My Translation Desktop

Monday night in Kanda, May 2018. Apropos of nothing other than that I, too, am a hardworking person.

I only vaguely remember my first electronic dictionary. I know I had a very small one I bought in Akihabara in 2003 that deftly jumped around between kanji and compounds. But I left it in a classroom when I got back to the states and someone took it. I’d written my name on it, I think, but it smeared a little.

I bought a new one on Amazon Japan first thing when I moved into my JET apartment, but it was bigger and bulkier and didn’t do the same tasks, despite being the same brand. Should’ve stuck with old reliable.

This was 2005, and I didn’t end up using the dictionary all that much. I switched over to the Nintendo DS kanji dictionary, which made it a breeze to draw out kanji I didn’t recognize. Since I got a smartphone in 2012, I haven’t even used that all that much.

Some of my reading I do either “skimming,” without looking up each word, and the rest (which I’m likely doing for JT articles or translation work), I’m right next to the computer and have the internet at my fingertips.

Part of the reason I can find these characters is Jim Breen. I was in the Japan Times late last month with a profile of him and a look at his WWWJDIC and underlying EDICT dictionary files: “At 180,000 entries, Jim Breen’s freeware Japanese dictionary is still growing.”

Jisho.org has been my favorite EDICT-based resource. I know that WWWJDIC has the mult-radical method as well, and maybe I should give the website another chance, but I just find Jisho so easy to use and well designed.

It’s also not often that I have to look up characters. I’m working on a big translation project that I hope to share soon, and I’m reading the text through Kindle on my iPhone, which I’ve written about previously.

I do have major complaints with the dictionary feature. Unlike Jisho, you have to hit the exact word or else it won’t return any hits. Which basically means you can’t search for conjugated verbs or adjectives or you have to hope that the individual kanji has a separate meaning/reading that will then enable you to find it with other stuff.

And my most major complaint with the Kindle is the limit on your ability to copy and paste text. I mean, I get it. You don’t want people copying and pasting the entire text, but it was so damn easy to copy from the iPhone and then paste on my desktop through the MacOS/iOS integration. There must be a way to allow copying and pasting single phrases/words with no limit. We have software smart enough to do this.

So my basic translation desktop setup is this:

Kenkyushu Green Goddess (5th edition) app open on my iPhone (for deep dives into usages and meanings that aren’t easily summarized in a few words)

And the following browser tabs, in no particular order:
http://jisho.org (for basic word look up)
http://www.alc.co.jp (for usage and context clues)
http://thesaurus.com (to give a tired English brain some alternatives or inspiration)
https://ejje.weblio.jp/ (for more diverse and at times reliable context and usage clues)
https://kotobank.jp/ (for Japanese definitions in order to more fully understand a word)

What am I missing? I feel like there must be an easier way to look up individual kanji. Any suggestions?

Yahoo Chiebukuro Deep Cuts – わいせつ

waisetsu

This post is belated, but I was in the Japan Times last week with an article about the kind of language used to translate Trump into Japanese: “Japanese translators forced to grab the Trump bull by the horns.”

I feel like this piece could have been stronger if I had been paying closer attention the whole way through, but unfortunately I hadn’t. I spend most of my time at work reading about politics and didn’t have the energy to do more in Japanese when I got home. So I was forced to upload as many Japanese sources as I could in a single weekend after I pitched the column to my editor.

Fortunately I’d had the insight to listen to that first NHK Radio podcast which, combined with the email, from my host mom gave me the introduction I needed to carry me through an article that makes sense, hopefully. Got some good comments, which is always nice!

