Game Lingo – 統一


統一 (とういつ) isn’t an in-game term per se, but it is a vital concept in video game translation and really all translation in general. It literally means “uniform” or “uniformity.” I personally think of it as “consistent” or “consistency.” This is common sense, but when translating you have to make sure that the spelling, word choices and style are consistent throughout a text.

You don’t want to have a character drinking “Cutty Sark Whiskey” in one scene and then “Cutty Sark Whisky” in another (the latter is correct). You don’t want to have “Oohashi-san” on one page (or any page, really) and then Ōhashi-san (there, that’s better) on another page. Proper nouns should always be kept consistent, and video game translation is an entirely different animal when it comes to proper nouns.

One place where 統一 rears its anal retentive head in video games is with controls. Almost every video game console uses the same little rocker pad, often shaped like a +, to control movement, but the terminology is different for different systems. The Nintendo DS uses “+Control Pad,” the Xbox “D-pad,” and the PlayStation®3 system “directional button.” Should players be pressing the “A button” or the “A Button”? Do they “tilt” or “press” or “tap” or “tap repeatedly” the button or control device?

Naming of the systems themselves is another place where terminology is often set by the companies. PlayStation uses the word “system” after every instance of Playstation®3 or PSP®, and they also include the restricted mark (no spaces before or after the 3). Nintendo lets you use “Nintendo DS” and also “DS.” Xbox 360 is not “XBox 360.”

Nintendo is by far the most picky, and failure to abide by their terminology guide can cause a company to lose millions if Nintendo of America or Europe finds fault with their game during the checking process and sends it back to the company. The company has to fix whatever problems there were (re-master the game) and make another appointment with NOA and NOE to have their game checked, possibly delaying the release of the game.

Japanese does have a high tolerance for repetition, way more so than English, so you should be flexible enough to realize that not every word needs to be 統一されている. Forget 様々, ignore など, realize that が・けど don’t always mean “but,” but also know where you have to maintain consistency even when it’s painful. There are tons of examples of translation so bad it’s good, but when a term gets set, sometimes it should stay that way. Metal Gear games use “sneaking mission” for 潜入任務, a lot of the Bubble Bobble (in the Japanese “Puzzle Bobble”) remakes use the same cheesy beginning (you loves it, I can tell), and Nintendo still doesn’t ever use “the” before Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection ever.

If you’re really serious about translating video games, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to read your video game manuals very carefully. There are also some websites you can look at. Notice what terms they are using. Start to catalog phrases and wordings that could be useful. Your command and consistency of English is just as important as your Japanese comprehension.


With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of unpublished Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this series here: 1, 2, 3.

Last week I showed you a passage from a Birnbaum translation that had missing sentences. This week it’s Rubin’s turn to go under the magnifying glass. Here is a section of his official translation of Norwegian Wood:

Three old women were the only passengers on the Sunday morning streetcar. They all looked at me and my flowers. One of them gave me a smile. I smiled back. I sat in the last seat and watched the old houses passing close by the window. The streetcar almost touched the overhanging eaves. The laundry deck of one house had ten potted tomato plants, next to which a big black cat lay stretched out in the sun. In the yard of another house, a little kid was blowing soap bubbles. I heard an Ayumi Ishida song coming from someplace, and could even catch the smell of curry cooking. The streetcar snaked its way through this private back-alley world. A few more passengers got on at stops along the way, but the three old women went on talking intently about something, huddled together face-to-face.

I got off near Otsuka Station and followed Midori’s map down a broad street without much to look at. None of the shops along the way seemed to be doing very well, housed as they were in old buildings with gloomy-looking interiors and faded writing on some of the signs. Judging from the age and style of the buildings, this area had been spared the wartime air raids, leaving whole blocks intact. A few of the places had been entirely rebuilt, but just about all had been enlarged or repaired in spots, and it was those additions that tended to look far more shabby than the old buildings themselves.

