Thoughtful Thursday – My Experience at Japan Now

Firstly, welcome to my first Thoughtful Thursday post! I’m hoping for this to be a monthly feature where I just share my thoughts on books I’ve read, books I haven’t or just bookish things in general. So, for this Thoughtful Thursday, it’s also a bit of a Throwback Thursday (if that’s a thing in book blogging)! 

Back in February (which feels like a lifetime ago at this point) I attended the Japan Now event at the British Library. I have always loved Japan and that love has only increased in recent years, especially after visiting Tokyo for the first time in 2018. Since then I have been doing even more to learn about the culture from trying to teach myself the language (emphasis on the word ‘trying’) to reading translated works by Japanese authors. 

Whilst I love Haruki Murakami’s writing and his novels, I wanted to branch out and find some more Japanese authors that he has, arguably, paved the way in the West for. During my search I received a newsletter from the British Library which advertised the Japan Now event and I immediately bought my ticket to attend. 

I had a great view for the event!

The entire event was fascinating and the organisers made a great choice in the guests that were invited. Whilst most of the guests were writers (either of novels or poetry) and their translators, there was also filmmaker Naoko Nobutomo and photographer Tomoko Sawada. This was a nice addition to the day and allowed for further exploration in the Japanese culture and different mediums. 

Not only did this event enlighten me on many different authors and novels (many of which have become quick favourites of mine since), but I also learnt a lot regarding literature in Japan. One of the most interesting things was the fact that genre doesn’t exist in the same way as it does in Western literature. This sounds like a much more freeing way to write, instead of being confined to tropes and conventions of a particular genre. Of course, you don’t need to follow them in order for your book to be considered of that genre, but it is likely to still be there in the writer’s subconscious. 

What also stood out was the working relationships between authors and translators. Hiromi Itō was there with her translator, Jeffrey Angles. Now, Itō’s work has a strong feminist voice and doesn’t shy away from difficult topics that women experience. So, it was fascinating to hear Itō speak of how Angles has truly managed to capture her voice in his translations and she can still see herself in it. Watching them perform ‘Killing Kanoko’ together was incredible, the mix of English and Japanese and how they would seamlessly trade between each other as if they were of one mind has stuck with me ever since. They were also both very kind at the book signing too!

Tomihiko Morimi was there with the translator of his The Night is Short, Walk On Girl, Emily Balistrieri. The enthusiasm that Balistrieri showed when talking about Morimi’s work was so infectious. It was really nice to hear how much he appreciated and understood Morimi’s writing and it was clear it was more than just a job for him but a genuine passion too, which I believe is vital for being able to breathe life into a translation. Balistrieri complemented Morimi well, as Morimi was very humble regarding his accomplishments and how beloved his writing is whereas Balistrieri was more than willing to speak of how brilliant his work is, something that I believe is definitely deserved after reading both Penguin Highway and The Night is Short, Walk On Girl. 

I’m thrilled that I was able to attend this event and got to have a brief chat with most of the authors and translators there. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more events like this as not only is it eye-opening to a different culture of Literature, but, it also introduces me to some amazing authors and novels that I may not have found otherwise. 

Huge thanks to the British Library, the Japan Foundation and everyone else involved in planning and working this event! 

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