A couple notes:

1. わいせつ (waisetsu, obscene/obscenity) is an interesting word that was combined not only with 発言 (hatsugen, remark) as mentioned in my article, but also 行為 (kōi, act), as Toranpu went on to be accused by several women. A quick search on Twitter for トランプ and わいせつ gives you a pretty interesting play-by-play of how it all went down. (On a side note, I really wish Twitter searches had Google-like controls, such as specifying date ranges.) Here are a few interesting tweets I came across:

https://twitter.com/search?q=トランプ%E3%80%80わいせつ&src=typd

Looking at the translation of “pussy”:

Random Twitter punditry:

An alternative for ロッカールームトーク:

How one website translated “totally made up nonsense”:

Japanese are amused by strange English:

2. わいせつ is also notable for being used exclusively in hiragana. This seems related to the definition of the jōyō kanji, which is connected to Japanese legal language. There’s a closer look at the kanji themselves at this link.

I knew there would be a Yahoo Chiebukuro entry related to this word, but I had no idea that it would be as epic as this page.

The questioner asks how to write ワイセツ in kanji and what it means. The best (and only) answer does provide the requested information (猥褻, vulgar/obscene), but then goes on to be kind of a dick and ask why the person couldn’t find the information on their own: これは、携帯で変換したらでてきませんか? (Couldn’t you convert [these kana] with your cell phone?) And then…これも、ググれば、辞典で出てきませんか? (If you had googled this, wouldn’t it come up in a dictionary?)

(Deep aside: Note the most excellent ググれば [If you googled] above!)

The answerer goes on to give a lengthy supplement about what exactly consists of a わいせつ act and what the punishments are under the law.

But the crowning jewel of this crazy post is the questioner’s follow up:

waisetsuyahoo

Translation: “My reply is late. I’m sorry. I’d gotten wrapped up in the categories for figurines. Thank you.”

Translation implication: This guy was trying to categorize his anime figures, wanted to know how to write “obscene” in kanji so he could properly categorize his dirty figures, gave up when he realized it was a difficult task, and opted to crowdsource on Yahoo?

The world may never know.

After JET Conference 2016

Hello from Narita Airport! I spent the last two days at the After JET Conference as a career consultant.

The After JET Conference used to be called the Returner’s Conference, but it has since been adjusted because many JETs hope to stay in Japan. The themes have thus changed from readjusting to life back home to learning about different industries and job hunting techniques in Japan. They even have a small career forum with excellent companies represented.

My role was to meet with JETs one-on-one for 20-minute career counseling sessions. It was a great experience. I spoke with 21 JETs over two afternoons and spoke to a larger group at a one-hour networking session. I talked about translation project management, graduate school, creative writing, freelance translation, developing a writing portfolio, pitching an editor, and consulate work.

I put together a handout for the networking session, and we ran out of copies, so I thought I would make it available here. It’s just a set of quick links and ideas for all of my background working both in Japan and the U.S., but hopefully it’s helpful.

If you were at the After JET Conference (or if you’re on JET now…or even just in Japan and are struggling to figure out what comes next) and have questions, please feel free to get in touch. I’d also be glad to take a quick look at cover letters or resumes. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did!

Ten Nights Dreaming, trans. Matt Treyvaud

tennights

Matt Treyvaud of No-Sword has a new translation of Natsume Soseki’s 夢十夜, titled Ten Nights Dreaming in his version. It is excellent. To borrow a phrase of praise from Pynchon, it comes on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by a hundred shakuhachi players, all suitably off pitch.

I believe I read the First Night in college. It’s a favorite for language teachers because of the play on words with the Japanese word for lily, which is 百合 (ゆり). I won’t spoil why this is a play on words in case you haven’t yet read it, although Matt explains it in his translation, so check out the original here on Aozora before you read his version.

I recently reread the First Night in Japanese for a Japanese reading group that I’ve been running (and meaning to blog about…) through the JET Alumni Association here in Chicago, but I’m not sure I’d previously read any of the other nights.

Highlights of the stories for me include: The entirety of the Third Night, which feels like a ghost story. The creepy image of bearded old man stepping into the river at the end of the Fourth Night. The slow motion plunge in the Seventh Night, and how the latter half of the collection creates a sense of the oddity of life in modern Japan, from Soseki’s perspective. The Tenth Night in particular feels incredibly fresh and lucid in Matt’s language.

