Good Ideas

55-65 read and understood. Most of this section was spent in the End of the World, which was awesome. The paragraphs suddenly become longer and denser, and Murakami takes the reader through the buildings of the town for the first time. The text thins out a bit thanks to dialogue once the Librarian gets introduced.

In terms of the translation, I was really interested in some adjustments that Birnbaum makes towards the end of the previous chapter during and after the data laundering process. The old man explains what the data is, how he’ll use it to control sound, and Watashi says that he should be careful that it doesn’t fall into Semiotec hands:

“I know, I know. That’s why I’ve withheld all my data and processes, so they wouldn’t be pokin’ into things. Probably means even the world of science doesn’t take me seriously, but what of that? Tosh, a hundred years from now my theories will all’ve been proved. That’s enough, isn’t it?”


“Okay, son, launder and shuffle everything.”

“Yessir,” I said, “yessir.” (35)

At first I thought that this was an egregious translation, but after I typed it out and thought about it for a while, there’s really only one minor part that Birnbaum cuts, and the rest are just “adjustments”:




「なるほど」と私は言った。 (28)

My humble version:

“I’ve also been keeping that point in mind. Which is why I’m concealing the data and processes; I’ll only be announcing it in theoretical form. Then there’ll be no way they can decipher it. The academics will probably come after me as well, but who cares about that. In a hundred years all my theories will’ve been proven, and that’ll be enough.”

“Hmm,” I said.

“So it’s all up to your laundering and shuffling, ya see.”

“That figures,” I said.

The only line cut (which I’ve bolded), I realized on second read, is the fact that the old man will be presenting his theories, which isn’t apparent in the English. On first read I felt like it made the old man slightly more sinister and interested in the fame and acclaim. I guess it’s not a major change either way, but it does contrast with the English.

The adjustments at the end of the section, however, are more radical. Birnbaum has the old man encourage Watashi and Watashi replies with a simple affirmative, whereas in the Japanese Murakami has the old man place the responsibility squarely on Watashi’s shoulders and then has Watashi reply with the なるほど. I can’t tell how sarcastic this was meant to be; is it on the same level as a やれやれ or slightly lower? I went with “That figures,” (get it, figures? Ha ha.) but I think “Of course” might work too.

Birnbaum also plays with Watashi’s characterization at the very end of the chapter. During a break in the data laundering, Watashi asks about the mute granddaughter, and the old man curses himself for forgetting to return her speech to normal. Then the old man says he needs to go back and return her to normal. Watashi’s response in translation is merely:


But in Japanese, it is this:

「その方がよさそうですね」と私は言った。 (58)

In translation:

“That sounds like a good idea,” I said.

Here again Birnbaum alters one of Watashi’s lines of dialogue at the end of a section making him seem more aloof and less sarcastic in translation. Although as we’ve seen in other posts, he is adding a generous amount of it back in in other places.

Paperclips and Gestures

Belated post to account for pages 45-55, which I completed in a single reading last weekend. I’ll be focusing on the English this time around and some of Murakami’s narrative techniques.

Still in Chapter 3 with Watashi making his way to the laboratory and working with the old man. This is a very long chapter, especially in comparison with the first two chapters. Chapter 1 is 11 pages in translation but perhaps feels longer because of all the waiting and thinking involved – we’re in Watashi’s head the whole time. Chapter 2 is a scant six pages, but it has great images, concisely establishes tension with the Gatekeeper, and is effectively the inverse of Chapter 1: while Chapter 1 focuses on Watashi’s inner thoughts, Chapter 2 has almost no response from Boku to his surroundings, no interiority.

I think this is a really good strategy for the beginning of the book. The short chapters help the reader feel like they are moving at a good pace, and the interiority or lack thereof sets up themes that Murakami will cash in on later. The concision of Chapter 2 also does an amazing job of creating an air of mystery – through specificity of detail and not through vagueness – and generates an incredible desire to spend more time in this world.

It makes sense, then, that Chapter 3 is longer. As a readers, we’ve now been primed and are ready to get through material to jump between worlds and learn more about both (and experience the different pleasures that each offers). Murakami can now take his time and give the details about the System and the Factory, Semiotecs and Calcutecs, etc. and we will put up with it. Had he frontloaded this information, it might not have gone down so easily. (This is probably a technique Murakami should have considered for 1Q84.)

In Chapter 3, Murakami also makes effective use of gesture, which he often gets criticized for in other works (temple rubbing, etc). In this case Murakami uses gesture to characterize the old man:

The old man looked me over. Then he picked up a paperclip and unbent it to scrape at a fingernail cuticle. His left index finger cuticle. When he’d finished with the cuticle, he discarded the straightened paperclip into the ashtray. If I ever get reincarnated, it occurred to me, let me make certain I don’t come back as a paperclip. (26)

This makes great use of the paperclip, which will recur throughout the story, and characterizes the old man as unthinking in the way he treats the paperclip. Murakami brings it up once more briefly in these ten pages, but it doesn’t feel overused. I’ll be keeping an eye on this for the rest of the chapter, which is just another three pages.

And a bit o the Japanese since I can’t help myself. The last line is an interesting translation by Birnbaum, but I think he does the Japanese justice:


Murakami does put Watashi into the mindset of the paperclip with the adversative passive, which I think corresponds not indelicately in the English version as I considers being reincarnated.

That phrase ぞっとしない is confusing even to Japanese people, apparently, and the Internets sez it was invented by Soseki himself. Not bad, eh?

University of New Orleans IELP Scholarship for 3.11 Disaster Victims 3.11被災者対象奨学金 – UPDATED

UPDATE: 2012.12.07. The scholarship recipient has been selected! The recipient is a resident of Iwate Prefecture and works at her parents’ ryokan, so learning English should be helpful for her in the future. Congrats!

Hey everyone. I’d like to take just a moment of your time to spread the word about a scholarship that the University of New Orleans Intensive English Language Program (IELP) will be offering for victims of the 3.11 disaster. The scholarship will cover most everything except for transportation. I personally know several of the teachers in this program, and they are fantastic people. If you know anyone who would be eligible for this, please do let them know. Anyone 18 and over affected by the disaster can apply (not just university students). Please share this widely!


―18歳以上の3.11被災者なら誰でも応募可能 (大学生でなくても可)。
―期間:1月10日―3月13日、または、 4月1-5月24日 (どちらか選択、いずれも8週間)
―アメリカでの学費(語学留学)、住居費、食費は 奨学金 ($4000)で大半カバーできるが、渡航費、学生ビザの申請に必要な費用は自費。

英語で300Words程度のエッセイを書いてもらうことになります (津波を経験して思ったことまた、どうして英語を勉強したいか)。

応募、質問は まで。