Okay, let’s get some more Yui work done! I’m not gonna be here as long as I was last time; it’s 1 PM now, and I have eikaiwa to teach at 6:30. I’m gonna aim for, oh… half the Reika route, maybe?

By the way, I’ve come up with a potential solution to the “kotonoha” problem. If you recall, it’s part of the game’s title, and it shows up twice within the game’s text, so you know it’s gonna be important. The problem is that English doesn’t have a word with even remotely similar connotations to “kotonoha.” The translators of Kotoamu (still humanity’s greatest achievement) used “expression” for it, and that just barely worked because that game was all about language and communication. Here, that’s not the case.

However, going to watch Suzume no Tojimari (the new Shinkai film; unlike the other two I’ve seen, it didn’t do anything to leave a bad taste in my mouth) gave me an idea. If I abandon the letter of the Japanese and focus solely on producing a title that fits the game thematically, I could potentially render “kotonoha” as “homecoming.” The screenshots from my last post, I hope, showed how important of a theme that is in this game. Even better, the word “homecoming” implies a return after a long time: the subject has grown since he or she was last home. And that fits perfectly with the other major theme of this game: maturity. I’ve run this idea by Lonesome, and he likes it, too. If I can’t come up with something better that’s more faithful to the Japanese, I think this is what I’ll go with.

Anyway, let’s get into it, shall we?

Here we have a humbling reminder about wasei eigo. In my first draft, I had just mindlessly put “cool beauty” in row 4136. But as Lonesome pointed out, that’s not really a thing we say in English, so it needed to change. Sure, people will get what you mean, but it’s not natural. It’s like “skinship.”

Here it is. This is my single favorite line in this entire translation. Remember how I was talking about that in my first post? Behold. Row 4181. Isn’t it beautiful?

It’s as I’ve said before: these short, innocuous, “easy” lines are the trickiest ones of all, but they’re also the ones that truly bring out a translator’s ingenuity. This unassuming “desu yo ne” is deceptively difficult to convey elegantly and concisely, especially when used humorously like it is here. Another example of this is in Gotoubun, in the episode where they all dress up as Yotsuba to avoid being marked tardy for the test. When Fuutarou tries to do the same, the teacher grabs him and says, “You think I’m an idiot or something?” Fuutarou responds with this “desu yo ne,” and I have yet to see a translation of that line that fully satisfies me. The closest I can get is “Yeah, saw this coming,” but even that doesn’t feel right. And it definitely doesn’t fit Matsuoka’s weirdly emphatic delivery.

Actually, lemme get rid of that stutter. It clutters up the line too much, and it doesn’t really do anything the “yeah” doesn’t already achieve.

Okay, here I was clearly just taking the piss because I knew I’d be coming back through to edit it later. I’ll likely change 4194 to something more normal. But this sort of “memer spirit,” as Lonesome and I like to call it, is something I would argue is an essential quality for a translator. That sort of moxie and creativity goes a long way in coming up with imaginative renditions of a line. If you don’t have the energy to play with the text, you won’t be able to really nail down the truly expressive lines, the ones that need to stick in players’ heads.

I’ve just changed it to “She’s visibly shocked by my answer.” I don’t know, though… I kinda like the “shooketh” line. Can I keep it?

You’ll notice that fragment of a note I left myself, bemoaning my removal of “ohime-sama dakko” in the translation. Originally, the line said “take,” not “carry.”

My thoughts on this have apparently changed since I first wrote that line. Yes, “ohime-sama dakko” has a lot of connotations that romance stories always have a field day with, but here, they aren’t important. The verb used in Japanese here is “tsurete iku.” This is the word you use for, well, taking someone somewhere – even if you’re just showing them the way and having them walk alongside you. The “ohime-sama dakko” is here to clarify that he carried her. And they couldn’t use a different verb, like “motte iku” or “hakobu,” since those are more closely associated with inanimate objects, which Reika obviously isn’t. So “ohime-sama dakko” isn’t particularly meant to evoke the romantic images it usually does. It’s just a utilitarian choice here.

I reflected this in editing by changing “take” to “carry,” as I said before. It’s not in the screenshot, but before this, she was lying on the floor. There’s really only one natural way to pick someone up off the ground like that, so just “carry” is enough to convey how Hirotake did it.

