned postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Hawaii. A full-time freelance translator, he currently lives with his family in Nagano Prefecture.

Both David Sulz and Hart Larrabee have translated the famous Kenji Miyazawa poem Ame ni mo makezu. An excerpt of Sulz’s translation appears in Tomo as the anthology’s epigraph.

Below is the original poem in Japanese, followed by the Sulz and Larrabee translations, which are fascinating for their differences. Following the poems, each translator discusses his approach to the poem and the resulting translation.

Here is how the original poem would have looked if written horizontally. Miyazawa used katakana instead of kanji and hiragana writing for much of the poem.

雨ニモマケズ 風ニモマケズ
欲ハナク 決シテ瞋ラズ イツモシズカニワラッテイル
一日ニ玄米四合ト 味噌ト少シノ野菜ヲタベ
アラユルコトヲ ジブンヲカンジョニ入レズニ
ヨクミキキシワカリ ソシテワスレズ
野原ノ松ノ林ノ蔭ノ 小サナ萱ブキノ小屋ニイテ
東ニ病気ノコドモアレバ 行ッテ看病シテヤリ
西ニツカレタ母アレバ 行ッテソノ稲ノ束ヲ負イ
南ニ死ニソナ人アレバ 行ッテコワガラナクテモイイトイイ
ホメラレモセズ クニモサレズ
モノニ ワタシハナリタイ

This is how the poem was discovered written in Kenji Miyazawa’s notebook:

courtesy of the Daimaru Museum
Following is David Sulz’s translation of Kenji Miyazawa’s poem Ame ni mo makezu:

Be not defeated by the rain. Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove's shade.

A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a "Great Man".

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

Following is Hart’s Larrabee’s translation of Kenji Miyazawa’s poem Ame ni mo makezu :

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat
Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables
Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well
Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines
Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles
Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all
Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be

Translator Q & A

What inspired you to translate this poem?

David Sulz: I had a professor who once told us that after studying Chinese for four years at university, he had no idea what to do next. He sent $50 to a bookstore in Hong Kong and received many boxes of Chinese books. Overwhelmed, he chose the thinnest book and started translating it. Through various coincidental twist and turns, that serendipity led to his becoming a world expert on a particular Tang dynasty Chinese poet.

In general, anything I try to translate is a combination of serendipity and personal connections. For example, a historical novel based in places I lived and songs, nature art activities, and travel TV shows created by close friends with whom I could discuss the meaning. A good friend with whom I often had deep philosophical conversations happened to visit Kenji World in Iwate prefecture and brought me a copy as a souvenir. So this falls into both categories: serendipity and personal connection.

Hart Larrabee: I live in a little town called Obuse in northern Nagano Prefecture. A local sake brewery hosts a monthly lecture series, inviting accomplished people who are passionate about what they do to give a talk followed by an evening of conversation fuelled by the brewery’s delicious sake and seasonal cuisine. For a number of years I regularly translated or edited the English portions of the bilingual summaries of each session for publication by the brewery.

Designer Taku Satoh, perhaps best known for product and packaging designs, came to speak in August 2004. Satoh is also art director for Nihongo de asobo (Let’s Play in Japanese), a wonderful NHK educational program on which Ame ni mo makezu is a recurring theme, and he concluded his talk with a reading of the poem.

A bit of Googling quickly turned up a couple of existing versions, but I wanted to avoid infringing on anyone’s copyright and there was little time to arrange permissions. Since I was already reasonably familiar with the poem from the old Hibbett & Itasaka textbook I had used years before in college, I decided to retranslate the poem myself. The version here is a slightly edited version of the one I produced then.

Can you explain your approach to the poem and discuss your translation?

Hart Larrabee: Particularly given the poem’s posthumous discovery in a private notebook, I see it more as a meditation than a moralizing exhortation or socio-political commentary. I wanted to amplify by simplifying, and tried to draft something straightforward and direct without anything extraneous. The poem itself is pretty lean, and I wanted to resist the temptation to expand and explain in the translation.

