Booty Call, As It Were

Chapter 22 “Gray Smoke” is back in the End of the World. The Gatekeeper continues to burn the beasts, and Boku is blinded by the reflection of the sun off fresh snowfall. His eyes are in such pain that he is almost unable to work that night, so he and the Librarian talk and then look in the Collection Room for a musical instrument after Boku realizes that her mother used to sing.

This is a nice quick chapter after the beast that was Chapter 21.

One minor side note before I look at the translation: This chapter does give the singing in the previous chapter more context. As I was reading Chapter 21, it all felt unnecessary and kind of random, but I think that’s the point. In this chapter, when Boku tries to remember a song, he says, “I take a deep breath but find no music in my memory.”

It’s almost like he is straining to hear Watashi in the previous chapter. Both he and the Girl in Pink have no trouble just making up lyrics as they go, but Boku doesn’t have it that easy.

There aren’t many big cuts to the translation or in the Complete Works version, but Birnbaum (or his editor) does make the usual changes: Cuts to the narrator’s reactions to make them simpler and starker. As with the previous chapter, there’s a surprising moment of romance/sexuality. Here is the official translation:

“Is there nothing else I can do for you?” she says, looking up unexpectedly.

“You do so much for me already,” I say.

She stays her hand and sits facing me. “I mean something else. Perhaps you wish to sleep with me.”

I shake my head.

“I do not understand,” she implores. “You said you needed me.”

“I do. But now it is not right.” (225)

And here is the Japanese followed by my translation:






「求めているさ。でも少なくとも今は君と寝るわけにはいかないんだ。それは求めるとか求めないというのとはまたべつの問題なんだ」 (322-323)

She lifts her head suddenly and says, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“You already do so much for me,” I say.

She withdraws the hand she was using to wipe the skull, sits down, and looks me square in the face. “I’m not talking about those kinds of things. I mean something more special. For example, I could join you in bed, something like that.”

I shake my head. “No, it isn’t that I want to sleep with you. I’m glad that you would say that, but…”

“Why? You do want me, right?”

“I do. It’s just, I mustn’t sleep with you right now. It’s unrelated to wanting you or not wanting you.”

Yeah, I ripped off that one Birnbaum line “You already do so much for me” but I don’t think it can be improved. More importantly, you can see that BOHE cuts two sentences of dialogue from Boku and opts to have him remain silent when she offers to sleep with him. The cuts have a very interesting effect, not necessarily a bad one.

BOHE also add a dialogue tag for the Librarian. She “implores” Boku.

And perhaps the most curious translation from Birnbaum is his version of あなたのベッドに入るとか. “Perhaps you wish to sleep with me” puts the action back on Boku rather than keeping the Librarian as the subject. It also smoothes over the somewhat unusual (?) Japanese ベッドに入る with the regularly encountered English phrase “sleep with X.” I dunno…maybe BOHE has the right idea, maybe it’s better to not draw attention to it. At any rate, I think “For example, I could sleep with you” would be a more accurate rendering that maintains the Librarian as the subject.

Murakami-san no tokoro

Murakami’s new advice column/blog is online:

The site is titled 村上さんのところ (Murakami-san’s place)—pretty standard—but the domain name is curious. I was disappointed that I didn’t recognize it from the jazz standard “Well, You Needn’t,” a 1944 Thelonious Monk composition.

In my defense, I haven’t been listening to as much Monk lately (mostly “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington,” which may be the greatest album of all time), but I think the real culprit is the iPod-ification of all music. When I only carried 5-10 CDs in my car in rural Japan in 2005, I could’ve told you all the track names for “Thelonious Alone in San Francisco,” “Thelonious Himself” and “Solo Monk,” but alas, no longer. First I had an iPod classic with hundreds of albums, dozens from Monk, and now I have an iPhone that can stream just about anything (as long as I have wifi).

But back to the main point of this post: Murakami’s new column/blog. It’s nice. The design is simple and straightforward. The illustrations are well done. It’s easy to see the questions that Murakami has answered and to ask your own question. So far it’s very similar to some of the Murakami Asahido material and other public projects Murakami did (way before blogs were even a thing).

