Heaven’s Wind

Title: Heaven’s Wind: A Dual-Language Anthology of Contemporary Japanese Writing
Editor and Translator: Angus Turvill
Publication Year: 2018
Publisher: The Japan Society
Pages: 200

Heaven’s Wind is a collection of five Japanese short stories published in parallel text, with the original Japanese on the left and the English translation on the right. Each of the stories selected by the editor and translator, Angus Turvill, has won an award in a translation competition, and the authors have all been critically recognized as well. Some of these stories are mimetic fiction, while others fall squarely into the mode of magical realism. The thread that ties these stories together is that each of them presents multiple case studies in the methods and challenges of Japanese-to-English translation.

The stories in Heaven’s Wind are followed by a 23-page essay in which Turvill identifies ten key areas where differences commonly arise between a Japanese text and its English translation. Without resorting to theory or philosophical abstractions, Turvill provides concrete examples from the preceding stories, which are explained in simple and commonsense terms. To given an example, whereas the tense of verbs can shift from sentence to sentence in Japanese, in English it usually makes more sense to pick one tense (often the past tense) and stick with it. Whether you agree or disagree with Turvill’s decisions, it’s easy to understand exactly why he’s made them. If you’re an aspiring translator, you’ll more than likely find this list of strategies to be immediately applicable to your own work. Even if you have no knowledge of Japanese, however, Turvill’s concise guide is a fascinating examination of some the nuts and bolts of how language operates in translation.

The stories themselves are fascinating as well. Kuniko Mukoda’s “The Otter” (1980) is about a man whose playful and charming wife doesn’t quite have his best interests at heart. Natsuko Kuroda’s “Ball” (1963) is about a young girl who steals a handball and, by doing so, opens her heart to the darkness of deceit. Kaori Ekuni’s “Summer Blanket” (2002) is about an heiress who is happy to live alone by the ocean until she is befriended by two beach bum college students. Each story offers an intimate portrait of human psychology that is firmly grounded in the rich details of its setting.

Mitsuyo Kakuta’s “The Child Over There” (2011) is a surreal story of a newlywed mother who recently lost a child to a miscarriage. She has moved to the village of her husband’s family, who tell her stories about a child-eating demon that inhabits a house she’s warned to stay away from. Even though she becomes pregnant again, she continues to visit the grave of the daughter she lost, who still visits her in dreams. One day she happens to overhear a rumor about Kukedo, the place where lost children go. Kukedo turns out to be an actual place, so the woman takes train there on a journey that is both mundane and deeply strange. Although she never fully comes to terms with the relationship between the demon and her miscarriage, the young woman is able to achieve something of a catharsis when she joins her daughter “over there.”

The last story in the collection, Aoko Matsuda’s “Planting” (2012), is an anthem to millennial disillusionment. A young woman who calls herself “Marguerite” is looking for the perfect job, ideally one that doesn’t require her to interact with other human beings. She eventually manages to find a position where boxes containing various materials are delivered to her apartment. She pleats whatever the box contains, repacks it, and then exchanges it for the next box. Some of these boxes contain loose fabric and pre-sewn garments, while others contain more disturbing contents, such as garbage, dead animals, and disembodied clumps of hair. Marguerite feels tired all the time, and she doesn’t understand the purpose of anything she does, but she has resolved to take all the negative feelings in her heart and plant them in the dirt outside, hoping that they will eventually grow into something beautiful.

Heaven’s Wind reminds me of the collections of contemporary Japanese literary fiction that used to be published a decade or two ago. The stories included in these collections were often edgy and avant-garde, and it wasn’t uncommon for their editors to focus on female authors. I’ve missed these short story collections, and Heaven’s Wind is a welcome contribution to the body of Japanese fiction available in English, regardless of whether you happen to be interested in its emphasis on the craft of translation. Because furigana pronunciation glosses are included in the Japanese text, it would be practical and easy to use Heaven’s Wind as a textbook for a translation seminar or as a guide to self-study. You can order a copy on the Japan Society online store or at Waterstones.

A review copy of Heaven’s Wind was kindly provided by The Japan Society.

Legends of Localization

Legends of Localization

Title: Legends of Localization, Book 1: The Legend of Zelda
Author: Clyde Mandelin
Publication Year: 2015
Publisher: Fangamer
Pages: 198

Clyde “Mato” Mandelin is a professional translator who is famous on the internet for two things: first, leading the team of fan translators who put together an English patch for Mother 3 (which was never given a commercial release outside of Japan), and second, his website Legends of Localization, on which he posts detailed essays about the changes made to video games as they are prepared for the North American market.

Legends of Localization, Book 1: The Legend of Zelda is an offshoot of this website and the first book in what seems slated to become an ongoing series. As its title suggests, it focuses on the original The Legend of Zelda game from 1986.

