Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Three Years After, Tomo Keeps Giving

March 11, 2014 marked the three-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

Recently the 2013 earnings from sales of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction plus the Stone Bridge Press publisher donation--a total of 50,000 yen--was transferred to the Japan-based NPO Hope for Tomorrow.

Hope for Tomorrow continues to provide meaningful much-needed support to teens in the quake and tsunami affected areas of Tohoku in northern Japan.

Your purchase of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories really does make a difference to teens in Tohoku. Consider donating a copy of Tomo to your school or town library, suggesting it to book groups, and purchasing copies as gifts.

See Hope for Tomorrow's website to learn about this small NPO with a big heart and their commitment to longterm education-focused aid for young people in Tohoku.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Tomo Travels---to Wichita, Kansas

This summer Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction was featured in Wichita, Kansas. 

Hear more from Tomo contributor Avery Fischer Udagawa:

This summer, the Wichita Eagle newspaper listed Tomo as one of the top-selling titles at Watermark Books and Cafe, a local independent bookstore. Watermark’s majority owner Sarah Bagby has spoken on behalf of indies to the New York Times, and Newbery Award-winning author Clare Vanderpool thanks the store in her latest title Navigating Early.

How did Tomo end up at Watermark?

I had the pleasure to speak there in mid-July about translating J-Boys, a novel by Tomo contributor Shogo Oketani, and “House of Trust,” the short story by Sachiko Kashiwaba that appears in Tomo. My Kansas-based family drummed up a terrific crowd of listeners, and Watermark boosted inventory and included Tomo in its media offerings.

It was amazing to see Watermark support a talk on translation and an anthology focused on Japan. I am grateful also to Wichitans who took interest in Tomo, buying books to benefit teen survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

I plan to include Tomo in future talks at bookstores, libraries, conferences and schools and know other contributors will do likewise. What a terrific avenue it gives us to spread the word about Tohoku! Interested readers are everywhere.

Thank you, Avery!

So, do you have a story or photos to share about Tomo travels? Contact editor Holly Thompson: tomoanthology (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Talking Translation--TOMO in the AFCC Translation Seminars

The Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) is a conference in Singapore with various tracks, workshops and seminars. This year, for the first time, a translation track was offered during the day of seminars, and the track of four seminars featured Tomo translator contributors Avery Fischer Udagawa and Alexander O. Smith, as well as editor Holly Thompson. In the individual talks and panel discussion, Tomo came up again and again--the nature of the project; the nitty-gritty aspects of translation; the search for and selection of stories; the correspondence between editor, translators and authors; the editing process, and publication and promotion.

Here is translator Avery Fischer Udagawa talking at AFCC about the Boston launch of Tomo, to which author Sachiko Kashiwaba and daughter wore kimono with the obi tied in the same way as depicted in the story.

Avery spoke of sharing these photos with students during school visits in Japan and Thailand, thereby making a local event travel the world.

The AFCC translation panel also featured Harvey Thomlinson, publisher from Hong Kong, and Mohd Khair Ngadiron, CEO Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia. It was great to see the translation seminars well attended by authors, translators, publishers and editors from around Asia, all eager to see more stories from Asia translated into English.

AFCC Translation Panel
And it's been so nice to see Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction being snapped up by attendees at the conference. Here are a few excited fans of the book, which is still helping to provide longterm support for teens in Tohoku. Thank you!
Young writers Afi Noor and Hemizah from Malaysia and author Evelyn Wong of Singapore

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tomo in the World Literature Classroom

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction is making its way into school libraries and classrooms and is being adopted as a textbook in some schools. I was happy to hear from teacher Lee Karpa from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in Massachusetts about how Tomo was used in a new World Lit elective. Here are Lee's words:

"Recently our English Department embarked on a new endeavor, offering a World Literature elective course in addition to the general four-year required English classes. The one-semester elective was launched in September of 2011 and was successful enough for the course to be offered again in the 2012-2013 school year.

