Award to honor unsung Japanese translators

Kyodo

Don’t judge a book by its cover and neither necessarily by its author. Foreign literature can be ruined in translation.

Several leading translators have established an award for members of their silent craft, to honor those ultimately responsible for some of the finest foreign works published in Japanese.

The Best Translation Award will honor works published in 2014 and will consider everything from literature to song lyrics. The only translations that will not be considered are those penned by the judges themselves.

Readers can submit recommendations online until the end of January, and the winner will be decided in April.

The project is unusual in that it was financed via a crowdfunding website. Other literary awards tend to have the backing of publishers or local governments.

It was initiated by Ken Nishizaki, an author and anthropologist who is known for translating the works by A. E. Coppard, Virginia Wolf, Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway.

Four other renowned translators are on board — Motoyuki Shibata, Sachiko Kishimoto, Mizuhito Kanehara and Miho Matsunaga — who will serve as judges.

There are several categories. Translators can be nominated for their classical work but also anything from science fiction to music lyrics, Nishizaki said.

Fan publications and electronic books are also eligible, and the original works can be in any language.

There may be some exclusions: Specialist and academic books might be difficult to evaluate.

The group started raising funds for the award at the start of December and within only one day managed to raise ¥1.5 million, more than twice the target of ¥700,000.

Donors were offered in return samples of old working manuscripts by Motoyuki Shibata, an academic and translator of American literature. Those who contributed smaller amounts will receive individual manuscript pages, with incentives rising for those who submitted more. Because the campaign exceeded the target and the available pages began to run out, the organizers ended the campaign early.

The committee said it raised ¥3.3 million, enough to run the contest for four years.

Nishizaki said the project may help boost interest in foreign literature, the popularity of which has faded in recent years. This tendency has also been observed in the film and music industries.

He said that only some of the “Harry Potter” books by J.K. Rowling have made the Japanese best-seller lists in recent years.

“We would like to continue this project for at least a decade, since there is no budgetary constraint involved, as the project is not sponsored externally,” Nishizaki said. “We also hope to get people interested in new authors and their works.”

More information about the award and nomination guidelines is available at besttranslationaward.wordpress.com .

  • Silvwa

    I am glad to see that there is an award for translators. This is definitely a profession where it goes unnoticed, but it is extremely important. Thank you everyone who work so hard to make sure that the translations are the best that they can be.