Transcript of Episode 25: Translating Japanese to English

Find out more about Episode 25 of the Read Literature podcast on the episode page.

  • Link to listen
  • Notes and sources
  • Ways to support the podcast

Please note that this episode mistakenly claims author Astrid Lindgren and her Pippi Longstocking series are Norwegian. They are Swedish. The mistake is corrected below.

This is Read Japanese Literature. My name is Alison Fincher. Read Japanese Literature is a podcast about Japanese fiction and some of its best works.

All the works we discuss are available in translation, so you can read along if you want. And you can find out more at

Thanks for your patience! And hello from my temporary recording space.

When I floated the idea of an episode about translation, I had no idea how excited listeners would be. The response was so positive, I decided to get started right away even though this episode would require a lot of prep and my family was in the middle of a move and then a summer vacation.

But here it is at last, Read Japanese Literature’s story on what it takes to get a Japanese language book from a Japanese original into the hands of an English-language reader.

Today, we’re going to approach things a little bit differently. I’m going to tell you the story of a book. Not a story from a book, but the story of a book.

Not only that, but, thanks to some really supportive readers on a Twitter poll, I’m going to be breaking down today’s story up into Read Japanese Literature’s first-ever two part episode.

In the next two episodes, we’re going to look at how that book made its way from the mind of Japanese author Minae Mizumura onto the bookshelf of English-language readers through the work of translator Juliet Winters Carpenter. Along the way, we’re going to talk about a lot of the issues involved in translation.

Today, our big question will be, “Why do some Japanese books get translated into English?” How do publishers decide what gets translated? How do they decide what doesn’t get translated?”

In part two, we’ll look at, “How does a Japanese book get translated into English?”

To answer these questions, I’ll be bringing in the work of a lot of other translators, too. Many translators are very generous about sharing interviews regarding their work. I’m going to try to credit the interviewers in-episode. As always, I’ll link my sources on the website. I’ll also link to the work of the creative artists who bring us English-language readers Japanese work in translation.

If you’re a long-time listener, this episode might seem “backward”. I’m going to start out by telling you about the life of today’s author, Minae Mizumura, and her work, An I-Novel.

Minae Mizumura was born in Tokyo in 1951. When she was 12 years old, her family moved to Long Island, New York in the United States. In case you don’t know much about Long Island, it’s almost a suburb of New York City. (I might be offending locals here. Maybe it’s safer to say that New York City is easily accessible from Long Island.) Compared to the rest of the United States, Long Island is also very affluent and very highly educated.

Mizumura never felt like she fit in the United States. In fact, that’s what much of An I-Novel is about—we’ll talk more about her sense of disconnection and how it has played into her life’s work in a few minutes. But just to summarize, she spent a lot of her time in the US reading and rereading a 63-volume collection of modern Japanese literature that her parents brought along with them when they moved. The collection was published in 1926. It helped define the cannon of modern Japanese literature. It probably deserves an episode of its own.

Mizumura studied studio art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and then French at the Sorbonne and Yale. She eventually completed a M.Ph. in French literature on the French literary critic Paul de Man. In case you didn’t notice, that means we have an author who produces literary Japanese who did an English-language M.Ph. on a French author. So when Mizumura talks about language, this is an author who isn’t just trilingual, but who has done very serious work in 3 different languages.

Mizumura always promised herself she would return to Japan and become a Japanese author—as in, an author who wrote literary fiction in Japanese. And she did. She finished her M.Ph. in 1984 and returned to Japan. She published her debut novel, Light and Dark, continued in 1990. It was a bold move. She took it upon herself to finish the last novel of Natsume Soseki, the man widely as the greatest novelist of Meiji Japan. (We talked about him at length in an episode in season 1.) In 1995, Mizumura published Shishōsetsu from left to right or, as titled in English, An I-Novel.

