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Event report – “Voices from Japan: Launching the New Literary Journal MONKEY”

Report – “Voices from Japan: Launching the New Literary Journal MONKEY”

On October 10, 2020, Waseda University celebrated the launching of MONKEY: New Writing from Japan, a new literary magazine that publishes contemporary Japanese fiction in English. The webinar consisted of two panels, followed by a Q&A session with the audience. The first was the Editors Panel, joined by the founding editors Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata, managing editor Meg Taylor, and contributing editor Roland Kelts. The second was the Authors and Translators Panel, joined by three award-winning Japanese authors Hideo Furukawa, Tomoka Shibasaki, and Satoshi Kitamura, as well as two translators Jordan Smith and Polly Barton. As the organizer of the event, Hitomi Yoshio, herself a translator of Japanese fiction, interpreted and moderated the discussions. The panelists had a stimulating conversation concerning the process of putting together the magazine, and the authors and translators gave lively readings followed by an in-depth discussion of their work. During the Q&A, there was a discussion by all of the panelists on topics such as how the authors viewed their work and felt about reading their work out loud, advice on translation, and changes in perceptions of Japanese literature abroad. This event was sponsored by the Global Japanese Studies Model Unit of the Top Global University Project and was attended by 295 people from both the Waseda community and the general public around the world.

The event began with the magazine editors’ panel. Shibata began the conversation by describing that MONKEY in English follows the Japanese MONKEY, which began in 2013. Shibata emphasized that they are not presenting the whole scene of Japanese fiction, but rather that he, Goossen, and Taylor choose stories that they are passionate about. He said, “I want a dialogue to take place among the pieces” written by authors from Japan and North America. Goossen echoed this sentiment, hearkening back to the interpersonal relationships among Japanese and anglophone authors in the precursor of this magazine in English, Monkey Business, and in the various launch events and tours they organized over the years in North America and Asia. Taylor added that the magazine’s essential task is to foster an environment where Japanese and English authors can read each other’s work in translation and talk to each other. Kelts noted on the extraordinary quality of MONKEY, as English-language literary magazines rarely present works in translation to this extent. He asked other editors to what extent the magazine was a representative of Japanese literature. Goossen replied that the magazine did not set up itself to represent Japanese literature, but rather branded itself MONKEY in order to convey the simple message that literature is fun to read regardless of whether it contained Japanese authors. Shibata hoped that English readers would experience the joy of finding how Japanese fiction is different and also similar to what they already know.

In the second part of the event, the three authors and their translators presented and discussed their work from the magazine. First, Hideo Furukawa and his translator Smith gave a joint reading of Furukawa’s “Counterfeiting García Márquez.” Described by Kelts as not only a great storyteller from Fukushima but also one of the most innovative writers today, Furukawa discussed his observation that translators “generate a third voice that foreign readers can touch, feel, and taste.” Inspired by the experience of reading Márquez’ works in translation, Furukawa told the audience of his visit to where Márquez lived in Mexico, and as Smith commented, Furukawa’s writing reveals his connection with Márquez through the architecture and land in his story. After the bilingual reading, Furukawa further commented that Márquez was a great grandfather of talented writers all over the world, such as Steve Erikson and Kenji Nakagami. When Kelts commented on Furukawa’s work being like a detective story tracing Márquez, Furukawa replied that “a great story has to have a mystery at the core.”

Following Furukawa, Tomoka Shibasaki read her work, “Dinner at Mine,” followed by an English reading by Polly Barton. Shibasaki is a novelist, essayist, and short story writer, whose Haru no niwa won the Akutagawa Prize in 2014. Before her reading, she observed that all her works have a common theme of memory and place. She recognizes the present as a place where pasts converge, a place where one shares in the experiences and memories of others, and that this story also encapsulates this theme. She wrote about her mother, but the piece is written from a distance as if it were about a stranger. After the bilingual readings, Kelts asked Shibasaki to reflect on her father. Shibasaki responded that people are multi-dimensional and how they appear changes according to the viewer. It is precisely this unclassifiability that makes humans interesting. Hence, she did not necessarily want to set up her father as particular type. It is a mystery even for her how her father felt about making lunch and dinner for her and her brother—and it is this mystery that drove her to write about him.

Lastly, Satoshi Kitamura gave his handmade kamishibai (paper theatre) presentation as a trailer to his work in MONKEY, called “The Heart of the Lunchbox.” Kitamura is an award-winning picture book author and illustrator who has presented his kamishibai in book fairs around the world and in elemtary schools in Japan. In his presentation, a boy called Shota feels embarrassed and uneasy about his plain bento lunch, which contains leftovers. Yet, he cannot ask his busy mother to give him a sumptuous bento lunch like others. One day, however, his mother makes him a bento that turned his world upside down. The story is to be continued in MONKEY. The kamishibai performance was followed by a surprise gift presentation by Shibata, who opened a handmade gift from Kitamura to Taylor, whose birthday fell on this day. Kitamura had made a bento box with a boy sitting and looking at the sky inside it.

In the final section of the event, the audience asked questions to the presenters. When asked to give advice to students interested in translation, Smith suggested both to seek guidance from experienced translators and to collaborate. Yoshio also commented on the importance of working with wonderful editors, and narrated her experience with the MONKEY editors going through layers of reviews by Shibata who focuses on the Japanese original, Goossen who focuses on the English translation, and Taylor who edits the final version for publication. Shibata responded to Yoshio by stating that good translators appreciate being edited and that they tend to be humble. To the second question on the importance of reading one’s work out loud, Furukawa replied that since he was using his body to generate his work, his writing process is similar to reading out loud using his voice. Shibasaki also commented that since people’s voices exist before writing and reading, she feels closer to people when she reads her work out loud and that there is something that can be expressed only in the moment of reading. To the third question on the reception of Japanese literature abroad, Shibata answered that perceptions have changed for the better partly due to the fact that the quality of translations has improved. Another change is that “readers do not try to learn about Japan when they read fiction by Japanese authors, but they read them simply because they are good fiction.” The panel concluded on a hopeful note, looking forward to more readings and events after the pandemic.

■Please watch full version of the video from here:


Event Overview

Date and Time:October 10 (Sat.), 2020, 10:00am-12:00 pm
Location:Zoom Webinar
Sponsored by:Global Japanese Studies Model Unit, Waseda University Top Global University Project
Co-sponsored by
Waseda University Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Ryusaku Tsunoda Center of Japanese Culture, Transdisciplinary Research for Creative Writing and Translation, Global Japanese Literary and Cultural Studies (Global-J)
Ted Goossen (Translator, Professor at York University), Motoyuki Shibata (Translator, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo), Meg Taylor (Editor, Academic Coordinator at Ryerson University), Roland Kelts (Journalist, Part-Time Lecturer at Waseda University), Hideo Furukawa (Author), Tomoka Shibasaki (Author), Satoshi Kitamura (Author), Polly Barton (Translator), and Jordan Smith (Translator, Associate Professor at Josai International University).
Host & Moderator:Hitomi Yoshio (Associate Professor at Waseda University)

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