Sunday, March 25, 2012

Boston Tomo Launch on March 23, 2012

Friday evening was the Boston launch for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction. The event, held at the Boston Children's Museum, included comments and readings by Tomo contributors Tak Toyoshima, Ann Slater, Katrina Grigg-Saito, Misa Dikengil Lindberg, and Sachiko Kashiwaba, as well as editor Holly Thompson. After the readings, the museum's own Teen Ambassadors asked questions of the panel of contributors. 

The museum, which contains a Japan kyo-no-machiya house and runs an East Asia Program, offered several Japan-related activities to go with the event, including a wishing tree bearing messages from museum guests to teens in Tohoku, written on stationery designed by Tomo illustrators. 

Author Sachiko Kashiwaba, who traveled from Iwate Prefecture in Tohoku for this Boston event, and whose Tomo story "House of Trust" features kimono dressing and several styles of obi tying, delighted the audience by appearing with her daughter in stunning kimono. Below are a few photos from the event.

Tomo contributors with the Boston Children's Museum Teen Ambassadors
Ann Slater, Misa Dikengil Lindberg, Holly Thompson, Tak Toyoshima, Katrina Grigg-Saito, and Sachiko Kashiwaba and daughter
Museum guests writing messages to teens in Tohoku

The wishing tree full of messages

Sachiko Kashiwaba and daughter wearing kimono with obi sashes tied in the fukura suzume and taiko styles
Thank you to the Boston Children's Museum for this Tomo launch event! And now we look forward to the next Tomo event on March 31, in New York City!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tokyo Tomo Launch on March 10, 2012

On March 10, the evening before the one-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories was officially released and launched with a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event in Tokyo. Present were 16 contributors, including several translator-author pairs. All read excerpts from their stories to give the audience a sense of the great range of stories included in the anthology.

Here are a few photos of the contributors who were able to attend the Tokyo launch:
Back row, L to R: John Paul Catton, Juliet Winters Carpenter, Deborah Iwabuchi, Margi Napper, Louise George Kittaka, Ann Slater, Charles De Wolf, Trevor Kew, Hart Larrabee  Front Row, L to R: Arie Nashiya, Yuko Katakawa, Holly Thompson, Sako Ikegami, Fumio Takano, Leza Lowitz, Mariko Nagai
Louise George Kittaka, author, and Holly Thompson, editor
Juliet Winters Carpenter, translator, and Arie Nashiya, author
Sako Ikegami, translator
Fumio Takano, author, and Hart Larrabee, translator
Yuko Katakawa, author, and Deborah Iwabuchi, translator
It was wonderful for so many contributors to meet face to face and for translators to finally meet the authors whose works they'd translated. And the Tomo books sold out. Hooray!

Looking forward to the Boston Tomo launch at the Boston Children's Museum on March 23.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Fumio Takano

Fumio Takano
Fumio Takano (author of the Tomo story “Anton and Kiyohime”, translated by Hart Larrabee) is best known for works of alternative history with a science fiction twist. Her debut novel, Mujika makiina (Musica Machina), was selected as one of Japan's best 30 works of science fiction from the 1990s. Her latest project is compiling Jikan wa dare mo matte kurenai (Time Waits for No Man), an anthology of East European science fiction and fantastica from the first decade of the 21st century. It brings together 12 stories from 10 countries, each translated directly into Japanese from its original language. Visit Fumio Takano's website.

Have you spent time in Russia or studied the language or culture?
My interest in Russia was sparked by literature and music. As a teenager I was interested in classical music and in European (and American) literature, but it was the music and literature of Russia that appealed to me the most. I was 19 when I first went to Russia—way back when it was still the Soviet Union! I studied European history at university but decided against majoring in Russian history. The Russian language was just too difficult for me. My husband, though, is an expert on Russian films. (He’s Japanese <g>.)

