Watashi no Uchu: Ayako Noda

Uchu_NodaOctober knocked me flat on my butt, as it does every year. And yet I am completely taken off guard by the frantic speed at which the days whip past when I still have so very much work to do before the calendar page montage reaches November. I have a couple series that always have a volume due for translation by the end of October. The Toronto International Festival of Authors is at the end of October, and I interpret for whichever Japanese author they invite across the ocean to be a part of the CanLit scene for a week. (This year, it was Kyoko Nakajima, whose first work in English translation The Little House has a tender queer aspect to it and name-drops Nobuko Yoshiya to ensure that the subtext is text and you don’t miss or willfully misinterpret it.) And of course, I usually embark on my winter life in Tokyo sometime in November, meaning there are all kinds of things that need doing in October before I can fly across the ocean to warmer climes. I know that this is how October is going to be, and still I wander through September blithely, certain that I have all the time in the world, that this October will be different. Reader, it was not.

So I spent the last month translating and reading and stalking Kyoko Nakajima online which left me little time to read anything that wasn’t written by or about Nakajima. But no worries! I am making up for that time away from my personal reading in spades this month. And first up is a book surprisingly long neglected by me, the debut manga of Brain darling Ayako Noda. How could I have left it unread for so long? Noda is an artist who has done nothing but dazzle me over the last few years. I cherish each of her new releases and struggle with my desire for her to hurry up and make more books, and my wish for her to live a healthy, happy life and not die young of overwork because the manga industry is a truly punishing one. But for some reason, it has taken me until now to read Watashi no Uchu. I think I was a little afraid it would be bad, thus tarnishing her perfection in my mind, however slightly. The cover of the first volume is all off-beat high school drama, and honestly, that’s just not my jam. I could’ve just read the back to discover that actually, it is much more than off-beat high school drama, but we all know that I avoid reading the backs of books. I like to go in fresh, without any cover copy to lead me in one direction or another. Continue reading “Watashi no Uchu: Ayako Noda”

Neko Shoten: Sasakumako

Neko_SasakumakoIt is no secret that I like books. Although perhaps the title of this blog makes it sound like my brain is on a mission to eradicate them from this world, nothing could be farther from the truth. I love books! I read them for fun, I read them for work, I cram them into every little available space in my house. (Fun fact: My linen closet doubles as a book shelf for comp copies!) My entire life basically revolves around books, and few things give me as much quiet, solid pleasure as noodling around in a bookstore, looking at all the books. Even if I have no intention of buying one, it is such a warm comfort to be surrounded by them, to pick one up and read the cover copy and then gently set it back in its place. One of the sadder parts of returning to Canada is the sparsity of bookstores, although I am very fortunate to live near two great independent shops, Glad Day and Bakka Phoenix. Between the two, my English-reading needs are basically covered. But nothing can replace that moment of delight I experience so much more often in Tokyo of stumbling upon a previously unknown bookstore. 

It is also no secret that I like cats, like all good citizens of the internet. I only just this very day happened upon a podcast that is nothing but a cat purring, and it made the sun shine a little brighter in my heart. I will take any and all opportunities to hang out with cats, including going to great lengths to inconvenience myself by fostering rescue cats and timing my life in Tokyo around whatever cat I have living with me in Toronto. (If you are in the GTA and looking for some cat companionship, you are certain to find your perfect match at the rescue organization I work with!)

So I am obviously the target market for a manga about a cat bookstore. Sasakumako could not have my number harder if she came to my house, became my best friend, and spent the next twenty years of her life with me. Although I suppose I am fairly easy  to read since the book was a gift from a publisher who I have known considerably less than twenty years, and she still knew exactly what I would want to read: a book about a bookstore staffed by cats. And while I was looking up the title of the book to put in a link so you could all take a peek at it yourselves, I discovered there is not one but two cat bookstores in Tokyo, so clearly the fantasy depicted in these pages is well on its way to becoming a reality. Once the cats get opposable thumbs, we won’t need humans in the bookstore at all! Continue reading “Neko Shoten: Sasakumako”

Grass: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (Trans. Janet Hong)

Grass_GendryKim.jpgI’ve been reading a lot about World War Two lately, partly because of a secret project that I can’t tell you about yet but that is very exciting and I promise you will be the first to know when I am allowed to say anything about it, and partly because I’m interpreting for the lovely Kyoko Nakajima next week at the International Festival of Authors. Her first book to come out in English is The Little House (translated expertly as always by Ginny Tapely-Takemori), and it happens to be about a woman living through the war as a housekeeper in Tokyo. So I need to up my war vocabulary game, which has led to me reading anything and everything around me even tangentially related to the subject.

Not that Grass is only tangentially related. Given that it centres on the subject of Korean “comfort women” pushed into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers in the years leading up to and during the war, it is actually firmly on topic. I went to The Beguiling, the greatest comic book store, to pick up In this Corner of the World (translated magnificently by Adrienne Beck) to do a bilingual read-through with the original Japanese (by Fumiyo Kono), and when they were out of stock of this tome, I was about to go home empty-handed when I spotted Grass on the shelf. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I definitely do judge books by their covers, and this one is a clear winner. So I picked this chonky girl up, flipped open to the first page, and came across a paragraph explaining the choice to use the word “comfort woman” in the text. And then I sighed, knowing that I would have to buy the book and add it to my already long wartime reading list. Continue reading “Grass: Keum Suk Gendry-Kim (Trans. Janet Hong)”

Shinzo: Akiko Okuda

shinzoI have this stack of books that I want to share with you that’s slowly growing off to one side of my desk. There’s some really good stuff in there, and I know you’d love it, but the world/life/work have all been conspiring to keep me from ever battling another book on these pages, it would seem. All good conspiracies, though! Don’t worry. I’m not over here fighting off sadness behind the scenes. It’s all new translation projects that I can’t talk about yet although I’m very excited about them, visits from favourite family people, and even an encounter with an entirely unfamiliar comics scene in an entirely unfamiliar country! Where the definition of vegetarian is somewhat looser than expected! (Yes, I got surprise shrimp. No, I did not notice before taking a big bite. Yes, it was disgusting and very upsetting.)

