INTERVIEW WITH KAZUE DAIKOKU BY DENIS EMORINE
First of all, who are you, Kazue?
I am a publisher, an editor and a translator. Sometimes I work on web design as an editor and if it's needed I arrange and
mix the sound for audio works and photo movies. I am also in charge of the books distribution, sales promotion, shipping,
accounting, stock control ……, I do anything I can when needed.
I studied music and ballet for over ten years, and I worked in an advertising business as a copywriter and an editor for a
long time, so I am now using all the skills I have cultivated in my life.
Why did you create "Happano" a bilingual (Japanese-English) publishing house, in 1999? Is it well-known in Japan?
I had something to say, although I didn't know exactly what it was. It's difficult to express it in a few words. I felt
I had to do something to express myself. And I was looking for an alternative way, a way different from all the others in
Japan, not just in literature.
In 1999 I found two kinds of technology: one is the web on the internet as a place to express something, the other one is on
demand printing system to publish a small amount of book in paper.
I learned much about small publishing, on demand printing system and non-profit publisher from A Small Garlic Press, an
independent and non-profit poetry publisher in Chicago. Our first publication "tenement landscapes / New York apaato gurashi"
(English language haiku written by Paul David Mena) is the translation of their book. We published this book not only in
Japanese but also including the original English text. I thought having both languages in the same page was interesting,
and it could also interest readers. I intended to reveal all the text to the readers.
I had an intention and got the means to make it real, then I started a publisher on the internet with a few friends.
Happano became known little by little among people who are interested in an alternative way of thinking in the fields of
publishing, language, visual art, etc.. Our activities and publications have been introduced at the galleries of book stores
(in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya), and sometimes even by commercial magazines. Even so, we are still and will always be an independent
publisher which works mainly on the internet and sometimes publishes in paper but only up to 500 copies. I think the most
important thing for Happano is to convey our intentions and ideas, how we see the world, to people who are looking for some
alternatives, through our works. I don't think we are doing things that the majority of people are interested in.
We are aware of it.
Is it difficult for a woman nowadays to do such a thing in Japan?
No, I don't think so. Many women are working in unique, alternative ways in Japan. I sometimes work with them in some projects.
As a publisher, explain your choices. Are you open to all authors in the world or only Japanese and English speakers?
We are open to all authors, and all languages. I am much interested in works written in non-English language, but
unfortunately I only understand Japanese and English, so being translated into these languages is important for me to
start working. On the other hand I am also interested in English works by non-English speakers, called transborder
literature. I can work on contemporary literature from many countries in Asia, South America, West Africa, and many other
places only if the authors write in English. I am much interested in Chinese or Korean literature for example, but
unfortunately I can't understand them and connect directly with them unless they are written in Japanese or English.
What about the business, I mean selling the books in Japan and other countries?
It depends on the publications. Some books are selling very well and we reprinted some of them. Some books are
selling very slowly. But having both kinds of books (selling well or not) is important for us. We have planted seeds
of our intentions in the ground, they are the buds (coming out of all this). We sell our books in the USA, Spain,
Sweden, etc. In this case I don't care too much about sales themselves, I am satisfied with sharing our books with
people from different countries.
I know you are also a translator. What are the main problems to translate English into Japanese? Do
you have a staff for other languages?
I don't feel the difficulties of translation are problems, actually. I used to think in that way before, but not anymore.
I think the most important thing of translation is to convey what I receive from authors to people who can't read the
originals. I believe that basically all translators do their best to translate works properly.
We have a few collaborators (they are usually writers) and if we ask them to translate, if they like the work,
they will help us with their language abilities. We have Italian, French, Russian, Yiddish, Ainu, Swedish, Romanian,
Bengali…. writings on our website. The more collaborators we have, the bigger variety of works we can have.
Are you in touch with other publishers?
Yes, independent publishers in Japan and sometimes in other countries. We published an art book with a
Swiss publisher two years ago. I am sometimes asked to be interviewed by domestic publishers.
Are you also a writer?
Hummm, I don't think so. I do write sometimes when I think I need it, but I'm not a writer,
I just write when I have an idea in mind.
Are there many publishers in Japan? What kind? Are there many readers for poetry, short stories… for example?
There are many publishers in Japan: very big commercial ones, independent small ones, publishers of book stores,
art galleries, cosmetic companies, and even a bathroom facility company has its own publisher, which has a very
high quality, actually, and etc. Recently artists or designers, photographers, poets, etc sometimes start their
own publishers, this is a new movement.
There are many kinds of readers of all kinds of books in Japan. But, at the same time, I feel literature, especially
translation works from other languages, are not read more than before. Easy-to-read books are recently selling well
and getting more popular.
Let's talk about the fragments on your website. What is it exactly? Could you explain us?
We had this project several months after we started Happano. I wanted to have various kinds of writings on our Happano website.
I mean, we didn't want to pay attention only to professional writers' works, but also to non-professional writing.
I thought it would be interesting to show on our website fragments of letters, diaries, and other works written by
everyday people for private reasons, because these works were also important for art and life in general, and we didn't
have many chances to be in touch with them. Recently, we can find many blogs on the web and therefore it's easy to
access to such sort of writing.
* Fragments: http://happano.org/pages/fragments/index.html
In Europe, we often hear that Japan is completely under the American cultural and economic domination since the
end of the Second World War, especially with the English tongue. What is your opinion?
Yes, it's true, but at the same time it's not. I think it's not that simple. We are or, at least it seems to me,
like to be under the American politics, and may have a deep connection with American economic matters. One of my
friends says Japan is the 51st state of America.
But regarding the cultural matter, it's much more complicated. We have been influenced by many different cultures
and countries from long time ago. Not only from America. Japanese people have enjoyed and loved various kinds of
music, for example: chanson and French pops from France, canzone from Italy, flamenco from Spain, tango and bossanova
from Latin America, hula from Hawaii and sometimes country music from America. We are very familiar with all of them.
Not only music, but also literature, philosophy, architecture, fine arts, food, fashion…. Of course in Asia we were
much influenced by China and Korea in letters, craftworks, customs and manners, literature and thoughts too.
I don't think all English words we use everyday in Japan (e.g. strange English messages on T-shirts or a lot of
naming of products and apartments) can prove an American dominance in the culture of this country as a whole.
It's true that English is the most familiar language to Japanese people as we learn it for six years at school.
But in fact, most of Japanese people cannot speak English at all. They don't speak English like Swedish or Dutch
people. The Japanese feel English is very different from their language. Not only the language but
also the way of thinking.
Any last comments?
It's not easy to express all my thoughts in a few lines, as it may not be easy for the English speakers to understand what
I meant, but I hope they can get some of my ideas. And if you readers are interested in our works, please have a
look at our new publication which will be published in June, called "Town Dream / Dream Town --- Murals by Yukari Miyagi."
This is a photograph and drawing book on the temporary walls in Hiroo, Tokyo.