The Kremlin, shirabyoshi dance, nagauta, a dragon, time travel—there are so many fascinating elements woven together in this story. What was the inspiration for this story?
The legend of Anchin and Kiyohime is an old Japanese tale that takes place during the Heian period, roughly a thousand years ago. It is the story of a princess named Kiyohime who is abandoned by a priest named Anchin. Filled with bitterness, she transforms into a flaming serpent and chases after him. When she finds him hiding beneath a bell at Dojo-ji Temple, she burns him to death inside it.

Both the Noh and Kabuki performance traditions include variations of a sequel called Dojo-ji. In this story, a ceremony is being held at Dojo-ji Temple to dedicate a new bell and to pray for the repose of Kiyohime’s soul. A beautiful girl, a shirabyoshi, suddenly appears and beings to dance, and is soon revealed to be Kiyohime’s ghost. This is one of my favorite Kabuki plays, a very intense story. Ever since I first saw the great broken bell at the Kremlin in my teens, I knew I wanted to incorporate it in my own version of the Dojo-ji tale someday. I also wanted to rescue Kiyohime from her tragic love. 

Fumio Takano standing by the Tsar Bell in Moscow
A few years ago I began working on an anthology to present literary works from Russia and Eastern Europe to Japan. During the course of the project I began to feel I wanted to write a story that expressed my hope for greater friendship between Eastern Europe and Japan, which still do not know each other very well, and between Japan and Russia, and Russia and Eastern Europe, where there remains so much political enmity. I remembered the bell at the Kremlin and the Dojo-ji story and could see immediately how the whole thing would fit together. Perhaps unconsciously I had been mulling over the story all along.

Can you describe your process for developing your stories? Do you usually start with a historical element and go from there? Or do you start with a character or an incident? How do you grow your science fiction tales?
My creative work is almost always driven by history and art. I think when my own personal thoughts, interests, positions, concerns, love, and other feelings come into contact with different kinds of art or what people have done in the past it creates a kind of chemical reaction. As for where the structure of my stories comes from, this is something I cannot really explain. My writing is inspired by what I call “dispatches from outer space” <g>.

Ever since my teenage years I’ve always enjoyed American science fiction and fantasy. I’ve seen the Star Wars movies countless times since they were first screened in Japan in 1979. I grew up reading the works of authors such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Sir Arthur C. Clarke (who was actually British), and Philip K. Dick. I began listening to classical music because of John Williams’ wonderful soundtracks for movies like Star Wars and Superman. For me, sci-fi was something that just came naturally during my teenage years.

I don’t consciously think of myself as a sci-fi writer. But just as you always remember the language you learn when you’re young, before I knew it I found myself incorporating sci-fi techniques. Sci-fi makes it possible to address hidden human potentials and philosophical issues that just can’t be expressed in a story set in the everyday world of reality. Sci-fi isn’t just entertainment or pulp fiction. There are works of science fiction that have real literary merit, and I hope young readers are paying attention. May the force be with you!

You are working on an anthology of Eastern European science fiction. Can you tell us about this project?
Almost all of foreign literature translated into Japanese is from the United States. When it comes to foreign movies or foreign literature, many Japanese people are only familiar with American works. Russia and Europe, though, have long-established traditions of literary excellence. There are any number of “must-read” classics, with a whole new generation of outstanding writers today. Nevertheless, European literature, and that of the former communist bloc in particular, is barely known in Japan. The biggest reasons publishers don’t want to publish European literature is that there is no money in it and because it’s difficult to translate across multiple languages. For a long time I’ve felt I had to do something about this.

In Russia and Europe people almost never use the term “science fiction.” They talk about “fantastica,” which incorporates sci-if, high fantasy, horror, theater of the absurd, and fantasy, and is considered a genre with high literary and artistic merit. The works of Stanislaw Lem, Franz Kafka, Mircea Eliade, Karel Čapek (father of the concept of “robots”), Mikhail Bulgakov, and Milorad Pavić are all fantastica. Russian and East European literature has a strong element of fantastica in general, and there are many outstanding works, so I thought that introducing Japanese readers to works from this genre would be a good place to start.

