Game Lingo – 読み込む


Like 発売, 読み込む invites misreadings, here with the 読 character. I believe it can mean “read” in certain contexts, but it is more often translated as “load” as in “load saved data.” The most frequent pattern is 読み込み中, which is generally translated as “Loading…”.

Chillin’ Out

After two straight weekends of awesome globetrotting madness, I finally had a weekend to myself and could make use of a couple of terms my host mom in Nishiaizu taught me:

骨を休め – literally “rest one’s bones,” take a physical rest

羽を伸ばす – literally “spread one’s wings,” a similar pattern but also includes a mental rest aspect, and another alternative is…

鬼の居ぬ間に洗濯をする – literally “do laundry while the oni is away,” where oni = unpleasant boss-like person/situation that oppresses you

Get the scoop on these and other idioms at this awesome ことわざ dictionary.


With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2, 3.

Last week I showed you a passage from a Birnbaum translation that had missing sentences. This week it’s Rubin’s turn to go under the magnifying glass. Here is a section of his official translation of Norwegian Wood:

Three old women were the only passengers on the Sunday morning streetcar. They all looked at me and my flowers. One of them gave me a smile. I smiled back. I sat in the last seat and watched the old houses passing close by the window. The streetcar almost touched the overhanging eaves. The laundry deck of one house had ten potted tomato plants, next to which a big black cat lay stretched out in the sun. In the yard of another house, a little kid was blowing soap bubbles. I heard an Ayumi Ishida song coming from someplace, and could even catch the smell of curry cooking. The streetcar snaked its way through this private back-alley world. A few more passengers got on at stops along the way, but the three old women went on talking intently about something, huddled together face-to-face.

I got off near Otsuka Station and followed Midori’s map down a broad street without much to look at. None of the shops along the way seemed to be doing very well, housed as they were in old buildings with gloomy-looking interiors and faded writing on some of the signs. Judging from the age and style of the buildings, this area had been spared the wartime air raids, leaving whole blocks intact. A few of the places had been entirely rebuilt, but just about all had been enlarged or repaired in spots, and it was those additions that tended to look far more shabby than the old buildings themselves.

The whole atmosphere of the place suggested that most of the people who used to live here had become fed up with the cars and the filthy air and the noise and high rents and moved to the suburbs, leaving only cheap apartments and company flats and hard-to-move shops and a few stubborn holdouts who clung to family properties. Everything looked blurred and grimy as if wrapped in a haze of exhaust gas.

Ten minutes’ walk down this street brought me to a corner gas station, where I turned right into a short block of shops, in the middle of which hung the sign for Kobayashi Bookstore. True, it was not a big store, but neither was it as small as Midori’s description had led me to imagine. It was just a typical neighborhood bookstore, the same kind I used to run to on the very day the boys’ magazines came out. A nostalgic mood overtook me as I stood in front of the place. (Rubin, 64-65)

The final paragraph is the only one with missing lines, but I love this section of the book (partly because I love the neighborhood and the streetcar line) and wanted to give some of the development to the missing sentence. In the passage, the protagonist Toru makes his way to Midori’s family-run bookstore. She lives near Otsuka Station, a short ride on a streetcar (in reality the Arakawa Toden line that arcs northeast from Waseda through Otsuka and then down into Arakawa Ward) from Waseda University, the college Murakami attended and used as a model for the university in the novel. As Toru rides the streetcar to visit her he is assaulted by an array of sensory input. But Rubin leaves out the final sentence of the last paragraph, which in Japanese is:

どこの町にもこういう本屋があるのだ。(全作品, 98)

Norwegian Wood is one of the few works that has been translated into English by two different people, so we have the perfect opportunity to see two different sets of translation choices (by professionals, rather than my lousy efforts). In his translation for Kodansha International, Alfred Birnbaum renders this same section like this (I have bolded the additional sentence.):

The Sunday morning streetcar was passengerless except for a group of three old ladies, who sized up me and my narcissuses. One lady smiled at me. I smiled back and took a seat at the back to watch the old houses swing past. At times the streetcar practically scraped the eaves. Here a glimpse of ten potted tomato plants on a platform for hanging laundry, where a cat lay sunning itself, there children blowing soap bubbles in a back yard. Somewhere an Ayumi Ishida tune was playing. The smell of curry drifted by as the streetcar threaded an intimate course through the backstreet neighborhoods. A few more passengers boarded at stops en route, scarcely noticed by the old ladies, who huddled together, tirelessly chatting away.