David Sulz: I did this 15 long years ago, and I didn’t know much about translation ideas and expectations back then and I really just wanted to understand the poem and have interesting discussions about its meaning (I also remember being quite bored at work with lots of spare time). I had no concerns about translating it “correctly” or “appropriately” because I wasn’t doing it for marks or recognition. This was before the Internet became so widespread (believe it or not) so I had no expectation that anyone other than family and maybe some close friends would read it. I suppose I could have looked into publishing it in a journal or book or anthology somewhere but posting it on “the world of Kenji Miyazawa” website was as far as I got.

In another coincidence, I had just been given a thick book of Alexander Pope’s poetry and especially loved his “Essay on Man.” I think much of the wording, phrasing, language, and so much else in my translation was influenced by his 18th century, English style (well, maybe not the heroic couplets for which he was renowned). English poetry experts might not see anything of Pope in my translation and I’ve seen a few comments that it does not accurately reflect the style in which Miyazawa wrote in the context of his time. Miyazawa’s version is very simple for an educated man because, despite his education, he supposedly felt more in tune with the rural folk so wrote in a simple, unpretentious style. Someone commented that his style might be compared to e.e. cummings who wrote poems in English without capital letters.

Admittedly, my translation is anything but simple, straightforward, current English but this wasn’t an intellectual exercise. The style and words just happened and that probably was a result of many small influences at that particular time. I wonder what would happen if I was somehow able to forget my previous translation and try translating it again now.

What are some of the challenges in translating this particular poem? What were your problem/challenge spots?

David Sulz: Honestly, all of it was a challenge! I don’t want anyone to think I sat down and translated this in an afternoon all by myself. I had lots of advice and explanations from many people even if, unforgivably, I don’t remember exactly who anymore. I remember several passages that caused lively debate among my Japanese friends which, by the way, is something any good poem or idea should do. Specifically, I remember two parts taking a long time and that I probably took liberties with in translating.

One is the part about shedding tears during a drought and walking in concern in cold summers. The connection seems to be the anxiety one should feel for friends and neighbours, in this case farmers, who will have a lean winter because their harvest won’t be plentiful.

Another tricky part was why it would be “better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “great man.” It’s hard to come up with other ways to explain what I think it means but I’ll try. Flattery is insincere and manipulative so a “great man” doesn’t know what others really think of him and he might be talked into doing things that others don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. Conversely, it doesn’t really matter if some people think you are useless as long as you (and those closest to you) know your own worth – you are free to be yourself with less pressure. Perhaps it is so hard to grasp Miyazawa’s meaning because it is completely opposite to what we are normally led to believe – that it is better to be considered great than useless. 

After finally understanding the meaning, of course, the biggest challenge was finding words and phrases in English that preserved the Japanese meaning and character but allowed rhythms that sounded harmonious and lyrical in English.  In other words, making it sound right.

Sadly, my Japanese ability these days isn’t good enough to easily go back to the original poem and reconstruct the challenging points but I think those spots can be deduced by comparing where various English translations have different interpretations.

Hart Larrabee: I was always bothered by the use of the conditional “if” in translations of the section listing the four directions, even though it appears formally faithful to the areba in the original. To me it suggests a rigid logic, an image of a protagonist who, alerted somehow to the existence of a sick child or a weary mother somewhere, only then dashes into action. In the original, though, the conditional just seems part of a rhetorical structure designed to indicate that the protagonist would show compassion toward all wherever he might find them. So I was pleased to dispose of the “ifs.”

In reviewing my translation for this interview, I decided to take another stab at the third and fourth lines from the bottom, which I originally rendered as Unpraised / Unnoticed. This translation bothered me because the protagonist would certainly have to be noticed before he could be called useless, but I couldn’t come up with anything better at the time. I probably also originally misunderstood ku ni sarezu, which I now feel is more at “not seen as a pain in the neck” than “not paid attention to.”

What do you think of other translations of Ame ni mo Makezu?

David Sulz: I love reading various translations of this work, it is a great example of the complexity of translating between two languages whose grammar and style is so completely opposite and whose worldview is quite different. I don’t think there is any way to capture in English how the elegance of Miyazawa’s writing appeals to Japanese readers and, at the same time, make the profound meaning accessible in English. It seems a translator has a dilemma with this poem - accurate but choppy or rhythmic but sacrificing accuracy.