The whole atmosphere of the place suggested that most of the people who used to live here had become fed up with the cars and the filthy air and the noise and high rents and moved to the suburbs, leaving only cheap apartments and company flats and hard-to-move shops and a few stubborn holdouts who clung to family properties. Everything looked blurred and grimy as if wrapped in a haze of exhaust gas.

Ten minutes’ walk down this street brought me to a corner gas station, where I turned right into a short block of shops, in the middle of which hung the sign for Kobayashi Bookstore. True, it was not a big store, but neither was it as small as Midori’s description had led me to imagine. It was just a typical neighborhood bookstore, the same kind I used to run to on the very day the boys’ magazines came out. A nostalgic mood overtook me as I stood in front of the place. (Rubin, 64-65)

The final paragraph is the only one with missing lines, but I love this section of the book (partly because I love the neighborhood and the streetcar line) and wanted to give some of the development to the missing sentence. In the passage, the protagonist Toru makes his way to Midori’s family-run bookstore. She lives near Otsuka Station, a short ride on a streetcar (in reality the Arakawa Toden line that arcs northeast from Waseda through Otsuka and then down into Arakawa Ward) from Waseda University, the college Murakami attended and used as a model for the university in the novel. As Toru rides the streetcar to visit her he is assaulted by an array of sensory input. But Rubin leaves out the final sentence of the last paragraph, which in Japanese is:

どこの町にもこういう本屋があるのだ。(全作品, 98)

Norwegian Wood is one of the few works that has been translated into English by two different people, so we have the perfect opportunity to see two different sets of translation choices (by professionals, rather than my lousy efforts). In his translation for Kodansha International, Alfred Birnbaum renders this same section like this (I have bolded the additional sentence.):

The Sunday morning streetcar was passengerless except for a group of three old ladies, who sized up me and my narcissuses. One lady smiled at me. I smiled back and took a seat at the back to watch the old houses swing past. At times the streetcar practically scraped the eaves. Here a glimpse of ten potted tomato plants on a platform for hanging laundry, where a cat lay sunning itself, there children blowing soap bubbles in a back yard. Somewhere an Ayumi Ishida tune was playing. The smell of curry drifted by as the streetcar threaded an intimate course through the backstreet neighborhoods. A few more passengers boarded at stops en route, scarcely noticed by the old ladies, who huddled together, tirelessly chatting away.

I got off near Otsuka Station and followed Midori’s map down a singularly unremarkable main street. None of the shops along the way seemed to enjoy much turnover. All the stores were old and dark inside. The characters on some signs were not even legible any more. I could tell from the age and style of the buildings that this area hadn’t been bombed in the war. That’s why these shops were still there. Additions and partial repairs only made the buildings more dilapidated.

Most people had left the area to escape the cars and smog and noise and high rents, leaving behind only run-down apartments and company housing and businesses that proved difficult to uproot, or else locals who stubbornly stuck to their longtime residences and refused to move. A haze hung over the place, probably from car exhaust, making everything seem vaguely dingy.

A ten-minute walk down desolation row, I came to a corner gas station, where the map had me turn right into a small shopping street, and midway down that I made out the Kobayashi Book Shop sign. Not a very big bookstore, granted, but not quite as small as I’d imagined from Midori’s description. Your ordinary everyday neighborhood bookstore. The kind of bookstore I’d run to as a boy to buy that latest, anxiously awaited kiddy-zine the day it hit the stands. Somehow, just standing in front of the Kobayashi Book Shop made me feel nostalgic. Surely every town (町) must have a bookstore like this. (Birnbaum 1, 125-126)

The sentence is a throwaway detail, but it does include the Japanese 町, which I wrote about briefly after my thesis rewrite went up on Neojaponisme. In Murakami’s early work, the 街 (まち, machi) is a central theme. Machi literally means town, and Murakami uses it in his early novels to refer to the place where the narrator, the legendary boku, grew up. All of his past is tied up with the machi and it exerts a certain level of control over him because it is where all his memories come from. From Hear the Wind Sing to A Wild Sheep Chase, boku goes through a process of growth into adulthood and a separation from his hometown. He eventually forsakes it, cutting ties with the past and looking toward the future. Nothing is ever named, but the machi strongly resembles Kobe, Murakami’s own hometown.

