Intermediate Reading Recommendations

Reading Japanese is hard…until it isn’t. Finding the right material for that period of time when you’re moving from advanced beginner to intermediate is critical. You need to find something that’s not going to make you want to defenestrate the text itself or the device you’re reading it on but that will at the same time push you to learn new words and phrases.

Looking back on my own experience, I read the Murakami collection “Dead Heat on a Merry-go-round” while I was on a spring break trip. I think that was the first real book I read on my own, and it was just about the appropriate level. I could basically understand what was going on, and being on a trip meant I often just read past things I didn’t understand fully, trying to get a sense of the meaning from context. This is an important skill to practice, something you’re likely doing in your native language without realizing it.

I jumped into a couple of novels after that with the help of a professor, and I’m glad I had that help because there’s something about the first few pages of Japanese 純文学 (junbungaku, “pure literature”) that’s fairly dense and difficult. The text often settles down after this.

There are places to find the texts you need, online and for free. Here are a few reliable resources:

NHK’s Easy Japanese News

The news! But easy! For example, instead of 少数民族 (shōsū minzoku, minorities), the headline for this article uses 人口が少ない民族 (jinkō ga sukunai minzoku,people with a small population). There’s also a feature to turn furigana off and on. The bonus is that you’ll be keeping up with the latest news from Japan.

Ogawa Mimei

Someone is determined to upload all of Ogawa Mimei’s writing to Aozora. His stories just keep on popping up on the list of newly added works. They all have furigana and are written in a fairy tale/children’s literature style, so the grammar and vocabulary is relatively simple. We’ve been reading one for the Japanese Reading Group that’s been a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

Itoi Shigesato’s 今日のダーリン 

You might recognize Itoi Shigesato as the mind behind Mother (EarthBound). He was also the editor who got Murakami to write the series of super short stories that were collected in 夜のくもざる (Yoru no kumozaru, The Night of the Spider Monkey). He maintains a website ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞 (Hobo nikkan Itoi shimbun, Nearly Daily Itoi Times), which has a short essay on the front which self-destructs each day and is not archived (although it does look like he makes the previous day’s essay available now?). They’re relatively short and pretty casual. The title of the series is 今日のダーリン (Kyō no dārin, Today’s Darling). Worth a read!


Ameblo is Japan’s largest blog network. Recommendations on the top page usually point to active and often illustrated blogs, but you can also search by topic and interest. The best part about these blogs is that you’ll be getting casual, living Japanese, which won’t always be easy to understand but will be useful. Explore! And while you’re at it, why not try creating your own blog?

The real key for any of these is ensuring that you get the repetitions. Having the right reading material matters very little if you’re not actively getting through it. Do whatever it takes (be ruthless) to get those repetitions.

How to 告白

I’m in The Japan Times with a look at how to 告白 (kokuhaku, confess): “Confess! Dating in Japan requires short set phrases to spark the fire.”

I was surprised this article hadn’t already been written, to be honest. There are a few Bilingual articles that have Valentine’s Day themes, but none are a comprehensive look at the 告白 practice.

I have this vivid memory of some one-off reality TV show episode I watched in Japan at some point. It must have been early on in my time on JET or while writing for a travel guide after my third year of study. I remember basically being able to understand what was going on: A group of men, the subject of the show, all got together as a sort of support group and decided to confess to their partners.

Some did so over the phone, others in person, and one by one they were all rejected. It seemed like some of them weren’t even dating the women at the time, like they were maybe just acquaintances? It was a weird show.

The last guy, however, arranged to meet the woman he was dating in the early evening at a fountain in a park (I think?!). They met there, stood about 10 feet apart from each other, and he did his 告白. He gave an intro saying he had something he wanted to tell her, told her that she was important to him, confessed his love, and then asked her to date him. It was a textbook 告白.

I remember being struck by what happened when she said yes. What happened was this: nothing. No hug, no kiss. Maybe a bow? But I’m not even certain about that. For me this was a striking realization about how different dating and love were in Japan.

So maybe it’s not a surprise, then, that a Japanese website called “Love Hacks” is a completely ingenuous and perhaps even healthy guide to dating rather than a site written by pickup artists, which you might expect from a similarly titled site in the U.S.