Hart Larrabee:
A poem is a puzzle with many solutions, and I like bits and pieces of all of them given their respective approaches. Some versions introduce a third-person “he” or reveal the first-person subject early, but I think the immediacy of the poem is lost in the former approach while the latter gives too much away. I’m sure I saw David Sulz’s version back in 2004, and remember also being influenced by Steven Venti’s (See: Another source, one I only discovered recently, (See: contains numerous treatments of the first section, which can then be used to track down full versions by translators such as Makoto Ueda, Donald Keene and Roger Pulvers. It’s amazing, really, how many ways even such a short poem can be rendered, and with such different results. Beyond the issue of explanatory additions I mentioned above, even little decisions like which article to use or whether a noun should be plural or singular can really change the sense of the translation.

What do you particularly like about this poem?

David Sulz: I love the human vs. nature struggle. It is not about defeating nature, or escaping into your basement/car/office/mall, or coming up with technology make yourself immune to nature. It’s about accepting nature, dealing with nature on its own turf,  and becoming mentally strong enough to not only endure but also enjoy it. Maybe this poem has influenced me embrace winter in one of the coldest winter cities on earth, Edmonton, where walking to work in -40 degrees or playing hockey outdoors or cross-country skiing is even more satisfying an achievement than in warmer climes.

I also like the idea that one can be both humble and strong at the same time. Humility isn’t weakness and strength isn’t aggression. A satisfied and good person doesn’t have to be ostentatious with big houses and fancy meals. Courage also comes from small acts that seem easy on paper but are difficult in real-life such as convincing people to stop quarrelling or helping someone with a heavy load when lots of other people are watching.

Finally, I appreciate the last line—“this is my goal, the person I strive to become.” Miyazawa is not telling anyone else how to act or be except by his own example—which is very Buddhist, I think. He is saying, here’s what I think it takes to be human, I’m going to try to achieve it, you can try too if you’d like but you don’t have to.

Hart Larrabee: On its own, I like it as a spare and deeply personal meditation on right living. As a phenomenon, I am fascinated by the way it has been employed post-3/11 to convey a kind of stoic resolve in the face of tragedy. I can’t help but wonder if Satoh’s use of the poem on Nihongo de asobo—recitations of the poem in regional dialects from around Japan are one of my favorite parts of the show—helped lay the groundwork for the poem’s resurgence.

And to conclude, here is actor Ken Watanabe reading the poem in Japanese.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Hart Larrabee

Hart Larrabee (translator of the Tomo story “Anton and Kiyohime” by Fumio Takano) was born in New York State and majored in Japanese at Carleton College in Minnesota. He also earned postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Hawaii. He has lived primarily in Japan. A full-time freelance translator, he currently lives with his family in Nagano Prefecture.
Hart Larrabee (right) with author Fumio Takano

Tell us a bit about your background and connection to Japan. 

I started college in 1985. I had decided to go to Carleton College in Minnesota, which had both a foreign language proficiency requirement and a strong emphasis on off-campus study. Although I had studied French in high school I never really took to it, something I attributed in part to the many English cognates that enabled me to stumble through by speaking as if I had marbles in my mouth. While planning what college courses to take, I decided I should find a language as far removed from English as possible, and preferably one with a different writing system to deprive myself the temptation of such shortcuts. It was the 40th anniversary of the end of WWII so Japan was in the news a lot, and since Carleton didn't offer Chinese at the time I decided to take Japanese. A fall semester course in Japanese aesthetics taught by an American designer of Japanese gardens, David Slawson, hooked me on the culture and I really enjoyed the puzzle of the language itself. I ended up spending my junior year in Kyoto, majoring in Japanese, and then spending more time in Japan immediately after graduation. 

What led you to work in translation?

