Saturday, April 25, 2009

recommended reading: the ainu of japan

One of the things I struggle with when I translate an Ainu folktale, especially one targeted to young readers, is judging whether and how much to include explanatory notes. Such explanations can be woven into the text, or they can be in the form of footnotes, end notes, or appendices. Adding explanations has the potential of compromising the literary quality-- the magical flow-- of the story. But the whole point of Project U-e-peker is to make the world of Ainu culture and verbal expression accessible to the English-speaking world, and a certain amount of compromise must be accepted for the sake of accessibility. The folktales, charming enough on their own, become so much more meaningful with a little background information. A bit of preparatory reading can go a long way in helping a young person, or attending adult, to unlock their full significance. The Ainu of Japan, written for young readers by Barbara Aoki Poisson, fulfills this role perfectly. The writing is clear, accurate, engaging, comprehensive, and accompanied by illuminating photos. I recognize the value of this book all the more as I work on our most recent project, Iyomante: Meguru inochi no okurimono (see previous post), a storybook about the Ainu bear festival. The Ainu of Japan has several subsections that will surely clarify any confusion about the significance of the bear festival to the Ainu world view and way of life. I highly recommend it.