Mizamura’s An I-Novel is a conscious imitation of the Japanese watakushi shōsetsu or shishōsetsu. For much of the 20th century, the watakushi shōsetsu or “I-Novel” was the highest form of literature in Japan, the genre par excellence. The great American scholar of Japanese literature Donald Keene describes the I-Novel as “perhaps the most striking feature of modern Japanese literature.” 

Roughly speaking, I novel is an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, confessional work. Historically, the majority of Japanese critics have treated the I novel as something like nonfiction. The earliest readers and writers of I novels hoped the genre would be a genre for the direct communication of lived experience.

Of course, since the 1960s, most readers are more familiar with the Structuralist idea that “the narrator is not the author”. Many of us who have been born and educated since then don’t realize that’s actually a modern idea. it’s probably better to read I novels as heavily autobiographical fiction.

For some of you this might be more of a refresher: we spent an entire episode on the I-Novel in season 1.

Mizumura’s An I-Novel takes place over the course of a single day in Mizamura’s life—the day she decides to take her graduate school oral exams. During the day on which the novel takes place, she reflects back on her life in the US, her place in the US as an Asian “Other”, her relationship with an emotionally needy sister, and a fairly-recent break-up.

Mizumura has described An I-Novel as “not just a how-I-became-a-writer story” but also as a “how-I-became-a-Japanese-writer story”. It’s also a fascinating story about growing up between cultures as a Japanese immigrant to the US. 

(Mizumura doesn’t really regard herself as an immigrant. She was very stubbornly insistent, starting at 12, that she was not going to settle in the US. She didn’t really want to engage in the English language. She picked French because it wasn’t English. But nevertheless, it is kind of an immigrant story.)

And the novel’s most important question is whether this girl, Mizumura—a girl who moved from Japan to the US when she was just 12, a girl who has never written so much as a journal in Japanese—can ever become a Japanese writer. Because becoming a Japanese novelist is what the narrator wants more than anything else in the whole world.

An I-Novel also includes some important reflections about race. For example, Mizumura the narrator finds herself paired off with a Korean student on a group date because they’re both “Asian”. And if you know anything about race relations in Japan and the relationship between Japanese people and Korean people, this idea of racial connection is not the way things would be perceived within Japan.

The narrator claims she’s from “a country where the notion of race was as abstract as the notion of winter for people living near the equator”. I really can’t say Japanese history or current events support that particular conclusion.

But she points out that in the United States, she is living as one of many people “who had been assigned a negative racial value”. “All men are created equal,” she says. “Perhaps.But all lives did not have equal value. This was true in all societies; everywhere… Yet here is America where people gathered (or had been made to gather) from around the world, race, in its most loosely defined form, was a mark that superseded all others.”

We’ll come back to An I-Novel as we continue talking—especially because it is central to Mizumura’s entire career project, to a lot of things Mizumura wants to say about language. And it’s going to be a part of our whole story about translation.

But let’s turn now to  why and how English-speaking readers can access An I-Novel.

An I-Novel was translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Her career stretches across several decades. She’s one of the most prolific translators working between Japanese and English today.

Carpenter is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She studied Japanese in high school. Her high school offered 10 foreign languages. (This is remarkable to me. I’m from South Metro Atlanta. My high school offered 2 foreign languages. The French class didn’t even have enough students who wanted to take French in 2003 to make up a class. Anyway…) Carpenter fell in love with translation when she was writing a senior-year term paper.

She studied Japanese literature at the University of Michigan and the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies outside of Tokyo in Yokohama Japan. The Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies is better known as the IUC. It’s 1 of the most highly-regarded Japanese-language programs in the world. A large number of translators have some affiliation with the IUC. It’s certainly not a prerequisite. Students take 1 or more 10-month courses. For example, Juliet Winters Carpenter was there for 2 and a half years. There are also 2-month summer intensives.

After Carpenter finished her graduate work, she returned to Japan and lived there for many years.

You could say Carpenter was thrown into the deep end as a translator. At the beginning of her career, the publishing company Knopf invited Carpenter and several translators to apply to translate Kobo Abe’s Mikkai, Secret Rendezvous. (There are lots of ways for translators to get paired with texts to translate—we’ll talk about those in just a minute.)

