Monday, March 31, 2014

Ground Zero on Dear Miss Breed

My friend in the Tokyo suburbs brought me unexpected news. A small fire flickered in his town to read Dear Miss Breed, the story of a humane San Diego librarian who kept sending books and miscellaneous items to the Japanese American children in the concentration camps in America during World War II. I was told that a group of women who were intrigued by the story started the project.

I have no idea how it developed, but my friend probably made some reference to the book in his club talk or by some unexplained circumstances. They decided to read the book in English. They searched for Joanne Oppenheim's book published by Scholastic New York. They found only one copy at the National Diet Library in Tokyo. The inconvenience was that the city library had to serve as an intermediary and the book could not leave the city library. It had to be read at the library premises under supervision of a city librarian or staff member. Lately, there have been reports of book vandalism in libraries of Anne Frank's Diary for some reason. And then there was the National Diet Library lender time limit. So my friend reported that regretfully the book had to be returned without reading all of it.

I am keeping a few copies of the Japanese translation myself but gave away all of my English books to friends who helped me with the translation, and to the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni librarian who called me with her interest in obtaining a copy. I'm getting another copy myself, but not right away.

I looked through my old files and found a statement I made back in 2006, the year Joanne published Dear Miss Breed from Scholastic. Yes, my motivation was for the benefit of young Japanese readers who were unable to read it in English. I'm glad that I went back to ground zero of my Dear Miss Breed project. Thank you, ladies and my friend, who relit a fire again that originally inspired this project.

To whom it may concern,

This letter is to announce that I am now determined to translate Joanne Oppenhiem's "Dear Miss Breed" into Japanese for young readers to know the powerful story of Miss Breed. I look forward to the day when Japanese boys and girls acquire English language skills and can fully appreciate the author's original context.

I want Japanese readers to know, while they are as young as Miss Breed's children, that there was a remarkable librarian, Miss Breed, who loved the young disciplined Japanese Americans and gave them strength and inspiration while they were confined and isolated in the remote concentration camp during World War II. Access to the collections of touching letter writing by Miss Breed children will surely move the hearts of young Japanese readers.

Soon after "Dear Miss Breed" was published in April 2006, I expressed to both author and publisher, my desire to translate this most important book into Japanese. The publisher replied in June stating that I had to go through the Japanese book underwriter/publisher. I had a number of publishing houses in mind, but I realized that they would immediately ask for the manuscript, which I didn't have. I knew translation without a publisher's endorsement was risky, but I felt such a strong commitment to those whose letters I wished to translate. There is a Japanese saying "Knowing what is right without participating in it betrays one's cowardice". I am aware that there is a risk of losing some things in the translation.

I simply desire that the late Miss Breed receive recognition in Japan, as well as authors of letters who are still alive. I spoke with Clara Breed in the late 1980s, in the last stage of her life, when she was working as a substitute secretary for the San Diego Japanese Friendship Garden where I served as a Board member along with Joe and Elizabeth Yamada. Therefore, I can attest to the modesty and sincerity of Miss Breed. I met Ben Segawa and the late Tetsu Hirasaki through my membership in the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego.

Translating and publishing "Dear Miss Breed" is my thank-you to the Japanese American community who supported the Japanese Friendship Garden and other projects I worked on intimately, including Minato Gakuen, a Saturday School for the Japanese expatriate children in the San Diego area.

Fortunately I have found a working partner who has greatly enhanced the attached sample translation through Page 16. I wish to complete the translation by the end of this year.

Your opinions or comments on my ambitious self-declaring venture will be greatly appreciated.


Rio Imamura

I wrote this in 2006, nearly eight years ago. How times flies! My objective was to alert the author, Joanne Oppenheim, and her publisher, Scholastic. I knew they wouldn't be persuaded unless guaranteed by a Japanese underwriter/publisher. I did all the promotion myself, sending a sample translation and the introduction of Dear Miss Breed which appeared in San Diego Magazine, and got a hit with one medium-sized publisher, a very cooperative 'Kashiwa'.

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