In Norwegian Wood, both boku and the machi have names, and perhaps this is why Murakami chose 町 rather than the 街 as in his early works. Boku is Toru Watanabe, a student in Tokyo during the turbulent late-60s. Toru is not dissimilar from the old boku. He has the same tastes in music and literature and he spends his time reading novels and watching movies instead of participating in political demonstrations or study groups with activists who are caricatured throughout the novel. The machi in this novel is Kobe, also similar to the machi from the first three novels. Toru grew up there, but when his best friend Kizuki commits suicide he starts to feel a desire to leave. Toru says “I had to get away from Kobe at any cost,” and shortly after that notes “I just need to get away from this town (machi)” (Rubin 24-25). Toru “escapes” Kobe for Tokyo in the same way that the boku from Murakami’s first three novels escapes the anonymous machi for Tokyo.

Escaping to Tokyo also gives Toru the opportunity to establish his own emotional center to the world, a new place that will have new memories associated with it. But it isn’t that easy. The machi he finds after moving to Tokyo are divided, most notably by the two female protagonists. Rubin has noted how Naoko and Midori represent a dichotomy between life and death (Rubin, Music of Words 159). This is further represented by the “machi” they inhabit. Naoko, after a break down, flees from Tokyo to a regimented, sterile sanatorium deep in the hills of Kyoto. Midori’s machi is the opposite – although old and somewhat grimy, it is filled with different smells, sounds and flavors. It’s strongly connected to Toru’s own past (as well as Japan’s collective history), which might explain why he seems confused when talking to Midori at the end of the book; Toru’s process of self-discovery has lead him from his machi hometown to Tokyo, out to the isolation of Naoko’s sanatorium, back to the chaos of late-60s Tokyo, off wandering after Naoko’s death, and then after all of this he still doesn’t know where he is. Judging from the tone of the novel, his attempts to return to Midori and her familiar (nostalgic) machi must have been futile. Otherwise why write the book? The novel’s final, hopeless line is:

僕はどこでもない場所のまん中から緑を呼びつづけていた。(全作品, 419)

Uncool Compound – 複面 (Updated)


The Japanese are a curious set of folks. Endlessly courteous and patient in most normal circumstances, when they get behind the wheel, they are transformed into vicious tailgating demons. Yes, this is a blanket statement and I realize that it’s not exactly fair, but after spending three years driving every day in this country, I feel qualified to make the claim that Japanese drivers are at least creative with their interpretations of traffic laws. Red lights don’t really count for the first couple seconds. The speed limits are actually 30km faster than actually posted. Hazard lights instantly make any location a parking space.

One of the funniest things is the highway patrol cars. Because they aren’t the police, they don’t have the authority to give out tickets, so they drive their SUVs at the speed limit (generally 80km/h) with lights flashing, suggesting that drivers slow down. People zip around them at speeds up to 150km/h.

The actual police drive unmarked white cars. There are a couple signs that give them away. One, there are always two guys in the car. Two, the guys are always wearing helmets – no joke. And three, there are two rearview mirrors, one for each of the dudes. Japanese refer to these guys as 複面 (ふくめん), 面 referring to the flat plane of a mirror, and 複 doubling it. These dudes mean business, and everyone knows this. If you ever come across a single line of cars going the speed limit in the left lane, more than likely one of these unmarked cars is at the front of the line; best to follow along until the 複面 exits, at which point everyone speeds up again. It’s hilarious to watch some drivers speed past everyone, realize they just passed the cops, quickly move to the left, and then slam on the brakes.

I believe this blog post has one of the few photos of a 複面 (and proof that I wasn’t just hearing things when a friend explained this to me). The caption above the photo of cars says that the driver was warned by a 複面 over a microphone.


