Monday, July 26, 2010

Translation Fascination

The publishing industry is nothing if not unoriginal. From the “Chick Lit Craze” to the “Why [Insert Nationality] Women Don’t Get Fat” to a virtual vampire invasion, editors and publishers can’t help themselves when it comes to latching onto a hot idea and milking it for all it’s worth. In typical cases the craze virtually plays out the genre and kills it off via over-saturation.

The next wave, though, just might last—and benefit readers (a rare outcome of the copy-cat nature of publishing). Based on the stunning success currently being realized by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson (he of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame), publishers are scouring the globe for the next irresistible import ingĂ©nue. “A lot of publishers are looking at this because they don't want to miss the next Stieg Larsson,” an editorial director confessed to The Wall Street Journal.
Intriguingly, Japanese authors are at the top of the list.

It makes sense, as Western readers have already embraced translated works from Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and other J-authors. Japan hosts a vibrant literary culture and I can’t wait to see what turns up on shelves next!

And of course, if you want a taste of Japanese crime fiction without waiting, I would humbly suggest my book, Tokyo Lives!

Monday, July 19, 2010

We Can Make a Better List Than CNN Travel!

CNN Travel recently published its list of “5 Tokyo experiences you won’t forget,” which are:

5. Tsukiji fish market

4. Karaoke in Roppongi

3. Sumo

2. Bullet trains

1. Food

It’s not a particularly inventive list, and it’s hard not to do “bullet trains” and “food”—just out of necessity. Plus, as I mentioned in a previous post, the sumo scene isn’t so hot these days in the wake of a major scandal (involving the yakuza, among others).

So, if you’ve made the trip, feel free to use the comments section to fill in your own top five list. Don’t hold anything back!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sumo Wrestlers Would Bow in Shame (If They Could)

Due to their size, there are presumably many things a full-grown sumo wrestler can’t do effectively: drive a Mini Cooper, partake in a roller coaster ride, and clean certain body parts. Add a humble bow—the traditional Japanese act of contrition—to the list. Such repentant genuflections are in high demand these days as the sport of sumo has been rocked by one scandal after another.

And our friends in the yakuza are right in the middle of it! Would you expect anything less? There have always been whispers of a cushy relationship between sumo and the underworld, but verification emerged as many top fighters were alleged to have bet on other sports with yakuza as go betweens. News reports also indicate that the yakuza sponsor wrestlers who aren’t quite good enough to attract major corporate benefactors.

My favorite anecdote, however, is that 55 members of the Yamaguchi-gumi clan—
the mob family in Japan—sat front row at a tournament last year. They did so as an act of solidarity with their imprisoned brethren. The gangsters knew they would be on T.V., and they knew the jail birds would be eagerly watching one of the few T.V. broadcasts they are allowed to see.

yakuza chronicler Jake Adelstein told the A.P.: “Sumo is involved in organized crime because they've had a symbiotic relationship for years. The wrestlers and the yakuza have a macho admiration for each other. The yakuza by being seen with the sumo wrestlers, acquire `status' and the sumo wrestlers get money, booze, food, and women.” In the wake of the myriad scandals—which you can read about here—NHK has dropped coverage, arenas are half full, prizes are being withheld, and competitions are adorned with signs reading “Gangsters Keep Out.”

Based on the research I conducted for my book,
Tokyo Lives, it’s no surprise to me that the yakuza are waist-deep in sumo. It’s only a surprise that it took so long to be exposed.