Monday, January 12, 2015

Big in Japan?

I just returned from giving a series of talks, interviews and book signings in Tokyo. Kinokuniya, the country's largest book seller, just published the Japanese translation of my book, Rising Son: A Father and Son's Bike Adventure Across Japan, which chronicles a 2,500-mile bicycle ride across the country with my 8-year-old son I did back in 2009. Here's what the English version looks like: 

And here's the Japanese version (available here):

Publishing a book feels like sending a child out into the world on her own. You do your best raising the child from baby to adult (the writing process), then hope everything turns out alright. The book has already received several very positive reader reviews in Japan, and three articles will come out this month from two major newspapers (Nikkei and Yomiuri) and a bicycle magazine (FunRide). I thought Kinokuniya did an excellent job with both the book jacket and the translation. Here's a pic of my family with the people most responsible for such a great product.
L to R: Arima-san (Manager at Kinokuniya in charge of my book), my wife Eiko, my son Sho, my daughter Saya and I, Sasamoto-san (literary agent at Japan UNI Agency), and Kojima-san (translator).

Kojima-san translated the book in about 3 months and, from all accounts, turned my prose into beautiful Japanese. He's in demand thanks to his high quality work, and I'm lucky that he was willing to take on my book. Sasamoto-san was my primary contact over the past year and patiently responded to all my requests for information and support. She was great to work with.

Arima-san read, fact checked and edited every word of the Japanese version of the book. She even tracked down the organizers of a sumo demonstration Sho and I happened across in the Japan Alps during our ride. Sho and I challenged the wrestlers, and the fiasco that ensued makes for a humorous story in the book (Hint: it's a bad idea to challenge a sumo wrestler). I didn't know the name of the town where the fiasco occurred or the sumo stable, but like a police detective, Arima-san was able to figure it out using my hazy memory of our general location and a few clues in photos I had taken. 

Arima-san put together last week's book signing event at Kinokuniya's flagship bookstore in Tokyo, and over 50 people attended. I gave a 45-minute presentation in Japanese, describing the bike trip across Japan and encouraging people in the audience to be adventurous. I'm not native fluent in Japanese. I speak with an American accent, and I make plenty of grammatical mistakes. But the audience was forgiving, and whenever I faltered, my wife Eiko stepped in to translate. In the Q&A, the first two questions were directed to my son, Sho. One questioner asked how the trip had affected him, and Sho said, "I learned not to give up when things get hard, a lesson that has been really useful when I play soccer." What a great answer! He sure knows how to make his dad feel proud. A YouTube video of the event is in the making, and I'll post the link when it's ready.  

Here are some pics:
Poster announcing the book signing event

Readers lined up waiting to get their book signed

My son Sho (on my left in this photo) signed books too. The guy on my right held the page open for me, then slipped a thin white piece of paper into the book so that the ink wouldn't smudge. This is the kind of customer-oriented detail you often see in Japan, and one of many reasons I like the country so much. 

My 8-year-old daughter Saya got bored during my talk and wasn't sure what all the fuss was about ("He's just my Daddy. No big deal."). She perked up, though, when a few people asked her to sign books too.

Here I am with my wife and trusty interpreter, Eiko.

Anyone who reads "Rising Son" knows about Saito-san (aka Mr. Saito). He's an important character in the book and has become our good friend. He lives in Yamagata, 3 hours away from Tokyo, but made the effort to attend the book signing event.

Eiko, Sho, and I got to meet with Takai-san, the President of Kinokuniya. I first met him at the LA Times Festival of Books nearly 2 years ago, and I'm honored that he thought my book was worthy of publication in Japan.

I also gave talks last week at Sophia University, to the Fletcher Club of Tokyo, and met with representatives from the Mayor's office in Chiba prefecture to discuss urban cycling. Here's a pic:

The meeting was organized by Watanabe-san, second from the right. He has helped many foreigners and locals alike discover the joys of cycling all over Japan.

I'll return to Tokyo March 23 - April 3 to give a series of talks at schools and businesses. I tell students that a kid can do a whole lot more than most adults think. And I encourage adults to enhance their personal and professional lives by being adventurous and embracing the value of discomfort. I can't wait to go back to Japan.

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