“Snow Day” by Kanoko Okamoto

Apropos of plugging my Japanese Reading Group, which is entering its fifth consecutive year (!), and of getting in a November blog post before things get crazy with homebrew club festivals, cider brewing, and the holidays, here is my translation of the reading we did for October, a real gem of a story:

Snow Day

Kanoko Okamoto

One winter we were living in a big, old apartment on Kaiserdamm in Berlin. Outside the snow was falling in waves. Inside, our heater had a large chimney that went through the ceiling, and we kept filling it with firewood. There were only rumbles from the trains and the honk of car horns; not even the dogs were barking in the midday quiet elicited by the snowfall. There was a loud knock at the door. “Who could this be with all the snow?” I thought as I opened the door. A group of three workers trundled in, made up of a young man, a middle-aged man, and an old man.

“We’re here to fix the electrical lines.”

They were all quite friendly looking. I hadn’t expected them, so I was taken aback for a moment, but I quickly came to my senses and showed them inside. I came to like the workers in Berlin soon after arriving there (I got to Berlin at the start of summer). Most of them were cheerful and had a true naïveté. I don’t know how many times I saw workers packed into the back of a truck smile and wave at us foreigners as they passed by. These lovely people had willingly taken on a working life, so whenever presented with the opportunity, we treated them with kindness and never for a moment behaved with the caution typical of some foreigners. At first glance, the workers’ clothes seemed disheveled, but when I looked closer, it was clear they had fastidious German cleanliness—that is to say, their wives or daughters had done an excellent job of washing them and patching them back together.

They finished the electrical repairs. I could see from the window that the snow was still coming down outside. When I offered them a fur rug, they sat down without protest and faced the heater. Unfortunately our maid caught a cold two or three days earlier and had taken off work. My husband the whole time was in the far room, completely absorbed in cartoons he was working on to send to Japanese newspapers. I made tea on my own and offered it to them.

“I’ll get you some cigarettes, Japanese cigarettes,” I said and started to get up to get some Shikijima cigarettes from my husband.

As I did, the middle-aged man said, “We don’t need cigarettes, miss. [Westerners have a tough time telling how old Asians are.] Instead, sing a Japanese song for us.”

“Do you sing songs in Japan, miss?” the old man asked in such a gentle way.

I adjusted the way I was sitting and granted their request right away. I had everyone close their eyes and I sang “Katyusha” in Japanese style without letting my voice quiver. The young man said it was Russian style, which impressed upon me Germans’ nature as a people of music. Next, to prove I could sing a truly Japanese song, I sang, “Quickly, quickly quickly, up and over the waves!*
The middle-aged man complained again: “Miss, that sounds like a men’s college song. We wanted a Japanese woman’s song…something you yourself might usually sing.”

Ah, of course, I thought to myself, and then, with a renewed focus, I sang for them in an unadorned tone: Sakura, sakura, across the spring sky, as far as the eye can see. Is it mist or clouds? Fragrant in the air. Come now, come now, let’s go and see them*.

They stood up happily and praised the elegant, sweet melody. “We’ll tell all our buddies,” they said, complimenting me as they slung their tools over their shoulders. Then they glanced out the window at the snow that continued to fall and fall so evenly and headed for the door. Until—

The young man who had been silent to that point stopped and turned to me with a look of pleading in his eyes.

He said, “Could I have a stamp? Just one Japanese postage stamp. I collect them from around the world.”

I peeled off several stamps from the envelopes of letters dear to me that had arrived from home and placed them into the palm of his poor hand, gnarled and rough from an intense life of labor.

This is such a well constructed short. It starts and ends with vivid images—the quiet of snow-covered streets, filling the stove, the chimney piercing the ceiling (which must’ve been so striking for Japanese at the time), peeling off stamps from letters, and the final zoom into the worker’s palm.

Okamoto is a strangely intertwined figure. Her brother studied with Junichiro Tanizaki, she was close with Yosano Akiko, she married a famous cartoonist, and her son was Tarō Okamoto, a famous artist known for the Tower of the Sun. Sadly she died at 49 of a brain hemorrhage and most of her works were published posthumously.

Check out the other readings for our reading group here, and feel free to contact me about joining us (we meet online via Google Hangouts) the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 CST.