After spending a couple of years as an artist's apprentice in Kyoto, I returned to the US to study communication at the University of Pennsylvania and then got an MBA at the University of Hawaii. Through an internship, this led to work with the organizing committee for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, then the Japanese Olympic Committee, and then the organizing committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Along the way I had picked up translation jobs here and there. When I decided to get married in 2002 and move to Nagano to live near my wife's family, freelance translation became my main occupation (although I have continued to work with international sporting events when the opportunity arises).

What attracted you to this story of Takano’s? Do you have experience with Japanese dance or Nagauta or Russian culture? Are you familiar with Ueno Park and some of the Tokyo settings in this story? 

Kyoko Ibe's production of Dojoji: A Forbidden Journey
The artist with whom I apprenticed in Kyoto, Kyoko Ibe, worked primarily in paper, especially handmade paper produced in Tokushima. Her studio produced a range of products (lamps, jewelry, stationery) as well as large-scale installations and other works of art. During the time I was there she embarked on a theatrical project: an experimental reworking of the Dojoji story in collaboration with a Norwegian dancer and a Japanese noh actor for which she created the sets, props, and costumes. I stitched together the paper kimono and long court trousers worn in the role of the shirabyoshi dancer, and went along on the Scandinavian tour as interpreter, stagehand, and one of two costumers to help dress the noh actor. 

Noh actor Akira Matsui in Dojoji: A Forbidden Journey
So the Dojoji story is one that resonates deeply with a formative experience from my early years in Japan and I was very interested in translating it when the opportunity arose. I hesitated, though, and by the time I responded the story had been offered to another translator. Fortunately for me, that translator was ultimately unable to take part so I got a second chance.

This was a challenging story to translate for a number of reasons. What were some of the trickiest aspects? 

Although the language used is pretty straightforward (with the notable exception of the nagauta), there is a lot going on. There is the love affair between Anton and Kiyohime, with its passion and betrayal, alternate realities, time travel experiments, Latvia-Russian relations, and even a little bit of Tokyo travelogue.

One of the biggest challenges is that as originally published in Japanese, the story was about twice as long as Tomo space restrictions would allow. The author, Fumio Takano, reworked the story to fit the space constraints, but we were pushing the limit and I needed to be acutely conscious of space limitations throughout. Holly Thompson, Sako Ikegami and particularly Lynne Riggs helped me tighten things up and offered numerous solutions more elegant than what I had originally come up with.

Finding a voice for Olegs was also tricky. In the original, he speaks Japanese fluently but in an adult or classroom register, not the voice of a typical teenager. There was really no good way to convey this nuance in the translation, and in my early drafts he seemed unnaturally stiff. I tried to loosen up his dialogue in the sections where he speaks with his uncle, but I suspect that any contrast with the way he talks when speaking with Kyuan is barely perceptible.

The nagauta sections were also fun to work with. The text itself comes straight from the Kabuki version of the Dojo-ji story, so I was able to find some existing translations and commentaries on the web that helped me confirm that I understood the original well enough. Since this wasn't an academic translation I was free to leave out bits that were distracting and try to shape the translation to best fit the story within the general framework of what was in the original.

Can you describe the translation process with this particular story? 

It was an enormous benefit to be able to consult with Takano about how to interpret particular passages, and to have her review the translation and make suggestions about how to address areas where I had questions. She was very engaged and I felt it was important to keep her informed of changes to the translation as it evolved. It was a very hands-on process, and it cannot have been easy for her to have other people mucking about with her story—especially given the need to make some adjustments for a younger readership and to carve away another 10% or so from the translation as our deadline approached.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?

I have really struggled to find something to say. I cannot possibly know what it is like to be you, in the aftermath of such upheaval. But I hope you won't let the disaster define you. It shouldn't dictate how you see yourself. The rest of the world may be quick to use the disaster as a convenient shorthand for deciding what to think, but I hope you won't let them set the terms. You can decide for yourself what your experience will mean in your life. Trust your family, trust your friends, and trust yourself.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tomo--Distributors in the U.S. and Abroad

Tomo was recently on display at the huge ALA (American Library Association) annual conference in Anaheim--in the booth for Consortium Book sales and Distribution. Consortium is the distributor for Tomo's publisher Stone Bridge Press.