The book is divided into six main sections.

The first section, which lists the differences in the game music and sound effects between the Japanese and American versions of the game, is an odd place to start (seeing as how books don’t produce audio – yet!), but the descriptive comparisons are a good introduction to just how far (and deep into the game code) the process of localization can go.

The second chapter, which analyzes the text spoken by the old men and women (and lone Moblin) in the game, explains the linguistic justifications for the bad grammar of the English text. It also bravely attempts to puzzle out what the hints these characters offer the player are actually supposed to indicate.

The third section, which covers the game’s items, explores some interesting cultural differences, including why the “Bible” was called such and why it was changed to the “Book of Magic.”

The fourth section explains the origins of the names of common Zelda enemies, such as Moblins and Like Likes, which are based on Japanese wordplay.

The fifth section, which examines the game manual, is a blast of nostalgia for those of us who treasured the little booklets that came included with game cartridges. This section includes an amazing line-by-line comparison of the introductory story text in Japanese and the English translation (which was surprisingly well executed), as well as several cogent explanations for the mistranslations that litter the remainder of the text.

The final section, “Beyond the Game,” collects information on hardware, promotional materials, television commercials, strategy guides, and spin-off games, including the vastly different Japanese and American board games.

What I especially appreciate about Legends of Localization are its illustrations. In addition to a wealth of screenshots, the book contains high quality scans of various print media, as well as photographs of game consoles, cartridges, and other paraphernalia. All of the images are informatively and appropriately labeled, and many are accompanied by humorous captions. My favorite of these captions are the ones that propose outlandish theories, such as “Link is dead and everyone is directing him to the light.” Because of the book’s uncluttered layout, it’s fun to flip through the pages while letting the pictures and cute captions catch your attention.

Legends of Localization is brilliant, witty, and thoroughly entertaining. Mandelin is a hero of the international gaming community, and this paper-and-ink publication of his work is a treasure. Even if you couldn’t care less about the Zelda games, or video games in general, I still recommend Legends of Localization for its clever insights into both Japanese and American popular culture.

As the cave-dwelling shield merchant should have said (if his dialog had been translated properly), “This is a good value and definitely worth buying.” Don’t keep it a secret to everybody!

The publisher, Fangamer, has put out a number of other gaming books, including the Zelda-themed graphic novel Second Quest and a small guide to navigating The Legend of Zelda in Japanese. They’re good people, and everything they release is golden as the Triforce.

Translation Diary, Part Three

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Updates on February Goals

It turns out that Marc Sebastian-Jones, a professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo, has recently completed a translation of Cruel Fairy Tales for Adults and is in already in conversation with a university press. Although it’s only accessible with an academic database subscription, you can find his translation of “The Mermaid’s Tears,” the first story in the Kurahashi collection, here:

http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/marvels/vol22/iss1/10/

Congratulations to Marc, and I hope we’ll be able to read the full translation soon!

I had also planned to contact Jeffrey Angles to ask about translation organizations and resources. With generous help from him and a handful of other people, this is what I was able to come up with:

Honyaku Mailing List
http://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/honyaku

Honyaku Home
http://www.honyakuhome.org/

The Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators
http://www.swet.jp/

J-Lit
http://www.j-lit.or.jp/

Books from Japan
http://www.booksfromjapan.jp/

Japanese Literature Publishing Project
http://www.jlpp.go.jp/en/index.html

Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize
http://lrc.cornell.edu/asian/seldenmemorial

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize
http://ceas.uchicago.edu/page/william-f-sibley-memorial-translation-prize-japanese-literature

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)
http://www.utdallas.edu/ah/altamoving/

ALTA Talk
https://literarytranslators.wordpress.com/

PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants
http://www.pen.org/content/penheim-translation-fund-grants-2000-4000

National Endowment for the Arts Translation Grants
http://arts.gov/grants-individuals/translation-projects

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Goals for March

Figure out where to go from here!

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Banner illustration by maruti-bitamin.

Translation Diary, Part Two

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Updates on January Goals

(1) Hire an English copy editor.

I hired Jeremy Anderson, a friend from college who now works as a freelance game designer. He had mentioned doing this sort of editing work in a conversation we’d had a few years ago, and I’ve been a fan of his creative writing for almost ten years now, so he was the first person I asked. To my immense relief, he took the job. I’m paying him $50 an hour, which is higher than the standard rate for copy editors (which is about $40 an hour) but far less than he deserves. Jeremy does fantastic work, and he does it with style and grace.

(2) Hire a Japanese copy editor.

I sent out an initial slew of emails to various people asking for recommendations, but these queries unfortunately yielded no immediate results. I then realized that I can’t actually afford to pay a second copy editor.