"In this Contemporary World Literature elective, students are asked to read and write beyond the rather challenging demands of their required English classes. I began the year with the study of Japan, its literature, film, and culture. We began reading selections from Tomo which gave students manageable reading chunks. Not only were the selections accessible, they were enjoyed by all of the students. I began by assigning a few short stories to the entire class, then having students choose a selection which was later shared with the rest of the students. Based on the students’ reviews, each student chose another story to read. Finally, students who had read the same story met to discuss. In this way, the majority of the stories were covered.

"The Tomo stories in verse were shared primarily in class, with students reading the poetry aloud, followed by discussion. A couple of the longer poems were read by each student reading one stanza. The students loved this manner of reading poetry, feeling that the verse came alive and became approachable.

"Tomo was the perfect vehicle for beginning a World Literature class."

Thank you, Lee, and thank you to all schools, book groups and classrooms that use Tomo. Thank you for being friends to Tohoku through fiction. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

YARN Visits Japan--with a Tomo Story Lesson Plan

The Young Adult Review Network (YARN) shared a sneak peak at Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction last year that featured the Tomo story "Love Right on the Yesterday" by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, and now YARN has developed a lesson plan to go with this story.

Have a look at this YARN post which features two Japan-set stories and a lesson plan and assignments to accompany them. The lesson focuses on writing with a sense of place. Thank you to YARN for this excellent teaching post.

Also, check out the Reader's Guide to Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction here which has discussion questions and writing prompts for the entire Tomo anthology as well as for each individual story. Proceeds from Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction go to organizations that benefit teens in Tohoku affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tomo Story in Cricket Magazine

This month Part 1 of Marji Napper's short story "The Lost Property Office" which is published in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction appears in Cricket Magazine, with full color illustrationsAlso featured in this issue, "a Japanese delight" according to the editors, are other stories stories related to Japan, so if you can get your hands on a copy of the magazine do have a look.

For an interview with the story's author Marji Napper in the Contributors and Interviews section of this Tomo Blog, click here. And for discussion questions relating to "The Lost Property Office, download the free Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction Reader's Guide

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Giving through Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--2012 Donation to Hope for Tomorrow

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction--An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories is a benefit anthology of young adult fiction, and it is a pleasure to announce the first donation resulting from the sales of this collection of Japan-related stories. As explained in previous Tomo Blog posts (here and here) the first donations from the sales of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction will go to Hope for Tomorrow (, the Japan-based NPO that provides three methods of support (Educational Support Program, the International Exchange Support Program, and the Foreign Language Support Program) to high school students in areas of Tohoku hardest hit by the major tsunami and earthquake of 2011.

A donation of 100,000 yen (at the current exchange rate about 1,200 USD) was made today to Hope for Tomorrow. This money includes royalty earnings for the first half of 2012 (Tomo was published in March 2012) plus Stone Bridge Press publisher donations for that same period (rounded up with an additional 727 yen from the editor for a total of 75,000 yen), as well as editor's advance money (25,000 yen). Note that the editor's advance has otherwise only been used for printing Tomo publicity postcards, and a small amount has been set aside to enable more cards to be printed.

A huge thank you to all the Tomo authors and translators for donating their stories and their time. Also thanks to Peter Goodman at Stone Bridge Press for the generous publisher donations and for making this project possible. And thank you to Hope for Tomorrow, for providing much needed long-term support for teens in Tohoku.

Please continue to support this project--tell your friends about Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction. Tell teachers and librarians about the Tomo Reader's Guide, which is full of discussion questions and writing activities, and remind them about the extensive cache of author, illustrator and translator interviews on the Tomo Blog. And consider purchasing copies of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction as holiday gifts--order through your local bookseller, your favorite online bookseller, or through Stone Bridge Press.

The teens in Tohoku need our long-term encouragement and support. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The TOMO Reader's Guide--Now Available

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction is a rich collection of 36 stories relating to Japan, ideal for classrooms, libraries and book groups. Now the Tomo Reader's Guide is available for download. 

To download the PDF of the Reader's Guide click here or visit the Reader's Guide section of this Tomo Blog. Included in the Reader's Guide are writing activities (creative writing, translation and academic writing) and discussion questions, both general and story by story, to accompany the Tomo anthology. 