I got off near Otsuka Station and followed Midori’s map down a singularly unremarkable main street. None of the shops along the way seemed to enjoy much turnover. All the stores were old and dark inside. The characters on some signs were not even legible any more. I could tell from the age and style of the buildings that this area hadn’t been bombed in the war. That’s why these shops were still there. Additions and partial repairs only made the buildings more dilapidated.

Most people had left the area to escape the cars and smog and noise and high rents, leaving behind only run-down apartments and company housing and businesses that proved difficult to uproot, or else locals who stubbornly stuck to their longtime residences and refused to move. A haze hung over the place, probably from car exhaust, making everything seem vaguely dingy.

A ten-minute walk down desolation row, I came to a corner gas station, where the map had me turn right into a small shopping street, and midway down that I made out the Kobayashi Book Shop sign. Not a very big bookstore, granted, but not quite as small as I’d imagined from Midori’s description. Your ordinary everyday neighborhood bookstore. The kind of bookstore I’d run to as a boy to buy that latest, anxiously awaited kiddy-zine the day it hit the stands. Somehow, just standing in front of the Kobayashi Book Shop made me feel nostalgic. Surely every town (町) must have a bookstore like this. (Birnbaum 1, 125-126)

The sentence is a throwaway detail, but it does include the Japanese 町, which I wrote about briefly after my thesis rewrite went up on Neojaponisme. In Murakami’s early work, the 街 (まち, machi) is a central theme. Machi literally means town, and Murakami uses it in his early novels to refer to the place where the narrator, the legendary boku, grew up. All of his past is tied up with the machi and it exerts a certain level of control over him because it is where all his memories come from. From Hear the Wind Sing to A Wild Sheep Chase, boku goes through a process of growth into adulthood and a separation from his hometown. He eventually forsakes it, cutting ties with the past and looking toward the future. Nothing is ever named, but the machi strongly resembles Kobe, Murakami’s own hometown.

In Norwegian Wood, both boku and the machi have names, and perhaps this is why Murakami chose 町 rather than the 街 as in his early works. Boku is Toru Watanabe, a student in Tokyo during the turbulent late-60s. Toru is not dissimilar from the old boku. He has the same tastes in music and literature and he spends his time reading novels and watching movies instead of participating in political demonstrations or study groups with activists who are caricatured throughout the novel. The machi in this novel is Kobe, also similar to the machi from the first three novels. Toru grew up there, but when his best friend Kizuki commits suicide he starts to feel a desire to leave. Toru says “I had to get away from Kobe at any cost,” and shortly after that notes “I just need to get away from this town (machi)” (Rubin 24-25). Toru “escapes” Kobe for Tokyo in the same way that the boku from Murakami’s first three novels escapes the anonymous machi for Tokyo.

Escaping to Tokyo also gives Toru the opportunity to establish his own emotional center to the world, a new place that will have new memories associated with it. But it isn’t that easy. The machi he finds after moving to Tokyo are divided, most notably by the two female protagonists. Rubin has noted how Naoko and Midori represent a dichotomy between life and death (Rubin, Music of Words 159). This is further represented by the “machi” they inhabit. Naoko, after a break down, flees from Tokyo to a regimented, sterile sanatorium deep in the hills of Kyoto. Midori’s machi is the opposite – although old and somewhat grimy, it is filled with different smells, sounds and flavors. It’s strongly connected to Toru’s own past (as well as Japan’s collective history), which might explain why he seems confused when talking to Midori at the end of the book; Toru’s process of self-discovery has lead him from his machi hometown to Tokyo, out to the isolation of Naoko’s sanatorium, back to the chaos of late-60s Tokyo, off wandering after Naoko’s death, and then after all of this he still doesn’t know where he is. Judging from the tone of the novel, his attempts to return to Midori and her familiar (nostalgic) machi must have been futile. Otherwise why write the book? The novel’s final, hopeless line is:

僕はどこでもない場所のまん中から緑を呼びつづけていた。(全作品, 419)

号外 – 1Q84 Book 3, Summer 2010 (Update)

12 hours on a plane. What better to do than translate some Murakami? I used a bit of my time to translate part of the Mainichi Shimbun’s new three-part interview with Murakami. I stopped right around where the spoilers started, so you can read safely:

Haruki Murakami Talks 1Q84 – Exclusive Interview 1 – “Book 3 by next summer”

In May the author Haruki Murakami released the full-length novel 1Q84 (Book 1, Book 2; Shinchosha, 1890 yen each), which has since become a huge talking-point. Murakami recently responded to the Mainichi Shimbun’s interview. The story features a layered plot that depicts “the struggle between individual and the system” set in Japan in the 1980s. For the first time, Murakami makes it clear that he is in the process of writing an additional third part. Mainichi asked his for his thoughts as a writer.

First of all “1985”

Currently both volumes of 1Q84 have gone through 18 printings and achieved million-seller status, with Book 1 selling 1,230,000 copies and Book 2 1,000,000 copies. There has been an extraordinary response, including, among other things, the publication of several books of commentary.

“I think that I have about 150,000 – 200,000 established readers for my novels. When it’s around that many, I get kind of a sense of how my work is being received. When it gets up to 500,000 or 1,000,000, it’s really hard to tell who is reading it and how they feel about it.”

The mysterious title is based on George Orwell’s novel 1984 (’49), but there is a secret story behind it.

“At first I was going to title it 1985. But while I was writing it, I talked with Michael Radford, the director of the movie version of Orwell’s work, and learned that the British writer Anthony Burgess was writing a book called 1985. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to change it to 1Q84, and when I finished writing, I searched around on the Internet and realized that Akira Asada had actually released a music cassette/book set under the same title. At that point the galley revisions were already underway, so I let Asada-san know. And so that’s how it eventually ended up like it did.”

It’s been three months since the publication. Can we ask what you think of the criticism you’ve received?

“I haven’t read any at all. I don’t ever read it, but I took special care this time since I’m writing Book 3. I want to be able to focus on writing from a fresh state of mind. I thought it would be totally finished when I completed 1 and 2. And that’s what I was thinking when I structured it on Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” – that it would be complete with two volumes. But after a little while, I started to feel like I had to write 3. I wondered how the rest of the story would unfold. As far as the timeframe, I’d like to put it out as quickly as possible, so I’m thinking next summer as a goal.”


Oops over here, too. Anthony Burgess died back in 1993, and his book 1985 was written back in 1978. You can go check the Japanese yourself and figure out what I did wrong. If you want to see another translation of the interview, check out this link.

Keep Your Eyes Open – Assistant Vegetables

I was back in Fukushima over the weekend to carry a mikoshi in a festival. I had a really good time. It’s always nice to get out of the city for a few days, eat a few home-cooked meals at my homestay family’s place, and sleep on a real bed.

While I was there I noticed the calendar on the wall:


It’s produced by the town’s health/public welfare center. Up until about 10 years ago or so, supposedly the diet in my town was extremely high in salt. They started promoting a more healthy diet by making better school lunches, giving 100万円 to anyone who lives to be 100 (although I heard they were going to get rid of this), and by giving out calendars with healthy recipes. I used to have one of these on the wall of my apartment.

I looked a little closer and saw this:


Not only does it have 主食, it’s got 主菜 – you’re main vegetable. It also shows 副菜, which is so much fun to translate poorly. Assistant vegetable, auxiliary vegetable, vice-vegetable. Take your pick.