Published late last year, the resulting Eastern European anthology includes short stories from ten countries (Austria, Romania, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, and Serbia), each translated by experts in the original language. All of the stories are recent works written in the 21st century. I hope to publish a Russian anthology this year or next, and in the future perhaps anthologies for Western Europe and the Baltic Sea States.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
The damage, both physical and psychological, that the earthquake did to our nation is just immeasurable. My parents in Ibaraki were also directly affected. But people have the wisdom, not found in other animals, to turn sad and difficult events into food for the future. Some American friends decided that instead of just collecting donations they would turn the tragedy into an opportunity for American kids to learn more about Japan, and put together the Tomo Project. I’m sure this book will generate interest in Japan, its culture, and its way of thinking among the young Americans who will shoulder their country’s future. This will be very useful in ensuring a future of goodwill between Japan and the United States. And so, to young friends in the affected areas, I say that I hope you know you are contributing to the future of the world. What power!

The pain and sadness will not disappear right away, and there are a lot of problems that still need to be solved. But let’s all join hands and help each other as we walk into the future!

And also a note for young American friends:
Today America has incredible influence in the world, which means you have a great responsibility. If you have a sense of fairness, you can be heroes. Please take a real look at the world. Please learn foreign languages, and learn about other cultures and peoples. TV and the Internet can supply you with information, but literature offers much more: wisdom and philosophy. Literature is like a stargate to a wonderful world.

If you are interested in world literature, here are some books I recommend: How to Read World Literature (How to Study Literature) and The Longman Anthology of World Literature, The Compact Edition. And if you are interested in Japanese fiction and animation, check out Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. These books may be a bit challenging, but they’re very exciting.

Finally, I must thank you for your friendship, help, donations, encouragement, and prayers for Japan!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Sarah Ogawa

Sarah Ogawa (author of the Tomo story “One”) has been teaching English and creative writing in Japan for twenty years, while also working in journalism and television. Her aspirations to become a senior high homeroom teacher at a Japanese school were fulfilled fifteen years ago, and her students continue to inspire her every day.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to settle in Japan?
Though I grew up in Chicago, I was always fascinated by Japanese culture. As a child I always insisted on visiting the Japanese artifacts at the Field Museum of Natural History, or the Japanese collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. As I grew older and my parents could no longer afford my sushi habit, I got a job waitressing at a local Japanese restaurant so I could eat there after my shifts. I chose a college with a Japanese exchange program and spent my junior year in Kyoto. Although I majored in geology and always thought I’d be a scientist, after a year in graduate school I came back to Japan… and never left!

Was there anything that surprised you when you finally saw the “real” Japan?
Sarah Ogawa enjoying okonomiyaki
Ironically enough, the food! Growing up in Chicago, I always loved Japanese food, but it was typical Japanese fare in America: beef teriyaki, tempura, sushi. When I finally got to Japan on an exchange scholarship, friends at my high school in Nagoya took me to their favorite hangout, a little hole-in-the-wall okonomiyaki shop. “It’s Japanese pizza!” they told me. Of course, in Chicago pizza is something holy, so I was pretty shocked to be presented with a cabbage pancake. It was the first Japanese food that was new to me, and as soon as I disassociated it from pizza, I thought it was delicious!

That shop inspired the restaurant in “One” where the characters have their first date, but there’s probably a similar okonomiyaki place in every neighborhood in Japan. I still enjoy going with my family now!

The story “One” focuses on school club culture. Can you give us a bit of background on school clubs in Japan?
Most sports at the high school level in Japan are played year-round. Students enter one club in their first year and continue it for their entire high school careers to the exclusion of any other clubs. For some students in Japan, club activities are more important than academics. Practice is often before and after school and even during lunchtime, and may last late into the evening during the season. During weekends and summer vacations, club is often held every day, and teams usually go away to training camps that push the limits of human endurance.