TCAF was invited to come and talk about ourselves at the Golden Comic Awards in Taipei last month, a lavish event sponsored by the ministry of culture that had me wishing we got anywhere near that kind of financial support from our own government. At the awards ceremony, a vtuber (who reminded me very much of the vocaloids) sang a special song about all the nominees and then a for-real pop star took the stage to sing more about how great comics are. (I assume. I still don’t speak any form of Chinese, although not for lack of intense listening to every single person who spoke it at me. Somewhere inside me was this desperate hope that if I just focussed, I would pick up this language in the week that I was in the country. It turns out that this is not a viable strategy for language acquisition.) There was also a guy in a cat suit hosting and a camera crew filming the whole thing for broadcast on Taiwan’s version of NHK. They made a special point of panning over the “foreign delegates” as we waved to the cameras, so if you are in Taiwan, please send a clip of me on Taiwanese TV. Thank you. Continue reading “Shinzo: Akiko Okuda”

Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)

stormPeople have been telling me for ages that I should read Yukiko Motoya, that I would enjoy her quirky, magically realistic style. So she has been on my reading list for some time now, and yet I never manage to get around to reading her work. I always have so many other things to read! Things that were on the list first, things I need to read for work, things written by authors who are already my favourites which means they are naturally higher up on my list of reading priorities. So Motoya never seemed to get a foothold in my reading world.

And then I went to London earlier this year to talk to people about manga and translation, a thing I do for free on Twitter, so I was more than a little surprised than anyone would actually pay me to do it, much less fly me across an ocean. But they did, so I jumped on a plane to tell some British people why manga is important and interesting as a genre in itself and what the challenges in translating it are. (Spoiler: It has a lot to do with the pictures part of the equation.) The festival was mostly a celebration of fiction without pictures, though, so I was surrounded by great authors and amazing translators for a week, which was such a treat. I got to hear about so many interesting books and translation projects and challenges from people doing fascinating work in the world of Japanese art and literature. It was like I was living all books all the time. I very much recommend the experience Continue reading “Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)”

Hitori Hitoneko: Ami Uozumi

Hitori_UozumiEvery time I move between Canada and Japan, I overestimate my abilities, stamina, and time to a degree that is honestly quite shocking. I have been doing this round-trip life for a decade now, so you’d think I would have at least a vague grasp of what I am capable of doing in what period of time. But no. Every single time, I grow increasingly frantic as I push further into the crumple zone—the plane is going to leave whether I am on it or not, and that unyielding wall jams my days back up into each other like the front end of a car in a crash. Miraculously, however, I did once again manage to throw my apartment into my suitcases and get them to the airport on time. Even more miraculous perhaps is the fact that for the first time in I can’t even remember how long, said cases were not overweight because of all the books I bought. Friends, I showed admirable restraint on my bookstore visits during my summer in Tokyo.

That is not to say that I did not buy any books. That would be absurd. My suitcases were still filled with fun treats for my brain to battle. I simply tried this idea of only buying books when I was ready to read a new book. Plus a couple extra. I am not a monk over here. But during the last frantic week of the crumple zone, I make a concerted effort not to buy any new books because I am panicking about how much space I don’t have in my luggage. This effort is constantly thwarted, though, because people keep putting out great books that I want to read. Or author friends spring their latest release on me over dinner the night before I leave and said release just happens to be a 500-page tome. (Please stop writing doorstoppers, author friends. Think of my poor, struggling suitcases.) Or I happen to spot the latest from an author I’ve enjoyed battling before, like Ami Uozomi, whose live-in lesbian cooking/romance manga charmed the pants off of me. And this one promised cats, too! How could I resist the possibility of queer cat manga?? I am not made of stone. Continue reading “Hitori Hitoneko: Ami Uozumi”

Tonari Ni: basso

Tonari_bassoRejoice! The annual celebration of smut is upon us! It is our time to shine, fujoshi. And by shine, I mean of course, curl up in our houses and lose ourselves in the world of BL where men can love men in impossible ways, bending the laws of physics with their phantom peens and facing zero of the homophobia that still plagues the real world. Let us give ourselves over to this beautiful, schmexy fantasy, friends. Let us enjoy and celebrate the bountiful harvest of man love this year has brought us.

The prize-winning pig at this year’s festival is perhaps the long-awaited return to BL of Natsume Ono aka basso. Seven years after her last book, Naka-san no Nagare, she brings us this beautiful slice of salaryman love, Tonari Ni. My heart sings just typing those words. I love Ono’s basso work so much. While her artwork remains strong regardless of the genre she writes in, her powers of storytelling are honestly all over the place, and I too often find myself frustrated with her mainstream work, wondering what exactly she is trying to communicate to readers. And when I finally got the chance to translate her work with ACCA 13, that frustration was doubled and tripled as I read and re-read the unnecessarily convoluted tale of political intrigue during the translation process. So many meaningless and weird details that have zero plot impact and only serve to divert the reader in directions that are completely non-story-related. Why the district with the giant food? How can you cross a border and suddenly have strawberries the size of a person’s head? And why does being two metres tall mean you need a strawberry the size of your head? Continue reading “Tonari Ni: basso”