Skip to main content

The Translation of Working-Class Speech and Culture in Japanese Translations of Robert Westall’s Novels Set in North–East England


Robert Westall (1929–1993) was one of the most successful British children’s writers in the latter half of the twentieth century. However, his novels often provoked controversy in Britain because of his inclusion of working-class language and culture in children’s books. This paper examines how such “controversial” working-class dialogues are translated in Japan, where his novels are particularly popular. This paper explores Japanese translations of Westall’s novels published between 1980 and 2009, with a particular focus on three novels set in north-east England in the 1940s: The Machine-Gunners (1975; Japanese translation, 1980), Fathom Five (1979; Japanese translation, 2009), and The Kingdom by the Sea (1990; Japanese translation, 1994). Examination of these translations, which were produced during different economic periods in Japan, will contribute to understanding the cultural and political roles of translators and of children’s literature, as it reveals the hegemonic process of how working-class culture is reduced and how gender stereotypes, as well as normative middle-class culture, are reinforced through translation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. In the latter half of the twentieth century, roughly one third of children’s fiction published in Japan was translated (Kodomo no Hon Honyaku no Ayumi Kenkyukai, 2002, p. 255).

  2. In regard with the target oriented translation strategy, Cathy Hirano, a Japanese-to-English translator, states that “it is the differences in writing style that are a challenge for the translator” (Hirano, 2006, p. 226), According to Hirano, due to the different literary conventions, “direct translations of Japanese into English are often frustrating to read because they come across as emotional, even childish, and without any point or conclusive ending” for American readers (p. 226).

  3. For a detailed examination of adaptation and retelling of foreign children’s literature in Japan, see Sato (1987).

  4. In this paper, when the reference is in Japanese, Japanese names are given in the traditional format, with family name first.

  5. The vivid depictions of violence were not controversial in Japan, probably because many Japanese children’s books featuring death and violence during World War II had already been published by 1980.

  6. A pseudo-Tōhoku dialect is a speech style which “strongly resembles stigmatized Toohoku dialect” (Hiramoto, 2009, p. 249) and yet differs from real Tōhoku dialect in certain features. A pseudo-Tōhoku dialect, which is associated with an image of uneducated country folk, is typically used for dialogues of Black slaves and the working-class in translations; as Hiramoto (2009) states, pseudo-Tōhoku dialect “reinforces linguistic inferiorization of” such minorities (p. 249). According to Nakamura (2013), regional dialects used in Japanese translations are more often pseudo-regional dialects, which are a hybrid of several dialects in totally different regions (pp. 57–60).

  7. A notable exception is the Japanese translation of Blitzcat, in which elderly farmers in Coventry speak a broad pseudo-regional dialect, which blends characteristics of several regional dialects (Westall, 1998/1989, pp. 105–163).

  8. In the last two decades, Japanese women’s language has frequently been discussed by scholars from feminist perspectives. For the ideological and political construction of Japanese women’s language and its history, see Inoue (2006) and Nakamura (2007).

  9. The persistence of the tendency to adopt feminine women’s language in Japanese translations of children’s literature is pointed out by Hiroko Furukawa (2015), who analyses three versions of Japanese translations of Anne of Green Gables, published in 1952, 1993, and 1999, and concludes that frequency of use of feminine forms in Anne’s conversations was not significantly reduced in the 45 years between 1952 and 1999 (p. 306).

  10. According to Furukawa (2010), even though male translators tend to “overuse women’s language” (p. 194), female translators, who know the gap between real everyday female speech and the typical women’s language, also use women’s language, even for translations of contemporary novels, because this is the convention (Furukawa, 2010, pp. 191–194).


  • Alvstad, Cecilia (2010). Children’s Literature and Translation. In Yves Gambier (Ed.), Handbook of Translation Studies, vol. 1 (pp. 22–27). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Aramaki, Sōhei. (2016). Gakureki no Kaisōsa wa Naze Umareruka. Tōkyō: Keisōsha.

  • Dalrymple, Nolan. (2009). “North-east Childhoods: Regional Identity in Children’s Novels of the North East of England.” Ph.D. Thesis, Newcastle University.

  • Furukawa, Hiroko. (2010). Rendering Female Speech as a Male or Female Translator: Constructed Femininity in the Japanese Translations of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’ Diary. In Antoinette Fawcett, Karla L. Guadarrama Garcia and Rebecca Hyde Parker (Eds.), Translation: Theory and Practice in Dialogue (pp. 181–198). London: Continuum.