Some of the recommendations do seem tailored for seduction, like the rating of 告白 locations:

But then they’ll have a line like this in the section about confessing over the phone:


Note that confessing suddenly over the phone will surprise them, so make sure to check with them beforehand and ask if it’s ok to call them: “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

Everything seems calculated to make the person feel comfortable and special. I haven’t read too deeply, so I’m sure there must be at least a few questionable suggestions on the site (the topic is just too fraught for there not to be), but I’m kind of impressed. The page even includes guidance for elementary school students! Not sure how to feel about that one, but it does seem kind of innocent.

Keep an eye on the February How to Japanese newsletter for more on this topic from a grammar angle!

I regret to inform you that I’ve also started posting on TikTok:


How to 告白 (kokuhaku) – Dating in Japan #japanesestudy #日本語勉強 #japan #japanese #love #valentinesday #バレンタインデー #恋愛

♬ original sound – Daniel Morales

How to Translate

I have a guest post over at “What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?” (which I’ll always think of in my mind as Shinpai Deshou, the site’s url): “Writing into a Career: Learning How to Write and Adult in Japan and the United States.”

It feels like I’ve come full circle. I learned about the site through my successor on the JET Program, and for a long time it was weekly reading. Paula, the author, came on the first season of the podcast and gave some excellent advice on pursuing graduate studies and teaching at the university level.

I didn’t follow the site as closely while I was in grad school until I finished and had no prospects of work in New Orleans and very limited freelance opportunities. Oh yeah, I thought, I should probably look for opportunities that fit my resume, and Shinpai is the best collection of job opportunities, scholarships, fellowships, and interesting Japanese links on the internet; it was the first place I thought of to check out, and my timing ended up being good: there was a position listed at the Japanese consulate in Miami.

Unfortunately they had just finished taking applications, but I did a quick check of the embassy and all the consulates in the U.S. and found openings in DC, Seattle, and Chicago. My brother was living in Chicago at the time, and I was offered a position there before my applications elsewhere were seriously considered. More than anything I think I had good timing, but my master’s degree also helped improve my chances and the amount that I was paid when I first started ($36,000).

The consulate wasn’t bad work. I was an administrative assistant in the political affairs section, and I spent the time research domestic U.S. politics in the Midwest, writing, and setting up appointments for diplomatic staff with local politicians. Working out the office politics between the MOFA staff was the most challenging part of the job.

We had great health insurance and very good vacation policy (20 days a year, 10 of which you could roll over; 7 days of sick leave), but no other benefits, and we were considered contractors, meaning we had to withhold taxes ourselves and pay them quarterly. For the most part it was a good experience, until it wasn’t.

I think that unless you’re working hard to develop your skills on the side, consulate work really won’t challenge you, and some of the workplace norms are toxic and can be scarring if you’re not careful. Many of the locally hired staff struggled with mental health issues during their time at the consulate. So I’m glad to have escaped, and I am still close with many of the MOFA staff I worked with. We stay in touch on Facebook, and I make time to see them when I’m in Japan.

Check out the post for a few more stories from the consulate and things that I’ve learned as a professional over the past 15 years.

After I submitted the post, I realized I probably could have added a section about learning how to translate, so I thought I’d add that here. I do feel like I’m still learning, to a certain extent, whereas with writing I started to feel more in control from around 2013-2014. So all of this comes with the caveat that I’m still honing my experience, but these are things that have been helpful for me.

Translation is not the same as understanding Japanese. Obviously you need to understand the Japanese in order to do translation, but that’s only one part of the equation. As you work toward a final product, you eventually need to divorce yourself from the Japanese original entirely and ask whether the English can stand on its own. When I first started trying to translate (in college, when I was working as a translation coordinator, and even when I was in grad school), I think I was too devoted to the original text at times.

Writing fluently is more important than having fluent Japanese. Again, obviously you need to understand the Japanese fully, but if you can’t render that in the correct English, then it’s meaningless. By “writing fluently” and “correct English,” I think I mean that you need to have a subconscious repository of language that you can draw from. Rhythms, little phrases, transitions, things that make English look and feel like English. And you need to be able to actively employ these. I’m so curious about how writers develop fluent active use, which is why I often ask translators what kind of writing they did growing up. I think my writing experience (especially writing fiction) was relatively sparse until I started blogging regularly. Do whatever you can to get those repetitions in early.