Heh heh. Another line I’m unduly proud of. There was an even better one just above this, but the context is a bit too spoilery to post here.

There’s a lot to talk about in this one. Row 4685 contains a slight workaround to circumvent the problem of counters in Japanese – here Hirotake is assuming “zashiki-warashi” doesn’t count for the “nin” counter. Since English doesn’t have a counter system, I massaged the text a little bit. Nothing too special; all in a day’s work for a translator.

I also quite like the use of a period instead of a question mark in 4687. Nice little way of expressing his dumbfoundedness.

And then in 4693, “ichi nuketa” is an expression for when you finish laying down all your cards in a card game, like Old Maid. It’s a very silly and childish thing to say here, which I tried reflecting with something equally childish. English doesn’t really have an expression used in the same context (which is funny, considering how many figures of speech it has that do come from card games), so I had to change it. I think the closest thing would be “Uno,” but that doesn’t quite fit.

Just a couple little things here: the rendering of the katakana “ohayou gozaimasu” in 4794 and the circumvention of “tereru” in 4803. That’s a very tricky word, since none of its closest equivalents sound natural, so you frequently have to write around it.

Hi. I’m back. It’s been two seconds for you, but a thousand rows for me. There wasn’t much screenshottable stuff in the Reika route. Mostly just examples of things I’ve already discussed, or content too spoilery to post. As you can see, I’m in her H scene now. Here I’d like to highlight “delicate woodland creature” for “shoudoubutsu.” It’s a neat little translation I like to use, and I think it’s a good tool for any translator to add to their toolbox.

In my last post, I showed you an example of a Japanese metaphor I kept (the pigeon-peashooter one), but here’s one that absolutely needs to change. I’d wager most English-speaking readers would find it off-putting to hear someone’s whimper in an H scene be described as “the voice of a mosquito.”

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: these simple greetings and stock phrases that don’t exist in English can be some of the hardest things to translate, as you can see by the little note I left during my original translation pass. What you see here is the edited version; my original take was so unspeakably bad that I’ll not ever let it see the light of day. I’m still not happy with what I have here, but it gets the job done.

I’ve moved on from this and am now at the climax of the route. I got to the first “kotonoha” of the game and… yeah, I think I can make “homecoming” work. I can’t show you because of spoilers, but I think I’ve got something here – and fuck, I’ve finished the Reika route. I’ve still got a little time before eikaiwa… I’ll do Reika’s bonus H scene and call it a day.

Aaaaand yup. I’m done. It’s hard to screenshot the Reika route because it approaches the truth of this game far more than the Yui route does. There were several parts I wanted to show you, but couldn’t because of spoilers. That doesn’t bode well for the true route, which I’ll be tackling next time… but we’ll see. Knowing me, I’ll probably finish it in one sitting, so look forward to part four of this series. See you then!

I have managed to tear myself away from my light novels again, so let’s get some more Yui done before I succumb again to the temptation of Kurumi.

Okay, I think I’ve figured out what was wrong with the images. If this comes out fine, I’ll go back and edit the other post.

Here we have a classic example of the power of rearranging lines. I believe I mentioned this principle in one of my early blog posts. Row 1602 here is the end of the scene. Now tell me, how would you feel to see a scene end on “As we ran, that’s what I thought” and a fade to black? Pretty underwhelmed, right? Here, just by switching some clauses around, I’ve suddenly made this transition a lot more impactful and memorable. In Japanese prose, that little bit of padding is fine; it gives the previous line some time to sink in. In English, it’s borderline unacceptable, hence why I changed it.

Here’s a common example of how this game uses onomatopoeia: it gives it its own segment, then explains it in narration in the next. Sometimes I rewrite the onomatopoeia segment into narration as well, compensating for it with something like alliteration if I can, but that tends to lower the density of semantic content between the two lines, so I’ll often keep it as-is. It happens often enough that I honestly think all this onomatopoeia might be an intentional device on the part of the writers, perhaps to add euphonic qualities to the text. In that case, to rewrite it would potentially fall into the category of treachery for its own sake, rather than treachery for readability’s sake. As such, I’ll tend to keep onomatopoeia that represent sounds – phonomimes – but rewrite any that represent concepts or feelings – ideomimes or psychomimes.