The End of the World

Here we are, the final chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I first read this book during the summer of 1999. I remember the first 100 pages being a slog and then just flying through the second half.

(I was visiting colleges while I read the book, and it had me convinced that I wanted to study cognitive neuroscience, even though the only thing I knew about cognitive neuroscience was the limited perspective of Murakami’s old man scientist. By “I want to study cognitive neuroscience” I basically meant “I really like this book I’m reading right now by Haruki Murakami.”)

I finished the book ravenously as I was on a flight home to New Orleans, worried that we might crash or I might otherwise expire—like our embattled data agent—and not know how the book ended.

Fortunately I’ve survived 20 years and finished the book in both languages. Pretty cool.

Here are the previous Murakami Fest posts:

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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape, Window Seats

Chapter 40 “Birds” is the last chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Boku and his shadow have arrived at the Southern Pool and stand at its edge quietly for a moment just looking at it as the snow falls around them. When the shadow suggests they jump in, Boku says he’s staying and can’t go. He’s realized he has a responsibility to everything in the Town because he’s created them all; they’re all part of him. The shadow is angry and they discuss what it means to stay—the conversation is treated quite differently in translation than the original. Then the shadow jumps in the pool. Boku turns back toward the town with thoughts of the Librarian and his accordion, and the book ends.

Here’s the conversation the two have in the original Japanese:

影は立ちあがって、たまりの静かな水面をじっと見つめた。降りしきる雪の中に身じろぎひとつせずに立った影は、少しずつその奥行を失い、本来の扁平な姿に戻りつつあるような印象を僕に与えた。長いあいだ二人は黙りこんでいた。口から吹きだされる白い息だけが宙に浮かび、そして消えていった。

「止めても無駄なことはよくわかった」と影は言った。「しかし森の中の生活は君が考えているよりずっと大変なものだよ。森は街とは何から何までが違うんだ。生き延びるための労働は厳しいし、冬は長く辛い。一度森に入れば二度とそこを出ることはできない。永遠に君はその森の中にいなくてはならないんだよ」

「そのこともよく考えたんだ」

「しかし心は変わらないんだね?」

「変わらない」と僕は言った。「君のことは忘れないよ。森の中で古い世界のことも少しずつ思いだしていく。思いださなくちゃならないことはたぶんいっぱいあるだろう。いろんな人や、いろんな場所や、いろんな光や、いろんな唄をね」

影は体の前で両手を組んで、それを何度ももみほぐした。影の体に積もった雪が彼に不思議な陰影を与えていた。その陰影は彼の体の上でゆっくりと伸びちぢみしているように見えた。彼は両手をこすりあわせながらまるでその音に耳を澄ませるかのように、軽く頭を傾けていた。

「そろそろ俺は行くよ」と影は言った。「しかしこの先二度と会えないというのはなんだか妙なものだな。最後に何て言えばいいのかがわからない。きりの良いことばがどうしても思いつけないんだ」

僕はもう一度帽子を脱いで雪を払い、かぶりなおした。

「幸せになることを祈ってるよ」と影は言った。「君のことは好きだったよ。俺が君の影だということを抜きにしてもね」

「ありがとう」と僕は言った。 (590-591)

My shadow stands up and stares at the calm surface of the Pool. Standing absolutely still in the heavy snow, he gives the impression that he’s gradually losing all of his depth and returning to his original flatness. We are silent for a long while. Only puffs of white breath emerge from our mouths into the air and then disappear.

“I knew it was futile to try and stop you,” my shadow says. “But life in the Woods will be much more difficult than you think. The Woods are entirely different from the Town. It’s tough work to survive, and winter is long and trying. Once you enter, you cannot leave. You’ll have to remain in the Woods forever.”

“I’ve considered this, too.”

“And you haven’t changed your mind?”

“No,” I say. “I won’t forget you. I’ll slowly start to remember things about the old world as well. There are likely many things that I’ll have to remember. Many people, places, lights, songs.”

My shadow crosses his arms in front of him and rubs them together several times. The snow that collects on his body gives him a mysterious shadow that seems to expand and contract over him. He rubs both hands together and tilts his head ever so slightly as though listening for the sound they make.

“I’m going to go,” he says. “But it’s strange to think we’ll never see each other again. I don’t know what to say in the end. I can’t think of the right words to leave things.”

