Video Game Lingo – Passive Form

Amtrak isn’t quite as enjoyable as Japan Rail, but it sure beats driving. I recently rode the Lincoln Express from Chicago to St. Louis for Thanksgiving, and I managed to put in a few more hours on Final Fantasy VI. I’m only up to 15 hours so far, which means I’m just under half way through according to How Long to Beat.

I didn’t come across any new “lingo” worth introducing here, but I did find this pretty cool and very efficient line from Shadow:

ffvi passive

It’s always good to be familiar with the passive form, but it comes in especially handy in video games when space is limited. As you can see in this instance, there’s no need for a subject nor a verb because both are contained within the passive form (and it doesn’t hurt to have a visualization). The concision also plays into Shadow’s character, which is standoffish in the best of times.

噛み付く (かみつく) means “bite (at).” The invisible subject of the passive form 噛み付かれる (かみつかれる) is リルム, the daughter of the old man, and the performer of the bite is, of course, Shadow’s dog Interceptor. So literally, “You will be bitten by the dog.” Putting this into normal English, you get “He’ll bite you.”

Which checks out with the English script: “Back off. He bites.” Great translation.

The only way to master the passive is to “get used to it”: just keep doing a literal translation in your head for as long as it takes to become second nature. But it’s very important to force yourself to slow down when necessary and identify the subject and performer of the action in these instances.

Space Break

Chapter 27 “Encyclopedia Wand, Immortality, Paperclips” may be the shortest Hard-boiled Wonderland chapter in the entire book. In it, the Professor explains what exactly is happening in Watashi’s head and why it means he’ll be expelled from reality into an eternal version of the End of the World.

There are very few changes at all, just two small lines added by Birnbaum (or his editor) to help make a line of dialogue and an instance of “stage directions” (“I said nothing.”) feel more natural in English.

To be honest, the most interesting addition is a sort of non-addition: BOHE adds a space break for dramatic pause on page 286 where there is none in Japanese. This isn’t the first instance of this technique. Here’s what the passage looks like in Japanese:






And in English:

“…But if you act now, you can choose, if choice is what you want. There’s on last hand you can play.”

“And what might that be?”

“You can die right now,” said the Professor, very business-like. “Before Junction A links up, just check out. That leaves nothing.”

A profound silence fell over us. The Professor coughed, the chubby girl sighed, I look a slug of whiskey. No one said a word.


“That…uh, world…what is it like?” I brought myself to voice the question. “That immortal world?” (285-286)

As you can see in the Japanese version, there’s no dramatic pause other than what the narration allows. (Note: There are no asterisks in the English version; I’ve added them to represent the extended space break in the translation.) Birnbaum’s version has minor adjustments, notably in the first paragraph which alters the tone slightly, but I think the space break does more work. It’s a nice effect.

Cool Compound – 完了


I’m in The Japan Times this week with a look at the Japanese you can find on your iPhone: “A pocketful of Japanese immersion is just a few key taps away.”

I keep my phone set into Japanese 99% of the time. It can be really annoying sometimes, especially when large blocks of text come up and you’re trying to navigate something quickly. As it did today when I opened up the ヘルスケア app. Turns out that the new iOS turns the iPhone into a Fitbit, basically. Learned the word 歩数 (ほすう)!

That reaction of annoyance is pretty normal, I think. That’s the pain of language learning, and if you’re not feeling it often, then you aren’t doing the study thing right.

Two incredibly useful things I failed to mention in the article:

– 完了 (かんりょう) is one of the more important vocabulary words to use. It generally means “done” or “complete,” but on a phone, this is the button that closes windows. Look for it whenever you’re trying to get back to where you once were.

– Google Maps will dictate directions in Japanese. This will help you remember cool phrases like しばらく道なり, 右方向, 左方向, etc. Warning: If your parents hear these directions, they may then make painfully un-PC imitations of Japanese.

Ten Nights Dreaming, trans. Matt Treyvaud


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:


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.