But clubs are not only about the sport. They are an important training ground for jyo-gei kankei, or the vertical relationship between senior and junior members of a group, the basis of social interaction in Japan. Students also learn to be reigi-tadashii, to follow the proper rules of social conduct so that they will know how to act once they enter a company or other institution.

Members of this tight-knit group form bonds that often blossom into employment and social opportunities. These people often keep in touch for the rest of their lives.

Have you studied either kendo or dance or both?
I took years of dance and did everything except ballet: modern, jazz, tap, West African…, everything and anything that was dance. At that time in Chicago and Evanston, some brilliant teachers took time to work with young people. Break dance and hip-hop were still evolving, and I saw a lot of those styles in the hallways of my high school. I picked it up by osmosis.

I never studied kendo, though I did some martial arts in college, mostly karate. The closest I’ve come to kendo is a fencing course in college, though I have been known to hit annoying people over the head with the nearest convenient object.

The story “One” deals with the cultural gap between a Japanese girl raised in America and a typical Japanese boy. How common is this scenario?
While I wouldn’t say it happens at every school in Japan, it is becoming more common. More books are dealing with these trans-boundary cultural issues, like Holly Thompson’s Orchards, for example. Japan is very much a country of merging opposites in this regard, and hopefully people are trying to find a way for the traditional culture to coexist with imported influences. While watching my daughter pull the mikoshi (portable shrine) through our neighborhood...

I got this view of the Golden Arches from across a rice paddy.
This is the reality of Japan today.

What was the inspiration or seed for this story?
Few schools have sufficient facilities for everything students want to do. The division of resources, whether funds, space, or equipment, is often a point of contention among students and faculty alike. I have worked at several schools and seen non-traditional clubs have to deal with inferior equipment and practice facilities. Happily, the school I am at now is much more fair-minded.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
Continuing something like club after such a disaster, when you’ve lost so many people and so much, may feel like betrayal. I remember the message from the high school baseball players that was read on television at the draft that year. They wrote that they couldn’t even think of baseball at such a time, even though they were top players for their age at the national level. Our hearts are with you all, and we will never forget. But doing something we love, whether it’s kendo or dance or another activity, is a celebration of life. It’s important to celebrate every day we have, not in spite of such a great loss, but precisely because of it.

Club activities also give us strength--physical, mental, and spiritual--to pull through the hard times we face. Club reminds us of the importance of teamwork and the power of the group, the strength of knowing we are part of something bigger, that we are all at the most basic level, part of “One.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Sako Ikegami

Sako Ikegami (translator of the Tomo story “Hachiro” by Ryusuke Saito) Sako Ikegami can lay claim to various titles (clinical pharmacist, medical translator/writer, children’s book reader), but best enjoys working with YA books. She aspires to bridge her two cultures, American and Japanese, by translating children’s literature in both. Her translations include Ryusuke Saito’s The Tree of Courage and Angela Johnson’s First Part Last into English. Visit her website:

Can you tell us a bit about your own background and your relationship with Japan and the U.S.?

Sako Ikegami with her mother in Hawaii en route to New York
Back in the mid-1960s, I was the four-year-old excess baggage that tagged along when my dad, a corporate samurai, was transferred to the Manhattan office to attempt to addict Americans to Japan's electric products. By the time we returned to Japan eleven years later, I had grown up illiterate in Japanese, so English is my native tongue.  Trying to transition into a Japanese high school student was a disaster. My mom got called into school almost every single day.

"Sako came to school wearing a coat! Is there something wrong with her health? Maybe she should try kanpu-masatsu (stripping down and scrubbing one's body with a dry rough towel)."  "Sako was seen walking home with a boy after school!" (Old Japanese adage: Never allow boys and girls in the same room beyond the age of seven. And they wonder about our dwindling population.)

At fifteen, I didn't fit in with the other Japanese teens. Even today, I remain an anomaly in a culture where conformity and blending in are paramount. But there are perks. Being Japanese, but not quite, gives me both an insider's and outsider's view of this country. Translating YA and children's books is my way of making up for missing out on my Japanese heritage while growing up. Hopefully, I can help introduce new readers to the things about Japan that I have learned to love and respect.

