Two of the most successful Japanese novels of the past few years that have been translated into English are Hiromi Kawakami's "The Briefcase" and Fuminori Nakamura's "Last Winter, We Parted." Both were translated by Allison Markin Powell, a literary translator and editor based in New York.

Her distinguished career includes translating Osamu Dazai's "Schoolgirl," so it's somewhat surprising to learn that Japanese is her third language.

"I studied French in grade school," says Powell in an interview with The Japan Times. "When we read 'The Little Prince' I was intrigued by the notion of translating literature. But when I got to college I wanted to start a new language. Japanese was a bit of an arbitrary decision but it worked out well — the literature is so vast and profound."