British translator Ginny Tapley Takemori has become a recognizable name in translated fiction in recent years. Her work on Sayaka Murata’s “Convenience Store Woman” (2018) and “Earthlings” (2020), as well as Kyoko Nakajima’s “The Little House” (2019), garnered praise, but in an alternate universe she could still be translating works from Spanish or Catalan in sunny Barcelona.
After graduating high school in the 1980s, Takemori took a gap year (that extended into several), enjoying her work in London’s music scene. An eye-opening vacation to Spain, however, convinced Takemori to take a leap and move from her base in England.
“I simply fell in love with Barcelona,” Takemori says to The Japan Times. “I never felt that way about a place before, but I knew I just wanted to be there. Luckily I had some Spanish from school, and I found an intensive course in Catalan, taught in Spanish, so I really learned both languages simultaneously.”
While studying, Takemori found work at a small translation company, where she learned the ropes on the job. “The company had their regular translators, but they generally disliked the articles on art or design, as they used a lot of flowery language or design-speak,” Takemori explains. “They let me try to make sense out of it, turn it into something to be enjoyed in English and I liked the challenge. I would get my first draft back covered in red comments, and then I would edit it again myself. It was a wonderful way to learn the process of translation.”
From that job, Takemori moved to the Ute Korner Literary Agent where she learned about the behind-the-scenes machinations of publishing, while continuing to translate on the side. The agency was where she discovered Japanese literature. When moving offices, Takemori chanced upon a small shelf of Japanese novels translated to English, and she soon became hooked. Her fascination eventually led her to pursue an honors bachelor’s degree in Japanese from SOAS University of London (with a year at Waseda University), and later a master’s in advanced Japanese studies from the University of Sheffield.
Eventually, Takemori left Europe for Tokyo. After working at Kodansha International for four years, she launched her freelance career in editing and translation, publishing her first translated short story on the online magazine Words Without Borders in 2008. Since then, Takemori has used her success to support female writers and translators through Strong Women, Soft Power, a collective she started with fellow translators Lucy North and Allison Markin Powell.
“There’s a lot of activism in translation these days that wasn’t there in the past. A lot more translators are busy promoting diverse voices but basically, we’re stronger together,” Takemori says. “For Strong Women, Soft Power, the three of us are based in different locations — New York City, London and Japan — so we can share information from these areas, discuss various issues, and support each other and other translators.
“Translation is a community. We should treat it as such and be supportive of each other. It can be difficult since we are, in a sense, all competitors chasing after too few jobs, but it is important to frame our work as part of a larger community to share diverse literary voices in English. The more profile we get as individuals, the more work and overall success the entire community will receive.”
Advice to translators: “Learn about the publishing industry, and bear in mind that translation is only a small part of the whole process of bringing a book into another language. There’s a lot of people behind any decision to publish. My publishing background is helpful to me, because I understand how that works.”
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