An essay from last November titled Professors Making $10,000 a Year? Academia Is Becoming a Profession Only the Elite Can Afford recently made the rounds of my friends on Facebook, exposing me to roughly two dozen stories about debt and poverty from among my cohort of young academics. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I can still barely afford conference travel and dry cleaning. Translation accuracy checking would be work I would be happy to pay someone like a grad student or research assistant to do, but I don’t have any institutional support. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes; but, since that’s not an option, I will do my best to be extra careful with my work while keeping watch for any translation support grants that may come my way.

(3) Hire an illustrator for the blog post header / project proposal cover page.

I was strongly attracted to this painting by Cynthia Liu (who goes by maruti-bitamin on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram), so I asked her if I could acquire the rights to use it for this series of blog posts. She agreed, and I paid her $200 for the privilege. I’d been in touch with Cynthia about similar projects in the past, and I’ve always found her to be one of the nicest and most professional artists with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of working.

(4) Write a short “Translator Bio” section for the project proposal.

Here goes:

Kathryn Hemmann (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She also runs a blog called Contemporary Japanese Literature (japaneselit.net), which features book reviews of fiction in translation. She wrote a chapter of her senior thesis at Emory University, “Demonic Women in Modern Japanese Literature,” on Yumiko Kurahashi, and her partial translation and analysis of the author’s short story collection Kurahashi Yumiko no kaiki shōhen (Yumiko Kurahashi’s Creepy Little Stories) became the basis for an independent research project titled Kurahashi Yumiko to shintai no kyōfu (The Body Horror of Yumiko Kurahashi) at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama, Japan.

Astute readers will note that I’m using Western name order in the project proposal. I have strong feelings about this, but it seems to be the standard convention in mainstream, non-academic publishing in the United States.

(5) Create a first draft translation of the first story in the collection, “The Mermaid’s Tears” (Ningyo no namida).

Around the middle of the month, I already knew that this was not going to happen. Between article submissions, article edits, and creating two new college courses from scratch, I’ve been busy this month. Also, it always takes me a few weeks to get into a good translation routine. I therefore decided to use this month to polish a pre-existing translation, “Pandora’s Box” (Pandōrā no tsubo).

Although it’s positioned as the eighteenth story in the book, I feel that “Pandora’s Box” serves as a fitting introduction to the collection because of its gauntlet-thrown, in-your-face nastiness. Many of the other stories in Cruel Fairy Tales for Adults contain striking imagery and rhetorical flourishes, but not this one. I read “Pandora’s Box” as an unadorned challenge to the idea that Greek myths are integral to our civilization because they speak to the inherent dignity of our common humanity. “Pandora’s Box” feels as though Kurahashi is saying, “Nope, this nonsense is blatantly sexist and gross. Moving on!” Jeremy (my editor) told me that he doesn’t like this story. Honestly, I don’t think the reader supposed to like this story. I personally find it delightful; but, then again, I am a terrible person with an antisocial sense of humor.

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Goals for February

(1) Contact Atsuko Sakaki, translator of The Woman with the Flying Head and Other Stories, to ask about how the Kurahashi estate handles translation rights.

(2) Contact Jeffrey Angles, who is both a brilliant translator and one of the kindest and most supportive scholars working in Japanese Studies, to ask if there are any translation organizations I should be a member of. Figure out how to join these organizations and pay the membership fees, if necessary.

(3) Buy a document scanner (for the Japanese originals).

(4) Create a two-paragraph description of the collection for the project proposal.

(5) Create a first draft translation of the first story in the collection, “The Mermaid’s Tears” (Ningyo no namida). For real this time!

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Banner illustration by maruti-bitamin.

Japanese-to-English Translation Basics

Old Books

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to take a translation seminar with one of the finest translators of Japanese literature into English. The course texts she selected for the seminar presented all manner of interesting translation challenges, and she brought in a number of fantastic speakers from the Kyoto-based Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators to discuss these challenges with our class. Unfortunately, I was not able to take full advantage of this seminar; it was as if these professional translators were teaching us translation calculus, and I still didn’t grasp basic translation algebra.

I just finished a tertiary round of edits for two major translation projects, and I’ve noticed a number of patterns in the areas I’ve repeatedly needed to adjust. Once I became aware of the currents my editing was following, I started to imagine that I was getting at some of the basic and fundamental issues of Japanese-to-English translation. If I could go back in time and give my fledgling translator self some advice, this is what I might say…

(1) Japanese sentences tend to begin with prepositional phrases and other subordinate clauses that separate the subject from the verb. Although sentence variety is important in English, simple subject-verb-object sentences are the foundation of muscular and fluent English prose. Consider splitting a sentence into two sentences if the sheer number and frequency of subordinate clauses render a literal translation of that sentence into a hermeneutic puzzle in English. Also, never be afraid to switch the order of words in a sentence if it sounds better to your ear, such as in the case of placing adverbs after verbs instead of in front of them.

