Jurassic Sapporo

Now begins the Fifth 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 once a week from now until the announcement.

For those of you who don’t know how this works, check out the past four years:
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 Drawers, Phone Calls, Metaphors, Eight-year-olds, dude, Ushikawa, Last Line

This year, as mentioned on Twitter, I’ll be taking a close look at Dance Dance Dance. Jay Rubin has detailed exactly how he abridged the translation of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in his book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, but I don’t think anyone has looked closely at how Birnbaum adjusted his translation of DDD which, rumor has it, also had cuts for publication abroad.

Sadly, I was not able to finish reading the book, so I can’t speak for the translation as a whole; there may be major cuts later in the novel that I’m not aware of, but in the first third of the novel, I was surprised to find only minor compression. I say “minor,” but to translation purists, these may seem like egregious changes. Some amount to Birnbaum’s somewhat fast and loose translation style that created the perfect tone for Murakami’s boku narrator, but others are longer and clearly made for editorial rather than stylistic reasons.

The first major excision comes at the end of Chapter 4. Boku arrives in Sapporo and decides to walk to the Dolphin Hotel from the station. He stops in a coffee shop and feels intensely out of place and lonely. Here is how Birnbaum renders the section:

Of course, by the same token, I couldn’t really say I belonged to Tokyo and its coffee shops. But I had never felt this loneliness there. I could drink my coffee, read my book, pass the time of day without any special thought, all because I was part of the regular scenery. Here I had no ties to anyone. Fact is, I’d come to reclaim myself.

I paid the check and left. Then, without further thought, I headed for the hotel. (21)

In Japanese, however, you can see that Birnbaum has cut the majority of five paragraphs and reconstituted them using the underlined sentences below (Note: I’ve added the underlining):








Here is how my version reads:

Of course I’d never felt that intense loneliness at coffee shops in Tokyo. I had my coffee, read my book, and otherwise spent time there as normal: it was a part of my daily life that I never had to think that deeply about.

In Sapporo, however, I felt as intensely lonely as a man set adrift on an Arctic island. Everything around me was the same as always, the same stuff you’d find anywhere. But if you peeled back the mask, I felt like it didn’t connect with any of the places I was familiar with. It resembled it…but something was different. It was like a completely different planet. A planet where everything was the same – the language, the clothes, the way people looked – but something was decisively different. A planet where some sort of function completely failed to translate – but the only way to know which functions translated and which didn’t was to check them one by one. And if I somehow messed up one of them, everyone would know that I was from a different planet. Everyone would stand up, point me out, and tell me off: You’re different. You’re different, you’re different, you’re different.

That’s what I was thinking about while I had my coffee. A total delusion.

But I was lonely – that was a fact. My problem was that I wasn’t connected to anyone. I had to recover myself. But I wasn’t connected to anyone.

When was the last time I had really loved someone?

Long, long ago. Sometime between the last two ice ages. At any rate, long, long ago. In the historic past. During the Jurassic period, that kind of historic past. Everything was gone. The dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and saber tooth tigers – all of them. The poison gas tear gas fired into Miyashita Park as well. Then this advanced capitalist society came to town, and I’d been left all alone among it.

I paid the check and went outside. Then I walked straight to the Dolphin Hotel without thinking about anything.

It’s pretty easy to understand why Birnbaum decided to cut these sections: Murakami is just thinking/rambling through his narrator here, developing the intense sense of loneliness by expounding through metaphor, a technique that he used at the end of “The Twins and the Sunken Continent,” in which the narrator imagines being sunk on Atlantis while the twins fly off on a floating continent. It doesn’t advance the plot, nor the character, and I doubt that he returns to the image later in the novel (although that’s something I’ll have to keep an eye out for as I continue reading), other than the link to “advanced capitalist society,” which plays out a little. Still, there’s something fun about reading these sections – they feel like automatic writing, which I’m sure is how Murakami is able to generate some of the awesome imagery, metaphor, and absurdity that he comes up with.

One small editorial note: Miyashita Park is a park in Shibuya, and judging from this blog post, it was the site of protests back in the early 70s. The park’s inclusion here feels isolated and out of place, and it’s probably another reason Birnbaum cut it.

And one embarrassing language note: I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that みんな can mean “everything” not just “everyone” as I insisted in the comments to this post back in 2009. After getting some more reading reps with the word, this has become more clear, and my apologies go out to DBP. Remember, folks: pride doesn’t pay if you want to learn the language. Get over it, and get used to it.

14 thoughts on “Jurassic Sapporo

  1. Nice to see you discussing Dance x 3. Always a sentimental favorite of mine. But to be honest this post left me wondering if you and I read different editions of the work. I just recently posted my take on the work (http://sgttanuki.blogspot.com/2012/08/murakami-haruki-dance-dance-dance-1988.html), and on re-examination it seemed to me that there were lots of significant cuts (I mean, whole pages at a time) to the first two chapters, and not a lot thereafter (except the passage in Chapter 4 that you translate here).

    In fact I notice that in your photo you were using the novel as it shows up in his Complete Works. I was referring to my old Kodansha paperback, and don’t have the CW at hand at the moment. I wonder if for the CW edition Murakami went back and cut out the things that Birnbaum cut out for the translation?