One of the most interesting things about the page is the “Categories” for the types of questions you can ask. Here is the list with my translation following:

1. 村上さんにおりいって質問したいこと・相談したいこと
2. 村上さんにちょっと話したいこと
3. 私の好きな場所・嫌いな場所
4. 「猫」あるいは「ヤクルト・スワローズ」関連

1. Things I want to ask Murkami/consult with him about
2. Things I’d like to tell Murakami about
3. Places I love/hate
4. (Things) related to cats or the Yakult Swallows

Very interesting. It seems like Murakami is looking for a pretty wide range of material. Questions and consultations, sure, but also just some randomness from his readers, things he can kind of bounce his thoughts off of and produce funny/quirky/interesting/readable material.

Obviously you sign away all rights when you ask a question. This stuff is going into a book in the not too distant future. You can ask questions until the end of January, and the site will be online until the end of March.

He’s going through questions at a pretty intense pace: He responded to six different inquiries on a Sunday (1/18)! I read through all of the entries through 1/17 and did some quicky translations on Twitter of interesting posts. Here are the results:

And when you ask a question, you get a very cool confirmation email with this graphic from the website:

murakamiCheck my Twitters for more translations in the coming weeks. I’ll plan to read through the posts as he answers…I want to see if he answers my question.


Final Fantasy VI on iOS in Japanese

I have another Bilingual page column in the Japan Times today: “The myths and misery of translating Japanese video games.”

It’s sort of a redux of my post “On Translation and Me” (which was later syndicated at Kotaku) with a few of my Video Game Lingo posts thrown in for good measure.

I haven’t done much video game translation recently, unfortunately. I did a bit in the summer of 2013, and it was a reminder of how difficult and complicated translating dialogue for a major game can be. I only did about 10,000 characters or so, but I got a small peak inside the workings of a larger translation company. It was impressive. I will always be in awe of folks who are able to build living, breathing characters from context-less dialogue text alone. Translators rarely get to see the game they are working on.

I have, however, been doing more Japanese video games. Square has put out a lot of their old catalogue on mobile platforms in recent years, and they were on sale for 50% off until January 5th. So I picked up Final Fantasy VI for iOS.

I somehow scraped together the $60 for Chrono Trigger on the SNES back in the 1990s and spent a week one summer devoted to it, but I never managed to play through Final Fantasy III (née VI). I have at various times played emulated versions partway through (once during college, I believe, and once while I was teaching on JET), but I’ve never beaten it.

I’m a couple hours in and here are some thoughts in game-chronological order:


Japanese dialogue has a tendency to use a ton of ellipsis. I’m not quite sure if there is a standard way to deal with these. Occasionally you can translate around them, but it’s sometimes easiest to just leave them.


Kefka is even more ridiculous and evil in Japanese. (Partly due to the illustration. An inspiration for the Joker in the Dark Knight movies, perhaps?) As you can see, the language is more colorful in the Japanese original. くそ gets thrown around pretty lightly. Kefka’s infamous laugh, however, is merely ヒッヒッヒ or some variation, which is a bit of a disappointment because the English laugh is so legendary.

This screen grab also has a great word that pops up frequently in games: 借り (かり). 借りができたぞ is a way to say “I owe you one.” I distinctly remember a translator delivering a project with that line, and I was blown away by how succinct and spot on he was. There is a great Chiebukuro post about this phrase and 貸しができる.

Here, Kefka ironically shows that he will 返す the 借り(generally a good thing) without fail (必ず).


Here’s a great example of the double particle をも and ~かねない, one of my favorite phrases.


The (new?) character illustrations are great, and Banon looks awesome. You can tell he’s old because he’s got the old-man じゃ in place of the standard copula.


Go home, Ultros, you’re drunk.