I take off my hat again, brush off the snow, and put it back on.

“I hope that you’ll be happy,” my shadow says. “I loved you. And not just because I was your shadow.”

“Thank you,” I say.

And here is Birnbaum’s official translation, which makes some significant adjustments:

My shadow rises and stares at the calm surface of the Pool. He stands motionless amid the falling snow. Neither of us says a word. White puffs of breath issue from our mouths.

“I cannot stop you,” admits my shadow. “Maybe you can’t die here, but you will not be living. You will merely exist. There is no ‘why’ in a world that would be perfect in itself. Nor is surviving in the Woods anything like you imagine. You’ll be trapped for all eternity.”

“I am not so sure,” I say. “Nor can you be. A little by little, I will recall things. People and places from our former world, different qualities of light, different songs. And as I remember, I may find the key to my own creation, and to its undoing.”

“No, I doubt it. Not as long as you are sealed inside yourself. Search as you might, you will never know the clarity of distance without me. Still, you can’t say I didn’t try,” my shadow says, then pauses. “I loved you.”

“I will not forget you,” I reply. (399)

He’s clearly taken some liberties in dictating through the shadow what it will mean for Boku to stay in the Town. I had to look at the 1985 paperback version twice just to make sure that Murakami himself hadn’t made cuts to the 1990 Complete Works edition; when Birnbaum and the Complete Works editions don’t align, often it’s been because Birnbaum was clearly translating based on the 1985 edition. But that’s not the case here. The “You will merely exist” feels so appropriate for this world, but it’s not in the Japanese.

That said, Birnbaum’s translation is just supreme—“different qualities of light” is such a perfect line.

***

So what have we learned?

We’ve learned that Murakami made changes to the original version of Hard-boiled Wonderland that was published in 1985 for the Complete Works version that was published in 1990. He cuts some name drops, some random asides, and some jokes. Some changes are a little strange, and sometimes as small as a single sentence in a chapter. I don’t think it’s too farfetched to say that many of these changes were made after Murakami saw the English translation. Too many of the cuts coincide too perfectly with cuts that Birnbaum made in translation.

It’s conceivable that Birnbaum was working based off of the manuscript for the 1990 version, but there are places that Murakami cuts and Birnbaum keeps, which would be strange unless he was actively comparing the two different manuscripts. I think it’s more likely he completed the translation in 1988 or 1989, Murakami saw the translation during the editing process, and then he had time to make adjustments to the Complete Works text. I wonder whether he would have read the English himself or whether the editors noted specifically which sections were being removed from the Japanese.

At any rate, this was a very productive time during Murakami’s career, and we’ve learned that he was recycling themes and images across works, notably from his 1985 short story collection Dead-heat on a Merry Go Round.

We’ve learned that Birnbaum is a brilliant writer and translator. His prose is beautiful and hilarious. He has excellent control over the tone of the work and how that builds the worlds, especially in the End of the World sections.

But we also know that he has several techniques that “improve” the work in translation. He uses space breaks to create dramatic moments and trims the endings of chapters so that they’re either dramatic dialogue or in media res. He adds entirely new lines to make things more dramatic.

He does, however, alter the work at times. He trims sections where Murakami tends to run long in his usual improvisational way, mostly with good results but occasionally something nice gets axed. He tends to cut places where Watashi brings in the outside world, sections that point to a larger context for his feeling of helplessness, and suggest that it refers more broadly to the human condition.

Overall he dials down the sexiness. From the beginning he’s a little less blatant about Watashi’s vision of the Girl in Pink. He dials back on a lovely exchange with the Librarian and cuts some of the sexy encounters between Watashi and the Girl in Pink entirely, including one where he drops his pants to show her his erection (!).

We’ve also learned that even the best translators make mistakes, or are forced into mistakes through their editors.

Hard-boiled Wonderland is really a perfect text to analyze Murakami’s editing process, how Japanese writers were translated during the 80s and early 90s (especially before they had much clout in the publishing industry and before the anime/manga boom really took hold), and the goals of translation more broadly. There are a probably a few other works that present opportunities this rich, notably Dance Dance Dance and Wind-up Bird Chronicle (both of which had extensive cuts in translation, about which Jay Rubin has been very transparent) and Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball 1973, and Norwegian Wood (all of which have been translated twice by multiple different translators). At the very least, I think someone could do a really good paper about Murakami’s preparation of the Complete Works texts.