  2. Ah, damn…I’ve fallen off the blogosphere and missed your post, which is great! DDD was definitely one of my favorites for a long time, and I was enjoying the reread.

    It does sound like the Complete Works version is substantially different, which is disappointing because 1) I didn’t get to read the cool Man from the Moon sections, and 2) this Murakami Fest exercise isn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been! Gah.

    I’d heard that Wind-up Bird received that same kind of treatment. I imagine that even the current 文庫本 have been updated, so I guess I’d have to track down an old paperback to really get a sense of the damage that’s been done.

    I’ve got a few more interesting sections picked out, but a lot of them are somewhat minor. We’ll see how it goes over the next few weeks.

  3. Those 全集 sets are a menace. Even the ones that don’t cut the text often modernize the orthography, and I hate that. (I hate it in English, too — why is it so hard to buy Swift or even Shakespeare in their original orthography? No, the original spelling and punctuation isn’t a direct link to authorial intent, but it’s a lot more fun to read.)

    This example from Dance Dance Dance is great. “Murakami is just thinking/rambling through his narrator here” is an excellent description of what’s going on, and also boils down a lot of what I object to in 1Q84. I flipped through the book in the store the other day and was reminded of the section right near the start where Aomame is climbing down a building (after spending a few sentences pitying the banana plant) and thinking about the spiders sitting in their webs there. About how they just sit there and wait. But they have no consciousness of waiting, because they’re genetically programmed to do it. They can’t do anything else. Not like me, she thinks, in a new paragraph. I do, therefore I am. (I’m paraphrasing.)

    I argue that having her explicitly make that comparison is clumsy — a bad case of telling, not showing. I think we would all have gotten the point if it had been a bit more implicit. And this kind of heavy-handedness makes it hard for me to enjoy other aspects of the scene. For example, the spiders in their webs, one per apartment, suggest homebodies in their mass-produced homes, consuming whatever their TV antennae pick up from the air. And Aomame isn’t like them, because she’s out there doin’ stuff. She’ll climb right out of a cab on a highway! But… on the other hand, isn’t going somewhere and waiting for her victim to show up so she can lure him to his death (via tiny pinprick!) kind of her modus operandi too, professionally? So she is actually like a spider, too?

    This could be an example of Murakami playing 11-dimensional chess, with layers of meaning that reward deep engagement. But it could also be an example of him just throwing stuff at the wall, deciding it stuck well enough, and moving on without thinking about the contradiction. And the generally non-sophisticated, rambling style that the passage is written in makes me suspect the latter, and makes me unwilling to invest in the former because I suspect it’s never going to pay off. A good Birnbauming would surely have done wonders here.

  4. Oh, and back on topic:

    “One small editorial note: Miyashita Park is a park in Shibuya, and judging from this blog post, it was the site of protests back in the early 70s. The park’s inclusion here feels isolated and out of place, and it’s probably another reason Birnbaum cut it.”

    If it was the site of protests, maybe the ガス弾 was supposed to be “tear gas”? Then it would make sense to include it, as a contrast to the “advanced capitalist society” (fun insight into Boku’s implied historical consciousness, too: the capitalism of today, preceded by the hardcore student/radical activism of his youth, preceded by, like, I guess dinosaurs and stuff?).

    Unrelated to Murakami’s story, but Miyashita Park was in the news a couple years ago because Nike wanted to “adopt” it and rename it Miyashita Nike Park, turn it into a skate park sort of place (and kick out the homeless). There were demos against it and everything; I don’t know what happened in the end.

  5. Tear gas! I couldn’t remember what the right English phrase was, but I knew “poison gas” felt awkward. Thanks. Will make that change in the translation.

    And I remember those Nike protests. Those were also in the back of my mind when I was writing the post.

  6. I think you translated the excerpt really well – it flows. Especially “Everyone would stand up, point me out, and tell me off:”

    I have 2 suggestions.

    1) “In Sapporo, however, I felt as intensely lonely as a man set adrift on an Arctic island. ” – I would translate this as “In Sapporo, however, I felt the intense loneliness of a man set adrift on an Arctic island. ”

    2) “You’re different. You’re different, you’re different, you’re different.” – I know a lot of thought must have gone into translating this sentence :) I’d go for “You’re an outsider. An outsider, an outsider, an outsider” or “You don’t belong. You don’t belong, you don’t belong, you don’t belong” But frankly I don’t think it’s possible to please everyone with this one..


  7. Yoko: Great suggestions – your versions are much more natural. I like “You don’t belong” a lot more than the version I posted…that reads really smoothly.

    Matt: I agree about the spider section. That stood out a lot, especially in the Japanese, because it makes the section feel much longer than it needs to be. There’s literally a whole chapter devoted to going down the stairwell. (Although I guess she does do some daydreaming and get caught up in thoughts about her past girlfriend…it is supposed to be some magic portal or something.) Being able to compress time effectively is tough for authors to do sometimes. Tolstoy is legendary for it in “Ivan Ilyich” where 17 years pass in a single sentence. I noticed it on the most recent half-season ending episode of “Breaking Bad” where two montages were used to pass three months of time to get to the section of the story where the characters have to make weightier decisions. I guess it’s not easy.

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