American author Paul Auster once called translators "the shadow heroes of literature," who have enabled us to understand that we all live in one world. He could also be describing Juliet Winters Carpenter, 61, one of the best-known literary translators from Japanese to English, who has won praise for her ability to channel the voices of Japanese writers into readable, often colloquial English and yet somehow retain their distinctive style.

Carpenter, an American living in Nara, has translated dozens of works over a 30-year career, including "Masks" by Fumiko Enchi; "A Lost Paradise" by Junichi Watanabe; Machi Tawara's widely adored book of tanka poems, "Salad Anniversary"; and several books by Kobo Abe and historical novelist Ryotaro Shiba. She has also written a book of her own on Kyoto titled "Seeing Kyoto."

She is now immersed in translating one of the eight volumes that together comprise Shiba's best-selling work, the monumental "Saka no Ue no Kumo" ("The Clouds Above the Hill").