– I think developing this passive repository of language is easier: Just read a bunch. Read all sorts of texts and as wide a range of writers from as wide a range of experiences as you can. This will grow your vocabulary and language familiarity.

Read other translators, too! From other languages and from Japanese.

You don’t always have to follow the Japanese sentence order. Sometimes it can help to go in the exact reverse order, actually. Often the most important information in a Japanese sentence comes at the end, and English doesn’t work that way.

When you don’t understand something, look for usage examples on Twitter using quotes to block off little pieces of phrases. I talked about using Google for this in the podcast, but recently I’ve found that Twitter also provides some excellent usage examples, and the results aren’t encumbered by the algorithm, so they often feel more natural. A phrase that I was able to check recently was 年次の近い. 年次 pops up as “annual,” but the way this phrase was being used in context was clearly closer to 入社年次, the year a worker entered a company, rather than something like 年次報告, an annual report.

Do look up the Japanese if you’re not sure. Otherwise you might play yourself. If I’d translated the above instance as annual meeting, for example, (and there was probably some context that could have led me to something like that) I would have been way off and ended up looking pretty silly.

I have some thoughts on translating a light novel from right after I finished. That was a fun experience. I hope I get another chance, but I’ll settle for smaller projects for now. This whole pandemic thing is stressful enough.

Listening Practice and Review of “Of Love and Law” at Wrightwood 659

Just a quick post this month. I’m in the Japan Times with a piece inspired by a conversation I had with a colleague during a business trip in June: “Get in tune with the sound of Japanese vocabulary.”

I found some interesting links on sound symbolism in Japan. Most of the research seems to involve onomatopoeia and how sound is representative of the meaning. That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I was writing the piece, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

And as a random aside—although I guess it counts as listening practice—I went to the first Cinema Saturdays program at Wrightwood 659 yesterday where they showed the Japanese documentary 愛と法 (Of Love and Law).

Wrightwood 659 is a gallery in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood designed by Tadao Ando. The gallery is in an old brick building right next to the Eychaner house. I believe the Eychaner house was the first residence Ando designed in the United States, and Fred Eychaner founded Wrightwood 659.

The building was gutted, and they let Ando work his magic inside.

It’s been open since fall of 2018, and they’ve had a few nice exhibits so far, including an Ai Weiwei exhibit (before they actually opened as Wrightwood?) and one with a look at Ando and Corbusier’s buildings. Tickets are $20, but they release a lot of free tickets if you follow their email list. Definitely worth a visit, even if only to sit in the beautiful lobby space for a few minutes.

The Cinema Saturdays program was organized with Frameline San Francisco LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, the largest and longest running LGBTQ+ film festival in the world.

愛と法 (Of Love and Law) is a great documentary about the Nanmori Law Office run by Masafumi Yoshida and Kazuyuki Minami, a gay couple.

I really liked the way they rendered 愛 and 法 on the title screen, which is recreated on the website for the movie:

You have the literal “eye” within the “ai” of love, and the drop of water for the さんずい in law, which reflects the many tears in the film.

The movie itself was kind of incredible. The law firm has been involved in a number of headline cases including the teacher in Osaka who would not stand during the national anthem and Rokudenashiko and her artwork, so the film is able to intersperse their personal struggles from the mundane (the regular bickering of a married couple) to the more profound (debating with attendees at one of their workshops over whether gay people can ever be “family” in Japan) with the legal struggles of others seeking the freedom of expression in Japan. The overall impression leaves the viewer with a sense that the persecuted have a suffocating existence in Japan, but that there is hope and that hope needs to be defended.

Definitely worth seeking out! And Wrightwood 659 is worth a visit. Check the website for more information about the other Cinema Saturdays showings over the next three weeks.

Crying Time

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at some crying vocabulary: “When giving a public speech in Japanese, tears can be your trump card.”

This article was prompted by the opening anecdote, which cracked me up and I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I probably could have written another 2,000 words looking at graduation ceremonies (there’s some really awesome stuff online), but it would have been a bit rambly (although interesting rambly). Maybe I still will at some point. I think it was more effective for this piece to look more broadly at crying. It’s interesting how “simple” and performative the statements are that accompany tears in Japan. This is true across the spectrum of different emotions that result in tears.

One interesting grammatical side note is that the verb used most frequently with both the 送辞 (sōji, farewell address) and 答辞 (tōji, formal reply) speeches is 読む (yomu, read), despite the fact that they speak them aloud, likely because students read directly from a formal manuscript.