Which was always half the problem with reading older Japanese authors, in my opinion. As an undergraduate, the stale language of older translations made reading them a bit like driving a car through a blizzard: It’s hard to enjoy the pleasure of driving when you’re straining just to see the road.

After the stories, Matt even includes “The Cat’s Grave,” a short piece of nonfiction, which is very nicely rendered and a bit sad. Here lies the cat, indeed.

The excellence of this translation shouldn’t come as a surprise to longtime followers of No-Sword. Matt did great work with his version of Botchan, which is also notable as the only Soseki translation (that I know of) which includes a reference to Spinal Tap. Here is a short section from Chapter 3 where the titular Botchan is getting settled in the classroom:

最初のうちは、生徒も烟けむに捲まかれてぼんやりしていたから、それ見ろとますます得意になって、べらんめい調を用いてたら、一番前の列の真中まんなかに居た、一番強そうな奴が、いきなり起立して先生と云う。そら来たと思いながら、何だと聞いたら、「あまり早くて分からんけれ、もちっと、ゆるゆる遣やって、おくれんかな、もし」と云った。おくれんかな、もしは生温なまぬるい言葉だ。

Behold as Matt turns up the translation to the proverbial eleven:

At first, I had the students confused and staring blankly. Ha! Score one for Tokyo. I was just getting into my stride, turning the alpha male knob up to eleven, when a sutdent sitting front and centre—the strongest-looking kid there—stood up and said “Sensei!”
“What?” I asked, thinking, Shit, here it comes.

“We cain’t unnerstan’ yuh none ‘cause yuh talkin’ too fast. Cain’t yuh maybe slow it down none, like?”

Can’t yuh maybe slow it down none, like? That was supposed to be a sentence?

It’s worth adding both to your library and keeping an eye on Matt’s future translation projects.

Generosity

Chapter 26 “Power Station” has very few cuts but many examples of how generous Birnbaum is as a translator. In the chapter, Boku and the Librarian wander out to the Power Station near the entrance of the woods in search of a musical instrument.

Here’s a quick cut. This is Birnbaum’s version:

We encounter beasts scavenging for food in the withered grasses. Their pale gold tinged with white, strands of fur grown longer than in autumn, their coats thicker. Yet their hunger is plain; they are lean and pitiful. Their shoulder blades underscore the skin of their backs like the armature of old furniture, their spindly legs knock on swollen joints. The corners of their mouths hang sallow and tired, their eyes lack life. (276)

And the original with my translation:

枯れた草の上を獣たちが食べ物を求めてさまよっている姿にも出会った。彼らは白みを帯びた淡い金色の毛皮に包まれていた。その毛は秋よりはずっと長く、そして厚くなっていたが、それでも彼らの体が前に比べて遥かにやせこけていることははっきりと見てとれた。肩の上には古いソファーのスプリングのようにくっきりとした形の骨がとびだし、口もとの肉はだらしなく見えるまでにたるんで下に垂れ下がっていた。眼には生彩がとぼしく、四肢の関節は球形にふくらんでいる。変わっていないのは額から突き出た一本の白い角だけだった。角は以前と同じように、まっすぐに誇らしげに空を突いていた。 (400)

We also come upon the beasts wandering about the withered grass in search of food. They are covered in light gold hair tinged with white. The hair is much longer than in autumn, and it’s gotten much thicker, but it is clear from looking at them that they are far skinnier than before. The bones on their shoulders stick out clearly like the springs in an old sofa, and the flesh around their mouths sags so that they appear disheveled. The luster in their eyes is gone, and the joints on their limbs are swollen. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the single white horn projecting out from their foreheads. The horn is, as before, straight and pointed proudly into the sky.

