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.