Here’s a lovely-sounding Japanese idiom: 爪(つめ)のアカでも飲ましてやる. Literally: Make someone “drink” the crap under their nails. The kicker is that it’s not even their own nails: It’s someone else’s nail crud. アカ is also given as the kanji 垢, but I assume it’s kana-ized to allow younger players to understand in this case. I wrote a post about this idiom and got a couple of really great comments. Basically, these troops want Kefka to be a little more like Leo…which would happen if Kefka drank some of Leo’s toenail crud. Here’s what one of the commenters noted about the phrase:

In a scenario (profession, trade or any organization) where a rookie without a clue tends to blunder from one breach of etiquette after another, and where a sage advice clearly would be wasted, the only economic advice is to suggest such a concoction be consumed. But, this is said with one’s tongue in cheek only to underline the hopelessness of the endeavor.

So perhaps “take a page out of [somebody’s] book (which happens to be written in a language they probably won’t understand)” would be an appropriate translation.


Here’s a nice example of a use of ごめん that isn’t ごめんなさい. I can’t remember what exactly was happening (this is on the ghost train), but whatever it is マッシュ (Sabin) doesn’t want to do it, and expresses that with ごめん. It’s sometimes used with だけ in the expression 〜だけごめんだ to express “the one thing” that someone doesn’t want to do.


And one thing I noticed in the menu: The explanations for the the different items are given only in kana. This isn’t unusual, I don’t think, but it is a little strange given that all of the story is given in both kanji and kana. Just another reminder that kanji are awesome and reading kana-only writing takes a different set of muscles that you lose quickly once you move past the most basic stages of Japanese study.

Everything about this reboot is great. The graphics are slick and the sound is fantastic. I’m confident that I’ll be able to finish the game this time around, thanks in part to my commute, and because it’s in Japanese I won’t feel guilty about doing so.

The Birds and the Trees


Final post for Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil,” the final chapter of the first half of the novel.

As we’ve seen in Posts 1, 2, 3, and 4, this chapter is long and isolates Watashi and the Girl in Pink. Birnbaum’s (or his editor’s) cuts in translation simplify her as a character. They eliminate her interests in sex and eliminate some of Watashi’s reaction to her as a sexual being. These might seem like excusable cuts—and many of them are, especially her “Bicycle Song”—but a scene cut near the end of the chapter helps put these seemingly light sections in context.

After the two of them sing to distract themselves, they make it to a plateau and continue onward. Watashi falls asleep, lured by the INKling trap, so they tie themselves together with rope. Watashi briefly goes back into his thoughts, but the Girl in Pink suggests they sing again and then, when Watashi rejects more songs (thankfully), that they have a conversation.

They decide to talk about rain, which leads to her character background: Her family all died in a car accident while she was in the hospital recovering from a heart operation. While she was in the hospital, she watched the birds on a camphor tree outside the window. Watching the birds made her sad.

Birnbaum’s translation of her back story makes some cuts but captures almost everything. Here’s how Birnbaum treats the subsequent passage, which has more cuts:

“It made you sad?”

“Because, like I said, there’s go to be millions of trees in the world and millions of birds and millions of rainfalls. But I couldn’t even figure one out, and I’d probably die that way. I just cried and cried, I felt so lonely. And that was the night my whole family got killed. Though they didn’t tell me until much later.”

“That must have been horrible.”

“Well, it was the end of the world for me. Everything got so dark and lonely and miserable. Do you know what that feels like?”

“I can imagine,” I said.

Her thoughts on rain occupied my thoughts. So much so I didn’t notice that she’d stopped and I bumped into her, again. (220)

And here’s how it looks in the Japanese:

















“Why (did it make you sad)?”

“Probably because the world is full of countless trees and countless birds and countless rainy days, but I felt like I couldn’t even understand a single tree and a single rainy day. And I never would. Like I’d die without being able to understand a single camphor tree and a single rainy day. When I thought about that, I couldn’t help feeling incredibly sad, so I cried by myself. And while I cried, the whole time I kept wanting someone to hold me. But there was no one to hold me.

“So I just cried there on the (hospital) bed, all by myself.