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction is a benefit anthology, with proceeds going to benefit teens in the Tohoku areas of Japan affected by the 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

Feel free to share feedback about the Reader's Guide, as it will be periodically improved and updated. Thank you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Eye on Stories features Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction

The August issue of Eye-Ai magazine featured Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction in the Eye on Stories section, and magazine editor Terri Nii has sent us the PDF of the article. Written by Tomo contributor Louise George Kittaka, the article includes background of the Tomo project and features interviews with editor Holly Thompson and contributors Trevor Kew, Ann Tashi Slater and Juliet Winters Carpenter. 

Printed out, the article provides a great introduction to the Tomo anthology for libraries, book groups, teachers and students.

Here's a link to Holly Thompson's Tomo page with the PDF file link located below the Tomo cover image.

And here's a sneak peek of the two full magazine spreads:

Thank you, Louise and thank you, Eye-Ai!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kenji Miyazawa’s Poem “Ame ni mo makezu”--Interview with TOMO Translators David Sulz and Hart Larrabee

David Sulz
David Sulz (translator of the Tomo epigraph “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” Ame ni mo makezu) is a librarian at the University of Alberta. He spent four years in the nineties on the JET program in Miyagi (Sendai and Towa-cho) and tries to return often to visit the kindred spirits there who remain among his closest friends. Other translations include Jiro Nitta’s Phantom Immigrants (Mikkosen suian maru), Kenji Miyazawa’s “The Poison Powder Police Chief,” and lyrics from songs performed by Miyagi friends.
Hart Larrabee
Hart Larrabee (translator of the Tomo story “Anton and Kiyohime”) was born in New York State and majored in Japanese at Carleton College in Minnesota. He also earned postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Hawaii. A full-time freelance translator, he currently lives with his family in Nagano Prefecture.

Both David Sulz and Hart Larrabee have translated the famous Kenji Miyazawa poem Ame ni mo makezu. An excerpt of Sulz’s translation appears in Tomo as the anthology’s epigraph.

Below is the original poem in Japanese, followed by the Sulz and Larrabee translations, which are fascinating for their differences. Following the poems, each translator discusses his approach to the poem and the resulting translation.

Here is how the original poem would have looked if written horizontally. Miyazawa used katakana instead of kanji and hiragana writing for much of the poem.

雨ニモマケズ 風ニモマケズ
欲ハナク 決シテ瞋ラズ イツモシズカニワラッテイル
一日ニ玄米四合ト 味噌ト少シノ野菜ヲタベ
アラユルコトヲ ジブンヲカンジョニ入レズニ
ヨクミキキシワカリ ソシテワスレズ
野原ノ松ノ林ノ蔭ノ 小サナ萱ブキノ小屋ニイテ
東ニ病気ノコドモアレバ 行ッテ看病シテヤリ
西ニツカレタ母アレバ 行ッテソノ稲ノ束ヲ負イ
南ニ死ニソナ人アレバ 行ッテコワガラナクテモイイトイイ
ホメラレモセズ クニモサレズ
モノニ ワタシハナリタイ

This is how the poem was discovered written in Kenji Miyazawa’s notebook:

courtesy of the Daimaru Museum
Following is David Sulz’s translation of Kenji Miyazawa’s poem Ame ni mo makezu:

Be not defeated by the rain. Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove's shade.

A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a "Great Man".

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

Following is Hart’s Larrabee’s translation of Kenji Miyazawa’s poem Ame ni mo makezu :

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat
Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables
Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well
Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines
Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles
Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all
Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be

Translator Q & A

What inspired you to translate this poem?

David Sulz: I had a professor who once told us that after studying Chinese for four years at university, he had no idea what to do next. He sent $50 to a bookstore in Hong Kong and received many boxes of Chinese books. Overwhelmed, he chose the thinnest book and started translating it. Through various coincidental twist and turns, that serendipity led to his becoming a world expert on a particular Tang dynasty Chinese poet.

In general, anything I try to translate is a combination of serendipity and personal connections. For example, a historical novel based in places I lived and songs, nature art activities, and travel TV shows created by close friends with whom I could discuss the meaning. A good friend with whom I often had deep philosophical conversations happened to visit Kenji World in Iwate prefecture and brought me a copy as a souvenir. So this falls into both categories: serendipity and personal connection.

