Causative Requests (Update)

Time for some serious old school How to Japonese now that Murakami madness is over.

Causative tense is not the easiest to get used to. Once you’ve mastered it, though, it’s really flexible. A couple of things to note before we get to today’s little trick:

– It’s important to remember that causative tense can just as easily mean “let/allow someone to do X” as it can “make someone do X.”

– In my very first set of posts, I introduced the 敬語 form 〜させていただきます. Basically this is just a fancy way to say 〜する. You can turn it into a formal request easily enough by saying 〜させていただけませんか or 〜させていただけませんでしょうか.

And now for today’s trick. There’s also a cool way to use the causative tense as an informal request. Normal requests take the form 〜してもいい or 〜していい, which literally means “Is it okay if I X?” Make that more normal English and you get “May I X?”

If you use the causative straight up – 〜させて – with a little rising intonation on the end, you can say, “Lemme do X.” You can make it even more casual by saying 〜さして, which is a slurred version and slightly easier to say. I remember hearing one of the English teachers I worked with use this. Whenever he was looking at papers or worksheets that the students were holding he would say, ちょっと見さして. “Let me take a look.” 見る is a fairly controversial case, apparently, but I think this works with most verbs. ちょっと食べさせて is an especially good one that will earn you some freebies from friends.


As requested, a version for linguists:

Standard causative is ~saseru. The perfective tense of this is ~saseta. The imperative form is ~sasete, which is often slurred to ~sashite (or ~sasite depending on the romanization you use). This is a great form for informal requests. You can change miru to misasete, or taberu to tabesasete if you want someone to “let you” take a look at something or have a taste of something. Important here to remember the flexibility of the causative tense.

Bonus update thought:

I think using させて・さして (sasete/sashite) on its own must always imply that the speaker wants to be let/made to do the action. If you’re trying to get someone to make or let someone else, then you probably need to use させてあげて・さしてあげて (sasete agete / sashite agete)? Hmm…when I think about it, させてあげてd (sasete agete) feels like it would always be “let” rather than “make.”

Game Lingo – 統一


統一 (とういつ) isn’t an in-game term per se, but it is a vital concept in video game translation and really all translation in general. It literally means “uniform” or “uniformity.” I personally think of it as “consistent” or “consistency.” This is common sense, but when translating you have to make sure that the spelling, word choices and style are consistent throughout a text.

You don’t want to have a character drinking “Cutty Sark Whiskey” in one scene and then “Cutty Sark Whisky” in another (the latter is correct). You don’t want to have “Oohashi-san” on one page (or any page, really) and then Ōhashi-san (there, that’s better) on another page. Proper nouns should always be kept consistent, and video game translation is an entirely different animal when it comes to proper nouns.

One place where 統一 rears its anal retentive head in video games is with controls. Almost every video game console uses the same little rocker pad, often shaped like a +, to control movement, but the terminology is different for different systems. The Nintendo DS uses “+Control Pad,” the Xbox “D-pad,” and the PlayStation®3 system “directional button.” Should players be pressing the “A button” or the “A Button”? Do they “tilt” or “press” or “tap” or “tap repeatedly” the button or control device?

Naming of the systems themselves is another place where terminology is often set by the companies. PlayStation uses the word “system” after every instance of Playstation®3 or PSP®, and they also include the restricted mark (no spaces before or after the 3). Nintendo lets you use “Nintendo DS” and also “DS.” Xbox 360 is not “XBox 360.”

Nintendo is by far the most picky, and failure to abide by their terminology guide can cause a company to lose millions if Nintendo of America or Europe finds fault with their game during the checking process and sends it back to the company. The company has to fix whatever problems there were (re-master the game) and make another appointment with NOA and NOE to have their game checked, possibly delaying the release of the game.

Japanese does have a high tolerance for repetition, way more so than English, so you should be flexible enough to realize that not every word needs to be 統一されている. Forget 様々, ignore など, realize that が・けど don’t always mean “but,” but also know where you have to maintain consistency even when it’s painful. There are tons of examples of translation so bad it’s good, but when a term gets set, sometimes it should stay that way. Metal Gear games use “sneaking mission” for 潜入任務, a lot of the Bubble Bobble (in the Japanese “Puzzle Bobble”) remakes use the same cheesy beginning (you loves it, I can tell), and Nintendo still doesn’t ever use “the” before Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection ever.

If you’re really serious about translating video games, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to read your video game manuals very carefully. There are also some websites you can look at. Notice what terms they are using. Start to catalog phrases and wordings that could be useful. Your command and consistency of English is just as important as your Japanese comprehension.

A Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October tomorrow (!), 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, 4, 5.

Murakami’s Complete Works is an interesting collection. It includes all of his main novels, most of his major short story collections, a few 書き下ろし “bonus tracks” type stories, and then other short works that he just happened to like. One of these is “A Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heinekan Cans.” Murakami included it in Volume 8 of the collection which collects the stories from his collection The Second Bakery Attack (パン屋再襲撃). Without further ado, here is my translation:

A Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans

When the zoo closed, people from the town put together some money and bought the elephant. The zoo was a crappy little zoo that surprised no one by going broke, and the elephant was old and worn out. He was so old and worn out that no other zoo would take him in. He didn’t look like he would live much longer, and no zoo could be asked to take in an elephant with one foot in the grave.

The zoo’s broker had no idea what to do and even pleaded with the town to take the elephant for free. “He’s old, so he doesn’t eat all that much. And he’s really tame. He’s not going to wake up the neighbors by trumpeting loudly. All he needs is a place to go. Quite a deal, being free and all,” said the broker.

After arguing for around a month, in the end the town council decided to take in the elephant. The looked all over the world, they said, and there wasn’t a single town that had its own elephant. Of course there are probably plenty of towns like that in India and Africa, but there were at least none in the northern hemisphere.