“Eventually the sun set, everything got dark, and I couldn’t see the birds anymore. So I wasn’t able to tell whether it was still raining or not anymore. That night my whole family died. I wasn’t told until much later, though.”

“It must’ve been tough when they told you.”

“I don’t really remember. I probably didn’t feel anything when they told me. The only thing I remember is not having anyone to hold me on that rainy Autumn evening. It was like—the end of the world for me. Do you know what that’s like? To be incredibly sad, in pain, in the dark and to want someone to hold you but not to have anyone around to hold you?”

“I think I understand,” I said.

“Have you ever lost someone you loved?”

“Several times.”

“And now you’re lonely?”

“Not really,” I said as I drew the nylon rope connected to my belt through my fingers. “No one in this world can ever be lonely. Everything is connected somewhere in some slight way. Rain will fall and birds will sing. You might get your stomach cut, but sometimes you get to kiss girls in the dark.”

“But if there’s no love, that’s the same as the world not existing,” the plump girl said. “If you don’t have love, the world is just wind passing outside of a window: You can’t touch it or smell it. No matter how many girls you buy and how many girls you sleep with casually, it’s not real. None of them are going to hold you tightly.”

“I don’t buy girls or have casual sex all that often,” I protested.

“It’s still the same,” she said.

I guess so, I thought. No one was going to hold me tightly. Nor was I going to hold anyone tightly. I would keep getting older just like that. I would keep getting older alone, like a sea cucumber stuck to the ocean floor.

I drifted off into my thoughts as I walked and didn’t realize that the girl had stopped, so I ran right into her soft back.

Birnbaum (or his editor) has to cut part of this because BOHE already cut the makeout scene earlier in the chapter, which informs all the talk of “being held tightly.”

The Girl in Pink’s back story is pretty made-for-TV, but it makes her more compelling than she is without it, and this cut part in particular makes her seem much more human in all the scenes that were cut previously. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these ideas return in the second half of the novel (and get cut/trimmed there as well). Only one way to find out.

The Bicycle Song


Happy New Year, folks. Yoroshiku and all that jazz in 2015.

Apologies for the delay with the Hard-boiled Wonderland Project. Two more posts in Chapter 21 “Bracelets, Ben Johnson, Devil” and I’ll be finished with half of the novel. Here comes the fourth and penultimate post.

This chapter is starting to feel longer than it actually is—which is very long, at least in the original Japanese.

The Girl in Pink and Watashi continue their subterranean march. They make it into the INKling sanctuary and then begin their climb up the “mountain” to a plateau. Birnbaum makes some judicious cuts of lengthy introspection about fear, accomplishment, and life. This chapter is so long that Murakami himself also makes some cuts from the original text to the Complete Works version.

First, check out how Birnbaum handles the translation when the pair of them decide to kill time on their hike by singing:

From time to time she called out to make sure I kept pace. “You okay?” she’d say. “Just a little more.”

Then, a while later, it was “Why don’t we sing something?”

“Sing what?” I wanted to know.

“Anything, anything at all.”

“I don’t sing in dark places.”

“Aw, c’mon.”

Okay, then, what the hell. So I sang the Russian folksong I learned in elementary school:

Snow is falling all night long—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!
Fire is burning very strong—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!
Old dreams bursting into song—
Hey-ey! Pechka, ho!

I didn’t know any more of the lyrics, so I made some up: Everyone’s gathered around the fire—the pechka—when a knock comes at the door and Father goes to inquire, and there’s a reindeer standing on wounded feet saying, “I’m hungry, give me something to “eat”; so they feed it canned peaches. In the end everyone’s sitting around the stove, singing along.

“Wonderful. You sing just fine,” she said. “Sorry I can’t applaud, but I’ve got my hands full.”

We cleared the bluff and reached a flat area. …” (214 − 215)

I won’t bother you with the full Japanese of this section because Birnbaum’s translation is basically spot on. He translates the Japanese song “Pechka” in a pretty clever way, but I think it’s clear if you compare it with a performance of the original Japanese that Birnbaum is going for a more upbeat version:

ペチカ燃えろよ お話しましょ

(Although pechka is a Russian word, the song seems to be a Japanese original by songwriter Kosaku Yamada with lyrics by poet Hakushū Kitahara. Here’s another even more somber version, and if those link fails, there should be some other versions on YouTube.)