Hart Larrabee: I live in a little town called Obuse in northern Nagano Prefecture. A local sake brewery hosts a monthly lecture series, inviting accomplished people who are passionate about what they do to give a talk followed by an evening of conversation fuelled by the brewery’s delicious sake and seasonal cuisine. For a number of years I regularly translated or edited the English portions of the bilingual summaries of each session for publication by the brewery.

Designer Taku Satoh, perhaps best known for product and packaging designs, came to speak in August 2004. Satoh is also art director for Nihongo de asobo (Let’s Play in Japanese), a wonderful NHK educational program on which Ame ni mo makezu is a recurring theme, and he concluded his talk with a reading of the poem.

A bit of Googling quickly turned up a couple of existing versions, but I wanted to avoid infringing on anyone’s copyright and there was little time to arrange permissions. Since I was already reasonably familiar with the poem from the old Hibbett & Itasaka textbook I had used years before in college, I decided to retranslate the poem myself. The version here is a slightly edited version of the one I produced then.

Can you explain your approach to the poem and discuss your translation?

Hart Larrabee: Particularly given the poem’s posthumous discovery in a private notebook, I see it more as a meditation than a moralizing exhortation or socio-political commentary. I wanted to amplify by simplifying, and tried to draft something straightforward and direct without anything extraneous. The poem itself is pretty lean, and I wanted to resist the temptation to expand and explain in the translation.

David Sulz: I did this 15 long years ago, and I didn’t know much about translation ideas and expectations back then and I really just wanted to understand the poem and have interesting discussions about its meaning (I also remember being quite bored at work with lots of spare time). I had no concerns about translating it “correctly” or “appropriately” because I wasn’t doing it for marks or recognition. This was before the Internet became so widespread (believe it or not) so I had no expectation that anyone other than family and maybe some close friends would read it. I suppose I could have looked into publishing it in a journal or book or anthology somewhere but posting it on “the world of Kenji Miyazawa” website was as far as I got.

In another coincidence, I had just been given a thick book of Alexander Pope’s poetry and especially loved his “Essay on Man.” I think much of the wording, phrasing, language, and so much else in my translation was influenced by his 18th century, English style (well, maybe not the heroic couplets for which he was renowned). English poetry experts might not see anything of Pope in my translation and I’ve seen a few comments that it does not accurately reflect the style in which Miyazawa wrote in the context of his time. Miyazawa’s version is very simple for an educated man because, despite his education, he supposedly felt more in tune with the rural folk so wrote in a simple, unpretentious style. Someone commented that his style might be compared to e.e. cummings who wrote poems in English without capital letters.

Admittedly, my translation is anything but simple, straightforward, current English but this wasn’t an intellectual exercise. The style and words just happened and that probably was a result of many small influences at that particular time. I wonder what would happen if I was somehow able to forget my previous translation and try translating it again now.

What are some of the challenges in translating this particular poem? What were your problem/challenge spots?

David Sulz: Honestly, all of it was a challenge! I don’t want anyone to think I sat down and translated this in an afternoon all by myself. I had lots of advice and explanations from many people even if, unforgivably, I don’t remember exactly who anymore. I remember several passages that caused lively debate among my Japanese friends which, by the way, is something any good poem or idea should do. Specifically, I remember two parts taking a long time and that I probably took liberties with in translating.

One is the part about shedding tears during a drought and walking in concern in cold summers. The connection seems to be the anxiety one should feel for friends and neighbours, in this case farmers, who will have a lean winter because their harvest won’t be plentiful.

Another tricky part was why it would be “better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “great man.” It’s hard to come up with other ways to explain what I think it means but I’ll try. Flattery is insincere and manipulative so a “great man” doesn’t know what others really think of him and he might be talked into doing things that others don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. Conversely, it doesn’t really matter if some people think you are useless as long as you (and those closest to you) know your own worth – you are free to be yourself with less pressure. Perhaps it is so hard to grasp Miyazawa’s meaning because it is completely opposite to what we are normally led to believe – that it is better to be considered great than useless. 