Speaking of healthy eating, I’ve been doing quite a bit myself this past month, along with jogging just about every day. This was to ensure I did not experience death by mikoshi and so that I have a good excuse to fatten myself up back in the States next week. I’m heading to New York on Thursday for the holidays, so the next post will be Friday after I get back. Have a good Silver Week.

Spinning Around and Around

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2.

It’s no secret that my favorite of Murakami’s novels is Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I’ve also made it pretty clear that Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round is my favorite short-story collection and, in my opinion, the turning point of his early career. I found Hard-boiled in a small New Orleans bookstore called Beaucoup Books in the summer of 1999. Sadly it closed after Katrina. Dead Heat I bought at a used bookstore near Waseda University at some point in 2003. I took it with me on a month-long trip to Southeast Asia in February 2004, determined to spend my free time reading Japanese if I was going to be traveling outside of Japan. It was the first Japanese book I ever slogged through. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to spend the next year writing my senior thesis about it.

As I started to research the collection, it came as a surprise to discover that both Hard-boiled and Dead Heat were published in 1985; Hard-boiled in June and Dead Heat in October. Murakami actually serialized the Dead Heat stories under the title “A View of the Town” from ’83 to ’84, but a year later he added the story “Lederhosen” along with a substantial introduction for the hardback collected edition. The central image of the introduction is the dead heat on a merry-go-round: life never gets us anywhere – life in modern society is strange, and man is helpless for the most part. At least that’s the way Murakami claimed to feel after recounting the allegedly true (and later admittedly fictional) stories in the collection. The best we can hope for is to share our own strange stories with each other and develop a sense of empathy.

I dug it. Still do. So you can imagine how excited I was when on March 6th 2005, at the height of thesis madness, I discovered this passage from Alfred Birnbaum’s translation of Hard-boiled that links the two works:

She rolled down her panty hose as a bluesy Ray Charles came on with Georgia on My Mind. I closed my eyes, put both feet up on the table and swizzled the minutes around in my head like the ice in a drink. Everything, everything seemed once-upon-a-time. The clothes on the floor, the music, the conversation. Round and round it goes, and where it stops everyone knows. Like a dead heat on the merry-go-round. No one pulls ahead, no one gets left behind. You always get to the same spot.

“It seems so long ago,” I said, my eyes still shut.

“Of course, silly,” she said mysteriously, taking the glass from my hand and undoing the buttons of my shirt. Slowly, deliberately, as if stringing green beans.

“How’d you know?”

“I just know,” she said. She put her lips to my bare chest. Her long hair swept over my stomach. Eyes closed, I gave my body over to sensation. I thought about the suzuki, I though about the nail clippers, I thought about the snail on the cleaners’ front stoop. I opened my eyes and drew her to me, reaching around behind to undo the hook of her brassiere. There was no hook.

“Up front,” she prompted.

Things do evolve after all. (364)

Whoa, I thought. There’s the “dead heat” image, right there on page 364. I quickly busted out my Japanese copy to see what exactly was going on:










I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. There are sentences missing! And not just any sentences. The single most important sentence in the entire book had been left out. I opened a new document and started to translate, sending it to another Murakami otaku shortly thereafter. I give you that translation unedited with the caveat that I produced this four years ago, so you must be gentle. It’s not bad, but there are definitely things I would change now. It does represent the Japanese sentence structure relatively effectively. I have bolded the sentences that are not included in the published translation:

Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind” was playing as she took off her stockings, rolling them up into balls. I closed my eyes, put both legs on the table and tumbled time inside my head the same way I was swirling my whiskey on the rocks. It was like anything and everything had happened once before long ago. The discarded clothes, the background music, our whole conversation…it all kept changing little by little. But there wasn’t really any meaning to the changes. Everything spins around and around but always arrives at the same point. Like a dead heat on a merry-go-round. No one wins, no one loses, and you always end up in the same place.

“It feels like anything and everything happened a long time ago,” I said with my eyes closed.