“Hachiro” is an Akita tall tale, originally told in Akita dialect. Can you discuss some of the challenges presented by this dialect during the translation process?
Hachiro by Ryusuke Saito, illustrated by Jiro Takidaira (C) Fukuinkan-shoten
The original language is almost musical, involving repetition and onomatopoeia in the delicious cadence of the Akita dialect. I churned out various renditions, trying to get it into readable English, and even tried American dialects, but nothing really clicked. Finally, I asked for help from a senpai (a more experienced mentor or upperclassman), Tomo contributor Deborah Davidson, who has worked extensively with the Ainu yukar, and she had some great advice. Some of the expressions were also difficult to understand, but reading the Japanese repeatedly out loud helped to solve the mystery language. Limited by time and talent, I finally had to give up on a truly faithful reproduction of the dialect, but I hope at least a hint of Saito's flavor comes through intact.

Can you tell us a bit about Ryusuke Saito and his works?

Ryusuke Saito (photo courtesy of Kodomo to gakuryoku)
Ryusuke Saito was a young reporter working for a newspaper in Akita when he wrote this story in 1950. It was initially published in the Akita Newspaper for middle school students. Although he was from Tokyo, he loved the Tohoku region and its people, and many of his most famous tales are situated in this part of Japan. Saito specialized in short stories that sounded like ancient folklore, but were in fact, originally crafted tales. Together with his collaborative partner, kirie artist Jiro Takidaira, he created a series of beautifully illustrated books that have become children's classics. Like Hachiro, many of the stories focus on the beauty of self-sacrifice for the greater good, which some may find a little didactic for modern tastes. Many of these stories were written in the immediate post-WWII period when Japan was undergoing drastic changes in culture and ideology. These two creators felt it was important that the youths of "new" Japan retain those traditional values that have always been treasured here.

What we've witnessed over this past year proves those values are still intact in the people of Tohoku and reassure us that Japan will pull through in spite of the huge losses it's suffered.

You have lived in the U.S. and Japan, and have actually translated fiction in both directions, J-E and E-J. Which direction of translation do you prefer? What challenges do you encounter in both?

Like most translators, I prefer working into my stronger language, English. Also, so very little of Japanese YA literature has been translated and ii's about time that changed. Japan is not just about manga and anime. Unfortunately though, translated books rarely do well in the English language market. While huge numbers of children's books are translated into Japanese from English and lots of other languages every year in Japan, it just doesn't happen in the opposite direction. Talk about trade imbalance!  But even here with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we have trouble getting our teens to read, and publishers struggle to keep even the most outstanding books in print.

The great thing about translated books is that you get an authentic look into a completely different culture without having to learn the language! So next time you're in the bookstore or library, take a chance. Pick up one of those books that has “translated by...” on the cover, and prepare to enter unfamiliar territory.

Hachiro Lake was the second largest lake in Japan. It was a shallow, brackish water lake, but it has been mostly landfilled for agricultural purposes beginning in the 1950s. Perhaps we need to write a sequel to the story! This folktale seems even more important as a memory of the unfilled Hachiro Lake. What do you think the author would say today? What do you think Hachiro would do?

The sad fate of Hachiro Lake has much to do with a post-WWII Japan rushing to get back on its feet and started in creating a thriving rice industry for its starving population. Unfortunately, back then, they didn't understand the risks of changing an ecosystem or foresee that westernization of Japan would lead to a decrease in rice consumption. Arable land has always been in short supply in Japan and communities needed a way to increase their income. “Hachiro” was written at a time when they were still arguing back and forth on the merits and demerits of landfill. If his thoughts were with the local people, it is possible Saito believed that sacrificing part of Hachiro Lake was a sad but acceptable choice. Perhaps a sequel could have an ecological slant where Hachiro would return the lake to its former glory.