  • Furukawa, Hiroko (2015). Intracultural Translation into an Ideological Language: The Case of the Japanese Translations of Anne of Green Gables. Neohelicon, 42, 297–312.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gaubatz, Thomas Martin. (2007). Shōsetsu ni okeru Beigo Hōgen no Nihongo-yaku ni tsuite. In Kinsui Satoshi (Ed.), Yakuwarigo Kenkyū no Chihei (pp. 125–158). Tōkyō: Kuroshio Shuppan.

  • Haga, Tōru. (2000). Hajimeni: Honyaku no Mondai no Omoshirosa, Taisetsusa. In Haga Tōru (Ed.), Honyaku, to Nihonbunka. (pp. i-ix). Tōkyō: Kokusaibunka Kōryū Suishin Kyōkai.

  • Hashimoto, Kenji. (2020). <Kakusa> to <Kaikyū> no Sengoshi. Tōkyō: Kawaide Shobō.

  • Hiramoto, Mie (2009). Slaves Speak Pseudo-Toohoku-ben: The Representation of Minorities in the Japanese Translation of Gone with the Wind. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 13(2), 249–263.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hirano, Cathy (2006). Eight Ways to Say You: The Challenge of Translation. In Gillian Lathey (Ed.), The Translation of Children’s Literature, (pp. 225–231). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inoue, Ken. (2005). 「Daisan no Bungaku」 toshite no Honyaku Bungaku. In Anzai Tetsuo, Inoue Ken, Kobayashi Akio (Eds), Honyaku wo Manabu Hito no Tameni (pp. 177–199). Kyōto: Sekaishisousha.

  • Inoue, Miyako (2003). Speech without a Speaking Body: “Japanese Women’s Language” in Translation. Language & Communication, 23, 315–330.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Inoue, Miyako. (2006). Vicarious Language: Gender and Linguistic Modernity in Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, P.S., Seven children’s librarians (1976). Bad Language Honoured. Library Association Record, 78(10), 497.

    Google Scholar 

  • Joosen, Vanessa (2010). True Love or Just Friends? Flemish Picture Books in English Translation. Children’s Literature in Education, 41, 105–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kinsui, Satoshi (2003). Vācharu Nihongo Yakuwarigo no Nazo. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten.

  • Klassen, Jon. (2011). Doko Ittan. [I Want My Hat Back]. Trans. Hasegawa Yoshifumi. Tōkyō: Kureyonhausu.

  • Klassen, Jon. (2012/2011). I Want My Hat Back. London: Walker Books.

  • Kodomo no Hon Honyaku no Ayumi Kenkyukai. (2002) (Ed.). Zusetsu Kodomo no Hon Honyaku no Ayumi Jiten. Tōkyō: Kashiwa Shobō.

  • Koyano, Atsushi (1997). Chokuyaku kara Choyaku he. In Kawamoto Koji and Inoue Ken (Eds.), Honyaku no Houhou, (pp. 217–229). Tōkyō: Tōkyōdaigaku Shuppankai.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lathey, Gillian (2006). Introduction. In Gillian Lathey (Ed.), The Translation of Children’s Literature: A Reader, (pp. 1–12). Multilingual Matters.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lathey, Gillian. (2016). Translating Children’s Literature. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Matsuoka, Ryōji. (2019). Kyoiku Kakusa: Kaisō, Chiiki, Gakureki. Tōkyō: Chikuma Shobō.

  • Nakamura, Momoko. (2007). “Onna Kotoba” wa Tsukurareru. Tōkyō: Hitsuji Shobō.

  • Nakamura, Momoko. (2013). Honyaku ga Tsukuru Nihongo. Tōkyō: Hakutakusha.

  • Ninomiya, Atsumi. (2007). Kakusa Shakai no Kokufuku: Saraba Jiyūshugi. Tōkyō: Yamabuki Shoten.

  • Nohara, Kayoko. (2018). Translating Popular Fiction: Embracing Otherness in Japanese Translations. Bern: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Sullivan, Emer. (2005). Comparative Children’s Literature. Trans. Anthea Bell. London: Routledge.

  • Ōsawa, Yoshihiro. (1997). Tadashii Honyaku to wa. In Kawamoto Kōji, Inoue Ken (Eds.), Honyaku no Hōhō (pp. 129–142). Tōkyō: Tōkyōdaigaku Shuppankai.

  • Sato, Motoko. (1987). 「Ie Naki Ko」 no Tabi. Tōkyō: Heibonsha.

  • Sato, Motoko. (2002). Honyaku no Samazama. In Zusetsu Kodomo no Hon Honyaku no Ayumi Jiten (pp.16–19). Tōkyō: Kashiwa Shobō.