“Of course,” she said. Then she took the glass from my hand and slowly undid the buttons of my shirt, one by one, as if she was podding string beans.

“How do you know?”

“‘Cause I know,” she said. Then she put her lips to my bare chest. Her long hair draped over my stomach. “We all happened one time long ago. We’re just spinning around and around. Right?”

I kept my eyes closed and let the sensations of her hair and lips run through my body. I thought about the sea bass, I thought about the nail clippers, I thought about the snail on the bench in front of the Laundromat. The world is full of little tricks.

I opened my eyes, gently pressed her against my body and circled my hand around her back to undo the hook on her bra. There was no hook.

“In front,” she said.

The world is definitely evolving.

The first and last of the bolded sentences are neither here nor there, but those three in the middle are critical. At this point in the novel, Murakami has spent several hundred pages setting up his two narrators – watashi and boku in the Japanese – and slowly, subtly developing the connection between the two. We know that the narrator of the End of the World is basically the internal presence of the narrator of the Hard-boiled Wonderland of near-future Tokyo. Certain things – paperclips, songs – are able to cross the barrier between the two worlds and make it into the narrator’s subconsciousness. Both of them are involved with librarians, but it’s never clear if the Wall of the End of the World precludes any true interaction between Self and Other.

This passage provides the answer. The narrator, facing his own death in a matter of days, takes a moment to enjoy the array of sensual input that surrounds him – booze, music, the touch of his girlfriend. He thinks of a “dead heat on a merry-go-round,” a representation of how reality feels to him, and then, without any prompting at all, the girlfriend says exactly what he was thinking to himself: we’re just spinning around and around. It would be easy to write this off as coincidence, but I prefer to read it as Murakami making the statement that there can be real connection between people; the librarian picks the line straight out of his head because they are so closely, so genuinely connected.

I have no idea whether Birnbaum or his editor made the choice to cut these lines, so I can’t really fault him, especially not after the incredible poetry of his translation – notably the line “Round and round it goes, and where it stops everyone knows.” Brilliant. To be fair, next week I’ll highlight a missing sentence from a Rubin translation.

Uncool Compound – 複面 (Updated)


The Japanese are a curious set of folks. Endlessly courteous and patient in most normal circumstances, when they get behind the wheel, they are transformed into vicious tailgating demons. Yes, this is a blanket statement and I realize that it’s not exactly fair, but after spending three years driving every day in this country, I feel qualified to make the claim that Japanese drivers are at least creative with their interpretations of traffic laws. Red lights don’t really count for the first couple seconds. The speed limits are actually 30km faster than actually posted. Hazard lights instantly make any location a parking space.

One of the funniest things is the highway patrol cars. Because they aren’t the police, they don’t have the authority to give out tickets, so they drive their SUVs at the speed limit (generally 80km/h) with lights flashing, suggesting that drivers slow down. People zip around them at speeds up to 150km/h.

The actual police drive unmarked white cars. There are a couple signs that give them away. One, there are always two guys in the car. Two, the guys are always wearing helmets – no joke. And three, there are two rearview mirrors, one for each of the dudes. Japanese refer to these guys as 複面 (ふくめん), 面 referring to the flat plane of a mirror, and 複 doubling it. These dudes mean business, and everyone knows this. If you ever come across a single line of cars going the speed limit in the left lane, more than likely one of these unmarked cars is at the front of the line; best to follow along until the 複面 exits, at which point everyone speeds up again. It’s hilarious to watch some drivers speed past everyone, realize they just passed the cops, quickly move to the left, and then slam on the brakes.

I believe this blog post has one of the few photos of a 複面 (and proof that I wasn’t just hearing things when a friend explained this to me). The caption above the photo of cars says that the driver was warned by a 複面 over a microphone.


Oops. Looks like I messed up here. I my defense, I swear that a friend taught me the set of kanji above. I vividly remember his explanation and writing down the kanji in a notebook…that I am not able to locate at the moment. *gulp* Also in my defense, a Google search that reveals 複面パトカー is a somewhat uncommon input mistake. Not nonexistent, though.