But other than that, there isn’t much worth commenting on…until Watashi finishes singing. As you’ll see in this next ENORMOUS section, Birnbaum has cut a number of songs from the translation, and Murakami also makes some cuts. I’ve marked cuts Murakami made in the Complete Works version in red and provided the slightly altered intro to the Girl in Pink’s song in parenthesis. The original text contains all of the following:





























彼女が『自転車の唄』を唄い終えた少しあとで、我々はどうやら崖をのぼりきったらしく、広々とした台地のようなところに出た (377-382)

“You’re pretty good,” she said, complimenting my singing. “I’m sorry I can’t clap for you. That was a great song.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sing one more,” she prodded.

So I sang “White Christmas.”

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
With white snowy scenes
A gentle heart
And old dreams
Are the present
I give to you

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
Even now when I close my eyes
The ring of the sleigh bells
And the bright snow
Fill my heart with memories

“That was nice,” she said. “Did you make up those lyrics?”

“I just sang it randomly.”

“Why do you only sing songs about winter and snow?”

“Dunno,” I said. “Wonder why. Maybe it’s so cold and dark down here those are the only songs I can think of.” I dragged myself from hole to hole in the boulders. “Now it’s your turn to sing.” (“Next it’s your turn to sing.”)

“Is it okay if I sing ‘The Bicycle Song’?”

“Sure,” I said.

On an April morning
I got on my bicycle
And headed into the woods
Down a strange path
I’d just bought the bike
And it was pink
The handlebars and seat too
Everything was pink
Even the brakes and the tires
They were all pink

“You’ve really captured your spirit with this song,” I said.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “It’s my song. Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“Do you want to hear the rest?”

“Of course.”

On an April morning
Pink suits me
All other colors
Are no good
My brand-new bike
My shoes were pink
My helmet and sweater too
Everything was pink
My shorts and underwear too
They were all pink

“I’m starting to understand how you feel about the color pink,” I said. “Do you think you could move the story along a little?”

“This part is necessary,” she said. “Hey, do you think they have pink sunglasses?”

“I feel like Elton John has probably worn some at some point.”

“Hmm,” she said. “Ok. I’ll sing the rest.”

On the road
I met an old man
All of the man’s clothes
Were totally blue
He’d also forgotten to shave
And his beard was blue
A deep blue
Like a long, lonely night
Long, long nights are
Always blue

“Is that me?” I asked.

“No, it’s not. It’s not about you. You aren’t in this song.”

Hey you
You shouldn’t go to the woods
The old man said
The rules of the woods
Are for the beasts
And even on an April morning
Water won’t flow in the opposite direction
Even on an April morning

But I still headed for the woods
On my pink bicycle
On a clear April morning
There was nothing that could scare me
And if I never got off my bicycle
That was the color pink
I wouldn’t be scared
Not red or blue or brown
But proper pink

Shortly after she finished singing “The Bicycle Song,” we appeared to clear the bluff and come to a wide open plateau-like area.

I’ve translated the songs pretty literally without much attention to poetics or anything, so I’m sure there are some places that make the Japanese original seem even stranger than it actually is, but WHAT was Murakami thinking with this passage? I mean, he writes it himself: Do you think you could move the story along a little?

My best guess is that Murakami wasn’t thinking when he wrote these sections and that they are examples of his writing style, unadulterated by any editing whatsoever. It’s clear that he’s trying to use them to connect Watashi’s world with Boku’s—there’s the snow, woods, reindeer (which are kind of like unicorn, right?), and beasts—but it’s just too indirect and never goes anywhere. Far too random to be anything but annoying additions that Japanese readers have to slog through. Ugh. And Murakami only chose to cut “White Christmas” in his edited version!

I’m not sure if there’s anything else to mention about this passage other than that Birnbaum’s cuts are significant improvements.