It’s kind of a strange cut. I imagine he does so to maintain the kind of somber, winter mood as they head out. It’s also not essential info that needs to be kept. You can tell from my plain translation that Birnbaum is working very hard to render a poetic version. The word “armature” is a great example of this.

Birnbaum does this throughout the chapter. Here’s another example, followed by the Japanese:

We decide to walk around the building. The Power Station is slightly longer than wide, its side wall similarly dotted with clerestory vents, but it has no other door. (278)

我々は建物をぐるりと一周してみることにした。発電所は正面よりは奥行の方がいくぶんながく、そちらの壁にも正面と同じように高く小さな窓が一列に並び、窓からあの奇妙な風音が聞こえていた。しかしドアはない。 (403)

“Clerestory vents” is the much more literal 高く小さな窓 (“small, high windows”) in the original. This passage also shows how he is still making small cuts as necessary.

Just a tiny little chapter. Now back to Hard-boiled Wonderland. Fortunately it looks like the next chapter isn’t that long.

面白い

I shared my most recent Japan Times article on the Facebook group Translators (Japanese<->English) because someone had mentioned the Green Goddess a month or so ago, and strangely enough Jim Breen himself responded! I’m fairly chuffed about this comment:

Breen

So now when you look up 面白い there’s a third listing that includes the definition “pleasant; enjoyable; agreeable; fun.” I can’t seem to find an archived version, so I’m not sure exactly how much it’s changed. Can’t seem to find a way to link a specific definition either, so here’s the JDIC top page.

So, yeah, that was cool.

Pigeon

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to build up my hopes and dreams for Murakami to win the Nobel Prize for Literature only to have them dashed by some Norwegian guy.

I don’t actually get my hopes up anymore—I feel like I have a more objective view of Murakami’s work now, so I see why there’s just as good a chance that he never wins—but I am a sucker for tradition. So on that note…

Welcome to the Eighth Annual How to Japanese Murakami Fest!

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

Year One: BoobsThe WindBaseballLederhosenEels, Monkeys, and Doves
Year Two: Hotel Lobby OystersCondomsSpinning Around and Around街・町The Town and Its Uncertain WallA Short Piece on the Elephant that Crushes Heineken Cans
Year Three: “The Town and Its Uncertain Wall” – Words and WeirsThe LibraryOld DreamsSaying GoodbyeLastly
Year Four: More DrawersPhone CallsMetaphorsEight-year-olds, dudeUshikawaLast Line
Year Five: Jurassic SapporoGerry MulliganAll Growns UpDanceMountain Climbing
Year Six: Sex With Fat WomenCoffee With the ColonelThe LibrarianOld ManWatermelons
Year Seven: WarmthRebirthWasteland, Hard-ons, Seventeen, Embrace

passenger

This year I’m too short on time to continue my Hard-boiled Wonderland project for the whole month (I’ve gotten mired in an awfully long chapter which I will hopefully complete at some point), so I thought I would take a look at material from the 自作を語る pamphlets that Murakami included with his Complete Works. He used these to provide commentary on his writing process. Jay Rubin has used a number of excerpts in his book, and Murakami has rewritten many of those stories over and over, such as the baseball origin.

Recently Murakami told this story again as an introduction for the new, official translations of his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. This intro has been published in The Telegraph in full.

I read it without really noticing anything until a friend said to me, “Aren’t passenger pigeons extinct?” Yet Murakami claims to have encountered a passenger pigeon on the day he learned he was a finalist for the writing competition that he eventually won. I went looking for this passage in the Japanese. Obviously this isn’t identical to the one in The Telegraph; it’s a different version, one Murakami wrote 25 years ago for the Complete Works, but he’s writing about the same moment. Let’s take a look:

