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What are words worth?
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Some people of Izumi Kyoka's age might feel ashamed about borrowing money from their parents. But the 36-year-old Japanese woman has to do it, even though she works hard.

Kyoka has translated six popular Chinese contemporary novels into Japanese over the past five years, though none of them have brought big paychecks and she is struggling to pay off her debts.

Even so she doesn't regret doing her job.

"To be a translator is to become a reader with a deep understanding of the book, and to enjoy it in a special way," she says in her Beijing home, furnished neatly in a Chinese style, with antique bookcases and a big wooden desk.

"I cannot make much money with book translations, but on the other hand not many people take up the profession because of low pay, so I can be outstanding in this field."

Kyoka studied Japanese literature at a woman's university in Tokyo. In 1991, she participated in a one-month exchange program and studied at the University of International Business and Economics, in Beijing.

"I was fascinated to find how similar Chinese people look to us, but how different their lives are."

Izumi Kyoka has translated six Chinese contemporary novels into Japanese.

The part-time translator at People's China recalls Beijing was experiencing a face-lift at the time. The combination of modern high-rises and historical buildings attracted her and she rejoined the program the following summer.

When she graduated in 1994, she decided to move to China, in spite of opposition from her parents.

After studying Mandarin for two years, she started work at a Japanese advertising company, in Beijing. After that she worked as a freelancer for some Japanese magazines and newspapers.

It was difficult for her to find a suitable apartment, however, because many Beijing landlords wouldn't rent their houses to a foreigner. Eventually she found one without a gas supply and a bathtub.

"For Japanese people, who are used to taking baths, the problem could have been unbearable. But I was young and optimistic and didn't worry on that account," she recalls with a smile.

In 2001, Kyoka met a Chinese author, Mao Danqing, who had lived in Japan for more than a decade and took an active part in Sino-Japanese cultural exchanges.

Impressed by her flowing and graceful Japanese writing style, Mao asked her if she would translate Niu Niu (by Zhou Guoping) into Japanese. It is a heartbreaking story about how the author looked after his baby girl, who died of eye cancer at 18 months.

"I hesitated at first as I had never done such a thing before. Then he told me something I would never forget: 'Translating a Chinese book into Japanese doesn't depend on your level of Chinese, it's about your ability to manage your native language and your passion of the job.'"

So, she took up the challenge and threw herself into her work.

Kyoka half-jokes that translating is like torturing the brain as there are so many Japanese words for each Chinese character. She often spends hours searching for exactly the right word. Accuracy is the key, she says.

"I enjoy the torture because it has enabled me to discover more about my mother tongue."

The Japanese edition of Niu Niu was published in 2003 and was warmly received. Her main targets are best-selling Chinese books like Crazy like Wei Hui (Xiang Wei Hui Yiyang Fengkuang by Wei Hui) and Spicy and Hot Three Kingdoms (Shuizhu Sanguo by Cheng Junyi). Kyoka thinks these books are good channels for Japanese people to understand what Chinese people are thinking about.

Currently, she is finishing a translation of Brothers (Xiongdi by Yu Hua) and will soon start on Double Mono (Shuangsheng Shuimang, by Tian Yuan, a Chinese movie star).

According to Kyoka, in Japan, few Chinese books were available at bookshops in the past and most of these were classics. Nowadays, her works are available in many major bookshops.

She said the great advantage of translating books in China is that she can meet up with the authors. Also, her Chinese friends help her out, which she always appreciates.

"We make friends not because they want to learn Japanese from me. Actually, they regard me as a Chinese person and keep me company. They even arrange dates for me, which makes me nervous," she says, and laughs.

(China Daily December 20, 2007)

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