May 5

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

Last weekend aside from going to the glorious Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, I attended a panel discussion at Asia Society about contemporary writing from Japan.  I had heard about the event from former JET Roland Kelts, who in addition to publishing books of his own and lecturing at both NYU and Tokyo University, is a contributing editor to the inaugural issue of the English language version of the Tokyo-based literary magazine Monkey Business (currently available for purchase!).  The magazine is run by award-winning translator Motoyuki Shibata, who served as editor of the English version along with colleague Ted Goossen.

All three were on hand at this event, which was divided up into the two sections of prose and poetry.  The former featured prominent Japanese novelist Hiromi Kawakami, also a Monkey Business contributor, and Seattle-based author Rebecca Brown.  Shibata served as moderator during a discussion that explored the parallels in the two women’s works, specifically themes such as how fluid the boundaries between real and surreal can sometimes be.  The poetry portion, moderated by Goossen, featured leading haiku poet Minoru Ozawa and author Joshua Beckman.  These men also had striking similarities, even down to the designs of the idea notebooks they both carry on them wherever they go!

It was a filled house, and I found myself sitting next to a Japanese man who looked over in curiosity at the copy of Monkey Business that I was leafing through.  I began casually chatting with him while waiting for the program to start, and asked if he had any affiliation with the journal.  He pointed to a blurb on the back saying, “That’s me.”  Sure enough, there was the name Hideo Nakamura, with a quote from an interview he had conducted with Haruki Murakami for the issue!  Nakamura also contributed his own fascinating short story called “Monster,” which leads off the collection.

Three days later he appeared at a Japan Society event with Kelts, Shibata and author Steve Erickson about the launch of Monkey Business and the respective influences of fiction, manga and graphic novels on each other.  I wasn’t able to attend, but I heard it was a great success as well.  After getting to meet the faces behind the magazine, I can’t wait to dig into my copy!



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