One of the most interesting things I discovered while working on this article was a transcript of Ryutaro Nonomura’s legendary 記者会見 (kishakaiken, press conference). Check it out here to see the whole thing.

What a poor, pathetic man. He clearly understands the press conference format and what can be accomplished at them, but he’s just a mess. Unprepared, unscripted, and it shows. When he’s not completely incoherent (報告ノォォー、ウェエ、折り合いをつけるっていうー、ことで、もう一生懸命ほんとに、少子化問題、高齢ェェエエ者ッハアアアァアーー!!), he’s stringing together ridiculous crap like this:


Strong, strong work by the transcriber.

Since I submitted this piece, there’s been another press conference that drew some attention—a car accident ended up hitting a few preschoolers on the sidewalk and killing two. Based on what I saw on Twitter, there’s been some questioning about why they had one of the staff members go in front of cameras when she was clearly distressed. You can see the press conference here.

It’s hard not to feel for her. One useful phrase I was able to glean was すみません。何も言えないですみません (Sumimasen, nanimo ienaide sumimasen, I’m sorry. Forgive me, I’m unable to say anything.). Something to tuck away for potential “worst case scenario” type moments, although it’s another thing entirely to be able to recall a phrase like this in a moment like that.

Japanese Definitions and Twitter Sleuthing

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at some cool websites that help you define the differences in Japanese words: “使用? 利用? Make use of a dictionary to use your Japanese properly.”

It’s always good to start reading Japanese explanations of things as soon as you are able. The Wool vs. Cashmere explanation is a good example of something that’s pretty interesting, and perhaps not as dull as grammatical explanations.

But we need the dull grammatical explanations, too! This is always a good reminder that the 日本語文型辞典 is an awesome resource. Here’s the full quote from the section I cite about the difference between なければならない (nakereba naranai, must) and なければいけない (nakereba ikenai, must):



However, it’s one thing to read these and another thing entirely to put them into practice. The best advice I can give there is to write out a few example sentences of your own, ideally based on some Google sleuthing, and then mindfully attempting to incorporate them into daily usage.

Lately I’ve noticed that Google sleuthing for native phrases isn’t as helpful as it used to be. The Google algorithm seems to be focusing on webpages explaining the phrases rather than random sites that use the phrases.

I’ve been relying far more on Twitter sleuthing, which has been providing excellent results. Let’s see what we can find with the examples above.

A search for なければならない, for examples, gives this example from the great Count Okuma of Waseda University fame:

A loose translation of his quote: The young must hold lofty ideals. And they must have the courage to put them into practice.

Definitely seems worthy of social obligation/necessity.

I found one result of this pattern from an account that seems to have gone private, but I left the tweet open in a tab for so long that I was able to screenshot it:

Coincidentally this is also university related—it’s the beginning of the term there, and the clubs are all out in force inviting frosh to join. One upperclassman has had enough:

Another good example of the fact that everyone has to suffer this 勧誘地獄 (kanyu jigoku, solicitation hell), which is one of my new favorite Japanese terms.

On the other hand, the user B太郎 has to have his morning fried chicken from Family Mart and expresses this individual necessity using なければいけない:

Another user desperately needs some sleep:

I think this shows that Twitter is a pretty reliable source for native phrases. Are there any other sites you use? Maybe blog sites? Anything else?

Cool Word – オブラート

I’m in the Japan Times this week with a look at a couple of websites that I’ve noticed popping up whenever I search for a polite way to phrase something: “When stumped in Japanese, go where the stumped Japanese go.”

The websites are Mayonez and Tap-biz. Mayonez seems like a more fleshed-out, coherent project, but they’re clearly very similar. I wondered how they were funded, but further investigation has shown that the articles are really just cover for the job hunting websites that likely fund the whole shebang.

Still, the articles are pretty interesting, and I think they offer pretty effective language tips.

In the course of reading through the Mayonez article about 希望しない alternatives, I saw the phrase オブラート包んでお断りすることがマナーです (Oburaato tsutsunde okotowari suru koto ga manaa desu, Saying no in a roundabout way).

オブラート (oburaato, oblaat) is a very interesting word I hadn’t heard before. Oblaat are those thin, transparent layers of rice starch that are used to wrap things like dagashi.