Oops. Looks like I messed up here. I my defense, I swear that a friend taught me the set of kanji above. I vividly remember his explanation and writing down the kanji in a notebook…that I am not able to locate at the moment. *gulp* Also in my defense, a Google search that reveals 複面パトカー is a somewhat uncommon input mistake. Not nonexistent, though.

As Gulab has noted in the comments, the correct kanji is 覆面. Here, let me make that enormous for you:

truefukumenBooyah. As he noted, it means concealed or, in this case, unmarked. Thanks, Gulab. Sorry it took me so long to update this post!

Cool Kanji – 弄


King on top and some little thingy on the bottom. It has the curious pronunciation もてあそぶ (弄ぶ), which helped me figure out the basic meaning from context when I first read it; あそぶ means “play with,” and the context of the sentence made it clear that this is meant “toy with” in a kind of cruel, whimsical way. Yahoo definitions 3 and 4 confirm this, and definition 1 confirms that the origin must be something literal like 持って遊ぶ. The compound 翻弄 (ほんろう) has a similar meaning and usage, so keep an eye out for that, too.

Easy enough to remember the meaning from the pronunciation, and the kanji isn’t that hard either – the king toys with his servants like marionettes. (I wouldn’t recommend trying to incorporate this into your daily vocab. I get the sense that the usage is kind of limited. Good to know, though.)

Game Lingo – 発売


発売 is a sneaky little compound that isn’t unique to the game industry. You see it all over the place, notably on posters for goods that aren’t being sold yet. The reason I say it’s sneaky is that pesky little 売 hanging around. Yes, 売 means “sell,” but the translation of 発売 should almost never incorporate the word “sell.” In terms of kanji categories, it falls into the V + DO category and literally means something like “start sales”; hence, the correct translation is “release” or “launch.” The most frequent usage is X月Y日発売, but you’ll run into the passive form 発売される・された quite often when translating marketing material for game companies.

Cool Compound – 初耳


Short and simple today. 初耳 (はつみみ) is a nice quick way to say that you’ve heard something for the first time. Makes sense, right?



is 40% more efficient than this:


And 初めて聞いた (the pattern I always used that now makes me think of an Eastern-European-accented “First time I hear this!”) I think should really only be used as a modifier, i.e. 初めて聞いたとき.

Cool Kanji – 日食


A pretty obvious post for today – the kanji for solar eclipse. It’s pronounced にっしょく, and I guess literally means “eat/swallow the sun.” Pretty cool stuff.

I found this link on how to enjoy the eclipse in Japan via a friend’s shared sites on Google reader. Remember, don’t look straight at the sun or you’ll end up like Radioactive Man. Looking straight at rain clouds, on the other hand, will do nothing to you but may ruin the day of small children with giant expectations.

Reading Strategies – Skimming and Kanji Compounds

By my third year of Japanese study, my classmates and I had gotten to the point where we could express a lot of basic ideas, but for whatever reason – probably class chemistry more than anything – we were all really quiet. Everyone was hesitant to take a chance and speak up. So the professor implemented a participation grade, probably one of the cleverest techniques any of my Japanese teachers ever used. This same teacher also emphasized storytelling (through 接続詞), relaying information (〜そうです), and skimming (速読). It was a landmark year in my study of the language. Really gave me a solid foundation.

I think the skimming exercises were especially effective. Someone (one of the higher up professors?) had done research showing that skimming was just as valuable if not more valuable than slogging through passages looking up the definition for every word. Several times a week, she would hand us a slip of paper with a Japanese newspaper article on it. First she gave us five seconds or so to look at the headline and we would take a minute to talk about the topic of the article. We made guesses about the content, and the professor asked us to explain why. Then she gave us 30 seconds to look at the first few paragraphs of the article. We would kind of desperately run our eyes over the squiggles, looking for X月XX日, X氏, and other hints. The she asked us machine-gun style the who what where when of the article. And that was it. We never went into much more depth than that. The exercise was predicated on the idea that short, fast repetitions are important to get your reading up to speed.

