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Diary: “Goodbye, our Pastels badges!”

I am translating This World Isn’t Made Two by Two by Nao-cola Yamazaki. This is my weekly translation diary.


Today I woke up feeling like I might be the perfect translator for this book. I mean, I loved it since I first read it last year, so much that I wrote a little about it here, and when I met with Yamazaki’s agent I certainly tried to give the impression that I would be the perfect translator for this book, but I didn’t quite believe it myself then. So have I just repeated it often enough that I’ve bought into my own hype?

(One of the best pieces of professional advice I’ve ever received is to buy into your own hype. Most days it works. I am a fan of elaborate forms of self-deception as substitutes for actual confidence – self-deception is far easier to come by.)

The protagonist, Shiori, and her friend Kamikawa-san were “both born in 1978 and were children in the ‘80s, when both the economy and culture were on the rise.” I suppose I can’t really relate to that, or only in a fun-house mirror way. I was born in 1987, on the other side of the world, and throughout my early childhood, Japan was a boogeyman, the economic force threatening America. Around the same time, Toyota was building a factory not far from where I was born, their first stand-alone plant in the US. In the same way that children around the world hear that learning English is the key to their futures, I was absorbing the idea that learning Japanese was the key to mine.

But the bubble burst and Japan wasn’t the future anymore. Except it was still my future. Throughout the ’90s, Japan was still the coolest. Shiori says, on the first page of the novel, “People say nothing much happened in the ‘90s. I don’t know if that’s true or not…” But she knows it’s not, and even if you weren’t aware of Shibuya-kei at the time, you can’t read this novel and fail to see just how exciting youth culture was then. Shiori and I share a deep love of Flipper’s Guitar, the Anglophile pop band that eventually spawned Cornelius. She says that she spent high school daydreaming about Kenji Ozawa, at one point she sits down and cries to Doctor Head’s World Tower (1991), and the climactic scene of the novel takes place to “Slide”, a song from their compilation album Colour Me Pop (also 1991).

Today’s realization was prompted by reaching a point in the novel where the protagonist and I are living eerily similar lives. In England it sounds almost like a tabloid accusation, but when Kamikawa-san tells Shiori, “This is the kind of country where even a slacker can live,” I see my own life reflected. She works part time so she can be a writer and goes out dancing in Shibuya with Kamikawa-san when she can; I work part time so I can be a translator and I go out dancing, to much the same music, with my boyfriend when I can. Tonight we’re going to the final How Does It Feel to be Loved? club night in Brixton, a night which has been either at the center or the periphery but always a part of my life since I moved to London, and I can’t help thinking how much fun Shiori would have if she came along tonight.

It’s nice when the people you work with are like friends. In my case, the people I’m working with are fictional, but Nao-cola Yamazaki’s written about them in such a loving way that it’s easy to forget.

So maybe I have bought into my own hype, but I don’t think so. And if anyone reading this has more indiepop coming-of-age novels they need translated, you know where to find me.


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