  • Sato, Motoko (2015). Kiro ni Tatsu Honyaku Jidō Bungaku Sōsho: 1960 nendai Kohan no Fukyū to Hakyū. Chiba Daigaku Kyōikugakubu Kenkyū Kiyō, 63, 410–418.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sato-Rossberg, Nana, and Wakabayashi, Judy. (2013/2012). Introduction. In Nana Sato-Rossberg and Judy Wakabayashi (Eds.), Translation and Translation Studies in the Japanese Context (pp. 1–10). London: Continuum.

  • Shavit, Zohar. (2009/1986). Poetics of Children's Literature. Athens, Georgia: Georgia University Press.

  • Shimoda-Netley, Noriko. (1992). The Difficulty of Translation: Decoding Cultural Signs in Other Languages. Children’s Literature in Education, 23 (4), 195-202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Takiuchi, Haru. (2017). British Working-Class Writing for Children: Scholarship Boys in the Mid-Twentieth Century. Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Tanaka, Mihoko. (2009). Aspects of the Translation and Reception of British Children’s Fantasy Literature in Postwar Japan: with Special Emphasis on The Borrowers and Tom’s Midnight Garden. Tōkyō: Otowa-Shobō Tsurumi-Shoten.

  • Triggs, Pat. (1983, January). Authorgraph No.18: Robert Westall. Books for Keeps 18, 12.

  • Tsuzukihashi, Tatsuo. (1976). Meiji-ki. In Nihon Jidō Bungaku Gakkai (Ed.), Nihon Jidō Bungaku Gairon (pp. 40–49). Tōkyō: Tōkyō Shoseki.

  • Tucker, Nicholas. (1989). Which Books for Which Children? Books for Keeps, 58, 28. Retrieved October 29, 2019, from

  • Westall, Robert. (1975). The Machine-gunners. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westall, Robert. (1979). How Real Do You Want Your Realism? Signal, 28, 34–46.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westall, Robert. (1980). Kikanjū Yōsai no Shōnentachi. [The Machine-Gunners]. Trans. Ochi Michio, Tōkyō: Hyōronsha.

  • Westall, Robert. (1990a). The Kingdom by the Sea. London: Methuen.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westall, Robert. (1990b). The Promise. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Westall, Robert. (1994a) Kurisumasu no Neko. [The Christmas Cat]. Trans. Sakazaki Asako, Tōkyō: Tokuma Shoten.

  • Westall, Robert. (1994b). Umibe no Ōkoku. [The Kingdom by the Sea]. Trans. Sakazaki Asako. Tōkyō: Tokuma Shoten.

  • Westall, Robert. (1998). Neko no Kikan. [Blitzcat]. Trans. Sakazaki Asako. Tōkyō: Tokuma Shoten.

  • Westall, Robert. (2000/1993). Falling into Glory. 1993. London: Mammoth.

  • Westall, Robert. (2002a/1979). Fathom Five. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

  • Westall, Robert. (2002b/1989). Blitzcat. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

  • Westall, Robert. (2005a). Kinjirareta Yakusoku. [The Promise]. Trans. Nozawa Kaori. Tōkyō: Tokuma Shoten.

  • Westall, Robert. (2005b). Kurisumasu no Yūrei. [The Christmas Ghost]. Trans. Sakazaki Asako, Tōkyō: Tokuma Shoten.

  • Westall, Robert. (2005c). Seishun no Ofusaido. [Falling into Glory]. Trans. Onodera Takeshi. Tōkyō: Tokuma Shoten.

  • Westall, Robert. (2007a/1991). The Christmas Cat. In Christmas Spirit (pp. 1–88). London: Catnip.

  • Westall, Robert. (2007b/1992). The Christmas Ghost. In Christmas Spirit (pp. 89–144). London: Catnip.

  • Westall, Robert. (2009). Suishin Gohiro. [Fathom Five]. Trans. Kanehara Mizuhito and Nozawa Kaori, Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten.

Download references


Portions of this manuscript were presented at the 25th biennial congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature, 28 October 2021. I would like to thank Editage [] for editing and reviewing this manuscript for English language.


This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant No. JP19K23045.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Haru Takiuchi.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Haru Takiuchi is associate professor at Aichi Prefectural University, Japan. He is the author of British Working-Class Writing for Children: Scholarship Boys in the Mid-Twentieth Century (Palgrave 2017).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Takiuchi, H. The Translation of Working-Class Speech and Culture in Japanese Translations of Robert Westall’s Novels Set in North–East England. Child Lit Educ (2022).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Robert Westall
  • English-to-Japanese translation
  • Translation of working-class speech
  • Japanese women’s language
  • Children’s literature