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.

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