However, skimming is really only effective once you have a basic grasp of kanji and compounds. We must have known 750 kanji at least, maybe even closer to 1000, but knowing how the kanji work in compounds was even more important. This same teacher drilled us on the different categories of compounds. I think there were five categories. Here’s a brief rundown of the ones I can remember:

Synonyms and Antonyms – compounds in this category are two kanji with similar meaning or opposite meaning lined up together.

早速 (さっそく) – fast + fast = right away!
重複 (ちょうふく) – overlap + multiple = redundant (unsure if this isn’t in the Verb + DO category which is outlined below)
姉妹 (しまい) – older sister + younger sister = sister
兄弟 (きょうだい) – older brother + younger brother = brother
変化 (へんか) – change + change = change

上下 (じょうげ) – up + down = up and down
左右 (さゆう) – left + right = left and right
和英 (わえい) – Japanese + English = Japanese to English
英和 (えいわ) – English + Japanese = English to Japanese
売買 (ばいばい) – sell + buy = buying and selling
攻防 (こうぼう) – attack + defense = attack and defense

Prefix + Kanji – the kanji in these compounds all have prefixes that modify the other character. 非, 無, and 不 are the obvious negatives ones. There must be some positive ones…超 comes to mind, but I can’t think of any two-character compounds.

無職 (むしょく) – no + work = unemployed
無色 (むしょく) – no + color = colorless
無教 (むきょう) – no + faith = atheist
不良 (ふりょう) – un + good = bad
非常 (ひじょう) – non + normal = abnormal/unusual/emergency
超能力 (ちょうのうりょく) – extremely + ability = superpower/ESP

Adjective + Noun – in this category, the first kanji modifies the second kanji, forming a larger compound noun.

朗報 (ろうほう) – cheerful + information = good news
朝食 (ちょうしょく) – morning + food = breakfast
残金 (ざんきん) – remain + money = balance/remaining money
近所 (きんじょ) – near + place = neighborhood
笑顔 (えがお) – smile + face = smiling face

Adverb + Verb – in this category, too, the first character modifies the second, but this time it modifies the way the verb is performed.

速読 (そくどく) – fast + read = read quickly/skim
朗読 (ろうどく) – clear/cheerful + read = read out loud
悪化 (あっか) – bad + change = get worse
強化 (きょうか) – strong + change = make stronger/fortify/enhance/reinforce

Verb + Direct Object – these kanji are Chinese in origin, I think, so they come in the Chinese grammatical order, the second kanji being the direct object of the first, which is a verb.

上京 (じょうきょう) – go up + capital = go to the capital
帰国 (きこく) – return + country = return home/repatriate
送金 (そうきん) – send + money = send money
回想 (かいそう) – spin + thought = recall/flashback
消火 (しょうか) – erase + fire = extinguish
返品 (へんぴん) – give back + item = return something

Not every compound will fit into these categories, but thinking about kanji this way will often give you an advantage when you encounter a new compound made of familiar parts. So go on! Go out there and get reps! Skimming is all well and good, but the goal is to build up endurance and recognition so that you can tackle longer material.

Cool Kanji – 牡蠣


Welcome to July, month of terrible heat and humidity. The good news is that we are halfway through the Oyster-less months. May, June, July and August, otherwise known as months without an R, are the months when raw oysters are supposed to be dangerous to eat. Which is why we should celebrate Oyster Day on September 1. I had a small celebration last year and posted about the famous tongue twister 隣の客は、よくカキ食う客だ

I have discovered one thing about oysters since last year: the カキ in the tongue twister is actually an unexciting fruit, the persimmon, and not a delicious briny mollusk, the oyster. This, to me, is an outrage. I can’t think of a more boring fruit than the persimmon. Obviously, the 隣の客 has no taste at all.

So I suggest we replace the カキ in the tongue twister and try to restore 牡蠣 (oysters) to their full glory.

Two months until Oyster Day. I plan on trying to arrange some kind of meetup. If you are interested, let me know.