– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m Tristan, a nonbinary trans guy (he/him) from Wisconsin currently living in Tokyo; I’m in the process of coming out this year and transitioning. So I still honestly don’t really know what I’m doing, but the idea right now is to continue publishing under my birth name, Emily.
I’m mainly interested in translating novels and short stories (Japanese to English). I’ve also worked on all sorts of things including subtitles (such as Takahide Hori’s Junk Head) and video games (Cocosola’s The Witch’s Isle, Alpaca Evolution, and more).
Published fiction translations include; Takuji Ichikawa’s The Refugees’ Daughter; Tomihiko Morimi’s The Night is Short, Walk on Girl; Ko Hiratori’s JK Haru is a Sex Worker in Another World; Carlo Zen’s The Saga of Tanya the Evil; Kugane Maruyama’s Overlord.
How did you get into translation?
I got into foreign languages and then wanted a job where I could use them.
(Ideally would get my French, Russian, Spanish, and German in working order, but I’m trying to focus at the moment. The rule I made is that I have to read 10 novels in translation from a language before I start relearning it seriously.)
I started as a Russian major in college, but realized I was obsessed with Haruki Murakami and watched a lot of anime, so maybe Japanese made more sense. Not that I couldn’t have found things to do with Russian, just that I chose what was the more obvious path (and avoided jokes about working for the CIA ever after).
I enjoy translating novels the most because it has the fewest constraints. (Whereas subtitling has the most, since you’re dealing with timing, space, and impressions viewers get from the audio).
What did you wish you had done differently before becoming an established translator?
I wish I had double-majored in English or comparative lit. Or maybe history.
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
This is sort of a kitty-corner answer to the question, perhaps, but the biggest challenge for me personally is the business part of it.
Invoicing, contracts, remembering names and faces when you only see some people once or twice a year at events, stuff like that.
I don’t have qualms about reaching out when I’m passionate about a project. But then there’s also the balancing issue of pitching projects vs. taking on work assigned to you, not to mention running your schedule and making sure to leave time for yourself.
What do you enjoy working on most?
Anything really well written is the most pleasurable. I tend to like stuff that is philosophical/introspective or weird.
What have you been most proud of?
I started reading Tomihiko Morimi back in the winter of 2012 and ever since the first book, I made it a goal to translate him. So, getting to do The Night is Short, Walk on Girl was such a dream come true.
I really hope I can do more in the future. His books are all so fantastic.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
I’ve translated something like 150 picture books, but since they are just samples for promotional purposes, not many people get the chance to notice.
One of my favorites is Kii no Iede (Kii Runs Away) by Yukiko Tanemura. A girl decides she is going to run away from home, but her twin sister encourages her to stay in clever ways.
Other than that…
1) When I do something different from a popular pirate version, self-described fans notice, but they seem to only notice that I’m “wrong.”
2) There have also been times I’ve worked really hard on specific terms or lines, but then someone edits it without consulting me. So no one notices what I actually did because it’s not there anymore. Sorry, is that too spicy? :’)
The light novel industry can be rough. (This is NOT to say I don’t appreciate the work editors put in, especially when they are even more invisible than the translators, which is saying something, depending on how the credits appear.)
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
More Tomihiko Morimi; especially Tatami Galaxy and Koibumi no Gijutsu (How to Write a Love Letter).
The other two authors I’m obsessed with right now are Ao Omae, who writes bizarre short fiction that seems to activate your emotions on different frequencies from usual. Also, Ryohei Machiya, who recently won the Akutagawa Prize for a novel about boxing, but just released one about a genius piano player that I might like even better.
There is so much exciting writing that I can’t keep up, to be honest.
Why do you love translation?
I like the support role of sharing and promoting other people’s work; especially works that couldn’t be read by English-speakers without translation.
But also, more selfishly, I used to want to be a novelist, except I always had trouble coming up with stories. Translation allows me to enjoy the writing and polishing processes without having to come up with everything from scratch.
Also, frankly, writing all different kinds of characters is a really fun way to bend and exercise your gender brain. Since you don’t have to come up with the characters or what they do, you’re free to simply inhabit them.
Successfully giving English voice to male characters before coming out as trans was really empowering in that way. It makes me wonder if other (even cis) people enjoy flexing a different side of themselves in translation, too.
Would love to hear if other people have thought about this (but expressly disinterested in policing who is allowed to translate what based on sex/gender).
Find Tristan/Emily Balistrieri Here!