Yu Miri’s ‘Tokyo Ueno Station’

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The cover for Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, designed by Soraya Gilanni Viljoen.

Since I wrote my first list of Japanese women authors who ought to be translated back in 2013, I’m happy to say that a good number of those I recommended have now been published in English. Obviously, I can’t take credit for that, but it delights me in the same way that betting on a winning horse does—it might’ve been odds-on but still.

Better, though, is the fact that I’ve gotten to translate one of those authors myself—Yu Miri. My translation of Tokyo Ueno Station (『JR上野駅公園口』) is out April 2019 from Tilted Axis Press—almost six years after I first wrote about her here. It gives me a slight sense of vertigo to look back over the last half-decade.

Not long after I got the permission to translate Tokyo Ueno Station, Miri was invited to London by the Japan Foundation to speak about her life and work at an event with our publisher, Deborah Smith of Tilted Axis Press, and suddenly I would get the chance to meet the woman whose books I so loved. I agonized for hours about what to wear and got a new haircut over it.

We met at her hotel near Russell Square in the late morning and went off for an afternoon of rambling along the Southbank, through Borough Market and the Tate Modern, across the river to St. Paul’s, then down to Trafalgar Square on a vintage double-decker. The joy and pride I felt at showing Miri around my adopted city was dampened by the then-recent referendum result and the stories in the news that week about Arkadiusz Jozwik, the Polish man killed by a teen in Harlow. We sat by the river eating fish and chips, talking about the problems of identity, hate, and imperialism in our countries, and by the time we met with Deborah for a drink before the event, I felt like we’d known each other for ages.

That night, the venue was packed and I remember feeling then that something was in motion.

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Yu Miri

Miri proved to be an incredible partner in the translation, the platonic ideal of the author for most translators—happy to answer any question as soon as possible, yet always ending her response with the words, “I’ll leave it up to you to decide what to do.” The trust implicit in these words was almost too much to think about—at times it empowered me to act boldly; at other times, it froze me with indecision. But always it made me feel incredibly honored.

A few surprising things have come from my acquaintance with Miri.

One day, shortly after I moved to Tokyo almost two years ago, I received a book in the mail with a sticky note poking out. The book was Miri’s new collection of essays about Japanese society and the nation-state, and when I turned to the page indicated, I was stunned to see mine and Deborah’s names there. Indeed, Miri had written a full account of the day the three of us met, turning it into a short essay on hate crime in Brexit Britain and the construction of race within Europe. (Not long after, it was ruled during the trial that Jozwik’s death wasn’t a hate crime, I should note. Also that I was, and am, so happy that she made me sound much more intelligent in Japanese than I really do.)

And on a more personal note, when I got married last November, Miri kindly agreed to be a witness.

It’s hard for me to believe that Tokyo Ueno Station will be out in the world soon. Because for a few years now, it’s been the world I’ve lived in, an intimate space where Miri and I created something together out of our combined imaginations. Now the doors to that private world will be closed to me, something I feel strangely sad about.

But the instant those doors close for me a new set will open—to English readers. And I cannot wait to listen at the keyhole.



Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station can be ordered now directly from Tilted Axis Press. Support independent publishers and your local bookstore.

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