I wonder whether Hard-boiled Wonderland was the only work he edited for re-publication. I have a feeling that this is not the case.

***

I was disappointed with the ending the first time I read the book. I wanted Boku to escape and Watashi to live. I wanted him to somehow succeed against everything he was facing—the System, the Factory, the Gatekeeper. I’d even started to wonder whether the Girl in Pink pulled a Psycho move and had him frozen in her apartment. But the ending has grown on me.

We have an approximation of Murakami’s vision of escape from the novella “The Town and its Uncertain Wall,” which was a first draft of sorts for this novel. The narrator escapes and ends up being tortured by nostalgic yearnings of life in the Town. We know nothing about this narrator—it’s not the clearly defined Murakami male persona from Hard-boiled Wonderland—but it’s easy to imagine Watashi in the Hell of a forced continued existence in the modern world, with an itch he’s never able to scratch (presumably after he’s separated himself from that interior world); the whole novel has basically been to show how miserable he has it. Better for him to pass into the tautology of his inner experience.

I do wonder sometimes whether Murakami will write a sequel. He’s left enough threads unfollowed—we have the Girl in Pink freezing the body and the Woods are yet unexplored and filled with different people. But more and more frequently Murakami just repeats “I never remember what I wrote” when asked about past works. More recently, he only seems to write sequels immediately after completion of a book as with 1Q84 and Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

And part of me doesn’t want him to change anything. It’s such an interesting work as is.

I also wonder whether there will be another attempt at translation. I imagine this won’t happen until after Murakami dies, perhaps not even until the work goes into the public domain. We’ll all have expired into our personal Ends of the World by that point. And to be honest, I don’t know that the original Birnbaum translation can be topped—I think this is something else we’ve learned through this project.

____

Update:

I’m realizing now that readers who come across this post may not understand the difference between Murakami Fest and this Hard-boiled Wonderland Project. Although they overlapped at times, I started blogging about untranslated Murakami works once a year around the Nobel Prize announcements in the early years of the blog. In 2012, in an attempt to post on the site more frequently, I started blogging about the translation of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. You can see an index of all those posts on this page.

Window Seats

Murakami Fest 2018, Week 3! The PENULTIMATE chapter of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Here are the previous fest posts:

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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers, Escape

Chapter 39 is titled “Popcorn, Lord Jim, Extinction.” Watashi and the Librarian buy beer and drive to Hibiya Park where they sit and drink and talk about life. She heads off to shop after a bit, and Watashi watches a mother and child feed the pigeons. He drinks more beer, burns his credit cards. He buys popcorn for himself and the pigeons, does more thinking about the fairness of life, and whether fairness matters. He calls his apartment and is surprised to find the chubby Girl in Pink who is going to live in his apartment and promises to freeze him, possibly so her grandfather can bring him back to life later. Watashi drives to the pier where he parks, thinks about happiness while listening to Bob Dylan, and then gives himself over to sleep (and presumably dies).

This chapter has the usual in terms of cuts/adjustments from Birnbaum (or his editor): trimming here and there, a few larger cuts where Murakami gets wordy, and the timely addition of a space break.

But it also has the rare Murakami self-edit! Hooray! I’m so glad we got at least one more of these in the final chapters.

Take a look at this section from the original 1985 version with my translation:

「どうして離婚したの?」と彼女が訊いた。

「旅行するとき電車の窓側の席に座れないから」と私は言った。

「冗談でしょ?」

「J.D.サリンジャーの小説にそう科白があったんだ。高校生のときに読んだ」

「本当はどうなの?」

「簡単だよ。五年か六年前の夏に出ていったんだ。出ていったきり二度と戻らなかった」 (324)

“Why did you get divorced?” she asked.

“She never let me sit in the window seat on the train when we traveled,” I said.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s a line from Salinger novel. I read it when I was in high school.”

“What was the real reason?”

“Simple, really. She up and left the summer five or six years ago. She left and never came back.”

And here is Birnbaum’s official translation, which cuts the reference to Franny and Zooey:

“Why’d you get divorced?” she asked.

“Because she never let me sit by the window on trips.”

She laughed. “Really, why?”

