After an extended break for ten days of travel through Bavaria and Bohemia (it was excellent; see Twitter/Instagram for details), I’m back at Hard-boiled Wonderland. In Chapter 24 “Shadow Grounds,” Boku visits the Gatekeeper and then has a catch-up with his shadow.

Most of the translation changes in this chapter feel relatively standard for Birnbaum’s style, but they are still evident even from the first few sentences. Here is the official translation:

Three days of clear weather have come to an end. I know it as soon as I awaken. I open my eyes with no discomfort.

The sun is stripped of light and warmth, the sky is cloaked in heavy clouds. (242)

Here is the Japanese with my translation following:


Three days of perfect weather are over when I wake up. The sky is covered with a thick, faultless layer of darkly colored clouds, and the light that manages to make its way through that covering has been robbed of most of its original warmth and brightness.

As you can see, the official translation is much more minimal than the original Japanese, yet Birnbaum (or his editor) adds a few details to help re-establish the scene (Boku and his eyes) in the End of the World. Maybe this is for the best after the lengthy Hard-boiled Wonderland chapters. I immediately looked at the paperback version of the book to see whether Murakami might have cut the sentences from the Complete Works edition, but the two are the same.

I did spot one cut by Murakami later in the chapter. Boku and his shadow sit under an elm tree, kicking their heels in the frozen ground. The shadow draws a circle in the ground to represent the perfection of the Town in the End of the World. They discuss plans for escape and the difficulties of living in the End of the World:

“My confidence is going, it’s true,” I say, dropping my eyes to the circle on the ground. “How can I be strong when I do not know my own mind? I am lost.”

“That’s not true,” corrects my shadow. “You are not lost. It’s just that your own thoughts are being kept from you, or hidden away. But the mind is strong. It survives, even without thought. Even with everything taken away, it holds a seed—your self. You must believe in your own powers.”

“I will try,” I say. (248-249)

And here is the original paperback version:




“I definitely feel confused,” I say as I lower my eyes to the circle drawn in the ground. “It is as you say. I’m unsure of where I should be heading. Or of what kind of person I was in the past. How strong can a mind without a self actually be in the end? Especially in a town with such power and strong standards of value. Ever since winter arrived, I just keep losing confidence in my mind little by little.”

“No, you’re wrong,” my shadow says. “You haven’t lost your self. They’ve just hidden your memories. Which is why you feel confused. However, you’re not totally off. Even if you lose your memories, your mind will continue on in its original direction. A mind has inherent principles of movement. And that is, in other words, your self. Believe in your own strength. If you don’t, you’ll be thrown off course by powers outside of yourself.”

“I’ll try,” I say.

As you can see, it’s still quite different from Birnbaum’s translation. Lengthier, to be sure, but Birnbaum keeps many of the elements from the paperback. In the Collected Works edition, Murakami edits the shadow’s response:


“No, you’re wrong,” my shadow says. “You haven’t lost your self. They’ve just hidden your memories. Which is why you feel confused. However, you’re not totally off. Believe in your own strength. If you don’t, you’ll be thrown off course by powers outside of yourself.”

Gone is the section about the mind and its “principles of movement.” It’s an interesting idea, but perhaps felt a little unwieldy when Murakami looked it over again? That’s the only thought I have now.

As I mentioned at the top, no major adjustment changes, but now that I’ve written this post, the English version does seem more intrusive than I initially thought. The compressions illustrated in the passages above are uniform throughout the chapter. But I guess this isn’t a big surprise: This is how Murakami was initially translated, and it’s not like the final product is a disaster. On the contrary, it’s pretty strong. Just a translation, innit?

In terms of language notes, I struggled with 間違っちゃいない and eventually resorted to help on Facebook after doing some googling and still not being totally sure about the meaning. The word is a contraction, of course, for 間違ってはいない, and I think it gave me fits because it seems to contradict with the 違う at the beginning of the passage. There is also a kind of “set phrase” feel/tone to the word and certain circumstances in which it gets used. As a native speaker Facebook friend noted, it means “you’re not (entirely) wrong (either)”

Now it’s on to the next 30-page Hard-boiled Wonderland behemoth. I’ll try to get through it quickly.

Karaoke Kotoba – 別れ


My column is in the Japan Times Bilingual page this week: “Submitting yourself to the 50 shades of arigatō gozaimasu.”

I take a look at ways to diversify your phrases of appreciation: ありがとう is great, but there are other ways you can thank people. Why not add a few to your repertoire?

There’s nothing really wrong with ありがとう, of course, and I mention a couple karaoke songs there at the end that use ありがとう, notably 夜霧よ今夜も有り難う, one of Yūjiro Ishihara’s legendary songs:

I love this song for several reasons: 1) There are few songs that fit within my vocal range (deep), but this is one of them, 2) Yūjiro is boss — as my college graduate advisor put it, he’s basically the Japanese Elvis — and 3) in the video above (if the link isn’t broken) he doesn’t bat much of an eye even though some jackass comes on stage in the middle of the song to pelt him with confetti:


I was going to write something snarky about how the real つらさ is having to share the stage with the confetti pelters, but apparently they are celebrating Ishihara’s first television performance after recovering from an aortic aneurysm:


The real pain, though, is 別れのつらさ – the pain of parting/breaking up. Because of the nature of music (especially pop music), 別れ (わかれ) is a word you can expect to encounter frequently in the karaoke box. It’s just a noun from the verb 別れる.

I went hunting for other examples of 別れ and I found a great example: 別れても好きな人.

It’s a duet, one that was originally released in 1969 but got covered in 1979 and became a million-seller for “Los Indios and Sylvia” (ロス・インディオス&シルヴィア). The song gives you a great tour of famous parts of Tokyo, and duets are fun as hell. It’s always good to have a well-known duet up your karaoke sleeve, in your karaoke quiver, etc.

The grammar pattern the song highlights is one of the most basic: Gerund X + も = Despite X/even though X. In this case, “people you love/like/crush on even though you broke up.”

On a side note, the video I found above has a solid example of 壁ドン, a word which drew attention in 2014 when it was a runner up for word of the year. As you can see from this video, it has a pretty long history as a visual trope (although I have no idea what year the karaoke video was produced, could be later than 1979 I assume, but judging from the way the Scramble Crossing looks, it’s a while back):