As Gulab has noted in the comments, the correct kanji is 覆面. Here, let me make that enormous for you:

truefukumenBooyah. As he noted, it means concealed or, in this case, unmarked. Thanks, Gulab. Sorry it took me so long to update this post!

Cool Kanji – 弄


King on top and some little thingy on the bottom. It has the curious pronunciation もてあそぶ (弄ぶ), which helped me figure out the basic meaning from context when I first read it; あそぶ means “play with,” and the context of the sentence made it clear that this is meant “toy with” in a kind of cruel, whimsical way. Yahoo definitions 3 and 4 confirm this, and definition 1 confirms that the origin must be something literal like 持って遊ぶ. The compound 翻弄 (ほんろう) has a similar meaning and usage, so keep an eye out for that, too.

Easy enough to remember the meaning from the pronunciation, and the kanji isn’t that hard either – the king toys with his servants like marionettes. (I wouldn’t recommend trying to incorporate this into your daily vocab. I get the sense that the usage is kind of limited. Good to know, though.)


With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1.

People often equate Haruki Murakami’s boku narrator with the author himself. Boku has great taste in music, is always hanging out with attractive, quirky women, drinks nice whiskey and tons of coffee, and is really laid back. But in the end, while he might share some traits with Murakami, boku is a fictional character.

Readers who are looking for Murakami’s own personal voice don’t have to look too far (as long as they can read Japanese). In the late 90s he answered reader questions on his website. These have since been collected and published with the title 『「そうだ、村上さんに聞いてみよう」と世間の人々が村上春樹にとりあえずぶっつける282大疑問に果たして村上さんはちゃんと答えられるのか?』, which Jay Rubin has translated as “That’s it! Let’s Ask Murakami!” Say the People and They Try Flinging 282 Questions at Haruki Murakami, But Can Murakami Really Find Decent Answers to Them All?


The questions are fairly random in subject matter and tone, ranging from serious to playful. Many of them ask about his writing. Some of the best ones are the strange ones, one of which I’ve translated for this week:

Big Question 42
Do you put condoms in the refrigerator?
At 3:56 PM, 97.8.5

I’m sorry to ask this all of the sudden, but are condoms something that should be kept in the refrigerator? (I’m housesitting for a male friend, and I found some in the butter tray when I was cleaning the fridge.) Japanese teacher living in Los Angeles, U.S.A.

asahido50 It must be one of the following:

① They feel good when they’re cold.
② He can get them when somebody says, hey, bring me some more wine.
③ He couldn’t think of anywhere else to keep them.
④ He eats them on toast.

Cool Compound – 主食


Over the 4th of July weekend, I went back to the small town in Fukushima where I spent three years teaching English and “coordinating international relations.” I had a nomikai with the students from the English conversation class I taught at the Town Hall, and then a few of us lit fireworks in the parking lot of the town offices. It was a nice little trip, great to get out of the city and just relax the whole weekend.

I ran into one of the great Japanese compounds at the dinner – 主食 (しゅしょく). We started with a toast and then snacked on sashimi, bits of fried food, edamame and a bunch of other things. El vino did flow – beer and 麦焼酎水割り, mostly. Towards the end, I could kind of tell it was time to wrap things up, but then one of the ladies said, だめだ。何か主食とらないと。 We couldn’t leave without having a 主食 – a staple food. The classic Japanese 主食 is rice, but the restaurant had no rice dishes, so we settled for ramen. Apparently noodles count as a staple food. The great illusion with 主食 is that rice is the only one that exists in the world. This proves otherwise.

Because rice isn’t eaten as much abroad, often Japanese will think that there are no 主食 in the US. I always point to Mexican cuisine and the use of corn in tortillas, pupusas, and tamales. Corn and beans are all staple foods all over the world. Don’t fall for the 主食 fallacy.

I’m heading back to my town to help carry the mikoshi in a festival next weekend. Should be fun.