“Quite simple, actually. Five or six summers ago, she up and left. Never came back.” (388)

Pretty minor changes, but still adjusted.

Now take a look at what Murakami did to the manuscript for the Complete Works edition in 1990:

「どうして離婚したの?」と彼女が訊いた。

「簡単だよ。五年か六年前の夏に出ていったんだ。出ていったきり二度と戻らなかった」 (573)

“Why did you get divorced?” she asked.

“Simple, really. She up and left the summer five or six years ago. She left and never came back.”

He cuts the whole joke! I wonder if he thought it wasn’t funny anymore or that the Salinger name drop wasn’t necessary. Kind of a weird little cut, which is similar to some of the other things he’s cut.

There are two weightier sections that Murakami keeps but get trimmed in translation and are worth looking at.

Here’s the Birnbaum translation of a section with Watashi and the Librarian talking. He’s talking about a line from The Brothers Karamazov when Alyosha is telling Kolya Krasotkin about his future:

“When I first read that, I didn’t know what Alyosha meant,” I said. “How was it possible for a life of misery to be happy overall? But then I understood, that misery could be limited to the future.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Neither do I,” I said. “Not yet.”

***

She laughed and stood up, brushing the grass from her slacks. “I’ll be going. It’s almost time anyway.” (389)

As you can see, he does some pretty serious tidying up, using the space break to do a massive cut:

「アリョーシャはいろんなことがわかるんだ」と私は言った。「しかしそれを読んだとき僕はかなり疑問に思った。とても不幸な人生を総体として祝福することは可能だろうかってね」

「だから人生を限定するの?」

「かもしれない」と私は言った。「僕はきっと君の御主人にかわってバスの中で鉄の花瓶で殴り殺されるべきだったんだ。そういうのこそ僕の死に方にふさわしいような気がする。直接的で断片的でイメージが完結している。何かを考える暇もないしね」

私は芝生に寝転んだまま顔を上げて、さっき雲のあったあたりに目をやった。雲はもうなかった。くすの木の葉かげに隠れてしまったのだ。

「ねえ、私もあなたの限定されたヴィジョンの中に入りこむことはできるかしら?」と彼女が訊いた。

「誰でも入れるし、誰でも出ていける」と私は言った。「そこが限定されたヴィジョンの優れた点なんだ。入るときには靴をよく拭いて、出ていくときにはドアを閉めていくだけでいいんだ。みんなそうしている」

彼女は笑って立ちあがり、コットン・パンツについた芝を手で払った。「そろそろ行くわ。もう時間でしょ」 (574-575)

“Alyosha knew all sorts of stuff,” I said. “But when I read that, I had my doubts—whether or not a miserable life could be fortunate on the whole.”

“That’s why you limited your life?”

“Maybe so,” I said. “I should’ve been brained with an iron vase in that bus instead of your husband. I feel like that was really the way for me to go. Direct, fragmentary, a self-contained image. Without a second to think about anything.”

I looked up from my position lying on the grass and looked over at the cloud we’d seen. It was gone. It had been hidden by the shade of the camphor tree’s leaves.

“So, is there room for me in your limited vision?” she asked.

“Everyone is welcome in, and everyone can leave,” I said. “That’s one of the best parts of a limited vision. Just wipe your feet when you come in, and close the door when you leave. That’s what everyone does.”

She laughed and stood up, brushing off a few pieces of grass from her cotton pants. “I’m gonna get out of here. It’s time.”

That feels like a pretty significant cut. This is Murakami exploring his main metaphor for the human condition/human interaction: We only ever encounter others within our self, fundamentally making human interaction limited.

I don’t think my rendering does the passage justice. Birnbaum’s is hilarious and reads really well. But it does leave that little bit out—the Librarian wants into his life, and he lets her in.

It also brings back the kind of throwaway plot detail of the Librarian’s husband and how he bit the dust, which was funny as a non-sequitur.

Birnbaum also makes another significant cut once the Librarian goes and Watashi is left on his own to think about everything:

I closed my eyes, I felt a ripple run through my mind. The wave went beyond sadness or solitude; it was a great, deep moan that resonated in my bones. It would not subside. I braced myself, elbows against the backrest of the park bench. No one could help me, no more than I could help anyone else.