So the phrase オブラートに包む, then, means to kind of mediate a phrase in a way that makes it more palatable/handleable. Pretty cool.

And of course there’s a ridiculous Yahoo Chiebukuro site involving オブラート: “「死ね」 をオブラートに包んでください(“Shineo oburaato ni tsutsunde kudasai, Say “Go kill yourself” in a polite way). Some pretty funny answers.

And on a side note, next month is the four year anniversary (FORTY EIGHT consecutive months!) of the Japanese Reading Group that I’ve been running through the JET Alumni Association Chicago Chapter. We’ve been meeting on Google Hangouts for the past year or so, and it would be great if you’d join us! Check out the event details here.

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).


  • 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.


  • 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.” 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: (for basic word look up) (for usage and context clues) (to give a tired English brain some alternatives or inspiration) (for more diverse and at times reliable context and usage clues) (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?

PDF Quote-a-palooza

Greetings from Kumamoto! I’m here for work for the rest of this week and then I’ll have a few meetings in Tokyo. I’ll have a few days free at the end of the second week, so if you’re in Tokyo and are interested in getting a beer, get in touch and I’ll let you know what I’m up to.

I was in the Japan Times last week with some tips on deciphering dialogue in Japanese fiction. Big props to the editors for this headline: “Whose line is it anyway? Tips for deciphering dialogue in Japanese fiction.”

Thanks to the JT, this tweet got a bump:

Seems like it’s a topic of interest for many. It sparked a conversation about dialogue in light novels between a few folks on Twitter, which I have to admit I couldn’t really follow.

I’ve been reading a detective novel recently and had forgotten how difficult it can be to follow dialogue in Japanese fiction sometimes. I guess I’m so used to reading Murakami, who makes a point of marking his dialogue well…and, now that I think about it, rarely has more than two people talking on their own.

I don’t have too much to add other than what I wrote in the article, but I did find two interesting links worth looking at. The first is a paper on an Ekuni Kaori short story collection by Michiyo Goda: 江國香織『きらきらひかる』における会話の提示――英訳版と比較して (An Analysis of Speech Presentation in Kaori Ekuni’s Twinkle Twinkle: In Comparison with the English Translation).

Her statement at the top of the paper is similar to the point I make at the beginning of the Japan Times piece:

小説の会話の分析というと、キャラクター 造型との関わりから、発話「内容」に注目が 集まる傾向がある。もちろんこのこと自体に問題はないのだが、文体という観点から会話を扱うならば、その提示「方法」にも注視してしかるべきであろう。
In analysis of dialogue in fiction, there’s a tendency to focus on the “content” of speech in relation to the construction of character. Of course, there’s no problem with this in and of itself, but if we take dialogue as an aspect of literary style, it seems appropriate to place more emphasis on the “methods” of its presentation as well.

I haven’t finished reading this article thoroughly, but there are some really interesting examples, and some excellent points made. She notes for example that in Japanese 伝達部の省略は当たり前になされる (It’s natural to eliminate the communication tags), and then she goes on to explain why:

When communication tags are repeated for each element of speech as in English, Japanese can quickly give a monotonous impression, and this can be considered a mechanism to avoid that.

I need to read this more fully. It has some really interesting thoughts for translators to consider as they work with Japanese. Any translators out there have strong feelings about dialogue work?

The other link is by Kazumi Tachikawa: 日本語教育における引用表現 (On Quotation in Teaching Japanese as a Second Language).

Another super interesting article. I need to read it more in depth, but I fast forwarded to the conclusion (as you do), and found myself nodding:

Even when comprehension of quotations is sufficient, it is apparent that their level of verbal expression hasn’t developed. On the other hand, diverse methods of quotation are used in written expression.

Very interesting indeed. Especially in light of this observation:

First, in classroom (spoken language) quotation expressions, student speech was mostly made up of fragmentary utterances and quoted expressions were not observed. On the other hand, instructors made use of a wide variety of quotations, in terms of phrases and speech content, and they also made use of many different sentence-ending speech constructions, not only using “と (to) + quotation verb” but also “と(って) [to (tte).”

I wonder if there’s a hesitation to drill casual forms of the language such as って. My own experience in the classroom was definitely a です・ます experience, and I can understand why, but I feel like this can be a disservice at times.

Adding these articles to the reading pile, and I hope you do too.