In addition to her translating work, she’s also a licensed teacher of two traditional Japanese instruments—the koto and the shamisen. She also taught at Doshiba Women’s College in Kyoto from 1986 until 2019.

Her other author credits include Fumiko Enchi, Miyuki Miyabe… She’s translated several Akutagawa Prize winners And I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing several of her translations in the Asian Review of Books, including Masatsugu Ono’s At the Edge of the Woods.

By the way, you might be wondering how other people become translators.

First, just to be clear, literary translators make up a tiny percentage of all translators. There are a huge number of people translating technical writing and professional writing. There are a large number of people working as interpreters. These are different skills. Quite frankly, they’re often better-paid skills. 

Historically speaking, there was a good bit of overlap between the professions of writing and literary translating. That’s still true in some cases, more so for writers who translate English into other languages than for people who translate other languages into English. For example, Haruki Murakami has translated work by J. D. Salinger into Japanese.

Mizumura pointed out something I’d never noticed: a large number of the first generation of Japanese-to-English translators learned Japanese as part of the war effort in the 1940s. For example, Edward Seidensticker and Donald Keene worked for the US Navy. Edwin McCellan was a half-Japanese Scotsman working for the Allied intelligence in Washington, DC.

There are also academics—university professors—who work as translators. Michael Emmerich, for example, is one of my favorite translators. I believe he’s still a professor at UCLA—the University of California in Los Angeles.

I’ve cited a lot of work by Rebecca Copeland as well as her translation of “The Smile of a Mountain Witch” in an earlier episode. She’s a professor of Japanese literature at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Unfortunately, universities don’t tend to make translation easy for scholars. It’s not a great way for most academics to pursue the job security and financial stability of tenure. So more and more translators aren’t affiliated with universities.

Most translators today work freelance. They often have degrees in either the original language they want to translate (Japanese, in our case today) or the target language (English)—or both. For example, both Louise Heal Kawai and Avery Fischer Udagawa have a masters degrees in Advanced Japanese Studies from Sheffield University in the United Kingdom. (I bring up Udagawa and Kawai specifically because they’ve been very generous granting interviews. I’ll talk a lot about their experiences in the next episode.)

There are specialized programs in translation—mostly graduate programs—but not all that many.

Being a freelance translator isn’t easy. It can be lonely. Work can be sporadic. When there is work, translators are generally underpaid. A lot of translators mention the business side of their jobs—pitching translations, tracking down payment, promoting their own translations—as the worst or most difficult parts of their career[s].

Advice for aspiring translators is outside of the scope of this episode, but a lot of translators offer advice freely online. I’ve linked some resources on this episode page.

On to our big question for today: how does a book get chosen for translation? Mizumura’s first work to land in English was her later novel, A True Novel.

The Japanese Literature Publishing Project asked Carpenter to translate A True Novel in April 2010. The JLPP’s website describes A True Novel as “an epic-length novel immediately acclaimed as a consummate classic”. It’s a reimagining of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a Japanese context.

The Japanese Literature Publishing Project is a government-sponsored effort to “promote awareness and appreciation of contemporary Japanese literature”. It’s not active in translation today the way it was a decade ago.

I should mention that the Japanese government has been very active in the exportation of its own cultural content. Starting in the 1980s, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs started to increase its nation branding efforts by releasing a Japanese television drama series called Oshin in 46 different countries, free of cost. And this is the 1st example of the Japanese government exporting its cultural content as a form of soft power.

(Soft power is a foreign policy technique of indirectly influencing the way people in another country see your country. And the idea is to, kind of, raise the country, and maybe, hopefully influence the way people in other countries want to treat your country—to pursue a more favorable view of your country overseas.)