『風の歌を聴け』が最終選考に残ったと『群像』編集部のMさんから知らされた日のことをよく覚えている。それは春の始めの日曜日の朝のことだった。僕はもう三十になっていた。その頃には新人賞に応募したことさえすっかり忘れていたので(原稿を送ったのは秋だった)、電話がかかってきて、最終選考に残りました、と言われたとき、仰天してしまった。それからとても嬉しくなった。僕は作家になってからいろんな喜びを体験したけれど、あれほど嬉しかったことは一度もない。新人賞そのものを取ったときですらあれほど嬉しくはなかった。その電話を切ってから女房とふたりで外に散歩に出た。そして千駄ヶ谷小学校の前で、羽に傷を負って飛べなくなった鳩をみつけた。僕はその鳩を両手に抱いたまま、原宿まで歩いて、表参道の交番に届けた。その間ずっと鳩は僕の手の中でどきどきと震えていた。その微かな生命のしるしと、温かみを僕は今でも手のひらに鮮やかに思いだすことができる。それはぼんやりとした暖かな春の朝だった。貴重な生命の匂いがあたりに満ちていた。たぶん新人賞を取ることになるだろうな、と僕は思った。何の根拠もない予感として。

そして実際に僕は償を取った。

I remember really well the day that M-san from the Gunzō editorial department called to say that Hear the Wind Sing made it to the finalists. It was a Sunday morning in early spring. I had already turned 30. At that point I had completely forgotten that I submitted to the contest (I sent the manuscript in the fall), so when the phone rang and they said, you made it to the finalists, I was shocked. Then incredibly happy. I’ve experienced all different sorts of joy since becoming a writer, but never have I been as happy as that. I wasn’t even as happy as that when I actually won the New Writer’s contest. After getting off the phone, I went out for a walk with my wife. We found a pigeon with an injured wing that couldn’t fly in front of Sendagaya Elementary School. I walked to Harajuku with the pigeon in my hands and brought it to the police box in Omotesando. It shivered nervously in my hands the whole time. Even now I can vividly remember that faint sign of life and its warmth in the palms of my hands. It was a vaguely warm spring morning. The area was filled with the smell of precious life. I thought to myself, maybe you’ll win the New Writer’s prize. A sort of premonition without any basis.

And then I actually won the prize.

As you can see from the Japanese, he uses 鳩. Passenger pigeon is リョコウバト or 旅行鳩. Makes me curious to see what word the original Japanese for the piece from The Telegraph uses. I wonder whether the editors at The Telegraph lodged any complaints or even noticed (or whether the translator, Ted Goossen, did). I imagine that the Japanese editions may get rereleased in Japan, maybe even in a combined text, along with this intro essay, so we might be able to check at some point.

Other than that the story is almost identical. Murakami is not as emphatic about how “bright and clear” the day was in this version, although I’m not sure if I’ve rendered ぼんやりとした correctly. Is it modifying the kind of heat on the day?

Next week I’ll try to take something from the Pinball, 1973 section, and I’ll continue on through his works all this month. Check back next week!

2nd JLPP Translation Competition English Quotes

Just a quick post to share some knowledge. I’m working on my translations for the 2nd JLPP Translation Competition. It’s a little late to get started if you haven’t already, but if you’re working on 「昭和が発見したもの」, then this might be useful.

In the essay, there are several quotes from foreign scholars given in Japanese. I think it’s a mistake to try and translate these yourself. The translations really should be provided by the JLPP, in my opinion, because not including them tests your Google skills rather than your translation ability.

At any rate, I believe I’ve managed to track them all down (so far), and I thought I’d share them. Here they are:

Isaiah Berlin: “I have lived through most of the twentieth century without, I must add, suffering personal hardship. I remember it only as the most terrible century in Western history.”

René Dumont: “I see it (the twentieth century) only as a century of massacres and wars.”

William Golding: “the most violent century in human history”

Peter Gay: “It remains one of the achievements of which the dismal twentieth century can rightfully boast: it has raised Mozart’s music—all of it—to the eminence it deserves.”

Hope that helps.