Children’s and YA Books in Translation from Japan ~ by Holly Thompson
Over the years of raising our children in Japan, I have kept my eyes out for Japanese children’s books translated into English. Sadly, far more titles go from English into Japanese than from Japanese into English. Having peaked in numbers in the 1980s, nowadays few Japanese children’s and young adult books are translated into English each year.
The reasons for so few Japanese books being sold to English-language publishers are layered and complicated ranging from cultural differences and weak English copy or sample translations used for marketing books to foreign publishers, to stagnant picture book markets in English-speaking countries and a lack of interest from markets that are focused intently on books set in their own countries.
Currently, most of the children’s books translated from Japanese into other languages are sold to other countries in Asia—particularly Korea and Taiwan, and more recently, China. The International Library of Children’s Literature in Ueno, Tokyo, held an exhibit in 2010 Children’s Books Going Overseas from Japan and much exhibit information on translated Japanese children’s books appears on their website.
Because our children are bilingual, when they were young we read most Japanese picture books in Japanese, but we searched out English translations of Japanese picture books as gifts for relatives, friends or libraries in the U.S. Some of the Japanese picture books in translation that we loved to give are Singing Shijimi Clams by Naomi Kojima, The 14 Forest Mice books and others by Kazuo Iwamura, and books illustrated by Akiko Hayashi. Our all-time family favorite Japanese picture book was the widely read Suuho no shiroi uma, published in English as Suho’s White Horse, a Mongolian tale retold by Japanese author Yuzo Otsuka, illustrated by Suekichi Akaba, and translated by Peter Howlett—featured in this PaperTigers post.
R.I.C. Publications has a number of well-known Japanese picture books and some Ainu folktales in translation. Kane/Miller Book Publishers now focuses on books set in the U.S. but used to focus on translations of books from around the world; their catalog has a section on Books from Japan including the hugely successful Minna unchi by Taro Gomi, translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum and published in English as Everyone Poops. And recently Komako Sakai’s books have traveled overseas including Ronpaachan to fuusen published by Chronicle Books as Emily’s Balloon and Yuki ga yandara released as The Snow Day by Arthur A. Levine Books.
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