By the year 2002, a scholar named Douglas McGray was writing about Japan’s “Gross National Cool” as an extremely important cultural resource for Japan. Japan has promoted translation and its literature as a part of its “Gross National Cool”. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that the growth of Japanese literature in translation is unrelated to the efforts of the Japanese government to fund and push the promotion of Japanese literature. On the other hand, it would be cynical to say that the growth of Japanese literature in translation is only due to the efforts of the Japanese government. There are many very devoted translators and publishers and readers in the English language and in other countries besides English-speaking countries very engaged in Japanese literature. It is a wonderful literature that many of us love and want to have greater access to. Anyway…

A True Novel was Carpenter’s 1st experience working with Mizumura. She has since collaborated with Mizumura on The Fall of Language in the Age of English. So Carpenter was also a natural choice for An I-Novel… even though An I-Novel wasn’t really a natural choice for translation at all.

As I mentioned a few minutes ago, Minae Mizumura is really interested in language, and particularly what she calls the “asymmetry” of global languages. Not just that English has become, in her words, a “universal language”—but also the ways that shifts balances of power in the worlds of ideas… art… politics… finance…

(“Universal” here doesn’t mean most widely spoken as a first language, by the way. It’s more important that English is the most widely known second language. More people speak Mandarin as a 1st language, for example. But there aren’t nearly as many people outside of China learning Mandarin as there are people outside of English-speaking countries learning English.)

Mizumura is clear that the English language isn’t superior in any way. In fact, English is rather harder to learn and has a less consistent grammar and spelling system than a large number of other languages. But anyway… Its status is the result of a convergence of historical events. But as its prevalence has grown, so has its dominance—a kind of snowball effect. An I-Novel is, among other things, a reflection on this asymmetry of languages. 

Now… what does all of that have to do with it being difficult to translate?

The Japanese title of An I-Novel is Shishōsetsu from left to right. As in, the actual cover of the book says “Shishōsetsu”—which means “I-Novel”—in Japanese and then the words “from Left to Right” written in English. And that describes what’s in the book.

That formatting is noteworthy because Japanese novels are almost always formatted with the print in vertical columns, right to left. An English-language reader would say the book is “backwards”, you start with the back cover. But Shishōsetsu from left to right starts the way that would seem frontwards to an English-language reader. You open the left cover and read from left to right.

Mizumura’s novel isn’t “left to right” arbitrarily. The novel moves into and out of English at will, the way a fluent bilingual speaker like Mizumura might. The novel has to be printed left to right to accommodate English script. And the book was marketed as Japan’s 1st “multilingual novel”.

I’m going to read a long passage from The Fall of Language in the Age of English where Mizumura explains not only what she’s doing with An I-Novel, but why she thought it couldn’t be translated. (That book was translated together by Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter.)

Any writer writing in English, even if she herself knew some Japanese, could not possibly expect her readers to understand Japanese phrases and sentences scattered in her novel. In contrast, any writer writing in a language other than English can reasonably expect her readers to understand some, if not most, of the English words she might happen to throw in.  It would therefore be possible to replicate the bilingual form of Shishōsetsu from left to right in any language in the world… by translating the Japanese and leaving the English parts as they are. The only language in which this wouldn’t work would be English. If we leave the English sentences as they are, how are we to replicate the bilingual form in translation? Yet into what language are we to translate the English words and sentences? Indeed, the very impossibility of maintaining the bilingual form while translating the work into English, and the singularity of that impossibility, are clear testimony to the linguistic asymmetry we now face in this world.

So… given all of these challenges, you might ask why in the world would someone even attempt to translate An I-Novel.

I have a couple guesses why. (A) it’s a good book. (B) it’s an important book about language and race. (C) And this is important, it’s a book that Columbia University Press thought they could sell a reasonable number of copies of. Minae Mizumura’s work had previously sold well enough in English. And An I-Novel is the kind of book a certain group of English-language readers were highly likely to buy. We’ll talk more about that question—“Is a book likely to sell?”—in just a minute.

In the end, Carpenter, Mizumura, and the editors decided to use a bold typeface for English words that appeared in English in the Japanese original. They didn’t bold the words that had appeared in Japanese and had been translated into English in the translation.

