On March 12th 2018 J. D. Wisgo of Self Taught Japanese announced a literary translation competition for promising translators. (Japanese Translation Contest Announced: Promising Translators 2018.)
This competition was for novice translators who are unpublished to translate a short literary text. This could be a short story or part of a longer text.
It was on my radar for a few weeks but March was a very busy time for me. The deadline for the competition, April 9th, drew closer and closer. J. D. Wisgo kept Tweeting about the competition though. With only four days left he said that there was still time. So I decided to enter.
Selecting a Text
I had a text in mind from Shosetsu wo Yomou but J. D. Wisgo made a good point that texts were not in the public domain there. If a text was not in the public domain I would need permission to translate it. So I messaged the author of the text I wanted to do but decided to get a backup plan.
I asked J. D. Wisgo for some advice and he suggested Aozora Bunko.
Aozora Bunko is a Japanese digital library that consists of several thousands of Japanese texts. Fiction and non-fictional. All of the texts are out-of-copyright books or works that the authors wish to make freely available. Which means that everything in there is public domain.
I was, I admit, at a loss of what to translate. I browsed the texts randomly, picking out a few titles that looked interesting (mostly involving the words “cat” “space” and “magic”). I read parts of the text to see if they interested me and created a short list of about 3 texts.
In the end I chose 魔法博士 (Mahou Hakase) because it sounded intriguing and I love fantasy narratives. It was only after I started translating that I noticed it was written by the great Edogawa Ranpo 江戸川乱歩.
You can find the original Japanese here: 魔法博士 (江戸川乱歩)
Translating “The Professor of Magic”
The text wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The Professor of Magic (which was the title I chose to translate it to) starts with two boys possibly in the Taisho/early Showa period of Japan. They see a strange man with a travelling theater and, as young detectives, decide to follow him.
When I think of magic I think of fantasy so a modern text was a nice surprise. The beginning of the story does not go into much detail into who the Professor of Magic is, but it’s a strong start that grips you to read the rest.
I started by reading the text, of course, to get an idea of the situation. Because of limited time I couldn’t read the entire story, just the beginning.
My translation process consists of reading the source, followed by translating the text, highlighting areas I’m not sure of. Then going through it with a second translation, high lighting parts I don’t like the wording for. I then listen to the text a few times with a text to audio app on Microsoft Word. This helps a lot with picking up on awkward wording and spelling errors.
Then after 3 days I sent the translation off.
Announcement and Feedback
The announcement for the winners was a lot faster than I’d originally thought. It was just over a week later that I got an email saying I had won 2nd place!!!
I was very excited to read the announcement and to receive the two e-books of Juza Unno’s texts!
It wasn’t long either until J. D. Wisgo came back with some feedback on the translations!
He was kind enough to go through the winners giving tips on where we could each improve and what to look out for in the future.
I highly suggest other novice translators read these.
- 1st Place Feedback: Kisetsu’s translation of “Morning”
- 2nd Place Feedback: Jennifer O’Donnell’s translation of “The Professor of Magic”
- 3rd Place Feedback: Weining Yu’s translation of “Magic”
Of course not everyone will agree on certain points.
Literary translation is often subjective and other translators might agree or disagree with different parts that J. D. Wisgo points out. It’s important to take criticism, to use it to improve your skills, but also to remember that no one person’s word is law.
People have very good points which you can use to improve, but different people may have different advice for you.
This was a fun competition to partake in. With my time restraints it was a fantastic exercise for me to try and create a high-quality translation with limited time.
The feedback was great and helped me see areas where I need to improve. It also gave me some more ideas for extra steps I can take in my own translation process.
I look forward to translating more texts and taking part in more challenges!
More Literary Translations
- “Flying Grandpa” – Short Story Translation
- [Unofficial] The Deer King by Nahoko Uehashi (Prologue)
- “Deaimon” – Manga Translation