On translating

Translating Japanese literature, a conversation at The Millions.

AC: Another thing that’s unique about Penguin Highway is how little of the book is actually specific to Japan. It’s as if childhood makes things immediately more universal. But The Night Is Short is chock full of extremely Japanese things, and some of them are pretty obscure even for readers familiar with Japanese culture. How did you approach those aspects of the translation?

EB: Well, looking at the finished product, I see that my editor approached many of them with stealth or not-so-stealth glosses. Personally, I wanted to explain a little less in many places. I feel like readers don’t usually need to be babied as much as we think they do? I read a story translated from Korean recently that had a few footnotes, but I didn’t end up looking at any of them until I reached the end where they all were. If I wanted to, I could have Googled at any time, but I was enjoying the flavor of things and understanding well enough through context.

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