Acclaimed Japanese author Randy Taguchi's Fujisan will be released from AmazonCrossing next month.




Raj Mahtani, the translator of the book, has sent a letter to us to share his story.

Translating Fujisan

As a child, Mount Fuji was an exciting getaway to me, an escape into the green and airy wilderness far removed from the orderly, plastic confines of Yokohama city. My father, a free-spirited, traveling bard wearing the guise of a family man and silk exporter, would usher my brother and me on a sunny Saturday into the back seat of a brown, four-door Toyota Crown, as my mother prepared some “grasshopper-green” chutney sandwiches. Once she and the tasty morsels made their way to the passenger seat, my father would sing out a hymn to praise the Overseeing One in the sky prior to revving the engine and driving off southbound toward Shizuoka prefecture, home to the world’s most flavorful green tea leaves and Mount Fuji.

To pass the time on our two-hour road trip, Father would be crooning Indian classical ditties called ghazals, which were mostly philosophical musings about life's vagaries and the despair arising from self-pitying broken hearted romances. They seemed more fitting as soundtracks to sandstorm-swept desolate expanses of the Khyber Pass than to the straight and relatively narrow route down the sanitary tree-lined expanses of the Tomei Express Highway, one of Japan's many visible signs of the “economic miracle” that was gaining momentum back in those halcyon days. But as we approached the countryside, where the air was fresher, cooler, and crisper, Father would start singing one Bollywood number that served as the perfect soundtrack to the majestic sight of a rather unearthly mountain looming in the distance. The song was from a Hindi movie titled Aa Gale Lag Jaa (Come, Embrace Me) and the tune continues to occupy a special place in my heart as a song that celebrates the warm and fuzzy winsome magic, the sacredness, the “material and immaterial” beauty of Mount Fuji, Japan's one and only sacred peak that not only inspired monks and artists of yore, but also my father to faithfully salute the mountain every time he caught a glimpse of it, even while driving us kids to school.

Many years later, after doing my time as mostly a rush-job hack translator of marketing proposals, I came upon the good fortune of working for TranNet, a literary translation agency that used to be headquartered in Jinbocho, the heart of Tokyo's used-book stores and publishing houses, and came across the front cover of a book titled Fujisan. It featured a caricature of a wide-eyed girl, rendered in a style that was a cross between the one seen in a shojo manga and the psychedelic pop art style of Yellow Submarine. For this fan of Alice in Wonderland, the Beatles, and Haruki Murakami, it was love at first sight. I instantly envied the person who would get to translate this beauty and wished a plague on his or her house before moving on with my work-a-day life.

So you can imagine the Jolt-Cola surprise I experienced when that person I cursed turned out to be myself in the end, as AmazonCrossing, Amazon Publishing’s imprint dedicated to international literature, came knocking on my door. At the time I was just grateful that I actually still had a door that anyone could knock on. Really. It was such an exciting and woozy experience. But once the contract was signed, I was able to still my mind and spend some of the most memorable moments in my life up to now——about four months of it, in fact, losing myself in Ms. Randy Taguchi’s rarefied world populated by a disillusioned ex-cult follower trying to reengage with society while seeking refuge in the brightly lit, tabula rasa purity of the convenience store; three erudite teenagers desperate to catch a glimpse of the other side before they crossed their shadow lines into adulthood; a cynical Adonis who discovers truth and beauty in the life of a mysterious, aged hoarder residing near Mount Fuji; and a young nurse filled with remorse for working at an abortion clinic. I pretty much lived and breathed these characters, drawing on my method acting know-how I acquired during my college years to transmute them from one world to another. In short, I was acting on the page, with the great literary alchemists at AmazonCrossing illuminating the stage. In the end, my method acting had taken on an epic earnestness, immersing me so deeply into the world of Randy’s stories that I’m convinced I was climbing Mount Fuji together with the characters in the final story, Child of Light, as I was translating. You see, by the time I finished, my right foot was sprained and I had to limp my way to the clinic with a walking cane in hand. No joke. But I was elated nonetheless.

Another blessing that transpired in the course of translating Fujisan was actually getting to meet Randy herself. It’s one thing to think you know the author through her work and completely another to know her in person. But she was as amazing in person as she was on the page. In fact, she struck me as a modern-day Alice, full of wonder and curiosity, and very open to my out-of-the blue, leftfield suggestions. I was also thrilled to find out that Randy and I were pretty much on the same wavelength, discovering that, just like myself, she’s a card-carrying fan of David Lynch. Once that was settled, the direction for my translation in terms of tone and style was pretty much set in stone I think.

Without a doubt, Randy’s stories prioritize characterization over plot, just as many works of contemporary Japanese short fiction do. Perhaps this stylistic trait can be traced back to Japanese literature’s haiku roots, where the entire enterprise is geared towards stimulating your imagination than in delivering a sense of narrative closure: the staple of the three-act blockbuster fiction. But even so, in translating Fujisan I was also reminded of what Aristotle said about plot; namely that a good one is where the character is plot and vice versa. In this sense, I believe Fujisan——one of many of Randy’s works of deep explorations into the psyche of modern-day Japan, which is really a festive confluence of both Eastern and Western memes in my humble opinion——paints a vivid character portrayal of a majestic, snow-capped, ethereal mountain, sending out life-affirming signals to all who seek answers, gently singing, “Come, Embrace Me.”