Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Hot & Cold Hyakumeizan challenge (8)


Travelogue continued: over a cup of green tea, we ask what kind of a book is Nihon Hyakumeizan anyway ...

December 1, Tokyo: deep in the concrete badlands of Akasaka, I’m sipping tea with two executives from a publishing company. They are sympathetic but, no, they can’t take on Project Hyakumeizan’s English version of Japan’s most famous mountain book.

Several publishers in English-speaking countries have also taken a look at “One Hundred Mountains of Japan”. One complained that it contained “too many obscure Japanese place names”. A more serious objection is that the book doesn’t fit into any single category, although it’s mixed from equal portions of travel, adventure, and literary essay.

In Japan, bookshops have solved that problem, if it is one, by giving the book a whole shelf – for Hyakumeizan itself and all its many spin-offs. Up to 20,000 copies of the original Japanese book are sold every year, more than four decades after it first appeared.

But the potential publishers of the English version have raised a serious question. What kind of book is this anyway? If pressed for an answer, one might turn to the Ontake chapter:

The more deeply you go into a long-held tradition, the more secrets and surprises it yields up. Mighty Ontake is like that. The mountain's inexhaustible treasury of riches is like some endless storybook with its pages uncut. As one follows the rambling plot along, one is always looking forward to reading more. Every page yields things never found in other books. Ontake is that kind of mountain.

Nihon Hyakumeizan is that kind of book.

References

The Hakusan chapter of “One Hundred Mountains of Japan”

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like this analogy. I hope publishers in English-speaking countries will understand this philosophy. It's a pity if they don't understand. They could earn a lot of money. 20,000 copies being sold in Japan every year!

Tom said...

They must be convinced! Wishing you the best of luck Captain! Plus my Japanese is nowhere near the level necessary to read the original... I'm desperately waiting!

Wes said...

too bad you can't combine the original and translation into one book, but I'd guess it'd end upm being over 400 pages!

hanameizan said...

Chatting to an elderly hiker at the top of a peak last weekend, I mentioned your book. He immediately replied there would be many Japanese who would want to read it in English. Keep persevering!

Chris (i-cjw.com) said...

Oddly, Hanameizan, I had just the same revelation last night. If just 10% of the annual readership of the Japanese version would like to read it in English, then you have a pretty solid run-rate. It would certainly do more for the state of English literacy in Japan than Harry Potter....

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Dear friends and fellow Hyakumeizan fans - thanks for your solidarity and support. We will try to get the book out of the door this year....

Tom said...

Just a thought, but have you ever contacted the authors/publishers of Lonely Planet's "Hiking in Japan"? They must have a few ideas at least. I know many people from short-visit tourists to Japanese residents who own that book.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Tom: many thanks for the suggestion - without mentioning any specific names, the translation has been run past the usual suspects in the English-language-books-about-Japan publishing sector - also some unusual ones - but it's fair to say that they find it difficult to assess the book because it doesn't fit into any known category, either in Japanese or in UK/US publishing terms. However, if any publisher is reading this and would like to discuss terms, please get in touch. We're all confident on this blog that "One Hundred Mountains of Japan" will be the publishing sensation of the year. In its category, of course...

Kamoshika Bob said...

Put me down for four copies!

I'm sure you've covered all the bases, but I'm curious to know how many (and which) publishers put out the original book, and what their responses have been to your English translation. If a side-by-side version is not feasible, perhaps they could market the original and the English in a two-volume set.

So what category did Craig MacLachlan's book fit into? Was it Tuttle that published that? Anybody know how many copies that sold? I only saw one copy at Heiando in front of Nagano Station, and I left it with my brother in the US.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Kamoshika Bob: many thanks for your solidarity and, even more, for your advance order - very motivating! As for your question, Hyakumeizan is currently published by Shinchosha, the original publisher, in one edition and by Asahi Shinbunsha in two editions (a paperback and a more or less monthly illustrated serial edition). But both companies limit themselves mainly to Japanese books. As for Craig MacLachlan, he was published by Yohan International, which was really a book distributor rather than a publisher. It's since gone out of business....

Yubi said...

Put me down for at 1 copy (at least)!
Please keep persevering!
In bocca al lupo!

Peter Skov said...

I wonder if Fukuda faced the same problem. Probably not. As I understand, around his time many people were coming up with "100" place lists and even a compilation of the 100 most beautiful or best mountains in Japan had been attempted or proposed at least once before.

As much as I enjoy spending an hour to read three paragraphs of Japanese with an electronic dictionary at my side, the English translation would be very welcome.

Peter Skov said...

Hmm... my comment is not showing. Maybe it's around here somewhere...

Well, in addition, when I approached Kodansha International with my idea, they said that their market was mostly in the U.S. and a book about Japanese mountains was not likely to get much interest over there. But my target is the market here, and in my proposal letter I have mentioned that one target audience is Japanese people who enjoy studying or reading English.

So keep up the fight!