You might have expected the English words to be italicized.  Traditionally, publishers have italicized “foreign” words readers might not be familiar with. As Carpenter pointed out, “neither language is foreign here”.

By the way, italicization is a contested issue for translators. Indonesian writer Khairani Barokka wrote an important article on the subject in 2020 called “The Case against Italicizing ‘Foreign’ Words”. She points out that many people who speak English aren’t American or British or Canadian or Australian. Why should they (we—I’m American) be used as the standard for what words are foreign? We don’t italicize “sushi” (a Japanese word) but we do italicize “nasi goreng” (an Indonesian food) even though about a third of Indonesians have some proficiency in English. Barokka thinks this is a problem. I think Barokka may have a point.

In part two, we’ll talk more about the process of translating An I-Novel. Carpenter and Mizumura have an unusually collaborative approach that I’m really excited to talk to you about!
But most books aren’t sponsored by an organization like the Japanese Literature Publishing Project. How do those books get chosen for publication?

First, you might not realize just how lucky we readers of Japanese fiction are. 

Contemporary fiction translated from Japan is way more popular in English than fiction translated from any other language. (Keep that in mind in a minute when I tell just how few Japanese books are translated into English.)

According to the people who run the Booker Prize for fiction translated into English for UK and Irish readers, 14 of the 30 best-selling translated titles in 2022 were from Japanese. And that’s not including manga. So almost half of best-selling translated fiction was translated from Japanese.

Second, you might not realize just how much Japanese fiction doesn’t get translated. Unseen Japan recently published a highly informative article called “Which Japanese Books Get Left Out of Translation” by translator Eric Margolis. [My apologies to Margolis. I believe I have mispronounced his name and put the emphasis on the wrong syllable.] Margolis points out that there were 71,000 books published in Japan in 2019.

How many of those got translated into English?

Probably more manga and light novels get translated from Japanese than any other genre—maybe in the 10 or 100s of titles each year, but I had a hard time tracking down numbers.

How many other kinds of books were translated from Japanese in 2019?

Fewer than 30. That’s less than .04[%] of all Japanese books.

To be clear, there was almost no Japanese fiction in translation two decades ago. But .04%—fewer than 30 books—is still pretty low.

So what does get translated? How does a fiction title make it into the vaunted .04%? The short answer is… it’s complicated.

If I look at my list of fiction translated in the last two years, I notice two overwhelming trends—literary fiction gets translated (sometimes) and mystery novels get translated (sometimes). Most of the books Japanese people read every day get left behind.

There are a lot of ways a book gets selected for translation. They mostly boil down to whose idea it is to translate a book—the author’s, the original language publisher’s, the new language publisher’s, or a translator’s.

Sometimes an author doesn’t want a translation. But very often an author does.Translation is lucrative. If your book makes it into English, it has the potential to make a lot more money. Some critics claim certain Japanese authors, like Haruki Murakami or maybe Mieko Kawakami or even Yukio Mishima, write for an “international audience”. They keep in mind that their work will be translated as they write. Now, just to be clear, very few writers are in a position to take the kind of initiative involved in promoting the translation of their work. We’re talking about real literary celebrities—usually writers who have already had big successes in translation.

Sometimes an original language publisher wants a translation. If they’re a big enough publisher, they probably already have connections or even imprints that work in other languages. If not, they auction off the rights to the book. For example, it was big news to a tiny subset of the world when publishers bought the rights to Mieko Kawakami’s latest novel, Sisters in Yellow. A translation is already set for release in 2025—fingers crossed. By the way, different publishers bought the rights for UK and the Commonwealth versus the US. That happens a lot—it’s part of why we end up with different release dates for the same book on different sides of the Atlantic. As someone with online Japanese literature friends all over the world, I personally find that extremely frustrating—but maybe that’s just me.

When rights are auctioned off, the publisher sometimes makes it known they’ll need a translator. And translators make it known they’re available by sending in a pitch—a lot like a resume and cover letter that includes a sample translation. Remember that’s how Carpenter was selected for her first translation, Secret Rendezvous.