Hachiro Lake's name originates from a series of pourquoi stories that explains how the three great lakes of Tohoku came into being. Perhaps we can tell those stories here at a later time.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?

When I visited Miyagi and Iwate twenty years ago, my first impression was that here, finally, was the Japan that my mom had always taught me to be proud of while I was growing up in the U.S. The old folktales passed from generation to generation by your kataribe storytellers speak of the contentious yet loving relationship that you have always had with nature. It doesn't seem fair that your land has been the target of so much destruction throughout history. But adversity comes only to those strong enough to conquer it. Nourished by the rice and fish so abundant in your beautiful region, Tohoku represents the foundation upon whic

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interview with TOMO Contributor Yuichi Kimura

Yuichi Kimura
Yuichi Kimura 木村裕一 (author of the Tomo story “Wings on the Wind” translated by Alexander O. Smith) was born in Tokyo, graduated from Tama Art University and worked on children’s magazines and TV programs before turning to writing. His picture book series Arashi no Yoru ni (On a Stormy Night) has won multiple book awards. With a bibliography comprising over 500 titles for children of all ages, his creations are enjoyed around the world. Visit his website:

This story was originally written after 9/11. Can you tell us about that process? 

This book was created to commemorate the first anniversary of 9.11. The theme was to be "Life," and how precious it is. If we had made it about 9.11, that would have been too specific, too limiting to issues of terrorism and such. I tried to take a broader perspective on the theme, especially since I don't really care for so-called "message books".  If the essential parts of life, of human existence, is reflected in the story, then the story would naturally be connected to the theme of "Life."  Of course it's related to 9.11, but it's not limited to 9.11.


I have met tsunami survivors who felt guilty about those they couldn’t save, and I see this story in part as a post 3/11 parable. Do you think this is apt? Do you think the story can be interpreted in other ways? 東北へボランティア活動で行った際に)救えなかった人々がいたことに対して罪悪感を抱えている津波の生存者に逢う機会がございました。『風切る翼』はある意味、311日の震災後に因んだたとえ話にも思えます。これは適切な捉え方でしょうか。あるいは、もっと違った捉え方の方がよろしいでしょうか。

All of my books are written in the hope that the reader will come away at the end feeling glad to have been born, and happy to be alive. The earthquake and tsunami were a tragic event. But in the 4.5 billion years since the Earth was born, there have been countless volcanoes and earthquakes and tsunamis. This time, the tsunami happened to hit in heavily populated areas which led to this terrible tragedy.

People do feel guilty when a loved one cannot be saved. When someone they love passes away, we feel responsible, strange as it sounds. It's because we can never undo the leaving. You didn't actually have a hand in creating victims, but you feel as if you've committed a crime. When my mother passed away, when my dog died, I was sure it was all my fault. Of course later on, I realized that wasn't true, but because you can never bring them back, you felt as guilty as if it had been. It's a terribly complicated issue, and I don't really have the words, but when something terrible, something irreversible, something that you wish had never happened occurs, we tend to blame ourselves. As for how "Wings on the Wind" relates to that issue, that's another difficult topic. What I hope is that those who read this story will come away with a sense of hope.




Your writing often involves animals in human-like interactions. Can you describe your motives or inspiration?

The characters are written as animals, but they of course represent people. I use animals to depict a human drama. Perhaps because it's easier to express symbolic themes with a substitute. That way, not as much explanation is needed.

I'm inspired by all the things that happen in my daily life and I try to find ways to express those things symbolically. How marvelous human nature is, how great it is to have been given life. I treasure those things.  Humans are fascinating. And when you're alive, there's so much to experience. You'll get to enjoy those things and you'll realize how precious it all is. Hold on to that mentality, and you'll notice people and the things that make them so fascinating. This is what inspires me to write stories with animal characters.



The ending of "Wings on the Wind" feels like a real discovery. The reader doesn't see it coming, which makes its impact all the stronger. How do you discover how your stories will end?