A farmer who had some land on a forested mountain provided a place for the elephant to live, and they relocated a run-down elementary school gymnasium to use as an elephant pen. Leftover school lunches provided plenty of food. A retired employee from the town offices became the elephant keeper and looked after him. The town did have quite a bit of money, so it was relatively easy to put together the appropriate funds.

And it wasn’t like the elephant was totally useless either.

The town assigned the elephant the job of crushing empty cans. First they made a concrete pipe in the shape of the elephant’s foot and then trained the elephant to stomp there when a whistle was blown. Every week on Friday the cans were collected from all over the town and hauled to the elephant’s pen by truck. Beer cans, soup cans, nori cans – they piled up all sorts of can in front of the elephant’s pen. The elephant keeper would dump three buckets worth of cans into the concrete pipe and blow the whistle. When the whistle sounded, the elephant stomped with one foot and crushed the cans, turning them into a single flat piece of metal.


(*Update: I’ve redacted part of this story.) Here’s what Murakami has to say about the story in his notes:

From what I can remember, I wrote “A Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans” on a whim while I was drinking Heineken. As I’m sure you know, Heineken cans are a beautiful green color. I finished drinking one of them and then crushed it in my hand, and as I did, I thought, man, this would be even flatter and more beautiful if an elephant stepped on it. And that’s why I wanted to write this story, from what I remember. I’m not sure how good it is. (X)

Well, he liked it enough to include it in his Complete Works, which you can’t say about “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall.” My guess is that he needed to create some value of his own for the Complete Works and this small, yet-to-be-collected short story fit in thematically; he positions it write after “The Elephant Vanishes,” and now that I look at the order, I see that he added “The Bakery Attack” as a small bonus immediately after “The Second Bakery Attack.”

One note about the translation. In the Japanese, Murakami has his narrator drink 一ダース worth of beer – a dozen cans. I tried using that in the translation, but “a case” felt so much more natural in the English that I decided to go with that instead.

This concludes Murakami-palooza 2009. You can watch the announcement online here.

Monday Puzzle – Can you handle it?

Due to popular demand, the puzzle lives again! This time on Mondays. We’ll see how long I can keep this up.

I’m currently sharing an apartment with 5-6 other people (things are in…flux). We live in a 5DK apartment above a chicken butcher, so they affectionately call the apartment 鳥ハウス. It’s a short walk from a station that is only two stops from where I work. Living with young Japanese people has been the highlight of my move to Tokyo, and I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve a place this great. (I found the room on, which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a place to live.)

Shortly after I moved in, I discovered the following sign somewhere in the apartment:


When I first saw it I was extremely confused. I knew what it meant because of the placement of the sign, but what was up with that question mark? After looking at it for a while, I had that なるほど moment and finally realized what it meant.

The puzzle this week is to tell me 1) where in the apartment I found it and 2) what was actually written.

The prize if you win? One can of 100% barley malt beer – e.g. Ebisu, Suntory Malts, Asahi Premium. (New rule: you must physically track me down and demand your beer to redeem it.)

Please do not post your answer in the comments. Send it to me via email or facebook. My email address is るぱんさんせい (romanized) at-mark gmail dot com.

The Town and Its Uncertain Wall

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, 4.

Murakami wrote Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World in 1985, but he had the original idea for the “End of the World” sections five years earlier when he wrote the novella (中編小説, literally “medium-length fiction”) “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” (街と、その不確かな壁, English translation of the title borrowed from Jay Rubin’s Music of Words). It was published in the September 1980 edition of Bungakukai.

In the story, an anonymous boku goes to a walled Town (街) in search of the second person kimi (君), the “true self” of a past love. He enters the Town as “the Prophet” (予言者, which Birnbaum translated as “Dreamreader”) and kimi is working in the Library as the librarian. Just as in the novel, boku has his shadow removed by the Gatekeeper when he enters the Town, and the shadow gets weaker and weaker over time. Boku is torn between his happiness in the Town with kimi and his shadow’s desire to escape from the Town’s eerie sense of perfection. Murakami makes very different choices at the end of the story, and I have translated a small portion that may be of interest to anyone who has read Hard-boiled Wonderland (and shouldn’t spoil the book for those who haven’t read it):

The Wall disappears.

“It’s over,” I say. “Want to go?”


We take off our coats and shoes in the snow and then fasten our belts together.

“Don’t get separated. No matter what,” my shadow says. “If we get separated, it’s all over.”

I nod. The two sets of black coats and black shoes are a strange sight on the snow.

“There’s a chance I’m wrong,” my shadow blurts out. “I might have wrapped you up in this for my own convenience.”

“You think?”

“I suddenly had that thought after hearing you talk with the Wall.”

“Don’t get discouraged,” I say. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. If we make it out to land, let’s get to know each other again.”

We share a firm handshake with our belts attached. Then we take a deep breath and dive together headfirst into the pool, cold as ice.

The next instant I lose consciousness.

Murakami writes the story off as a failure, and it is definitely weak; grammatically he uses the same patterns over and over (notably ばかり and だけ), and there seems to be a lack of editing (on several occasions he lapses back to 彼女 instead of 君). But if you take into consideration that he wrote “The Town” between Pinball, 1973 and A Wild Sheep Chase, it also looks like a young writer boldly expanding his range. Thematically it’s very different from Hard-boiled Wonderland. Murakami is more concerned here with the uncertain nature of language and how that affects human interaction, whereas in Hard-boiled Wonderland he focuses on society and the mind and how the two affect individual existence.

If you are a true Murakami nut and want something cool to read, I recommend ordering a copy from the National Diet Library.