(2) Letting the reader know that information is hypothetical or coming from a secondhand source is a common feature of Japanese, but an overuse of expressions such as “it seems,” “I heard that,” “someone said,” “it’s often said,” “perhaps,” and “maybe” tend to weaken English prose. If the information being presented is obviously a subjective impression or something that the narrator/speaker would have no way of knowing on a firsthand basis, it’s usually safe to omit the attribution markers.

(3) Adverbs, especially temporal adverbs, are much more tolerated in Japanese writing than they are in English writing. If adverbs or adverbial phrases such as “suddenly” or “after a while” are clear from the context, the translator should feel free to omit them. Also, if the meaning of an adverbial phrase can be transferred to a verb, such as in the case of “said in a loud voice” becoming “shouted,” then the translator should consider doing so. This is not diluting the author’s language but rather transforming strong writing in Japanese into strong writing in English.

(4) Avoid the passive voice whenever possible. If the subject of a passive sentence can be inferred, insert it into the sentence and change the verb to the active voice. The implications of the passive voice are interesting and valuable but can usually be deduced in other ways, and passive sentence structures are much more common and natural in Japanese than they are in English, where they can quickly become jarring to the reader.

(5) The literal translation of the triple and quadruple negatives of Japanese rhetoric sounds ridiculous in English, a language in which a single negative or positive statement is usually considered infinitely more articulate.

(6) Think twice about retaining honorific titles such as “san,” “kun,” “chan,” “buchō,” “kachō,” and “sensei” in your English translation. Such Japanese-isms can feel gimmicky, and often they are not necessary to convey the relationships between characters. Moreover, if honorifics are maintained in translation, it may still be difficult to make the reader aware of what it means when a name is used without honorifics. Japanese is well known for being able to express multiple levels of formality, but English is no slouch at conveying degrees of distance and friendliness, and the manner in which two characters speak to each other can mean much more to the reader than which honorifics they use.

(7) The written approximation of dialect is common in Japanese, but don’t try to “translate” dialect into an English equivalent unless you feel absolutely comfortable doing so. The written approximation of dialect in English will almost always appear goofy and corny to the reader. Different grammatical patterns, tonal registers, and word choices will usually help to convey dialect better than means such as replaced, duplicated, or truncated vowels.

(8) When faced with the task of translating untranslatable words, consider not translating them. You have a smartphone, your grandmother has a smartphone, your four-year-old daughter has a smartphone, and it’s not difficult to run a quick Google search for something like “kotatsu” or “umeshu.” Even without outside sources, your reader will generally be smart enough to get an approximate impression from the context. When it comes to brand names, it’s especially easy for the reader to figure out what’s being referred to from the context, and it’s generally best to leave them be without any footnoting or inserted explanation. In some cases, however, leaving a word untranslated can feel silly and pretentious to the reader, so it’s helpful to have an ideal reader in mind and cater to the presumed knowledge, tastes, and expectations of that reader.

(9) When it comes to puns, jokes, proverbs, idiomatic expressions, and made-up words, crowdsourcing translation solutions is always an option. This is why Al Gore invented the internet back in the eighties, so feel free to use social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook as your own personal dictionaries of creative genius. Some of the problems you face in translating certain words may also be an issue of relative expertise, so there’s no shame in relying on other people for help if you need to know more about how to refer to certain foods, colors, meteorological phenomena, or American sci-fi stories from the seventies. Translation is just as much of a research project as it is an art, but there’s no need for research to be a solitary task in a lonely room full of dusty books (unless of course you’d like it to be).

(10) Make sure you do at least one read-through of your translation while completely separated from the original Japanese text. Even if you have a crystal clear translation of a certain word, expression, or passage, it’s all but worthless if it doesn’t gel with the rest of the English on the page. Also, if you can exchange favors for translation checking, proofreading, and copyediting, do so and count yourself fortunate. If your ideal reader is an actual person, then let her actually read your drafts. Translation is difficult and complicated work, and you might be surprised by the things you miss as you juggle multiple documents and languages.

Finally, don’t let anyone get you down with analogies about how a translation is like a woman that can’t be pretty and faithful at the same time, or about how reading a translation is like having sex while wearing a condom, or about how the translator does damage to a text by forcibly penetrating it with a phallus-pen. Such analogies are not only gross but also inane and banal. Translation is awesome, and being able to read things originally written in a different language is an amazing privilege for those of us who benefit from translation, and some of the best English prose I’ve ever read has come in the form of translated literature. For what it’s worth, the word games and creative challenges of translation are also a lot of fun.

If you’ve just started translating from Japanese into English, good luck! And check out the Kyoto Journal‘s wonderful piece They Who Render Anew for inspiration.