Editorial Addendum

by Kim Schuefftan

SWET asked Kim Schuefftan, editor at Kodansha International from 1966 to 1989, subsequently working as a freelance editor from his base in the countryside north of Tokyo, to comment on his experience as editor working with Amy Katoh on Otafuku: The Joy of Japan. In November 1999, Schuefftan spoke to SWET, and a report of his talk may be found in the No. 88 (March 2000) issue of the SWET Newsletter, or here.

Otafuku: The Joy of Japan is indeed singular in lots of ways. The subject is one no Japanese would consider taking seriously, much less write a book about. Perhaps this is something of an overstatement, but it is accurate enough. Those who know a little about Otafuku will understand why, and those who know nothing will find it all in the book.

What and who Otafuku is will not be discussed here; suffice it to say that there is no scholarship on the subject, at least none known to the author, her informants of various nationalities and cultural persuasions, nor to this editor. The author is not an abstract idea person. Her emotional radar can be pinpooint accurate, and her authority is in her closeness to personal experience. She needs editorial goading and direction and guidance, but mainly to keep to what she knows best, avoid trying to be didactic, and avoid repetition. The last is a road she travels rather often.

Her style is easy and warm and quirky, mixing everyday English with what are now somewhat anachronistic expressions. Editing the book was rather like translating—translating Amy Katoh.

Her text was translated into Japanese three times, plus read and commented on by how many friends and interested people I quickly lost count. The first translation was by someone of the journalist’s persuasion. It was dry and literal and uninteresting, with many mistakes because the translator took Amy’s idioms, similes, and language quirks and translated them all too literally, word-for-word, missing the spirit and flow, the energy and charm of her words entirely.

The second translator was a Thinker and has a raging love affair with Ideas, and translated as well as expanded the Amy-text into toattly masculine Japanese (as did the first translator), but again, her charm and flow and effervescence were quite lost. The ideas were good, however. The third translator did good. A long-time friend of Amy’s, textile artist as well as amateur musician, her was able to capture her vibes and inner smiles and enthusiasms as well as emulate her soft, female style in Japanese. We were very lucky, and it took a while and a hunk of money.

The layout was also serendipity. I did the basic plotting of the graphics to show where they fit into the text. Mostly. A good part of the graphics placement was intuitive. Sophie Gaur, a personal friend, who is an industrial and graphic designer living in Melbourne, took over form there and gave it the necessary professional polish. More important, Gaur empathized with the subject matter and what the author was doing, and that sensitivity comes through beautifully in the design.

As many readers of this newsletter know, trying to put both Japanese and English together in the same publication is too often an exercise in messy + messy. As a general rule, however, small point sizes for both languages and gothic typefaces are pretty safe when bilingual demands rear their heads. Again, I feel that in this book the design works, on various levels.

I am still surprised that Tuttle/Periplus wanted to publish the book, but the proof that they were right is that it has been successful. After over two years of working onit (the editorial process was one of those nightmarish bits-and-pieces-whenever-you-can-fit-it-in things) and seeing it countless times in all stages of undress and dress, I must say that I have always liked and still really like the finished book. I'm proud to be proud of it.

And I think that it is Amy Katoh's best effort and book so far. In a sense it is one of those books that use us mortals to get born, and I am glad that I was part of the instrumentality of making it happen.

You don't know the book? This article is not convincing? So go check it out in a bookstore!

Back to "Otafuku Encounters"

From Newsletter No. 111 (March 2006)