I’ve got another Murakami-related piece online over at Néojaponisme. Just a funny little extract from a Murakami conference. Dimitry Kovalenin clearly hasn’t been to a zoo for a while. Although, in all fairness, spider monkeys don’t live in Russia – too cold, no onsen.
It is unclear when Kovalenin did his translation of the story, but nowadays there are several things he could have done in terms of fundamental groundwork for the translation, none of which would have taken much time.
A search for くもざる (kumozaru in hiragana) turns up a variety of strange images, including the cover of the collection and a few monkey pictures, but Google also suggests that you might be looking for クモザル (“もしかして：クモザル”). Search for the katakana version and you’ll find nothing but real monkeys.
Google Images is quick and easy way to research what a word means and implies to people. And it’s good for more than just people, places and animals; a search for 派手, a word that can sometimes be difficult to translate in natural-sounding English, is revealing. An image search will never tell you what a word means, but it can provide you with some usage clues.
Wikipedia entries are all cross-linked with their foreign counterparts. A list of languages for a given entry is provided in the left sidebar. This makes it an excellent tool for translation research
Of course, this doesn’t always work. A Wikipedia search for くもざる currently brings up only three results – the Asahiyama Zoo, Murakami Haruki, and Anzai Mizumaru. Even クモザル is a little confusing; it is included within the Japanese entry for Atelidae, “one of the four families of New World monkeys.” But if you browse through that section, クモザル亜科 is listed as one of the species, and there are half a dozen examples of spider monkeys.
Professor Numano was quick on the draw with his Kōjien citation, so I’m guessing he looked it up in an electronic dictionary. Go ahead, get yours out now. I already checked mine, and it’s nearly identical to the definition that he gave in Japanese. (オマキザル科の哺乳類。数類があり、中米から南米北部の森林に生息。) SPACEALC, a useful online dictionary that often generates a horde of contextual examples, also gives spider monkey as the definition.
Wikipedia does not list Yoru no kumozaru as having been published in Russian, so perhaps Kovalenin translated it especially for the symposium and dodged a bullet by discovering his mistake quickly. As they say in Japan, even monkeys fall from trees. The translator’s burden is a heavy one – very little of the credit for success and all of the blame for failure. Modern resources and looking up every damn word you are unsure about can help ensure that you don’t win the Miss Translation pageant.