I wanted a smoke, but I couldn’t find my cigarettes. … (391)

Damn. This is such an amazing translation that I’m kind of embarrassed to share my rendering of the scene. But it must be done. Here’s what the original looks like:

私はこの世界から消え去りたくはなかった。目を閉じると私は自分の心の揺らぎをはっきりと感じとることができた。それは哀しみや孤独感を超えた、私自身の存在を根底から揺り動かすような深く大きなうねりだった。そのうねりはいつまでもつづいた。私はベンチの背もたれに肘をついて、そのうねりに耐えた。誰も私を助けてはくれなかった。誰にも私を救うことはできないのだ。ちょうど私が誰をも救うことができなかったのと同じように。

私は声をあげて泣きたかったが、泣くわけにはいかなかった。涙を流すには私はもう年をとりすぎていたし、あまりに多くのことを経験しすぎていた。世界には涙を流すことのできない哀しみというのが存在するのだ。それは誰に向かっても説明することができないし、たとえ説明できたとしても、誰にも理解してもらうことのできない種類のものなのだ。その哀しみはどのような形に変えることもできず、風のない夜の雪のようにただ静かに心に積っていくだけのものなのだ。

もっと若い頃、私はそんな哀しみをなんとか言葉に変えてみようと試みたことがあった。しかしどれだけ言葉を尽くしてみても、それを誰かに伝えることはできないし、自分自身にさえ伝えることはできないのだと思って、私はそうすることをあきらめた。そのようにして私は私の言葉を閉ざし、私の心を閉ざしていった。深い哀しみというのは涙という形をとることさえできないものなのだ。

煙草を吸おうと思ったが、煙草の箱はなかった。… (579-580)

I didn’t want to disappear from this world. I closed my eyes and could clearly make out the palpitations of my heart. It was a tremendous, deep surge, something completely beyond sadness and loneliness, that seemed to be beating from the foundation of my own existence. The surge continued forever. I put my elbows on the back of the bench and endured it. No one would help me. No one could save me. Just as I couldn’t save anyone, either.

I wanted to cry out, but I couldn’t cry. I was too old for tears and had experienced too much. The world contained sadness that you couldn’t shed tears over. The type of thing that you couldn’t explain to anyone and that even if you did, no one could understand it. That sadness never changed shaped and instead just built up quietly in your heart like snow on a windless night.

When I was younger, I tried to put that kind of sadness into words. But no matter how many words I tried, I couldn’t communicate it to anyone, and I don’t think even to my self, so I gave up trying. That’s how I closed off my words and closed off my heart. Deep sadness can’t even take the form of tears.

I wanted to smoke, but I didn’t have a box of cigarettes. …

Ok, maybe not as bad as I thought, but not as good as “a great, deep moan that resonated in my bones.”

This section, too, feels very Murakami. It doesn’t necessarily fit in this book—since when is our data agent an aspiring writer?!—but it does sound a lot like the narrators in Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, kind of struggling through loss and life, unable to really articulate what they’re going through. It seems pretty funny and telling/true that he reaches for his cigarettes after this.

But it also feels a bit too over the top perhaps from our otherwise relatively stoic data agent. So I can see why it gets the axe.

Hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. One final chapter! Hard to believe…

Escape

Murakami Fest 2018, Week 2.

Previous posts are 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: WarmthRebirthWastelandHard-onsSeventeenEmbrace
Year Eight: PigeonEditsMagazinesAwkwardnessBack Issues
Year Nine: WaterSnæfellsnesCannonballDistant Drumming
Year Ten: VermontersWandering and BelongingPeter Cat, Sushi Counter, Murakami Fucks First
Year Eleven: Embers

Chapter 38 is titled “Escape.” Boku reads dreams, searching for bits of the Librarian’s mind, until the light of morning erases the glimmers from the skulls (just like in the Hard-boiled Wonderland section!). The Librarian makes him coffee and then watches over him while he takes a nap. He then goes to the Gatehouse while the Gatekeeper is out burning beasts, steals the key, and then frees his Shadow from the subterranean room where he’s kept. The Shadow can’t walk, so Boku carries him and they make their way to the Southern Pool, which the Shadow believes is the only way out of the Town.

