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.


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:


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.


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


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:



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.