1. The title story in Stackable takes place in a Japanese office environment and certainly includes settings and situations that are distinctively Japanese. But the themes of the story are as universal as the appeal of its more surreal elements. Do you identify yourself as a writer of “Japanese literature,” or as writing for a given type of reader?
I’ve never felt particularly conscious of writing “Japanese literature.” I wrote “Stackable” for people who find aspects of their lives hard to deal with, but at the same time I also realized there isn’t anyone who doesn’t struggle with something in life so I suppose I was writing for an audience that seemed very narrow but was actually very broad. I did hope that young people, in particular, would enjoy the stories and kept that in mind as I thought about the book’s composition and cover design.
2. This summer you took part in the BCLT summer workshop as a writer-in-residence. As a translator yourself, what was it like to be translated?
It was a wonderful experience to watch first-hand as my own work was being translated. I feel that the act of translation is a kind of reading, and by watching the translation process unfold I could see how deeply the participants had read into the work and understood it. As a translator I have always worked alone so it was really inspiring to be able to see the process from the outside.
3. How do writing and translating differ for you, or how are they similar?
Insofar as both involve finding the most apt and effective words to convey the images that pop into my head, I find writing and translating to be very similar. When I write, it feels like being inside someone else’s head, so the very act of writing is a bit like translation, like listening carefully to the words of a stranger in order to take them down.
4. Many of your stories seem to be built around a structural device or a bit of word play. Where do your stories come from and how do they develop?
Sometimes a structural idea comes to mind around which I build a story and sometimes the whole thing comes to me in a moment of inspiration, like wordplay. One of the stories in the collection Stackable, “A Woman on the Verge of Marriage,” begins with a line that just popped into my head one day: “I went to visit a woman on the verge of marriage.” I then developed the rest of the story by imagining who such a woman might be. The kind of stories I want to write cause readers to think about something, either while they are reading or after they are done―stories that function as devices for generating ongoing thought. This sort of approach tends to result in structural ideas.
5. Do you identify particular works or writers of literature (or pop media sources) as models or influences?
What I write is influenced not only by books, movies, and music but also by the scenery, the things people say, and all the other elements of my life so far. Still, I tend to like works that inspire a new way of looking at the world and am drawn to stories that affirm the world’s diversity, so these are the kind of things I want to write.
6. What is your life like as a writer in Japan?
I write my own work, I read the work of others, and the day comes to an end.
7. What are you working on now?
My second collection of stories will be coming out early next year. It includes one called “Eiko’s Forest,” first published this summer in the Bungei literary magazine, that I wrote about the warped fantasyland of English-language education in Japan. I’m also working on a number of short stories and, although I can’t share the details, translating a novel by an American writer. A children’s book I wrote is also scheduled to be released in spring 2014.
Questions and translation from the Japanese by Hart Larrabee, participant in the Japanese-English workshop at the BCLT Summer School.