Besides online booksellers, for distribution outside the U.S., check out the contacts on the Stone Bridge Press Distribution page, which includes info for distributors in Japan and Korea, as well as other parts of Asia.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Reviews for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction!

Two months have passed since the birthday of the benefit anthology Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, and the reviews have been solidly positive. Below are some review excerpts and links. Click on the link for the full review. Enjoy!

Reviews for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction

"A big but consistently engaging pro bono anthology of authors with direct or indirect Japanese 'heritage or experience.' A broadly appealing mix of the tragic and droll, comforting, disturbing, exotic and universal, with nary a clinker in the bunch." --Kirkus Reviews 

"Tomo is an excellent story collection, presenting a rich and varied immersion in Japanese culture from a teen perspective." --VOYA (print only)

"With slices of Japanese language, folklore, history, popular culture, and other ethnic references, Tomo, which means friend in Japanese, offers a unique and wide-ranging taste of Japanese life." --Booklist (print only)

"The thirty-six stories. . . cover a wide range of genres (prose, verse, graphic narratives) and feature nine stories translated from the Japanese. With the exception of Graham Salisbury and Alan Gratz, most of the authors, many of whom write for adults, will be new to American teens." --The Horn Book, Out of the Box

"The stories in Tomo, "friend" in Japanese, resonate beyond the confines of tragedy in the Tohoku region to reflect a generation who will grow up indelibly marked but not defeated by 3/11...There is sadness and suicide, loss and, yes, the tsunami. But these stories equally cover everything important to the younger generation as entrance exams, ghosts, J-pop, love, divorce, baseball, gamers, ninjas and dragons coordinate to form a whole." --The Japan Times 

"This collection of short stories and poems about Japanese teens is weird and wonderful, studded with the unique color of Japanese teen pop culture, as well as the impact of defining events from the twenty-first century to the present: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster . . . . There's something fabulously specific about the pop culture references that can make reading Tomo: Friendship through Fiction feel like a virtual tour of Japan." --Barnes and Noble Review 

"These 36 unique, heartwarming tales allow readers to feel Japan and its culture, as well as identify with the characters and their experiences during the sensitive teen years and the struggle to belong and to mature. From historical times to modern day, from traditions to current pop culture, from countryside to big city, from the country of Japan to Japanese communities around the world, these stories can also connect English-language readers with the heart of Japan." --Chopsticks NY 

"The teen protagonists are written with sympathy and intuition, and the stories are all executed with confidence. . . . this collection was divided into ones I liked, and ones I liked more." --Asian Review of Books

"Tomo crosses genres, and it crosses genres in more than one way. People should take note of the fact that the book is not divided up into stories that are prose, poetry, or stories that are made up of images. Prose is mixed with poetry, poetry is mixed up with graphic art..." --Dig Boston 

"This collection of stories leaves the reader with an amazing sense of hope for the future of Japan....This is not only a great book commemorating the spirit of the Tohoku people, it is a darn good read, and the English book I would recommend first to anyone who wants to dip their toes into Japanese literature." --Perogies & Gyoza 

"There is plenty for adults to enjoy here, too." --JQ Magazine

"As the winds blow through the tales and understanding blossoms in the lives of teenage protagonists, a real live vision of hope, peace and renewal is formed which brings a full circle to the meaning of 'Friend'...In this ripe time for healing just before the one year anniversary of 3/11/2011, make a new friend--the book called Tomo." --Japan Visitor 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interview with Tomo Editor Holly Thompson

Holly Thompson (author of the foreword and editor of Tomo) earned an MA from the NYU creative writing program and is the author of fiction set in Japan: the novel Ash, the picture book The Wakame Gatherers, and the verse novel Orchards, which received the 2012 APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature. A longtime resident of Japan, she teaches creative and academic writing at Yokohama City University and is regional advisor of the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website:

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (author/illustrator of the Tomo story "Kodama") interviewed Holly Thompson for Debbie's website. See the full interview here; you can post a comment there for a chance to win a copy of the Tomo anthology.