Sometimes translations are the translator’s idea. It’s almost like approaching a translator with a newly-written book. A translator has to find a publisher they think will be receptive to their work to send in a pitch. This time the pitch doesn’t just have to convince a publisher that the translator will do a good job—it also has to convince that the book is worth translating.

What exactly happens in the book? And I mean a complete summary with all the spoilers—but in a page or less.

Did it win any awards? Was it a best-seller? Has it been translated into other languages? Did it sell in other translations? And, (most importantly to a publisher) will it sell in English and why? We’ll talk more about that question in just a minute.
Sometimes translators are involved in pitching a book to a publisher, but don’t actually get to do the full translation themselves. These can be heartbreaking for translators who get really emotionally involved in a book. Louise Heal Kawai, who is a well-known Japanese to-English translator, describes her bad luck being asked to translate after doing a sample before she translated The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa.

“Will a non-English book sell in English translation?” is a sticky question. There are several dangers here.

Maybe the biggest one is that publishers create a self-reinforcing idea of what a country’s literature “is”. People who like Japanese literature will talk about its “ethereal qualities” or how “Japanese books are always ambiguous” or “All Japanese books have this special melancholy”. I’ve seen people claim that “No Japanese books have happy endings”.

I don’t think it’s wrong to find patterns in what we read—but we also have to keep in mind that publishers sometimes choose books that fit those patterns because they know consumers will are looking for. There are endless debates about what makes a book “Japanese literature”.

Is it anything written by a Japanese person?

Is it anything written in Japanese?

Is it anything written by someone living in Japan?

I don’t want to stake a claim in an answer here, but I do want to say that we can’t gatekeep what is or isn’t Japanese literature based on whether it fits our ideas about what Japanese literature is and isn’t supposed to be like. I’d also suggest keeping an open mind when you pick up your titles in translation. Sometimes buying and reading books that defy your expectations of Japanese literature can lead to a new favorite or open your mind to what Japan or literature can be like.

Translators are working very hard to get publishers to reconsider what will sell.  This year, the PEN American Translation Committee issued a “Manifesto on Literary Translation”. It is a fascinating and important read, but I was intrigued by the point the manifesto makes about what books they want publishers to consider.

For many years, publishers have claimed that English-language readers aren’t interested in translation. Many publishers refuse to acknowledge translators on covers because they want to hide the fact that a book is a translation at all. For example, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lingren is a childhood classic for many English-language readers. Most of us didn’t realize growing up that it is a [Swedish] book written in [Swedish] by a [Swedish] author. Very few of us have any idea who translated it. The Puffin Classics edition, by the way, was translated by Florence Lamborn.

The Manifesto on Literary Translation calls on publishers to “radically reimagine who the actual readership of translated literature is and could be, accounting for a diverse and engaged audience”:

“We push back against the notion that US readers are hostile to unfamiliar or difficult material”.

Korean-to-English translator Anton Hur has also taken up in the last couple of years. Last year, he published an essay in a Tilted Axis Press anthology called Violent Phenomena. We’ll come back to Violent Phenomena again in part 2. Hur’s essay is “The Mythical English Reader” and asks why translators must assume their readers are Anglo-American, white and, male. Hur observes that men make up a minority of fiction readers in English. (Although I should point out that men make up a higher percentage of translated fiction readers in the UK than they do of non-translated fiction readers.) But shouldn’t translators have the freedom to select their texts and address their translations to a much broader audience? An audience that includes younger people? That includes English language readers who aren’t American or British? That includes women? People of color? People who aren’t cis or straight?

I want to close by correcting a misunderstanding about what’s being translated that I corrected about a year ago in my episode about “Translating Japanese Women”. I’ve stood on this soap box before, but I’ve got almost twice as many listeners now as I did then. (By the way, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate each and every one of you.) This point is very relevant today, so I’m going to make it again.

As I’ve said before, it’s amazing the myths that persist about what happens when you actively promote the work of a marginalized group—in this case women.