I don't think the ending was that unusual, but what I did struggle with in writing this tale, almost to the very end, was how Karara was going to approach Kururu. What she'd say, what attitude was most likely to get a response from him.

For example, say there's someone who can't go to school and remains cooped up at home. If his teacher comes to his house and says, "Why don't you come to school already?" that's not going to help the kid open up--the teacher approaching him from an authoritative position, with a top-down attitude.  He'll probably respond with, "You're clueless about how I really feel!"

So in order to really understand him, Karara had to be in the same position as Kururu. She needed to be committed. I didn't think Kururu was ready to hear anything Karara had to say. Ultimately, it would be about her level of commitment. It wouldn't be about choosing the right words or attitude. Kururu was beyond that. He'd just think, "You don't understand a thing about what I'm going through," and that would be it. So Karara needed to show that she was prepared to stay by his side to the very end.

That is the only way to get through to him. She really needed to go to those lengths to reach his heart and it was arriving at that solution that I found the hardest. So I decided to bring this scene to the very end of the story which led to that conclusion...

I guess I approached the problem by trying to figure out what someone could do to help a friend who couldn't leave his room, or was depressed or couldn't go to school.




Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku? 最後に、東北で被災した十代の若者たちにメッセージがあれぱ、ぜひお聞かせくださいませ。

It's easy to say something that sounds profound or wise, but if someone says, "Try being me," I'll have no way to answer that.

So perhaps the best I can do is to share with you how I managed to survive the lowest point in my own life.  I hope my story will provide you with some hints on getting through those toughest times.

When your life is in the negative, when everything seems to be going against you, that's all you can see. All the time that you spend in that mode is negative.

So when you find yourself in the minus zone, reset everything to zero. Imagine you owe a billion dollars. There's no way you can pay that back no matter how hard you work, and your whole life will be spent in debt. But try to think of that billion dollar debt as your starting point, point zero. Then, if you manage to pay back even ten thousand dollars, it'll seem like you've made some great progress.

You don't want to waste all of your precious time focusing on the negative. Your time, the now, is what's important—don't squander it away on minuses. Change your point of view. Think of your lowest point as point zero. Start from there and you'll always be moving forward towards a positive future.






Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Interviews with TOMO Contributors Author Sachiko Kashiwaba and Translator Avery Fischer Udagawa

Sachiko Kashiwaba (author the Tomo story “House of Trust”) is a prolific writer of children’s and young adult fantasy whose career spans more than three decades. Her works have garnered the prestigious Sankei Children’s Book Award and Shogakukan Children’s Book Award among many others, and her novel Kiri no muko no fushigi na machi (The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist) influenced Hayao Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away. She lives in Iwate Prefecture.

Avery Fischer Udagawa (translator of the Tomo story “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba) grew up in Kansas and lives with her bicultural (Japanese/American) family near Bangkok. Her translations from Japanese include the middle grade novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani. Her writing has appeared in Kyoto Journal and Literary Mama. Visit her website:

Interview with Author Sachiko Kashiwaba

Can you tell us a bit about where you live in Tohoku?
I live in Iwate Prefecture, a place known in the region as part of Kita Tohoku, or northern Tohoku. Iwate is Japan’s largest prefecture in terms of land area. The tsunami hit here along the coast, two hours by car from Morioka, the prefectural capital where I live. Iwate is two prefectures north of Fukushima Prefecture where the accidents occurred at the nuclear power plant.

Sachiko Kashiwaba
I was born in Iwate in the city of Hanamaki. This was also the home of a writer greatly my senior, Kenji Miyazawa (1896–1933).

