A high-profile symposium on literature in translation took place in Tokyo Monday afternoon, brining together a group of distinguished book editors, publishers and literary magazine editors from the U.S., the U.K. and Japan.
Sponsored and organized by The Nippon Foundation, it featured editors Deborah Treisman (fiction; The New Yorker), John Freeman (Granta), John Siciliano (Viking/Penguin), Lexy Bloom (Knopf/Vintage), and publishers James Gurbutt (Constable & Robinson/Corsair) and Julian Loose (Faber & Faber). The panel also included Mariko Ozaki, deputy cultural editor of Yomiuri Shimbun—one of Japan’s five national newspapers that have daily circulation above 13 million copies—and Yutaka Yano, editor-in-chief of The Monthly Shincho, a literary magazine that has been around for more than 100 years.
The event, held at The Nippon Foundation headquarters, marked the launch of the non-profit organization’s Read Japan project, an initiative aimed at promoting translation of Japanese originals into English. More than 200 attended. Editors from 16 publishing houses—including Japan’s big four (Kodansha, Shinchosha, Bungei Shunju and Shueisha)—as well as writers, foreign rights agents, translators, academics, journalists, literary critics and booksellers made up the crowd.
Discussion (with simultaneous interpretation) ranged from sustainability of literary publishing, discovering new authors, editing translations, assumptions of language (and cultural) differences, pandering to the exotic, the value of literary agents, print vs. electronic publishing (and its various permutations) to Murakami. The two sessions—aptly named Editing Literature: Here and There; Now, Then and Again; and Literature and Magazines: Keeping the Barn Burning—were moderated by Japanese literary editors Motoyuki Shibata and Masashi Matsuye. (Shibata who has translated titles by Paul Auster, Philip Roth and Steven Millhauser is the editor of literary magazine Monkey Business, and currently teaches American literature and literary translation at the University of Tokyo; Matsuye is visiting professor at Keio University and former editor at
“I’m thrilled by the interest that is shown in what we do, and also by the number of new Japanese writers whose work seems promising and worthy of translation,” said Treisman, who views the roundtable as an effective way of bridging cultural and linguistic barriers between the U.S. and Japan. The roundtable was “a cultural and literary exchange” to Siciliano. “We may have different systems but our ultimate goal is the same:
finding writers and publishing them. This event provided a window of opportunity to do just that—and to make new friends too.”
“This is such a great gathering of industry people. We have never seen anything like this before,” said president Yurika Yoshida of Japan Foreign-Rights Centre (JFC), a literary agency focused on selling rights of Japanese originals. "The majority of the audience wants to know how to replicate Murakami’s international success. We are curious to know how Japanese authors, books and culture are being evaluated especially by the Americans and Europeans. At the same time, this symposium highlighted the importance of qualified Japanese-English translators and the role of literary agents. In reality, there is no ‘literary agents’ in the Japanese publishing world. Almost all Japanese agents -- JFC included -- function like foreign rights divisions found in most American and European houses.”
Robert Seward, professor of media studies at Meiji Gakuin University, added, “No other country publishes more translated literature than Japan. And if you consider that 70% of translated titles comes from the U.S. and U.K., we are in the presence of the gatekeepers of the cross-cultural publishing industry.”
(David Karashima and Elmer Luke at The Nippon Foundation contributed to this article.)