There are a lot of people who read contemporary Japanese fiction and think there is a bias in favor of translating Japanese women’s writing. In that Unseen Japan article I mentioned, “Which Japanese Books Get Left Out of Translation?”, Eric Margolis accidentally misrepresented the situation based on bad information from The Publishers Weekly Translation Database. The author claims 28 Japanese books were published in English translation into English—19 of them by women. Actually, my (possibly imperfect) count puts it at 35 literary books —and only if we don’t include self-published translations. 17 of those were by women. (The article’s number includes a children’s book and a cookbook.)

2022 was, I believe, by gender, the most balanced year ever for Japanese translation by gender ever for Japanese translation—about half and half. That’s after more than five years of advocacy by translators and groups cultural movements like Women in Translation Month. In 2016, translator Allison Markin Powell noted that there was 1 novel in translation by a Japanese woman for every 10 novels in translation for a Japanese man. I’m tracking 40 or so books for 2023. 15 are by women.

The fact is that the number of translated books by women is absolutely not a misrepresentation of the publishing industry in Japan. And it does not represent at skewed situation in favor of women. 

And let me note that there are groups in Japan that are much, much more dispropoortionarly underrepresented women—just to scratch the surface, Okinawans, Zainichi Koreans, and people who are LGBTQ+.

There are some translators actively working to correct these imbalances. I’m 100% certain I’m leaving translators out, but I can cite a couple of examples. Morgan Giles has translated the work of the Zainichi author Yu Miri, including Tokyo Ueno Station and The End of August, which comes out later this year. We talked about Miri in an episode earlier this season. Giles spoke in an interview with Books and Bao about “the pressure” she feels (I believe this is a positive pressure) “to represent people and stories that don’t fit Japan’s representations of itself”.

Last year, Arthur Reiji Morris translated Li Kotomi’s Solo Dance. Li Kotomi is a lesbian and was born in Taiwan. Solo Dance stars a lesbian protagonist. And Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda has recently published work by Okinawan writer Shun Medoruma. We also talked about Medoruma in an earlier episode. 

I’ve only gotten halfway through my story of An I-Novel and translation today.

In our next episode, we’ll move from why a book gets translated to how. How Mizumura and Carpenter worked together—it’s pretty unusual. And a lot about the difficult choices translators make. Why translators call it a “specialized form of writing” and not something more mechanical Why, for that matter, machine translation can’t manage literary translation well. And we’ll end our discussion with some ethical questions that Minae Mizumura’s work raise, as well as some questions that have been raised by other translators.

You can already find all of the resources for both parts of our translation series up on the website at

Please check out all of the material I’ve been able to find. Many translators are extremely generous with their time and advice. I’m happy to be able to link to their work.

Our “focus text” today has beenn Minae Mizumura’s An I-Novel, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Don’t forget to buy your books through our link to to support the podcast. Several listeners a month are supporting us that way. We really appreciate it. You’re helping us offset the cost of buying books!

You can also support the podcast in other ways. Leave a review on your podcast app of choice. You can also become a supporter through Patreon for as little as $3 a month.

Thank you so much to our new, first-ever VIP supporters—Graham A. and Mary-Grace M. Even during my long, between-move hiatus, they’ve been receiving a Japanese book recommendation every month—you can, too! Find out how you can join our Patreon supporters at

We’d love to hear from you about the podcast. There are so many ways to stay in touch.

A special thank you to Lisa Hoffman-Kuroda for bringing so many issues in translation to my attention, including the anthology Violent Phenomena.

Thank you to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Japan for providing so many amazing translator interviews on their website.

I’ll be making use of both resources more in the next episode.

Thank you to the Japanese Literature group on Goodreads and the Japanese literature Twitter community. Thanks especially to Twitter followers for encouraging me to be brave and use all my content on translation for a two-part episode.

And thank you as always to Producer Khaim for today’s music, @khaimmusic and

2 thoughts on “Transcript of Episode 25: Translating Japanese to English

Leave a Reply