Sachi Abe Film, TV and Publication Section Arts and Culture Dept. The Japan Foundation
With the Japanese word "manga" gaining global status, numerous manga works are now being commercially translated and published into various languages, reaching readers worldwide. Meanwhile, at the Japan Foundation, where our mission is to support projects to promote Japanese culture that would not be feasible in the private sector, we have been trying to figure out the most effective way to be involved in the promotion of manga. Grants to support the translation and publication of the English and Indonesian versions of Gekiga Hyoryu are good examples of the Japan Foundation's engagement with manga.
From Gekiga Hyoryu to A Drifting Life
Gekiga Hyoryu, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, is an autobiographical account ranging from the author's childhood when he started drawing manga cartoons as a boy in Japan's post-war recovery era, through to his struggle to carve out the genre of Gekiga (similar to graphic novels) amidst conflicts with other manga artists and editors. The book earned Tatsumi the 13th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Grand Prize in 2009. The previous November, before the prize had been awarded, the Canadian publishing house Drawn & Quarterly Publications (D&Q) had applied for the Japan Foundation's Support Program for Translation and Publication on Japan to produce an English version, which would subsequently become A Drifting Life. D&Q had already published a collection of short stories by Tatsumi, taking advantage of the same program in 2005, but Gekiga Hyoryu would be a more challenging undertaking because it was 820 pages long and would be the longest book published by D&Q. It was also necessary to make sure the descriptions of Japanese post-war society that form the background of the story were translated accurately, and then there was the process of publication. (It was translated by the former Japan Foundation fellow Taro Nettleton, now a resident of the United States, who had studied the 1960's subculture of Tokyo at Tama Art University under the Japanese Studies Fellowship Program in 2008.)
The Japan Foundation grants for manga projects?
The Japan Foundation had not been in the habit of providing grants to manga pieces. The Translation and Publishing Support Program was designed to encourage the publication of books that introduce Japanese culture by funding part of the cost incurred, and it had mainly been applied to books that, though excellent, may have been difficult to publish commercially. Since manga pieces were already being translated and published in rapid succession, they were rarely candidates for the program. However, the Japan Foundation chose to provide a grant for the English version of Gekiga Hyoryu (A Drifting Life) because we felt this piece would throw light on the genre of Gekiga, introducing an important part of manga history, and leading to interest in other Gekiga authors as yet little known overseas. In addition, we hoped its depiction of Japanese society in the post-war years would be a good way for people to learn about Japan. Since some of Tatsumi's work had already been published overseas and was receiving international acclaim, the Japan Foundation felt this was the perfect opportunity to lend its support to make Gekiga Hyoryu, which was several hundred pages long, available to more people at a reasonable price. You could say the project to support A Drifting Life was an endeavor to connect the manga already in circulation overseas with the history of manga as an aspect of Japanese culture. In 2009, the translation of A Drifting Life was completed successfully and published by D&Q.
Winning the Eisner Award
In the summer of 2010, we were informed by D&Q that A Drifting Life had been awarded two U.S. Eisner awards, one for Best Reality-Based Work and another for Best U.S. Edition of International Material-Asia. The Eisner awards are given to outstanding manga works, equivalent to the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prizes in Japan. It was a fantastic achievement to win not only the Asia award, but also the global category.
This award will help raise the profile of Gekiga Hyoryu among manga fans who are not yet familiar with Gekiga. English readers who hear about it on the news may pick up the book and get to know the world of Gekiga.
Birth of the Indonesian version of Gekiga Hyoryu
Another wonderful piece of news we received regarding Gekiga Hyoryu this year was the publication of the Indonesian version called Hanyut, which had also applied for the Japan Foundation's Translation and Publishing Support Program in 2010. In four volumes and with eye-catching covers in vivid colors, the Indonesian version Hanyut also has a special insert just after the contents page, giving a brief explanation on how to read manga. Since Japanese manga dialog is written vertically and read from right to left, while in Indonesia people are accustomed to reading horizontally from left to right, there had been concern during the grant screening process whether or not Indonesian readers would be able to follow the cartoon frames in the original Japanese order. The publishing house Penerbit Nalar therefore decided to add an extra page that was neither in the original nor the English version explaining the flow of pictures. Thus, after working out such technicalities, they managed to produce Gekiga Hyoryu for Indonesian readers.
In addition to the excellence of the original work, we believe it was the effort and passionate commitment of the translators and publishers that made possible the English and Indonesian versions of Gekiga Hyoryu. These translations may catch the attention of other editors around the world who may in turn translate the piece into other languages. Or, interest in Gekiga may lead readers to discover other Gekiga pieces or authors who are not yet known overseas. Thus, we are hopeful that the translation and publication of Gekiga Hyoryu will lead to many other developments in future.
Lastly, here at the Japan Foundation, nothing would make us happier than to see our arts and cultural exchange programs continue to help sow seeds to promote not only manga but also other Japanese cultural works that deserve a wider audience all over the world.