Japan to Promote Its Literature by Boosting Translator Training

The government is planning to promote Japanese novels, essays and other literature by cherry-picking translators and providing them with high-end skills.

The Cultural Affairs Agency intends to allocate ¥65 million for a new project in its draft budget for the next fiscal year as part of efforts to increase awareness of translated Japanese literature in other countries.

In recent years, Japanese novels in particular have garnered increased overseas recognition, and the agency aims to build on this momentum through further strategic promotion. As part of its efforts, the agency plans to open a booth for the first time at the Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the world’s largest trade fairs held annually in Germany. It is also considering having Japanese authors visit the fair, and holding readings of books in languages other than Japanese.

The agency has been holding translation contests and other competitions to identify suitable translators. It plans to share a list of translators’ achievements and awards with publishers to help smooth the process of matching specific translators with particular writing styles, and hopes to create commercial opportunities, too.

As part of a trial this fiscal year, some publishers were provided with subsidies to create sample translations for proposed foreign-language projects and excerpts of works; the agency plans to continue this initiative.

Recently, a number of Japanese literary works have been attracting attention overseas. Books by women authors have proved especially popular, such as the well-received English translation of “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata, who won the Akutagawa Prize in 2016.

Meanwhile, Sam Bett and David Boyd’s co-translated English version of Mieko Kawakami’s “Heaven” was shortlisted for the prestigious International Booker Prize. For its part, South Korea has established the Literature Translation Institute of Korea to support translation at the national level, while in Japan, the private sector — including publishers — has been the main source of support for translation-related matters. It has been a challenge for Japan to develop policies to support the translation of Japanese literature.

Translating a Japanese work into a foreign language is not simply a matter of understanding Japanese; high-level translation requires an understanding of Japanese culture and the ability to capture its nuances through literary expressions in the target language. As such, support measures premised upon long-term perspectives are seen as ideal.

“Many aspects of Japanese culture are concentrated within the written word, and this is the first step in having people learn more about Japan,” an agency official said. “We hope to create a virtuous cycle between culture and business by supporting overseas sales.”

This article was first published at The Japan News, on February 7, 2023.


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