Holly's message to Tohoku teens lies in the words at the end of the foreword to Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction:

Holly Thompson doing tsunami cleanup work in Ishinomaki
"May the hard-hit communities of northern Japan find the strength to move forward. May the young people of Japan cultivate a spirit of compassion and play key roles in reviving Tohoku. Tomo 友 means "friend," and I am profoundly grateful to everyone who joins me in saying to the people of Tohoku: We are with you, we will help you, we will cheer you as you take your steps to recover."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Alexander O. Smith

Alexander O. Smith (translator of the Tomo story “Wings on the Wind” by Yuichi Kimura) has been translating video games and novels from Japanese to English since graduating from Harvard University with a M.A. in Classical Japanese literature in 1998. He is the founder of Kajiya Productions Inc. and is now based in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. His work has received the ALA Batchelder Award for Brave Story (Miyuki Miyabe) and the Phillip K. Dick Special Citation for Harmony (Project Itoh). Visit his website:
Alexander O. Smith

Can you tell us about your connections to Japan and how you came to a career in translation?

I became interested in the Japanese language after spending a few months of my last year in high school in a rural school in China, north of Beijing. My first exposure came, literally, via the menu on the airplane. I began self-study in the wilds of northern Vermont, culminating with a month-long homestay in Osaka during the summer before college. Fast forward six years to a 2-month internship at SEGA Entertainment in Tokyo while I was working toward a PhD in Classical Japanese Literature. I left grad school, and leveraged my internship and some subtitling experience into a localization position at the game company Squaresoft in Costa Mesa, CA in 1998. At the beginning of 1999 I transferred to the Square Co., Ltd. (now "Square-Enix") offices in Tokyo. I left the company three years later to found my own translation business, Kajiya Productions, by which time I had already branched away from games into novels, comics, and poetry.

What are the challenges and rewards of translating a short work such as Wings on the Wind?

Similar to a poem, a piece like “Wings on the Wind” is a challenge because of its brevity, and the attention to word choice that implies. In a longer, prosaic work, you may have room to add in bits of imagery or wordplay that are lost in the translation process, but a short form piece does not provide the translator with the luxury of more words. Add too much, and you endanger the succinct clarity of the original. So, you must proceed with utmost caution, trying to wring every last bit of meaning from your words in an attempt to do justice to the piece.

You have recently moved back to Japan. How does it feel to be back and what are you looking forward to?

Prior to this move I was in the US for five years, which is the longest I've been away from Japan as an adult. I'm looking forward to seeing those things that I had started to take for granted while living in Japan with fresh eyes: the people, the art, the language. I'd like to get back into reading Classical Japanese, which is something I haven't done since grad school, but I always enjoyed. Probably the thing I'm looking forward to most, however, is seeing how my kids rediscover Japan. They were both born in Tokyo, but have done most of their growing-up in the States. It will be a real adventure for them!

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?

At our local elementary school in Vermont, the kids made paper cranes to send to a charity that donated $1 to the Tohoku area for each paper crane they received. They received millions. I know that, for the kids here, learning about the disaster made a faraway place seem much closer, and making the cranes opened their eyes to how connected we are, and how easy it is to help each other. I hope their well-wishes—riding on paper wings—found you safely.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New York City Tomo Launch on March 31, 2012

Saturday, March 31, was the New York City launch of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction. The event was held at the charming and historic Ottendorfer branch of the New York Public Library.
Ottendorfer Library on left
 Librarian Laura Rifkin had set up the room with wonderful displays of Japan-related picture books...

and a table with Tomo stationery for writing messages to teens in Tohoku.

Contributors read excerpts from their stories...
Andrew Fukuda
Tak Toyoshima
Katrina Toshiko Grigg-Saito
Ann Tashi Slater

and answered questions from the audience. 
Tak Toyoshima, Katrina Toshiko Grigg-Saito, Ann Tashi Slater, Andrew Fukuda

Afterward we gathered at the Ukrainian restaurant Veselka across the street for borcht, pierogi and beer--not exactly Japan themed, but wonderfully international!
Excellent borcht for the Tomo crowd!