Being a Translator in Japan: An Interview with Louise Heal Kawai

Lead Louise Heal Kawai Being a Translator in Japan Savvy Tokyo Yakuza Moon

A translator of Japanese literature into English, Louise Heal Kawai originally comes from Manchester in the north of the UK, has lived in Texas and Nagoya, and now calls Yokohama home.

Her translation of Seventeen by Hideo Yokoyama was a finalist in the 2018 Believer Book Awards and longlisted for the 2019 Best Translated Book Award. Her next translation, the classic Japanese mystery The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo (featuring Detective Kindaichi) will be released in December 2019.

Savvy Tokyo caught up with Louise to find out more about her journey from teaching English and speaking zero Japanese to meeting famous authors and being nominated for translation awards.

What initially brought you to Japan?

I live in Yokohama, but I’ve only been in the Kanto area for four years. Before that, I spent around 20 years in Nagoya. I first came to Japan to teach English at a university in Nagoya, but after getting married I have followed my husband’s job transfers to Texas — and now to Yokohama.

What attracted you to translation as a career?

I’ve loved translating ever since secondary school in the UK (what would be a middle school in the US) where I studied French, German, and also Latin. Translating pieces into English was my absolute favorite part of the class, and by the time I was in university, I loved to read French and German literature.

However, career-wise, I started off as a teacher of English as a foreign language. It wasn’t until I decided to do an M.A. in Japanese Studies — and thoroughly enjoyed the translation and literature components of the course — that I began to feel that love of translation again.

A couple of years later I had to give up my teaching job when I moved to Texas with my family and translating was a perfect …continue reading