There are a handful of lines cut, but nothing all that dramatic. Just a trimming here and there, some of which comes naturally in the translation process. So it’s a little difficult to pick out a section to highlight, but the paragraph with the most cuts also happens to be the Shadow’s explanation of how he determined that the Southern Pool is the only exit from the town, so these feel like the weightiest cuts. Here’s Birnbaum’s official translation:

“At first, it was only intuition that told me the Town had an exit,” he says. “For the very reason that the perfection of the Town must include all possibilities. Therefore, if an exit is our wish, an exit is what we get. Do you follow me?” (385)

And here’s the original translation with my translation which, as usual, features Murakami’s extended explanation:

「俺がこの街に必ず隠された出口があると思ったのははじめは直感だった。でもそのうちにそれは確信になった。なぜならこの街は完全な街だからだ。完全さというものは必ずあらゆる可能性を含んでいるものなんだ。そういう意味ではここは街とさえもいえない。もっと流動的で総体的なものだ。あらゆる可能性を提示しながら絶えずその形を変え、そしてその完全性を維持している。つまりここは決して固定して完結した世界ではないんだ。動きながら完結している世界なんだ。だからもし俺が脱出口を望むなら、脱出口はあるんだよ。君には俺の言ってることわかるかい?」 (569-570)

“At first I just had a feeling the Town had a hidden exit. But soon enough I was convinced of it: the Town is a perfect town. Perfection as a concept always includes all possibilities. In that sense, this isn’t even a town, really. It’s something more fluid, more wholistic. It presents every possibility, changing constantly, thereby maintaining its perfection. In other words, this isn’t a fixed, complete world. It’s a world that completes itself as it moves. So if I want a way to escape, then a way to escape there is. Do you get what I’m saying?”

I’m not sure I get what the implication of this passage is, other than that perhaps a human self is self-complete, even as it changes and adjusts. It can never not be itself, which is what the Town is. Something like that?

Or maybe it’s just Murakami “completing” his novel by creating the explanation for an escape. The edited English version feels like a fine localization.

And then there were two (chapters)…

Magnetic Lassos and Other Translation Thoughts

Wrangling a translation.

The last five months have flown by. In March I moved on from my job with the Japanese Consulate into a new position here in Chicago that still has me connected with Japan. My exit from the consulate position was comically awfully, due to no fault of my own (…well, not really). I’ll resist spilling the details here, but you should definitely buy me a drink sometime and force me to tell you about it.

During the week in between jobs, I was contacted about translating a Japanese light novel. I started a sample translation the same week I started the new job, and the offer for the project came two weeks after that.

And for the five months since, I’ve been translating at a pace of about two 文庫本 (bunkobon, paperback) pages a day. Some days I did significantly more, and I took off a few days here and there and about two weeks to travel to Japan for a conference in May.

I submitted the translation last Sunday and wanted to record my thoughts about the experience while they’re still fresh in case they’re of use to anyone (and so that I can remember what this felt like when I’m 95).

Logistics:

  • I submitted the translations in two halves with two invoices, minus a small advance that came immediately upon accepting the project (which was taken from the first half payment). I had about the same amount of time for each half.
  • I won’t discuss my rate other than to say that I tried to get close to what I request for most translations (a fairly reasonable rate, as far as I’m aware). I wish I’d kept track of the hours I spent on the project because I’m confident I spent more hours on this project than I do on most translation work. Not that I slack off on other projects, but fiction is an entirely different beast.

Translation:

  • Given everything I had going on in life (mostly: day job, brewing beer, attempting to have a social life), I set a pace and stuck to it. Two pages/day was the average mark I tried to hit, but this was easier for the first half. I had a convergence of obstacles that slowed the start of translating the second half and upped my page quota. But even during the first half I tried to do closer to 3-4 pages a day. I ended up with about a week to revise for both deliveries. The quota was a helpful way to keep track of how I was doing but also to give myself permission to take breaks.
  • Something I realized (that may be obvious) is that not every page of fiction is created equally. Some pages are dense with description and others are lean with dialogue. And then there were the two pages near the end of the novel that were, mercifully, verbatim copies of a section from the beginning of the novel. This is another important reason to set a pace quota. You’re basically page-time averaging, although it’s also good to be aware of what the terrain looks like as you progress.
  • I did not read the novel in advance. Thankfully, this didn’t screw me later on in the translation process…I don’t think. I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken for me to read the novel (maybe 10-14 days based on previous paces), but that would’ve cut into my translation and revision calendar. Over the course of the project, however, I did start to read ahead. I read a few pages ahead on my commutes, just to get an idea of what was coming up, or even just a page or two as I was translating. This was generally “skimming” rather than looking up every word, but it was important to get a feel for the text. If this project confirmed anything for me, it was that you have to translate on the paragraph and page level and not the sentence level.
  • Having both a Kindle and Paper version was helpful. I managed to get a full copy of the book right away with Kindle, so I was off to the races, but it was reassuring to see my progress through the paper copy. It also came handy during revision when I could have the book version open and use my phone for a dictionary app instead of the Kindle app.
  • I do have some major complaints about the Kindle app. The app limits the number of times you can copy and paste from the text. Once you’ve reached the limit, you’re out of luck. This can make it difficult to find the reading of words you don’t know because the Kindle dictionary will only find exact matches (i.e. no inflected verbs or adjectives). You can also use the “share” feature to export text to email and instant message, but this feature is also limited. I mean, I get why they’re doing this, but I also have a hard time imagining that someone would copy and paste an entire ebook. Although maybe I’m underestimating Japanese internet pirates.
  • A portion of what I made from this project paid for my Japanese teacher, and it was well worth it. During my week between jobs, I hired a Japanese teacher over Skype to brush up some of my business Japanese. This ended up being extremely convenient; once the translation project started, we just shifted to my questions about the book. I used the Kindle app to highlight the sections I had questions about and then took screenshots. I sent my teacher the screenshots, and we went over the questions an hour at a time. I found these sessions to be most helpful if I reviewed the sections of the text before the lesson. It was also important to take notes on her explanations and then to make the revisions necessary as soon as possible. And there were definitely revisions necessary. I’m not sure how I imagined translators when I first started studying Japanese and then translating myself, but I think there’s a certain sense that they are supposed to be flawless experts who know every word immediately. It’s safe to say that this isn’t true. It’s critical to have someone to bounce text off of when you don’t understand it. It doesn’t do any good to be too proud to admit you don’t understand something. My teacher helped me figure out some pop culture puns, countless grammar patterns, and general nuances for different sections. She also made fun of me when I asked questions that were too easy. “Just translate it however, it doesn’t matter,” she said a couple of time, ha. I don’t usually promote services, but I can safely recommend Linguage. I believe they have a physical school in Japan, but they also do introductions to online teachers. You can buy sets of 10 lessons, and they cost less than $30/lesson (although this varies with the exchange rate), which seems extremely fair. My teacher actually lives in Germany, which makes the time difference less of an issue.
  • Revise as you go. This is a mistake I made in the first half. I was doing all these Japanese lessons but also so concerned about keeping pace that I pressed forward rather than take a half hour after each lesson to fix what we’d just gone over. I adjusted my process for the second half of the novel. Not only did I make the revisions from the lesson immediately, I did a read through after each chapter and revised as much as I could so that the final revision wouldn’t take as long as it did during the first half. I think this probably made the final revisions easier as well.
  • For the final revision, I tried to read the translation and focus on the English as an entirely separate product. Does the language make sense? Are there any phrases that could be more natural, and would it be too much of a stretch to simplify or combine words/phrases? What exactly was the author trying to say with this section and has that been communicated? I looked at the Japanese as necessary, but it’s an important step to take the English on its own.
  • The metaphor that came to me as I was working was the Photoshop magnetic lasso feature. Translation doesn’t produce an identical product as the original, but it does resemble that original. I like to think that there’s some ideal English product, even though this isn’t true. I do think there are more ideal phrasings (or maybe more natural phrases) than others and that the translation should stick to the original loosely in the way that the magnetic lasso sticks to the outline of an object. If your language strays from the original, you’ll notice. If the language is too far off, the reader will notice as well, even without knowing the shape of the original. I have some examples of this from the revision process that I’ll be able to share when it comes out.

I’ll share more information when I can. It’s a relief to be done! I can adapt the adage and say that it feels better to have translated than to translate, but to be honest not by much! It’s fun to be in there with the text, wrestling with what the Japanese means and how to convey it in English. By my measure, translating fiction is far more pleasurable than writing fiction.

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.