Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Interviews with TOMO Contributors Author Yuko Katakawa and Translator Deborah Iwabuchi

Yuko Katakawa (author of the Tomo story “The Law of Gravity”) is the author of six books and received a Kodansha New Writer in Children’s Literature Award for her first publication, Sato-san, written when she was 15. Now in university, she continues to write while studying to become a veterinarian. “The Law of Gravity” is revised from a story she first wrote at age 14. 

Deborah Iwabuchi (translator of the Tomo story “The Law of Gravity”) made her first trip to Japan at age seventeen and took up permanent residence soon after college. Translated works include novels by popular Japanese authors, including The Devil’s Whisper and The Sleeping Dragon by Miyuki Miyabe. Originally from California, she lives in the city of Maebashi with her family, and runs her own company, Minamimuki Translations. Visit her website: 

Interview with Author Yuko Katakawa

When did you first start writing fiction? How old were you when you wrote “Law of Gravity?”
I started writing novels when I was 12. I was 15 or 16 when I wrote this story.
Yuko Katakawa and koala
Did you observe an elephant in order to write the story?
I have always liked animals, and often went to the zoo, so I didn’t have to make a special trip to write this story.

The relationship between the sister and brother becomes solid in this story, and the brother vows to protect his sister. Do you think this protectiveness is typical in Japan or unique to these particular siblings?
I think it depends on the family. I myself have an elder brother and we get along well, but I don’t believe he has the strong desire of the character in this story to protect his little sister. But I do believe that Japanese have within their character a strong desire to protect someone or something.

You are now a university student. What are you studying? Do you continue to write fiction?
I am getting my degree in veterinary science. Next year I’ll graduate and become a veterinarian, but I plan to continue writing novels. I have been writing all through high school and college.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
The earthquake hit hard in the Kanto area where I live. There were power outages and all of the public transportation was stopped. So it had a great effect here, too. All I can say is that we should remember this experience and use it as a tool as we move into the future. 

Anything to share with American teen readers?
I would be pleased if my story helps you understand even a little bit about Japan. 

Interview with Translator Deborah Iwabuchi

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to settle in Japan and run your own translation company?
I first came to Japan as a teenager. It was my first trip out of the US and it changed my life. I had always liked languages, and the trip inspired me to learn Japanese and learn more about Japan—the people there knew so much about the US and Americans knew so little about Japan. After college, I came back to Japan to work. I met and married a Japanese man and we raised our family here. I love translation, and it allowed me to work from home as my daughters grew up.
Deborah Iwabuchi in Nagoya
What appealed to you about this particular story?
This story features juku (cram school) and examination pressure. You can visit this Education in Japan Community blog post to learn more about the juku system.

Can you give us some background about the exam system in Japan? What sort of pressure would these two characters be facing?
As my daughters grew up, I became aware of how little say young people here in Japan have in their lives compared to the teenagers I met when I first came to Japan in 1973. On one hand they get a bad rap for being “spoiled” and “unmotivated,” but on the other hand, they often don’t have the freedom to dream or let their imaginations take flight. So many are constantly subjected to the directions and expectations of their schools and families. Parents put children into after-hours cram schools as soon as they start grade school—some even earlier. The result has been high rates of burnout; young people are exhausted by the time they get into college. Since teenagers the world over are programmed to rebel, rebellion in this country can often take a dark, internalized form—as it did in this story. Thankfully, though, “Law of Gravity” ends on a strong note of hope when the brother and sister are able to turn outwards, towards each other and a relationship based on affection rather than expectations. 

I’m very impressed with Ms. Katakawa who, still in her early 20s, has already published 5 or 6 books. She found her voice at an early age and manages to write, pursue various extracurricular activities and keep up her veterinary studies. I believe it is because she has made her own choices in life. She wrote “Law of Gravity” as a high school student, at an age when most young people assume that outside demands on them are “only natural.” Writing as a peer, she sends the message that teenagers have the right to make their own decisions and pursue their own paths.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
I have read so much about how resilient and resourceful Tohoku teens have been throughout this disaster and the ongoing recovery work. You truly represent the future of this country. In the years ahead, try not to lose sight of your dreams—don't let others tell you what to do. You are the ones who have the ideas and potential to get Tohoku and Japan back on its feet! 

No comments:

Post a Comment