After finally understanding the meaning, of course, the biggest challenge was finding words and phrases in English that preserved the Japanese meaning and character but allowed rhythms that sounded harmonious and lyrical in English.  In other words, making it sound right.

Sadly, my Japanese ability these days isn’t good enough to easily go back to the original poem and reconstruct the challenging points but I think those spots can be deduced by comparing where various English translations have different interpretations.

Hart Larrabee: I was always bothered by the use of the conditional “if” in translations of the section listing the four directions, even though it appears formally faithful to the areba in the original. To me it suggests a rigid logic, an image of a protagonist who, alerted somehow to the existence of a sick child or a weary mother somewhere, only then dashes into action. In the original, though, the conditional just seems part of a rhetorical structure designed to indicate that the protagonist would show compassion toward all wherever he might find them. So I was pleased to dispose of the “ifs.”

In reviewing my translation for this interview, I decided to take another stab at the third and fourth lines from the bottom, which I originally rendered as Unpraised / Unnoticed. This translation bothered me because the protagonist would certainly have to be noticed before he could be called useless, but I couldn’t come up with anything better at the time. I probably also originally misunderstood ku ni sarezu, which I now feel is more at “not seen as a pain in the neck” than “not paid attention to.”

What do you think of other translations of Ame ni mo Makezu?

David Sulz: I love reading various translations of this work, it is a great example of the complexity of translating between two languages whose grammar and style is so completely opposite and whose worldview is quite different. I don’t think there is any way to capture in English how the elegance of Miyazawa’s writing appeals to Japanese readers and, at the same time, make the profound meaning accessible in English. It seems a translator has a dilemma with this poem - accurate but choppy or rhythmic but sacrificing accuracy.

Hart Larrabee:
A poem is a puzzle with many solutions, and I like bits and pieces of all of them given their respective approaches. Some versions introduce a third-person “he” or reveal the first-person subject early, but I think the immediacy of the poem is lost in the former approach while the latter gives too much away. I’m sure I saw David Sulz’s version back in 2004, and remember also being influenced by Steven Venti’s (See: Another source, one I only discovered recently, (See: contains numerous treatments of the first section, which can then be used to track down full versions by translators such as Makoto Ueda, Donald Keene and Roger Pulvers. It’s amazing, really, how many ways even such a short poem can be rendered, and with such different results. Beyond the issue of explanatory additions I mentioned above, even little decisions like which article to use or whether a noun should be plural or singular can really change the sense of the translation.

What do you particularly like about this poem?

David Sulz: I love the human vs. nature struggle. It is not about defeating nature, or escaping into your basement/car/office/mall, or coming up with technology make yourself immune to nature. It’s about accepting nature, dealing with nature on its own turf,  and becoming mentally strong enough to not only endure but also enjoy it. Maybe this poem has influenced me embrace winter in one of the coldest winter cities on earth, Edmonton, where walking to work in -40 degrees or playing hockey outdoors or cross-country skiing is even more satisfying an achievement than in warmer climes.

I also like the idea that one can be both humble and strong at the same time. Humility isn’t weakness and strength isn’t aggression. A satisfied and good person doesn’t have to be ostentatious with big houses and fancy meals. Courage also comes from small acts that seem easy on paper but are difficult in real-life such as convincing people to stop quarrelling or helping someone with a heavy load when lots of other people are watching.

Finally, I appreciate the last line—“this is my goal, the person I strive to become.” Miyazawa is not telling anyone else how to act or be except by his own example—which is very Buddhist, I think. He is saying, here’s what I think it takes to be human, I’m going to try to achieve it, you can try too if you’d like but you don’t have to.

Hart Larrabee: On its own, I like it as a spare and deeply personal meditation on right living. As a phenomenon, I am fascinated by the way it has been employed post-3/11 to convey a kind of stoic resolve in the face of tragedy. I can’t help but wonder if Satoh’s use of the poem on Nihongo de asobo—recitations of the poem in regional dialects from around Japan are one of my favorite parts of the show—helped lay the groundwork for the poem’s resurgence.

And to conclude, here is actor Ken Watanabe reading the poem in Japanese.