You have visited schools in the tsunami-affected areas. What were your experiences or impressions?
I visited a grade school and a middle school that were hit by the tsunami. They were in a region where it was always said a tsunami would follow an earthquake, so the schools ran thorough evacuation drills. Nonetheless, one student died. That is how big this tsunami was. The students are still hurting there and will be for some time, and I think the day when they can laugh from their hearts will be long in coming. I hope for many counselors who can help them heal.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this story “House of Trust”?
This is a story from my book Mirakuru famirii (Miracle Family), which is a collection of stories that focus on fathers. In “House of Trust” I wanted to try writing about a dad who is not so good at navigating life, and a son who tries to understand him.

The story describes different styles of tying obis for kimonos. Do you sometimes wear kimono and have you yourself studied kimono dressing?
I did learn kimono dressing. I study the Japanese tea ceremony, so once a month for sure I wear kimono. Sometimes I wear kimono two or three times in a month.

Can you give us a bit of background on the yama no kami (mountain spirit) featured in the story?
In Japan, kami (spirits or gods) are said to be everywhere. There is even a kami of the restroom. Mountain kami (or yama no kami) are generally understood to be female. A long time ago, lots of mountains in Japan were closed to women, because it was said the yama no kami would grow jealous of them and cause accidents. This is why the mountain spirit in “House of Trust” insists that only a man can help prepare her for her marriage interview.

Can you tell us a bit about the setting for this story and Mount Takamori?
Mount Iwate (source: Iwate Prefecture Tourism site)
Mount Takamori in the story is modeled after Mount Iwate, the tallest mountain in my prefecture. One side of Mount Iwate slopes gradually just as Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji, slopes gently on all sides. So Mount Iwate is sometimes nicknamed Iwate Fuji or Iwate Part-Fuji.

Can you tell us a bit about what you are currently working on/your most recent book(s)?
I am working on a book called Kimyoji yokocho no natsu (The Summer of the Kimyo Temple Bystreet). It is the story of a girl who died dozens of years ago coming back to life, and a boy named Kazu who struggles to keep her alive.

A lot of people died in the tsunami last year. I know there are many survivors who wish they could bring someone back.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
I hope they will live each day to its fullest.

Interview with Translator Avery Fischer Udagawa

Tell us a bit about your background—how did you come to live in Bangkok and what is your connection to Japan?
Avery Fischer Udagawa
I studied Japanese in college in the U.S. and then in Japan for about three years afterward, and continue translating, writing, and editing related to Japan. My husband, a Japanese whom I met in college concert band, teaches music at a Bangkok international school.

Can you tell us how you came into translation? Did you undertake any particular study program to prepare yourself?
I first experimented with translation after college, while studying as a Fulbright Fellow at Nanzan University, Nagoya, and while attending the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama. I later studied translation through the MA in Advanced Japanese Studies program of The University Of Sheffield. I have learned a great deal also through involvement in SWET, the Tokyo-based Society of Writers, Editors and Translators, and SCBWI Tokyo, the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Networking, attending events, and doing projects with SWET and SCBWI members has helped me gain skills, sort out goals, and understand what it takes to become a professional.

What do you enjoy about the process of translating fiction?
Getting to read a good story many times very closely.

What drew you to this particular story by Sachiko Kashiwaba?
I enjoy how elements of folklore interweave with the realistic narrative, and how the theme of trust plays out both in the relationship between the father and son and in their interaction with an unusual woman.

Were there any particular challenges you encountered in translating this story?
One was introducing the woman’s potential identity as a yama no kami, a concept that requires explanation in English. Another was dealing with tense, as fiction in English tends to be told strictly in past tense or present tense, but the Japanese version of the story includes both past and present.

What do you particularly admire about Kashiwaba’s style of writing?
Its simplicity—no extraneous details. This simplicity was present even in Kashiwaba-san’s emails to me about the story.

You also write. Any plans to write YA? Any Japanese YA novels you hope to see in translation?
I write nonfiction essays about multicultural parenting and have no current plans to write YA fiction, but I enjoy reading and learning about YA. I would love to see the rest of the novels in the Moribito series by Nahoko Uehashi published in English. Currently the first two are available: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness, both in Cathy Hirano’s translation.

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?
Your daily efforts to move forward inspire us all.