I do recognize that it sounds a little juvenile to have a bunch of phonomimes standing in for narration. In any other game, I might try harder to be a bit more creative about this. But that sort of childishness plays into the characterization of Hirotake I went into last time, so I’m sorely tempted to just give it a pass. If I have some sort of epiphany by the time I’m done editing, I might go back and change some of this stuff, but for now, it stays.

Like, look at this shit. What am I supposed to do here but rewrite it? This doesn’t represent a sound, so English doesn’t have an onomatopoeia for it.

Also, I’ve been sitting here listening to the BGM for this scene as I type this, and my god is it grandiose. Pretty funny, considering the context. But I’ll leave that as a surprise for when you play the game.

Nothing terribly profound here. I just wanted to pop off about how amazing row 1931 here is. Oh, but it’s almost refreshing how dirty she played. Shoulda read that sentence to myself over again when I first wrote it. It’s lunch time; excuse me while I go get a karaage bento at my town’s Lawson. Yes, we only have one, and no other convenience stores. We’re really out in the sticks.

I’m back, and I bring to you an “I’m too sexy for my shirt” moment. It can never be more clear that you’re reading a translation than when you see “shikata nai” rendered as “it can’t be helped” or something similar. You know, because that’s definitely a thing that English speakers actually say and isn’t just a product of poorly-translated Japanese. I swear, sometimes it’s like people go on autopilot the instant they see that phrase, not even stopping to consider more elegant ways to handle it.

Which is why I’m so proud of myself here. Look at that beautiful rendition in 2162! I could kiss and marry that rendition. This is the kind of shit where you can tell the difference between a translator who was awake and a translator who was on autopilot.

And here’s a pesky itadakimasu. Fortunately for me, this one happens during a CG, which means I can sub it out for narration, and nobody will be the wiser. This word is always a pain to translate, and in the medium of anime and visual novels, you frequently have no choice but to do something with it. In, say, a book, you can delete the line if it’s too much trouble. And here, the structure of the game gives me the freedom to rewrite it.

And here is an example of what super conservative readers might call “censorship” or “localization.” This is a symptom of the great debate in translation studies between domestication and foreignization. The former means to leave the reader where they are and bring the author as close to them as possible, and the latter is the opposite. Leaving names in Japanese name order or keeping honorifics would be an example of foreignization, while what I’ve done in this screenshot is an example of domestication. Here, I’ve domesticated “karintou” into its superordinate, “a cookie.” (This word also appeared once in Senmomo, where we rendered it as “biscuit.”)

There were many foreignizing strategies I could’ve taken. I could’ve just left it as “karintou,” but hardly any readers would understand that. I could’ve compensated for that by throwing in some narration in the next two lines, but that would draw far too much attention to what’s ultimately a throwaway line. In the end, I decided that the exact nature of Yui’s misunderstanding wasn’t important, so I prioritized readability.

That’s not to say my choice here is without its drawbacks. Since Yui’s a zashiki-warashi, it’s highly likely she knows what karintou is because it’s Japanese, and is unfamiliar with chocolate because it’s Western. That implication is lost in my translation. I’ve simply deemed the gains in readability from domestication to outweigh the minute loss in meaning.

As I think you can see in my work, I tend to employ both domestication and foreignization as I deem them necessary for my imagined “average reader” of my work. Notice how I kept “kitsune udon” above, even though most people likely won’t know what that is. I try to foreignize food names as much as I can get away with, since I want people to get curious and look them up. But since the meaning of “karintou” is actually important to understanding this exchange, I had to domesticate it so everything would make sense.

In a way, both domestication and foreignization are political acts on the part of the translator; one masks the source culture, and the other forces it upon the reader. When a translator takes domestication too far, people often complain about “censorship” and “localization.” At the same time, too much of a lean toward foreignization can come off as under-translated or weebish. This is why I try to strike a balance between the two, though I usually gravitate closer to domestication. In works where the Japaneseness of the setting is important, like Senmomo and Yui, I do my best to present that Japaneseness in a way readily comprehensible to the Western palate. You’ll notice in Senmomo, when we finally release it, that we didn’t Romanize key jargon like “bujin” or “jujutsu,” but opted to translate it. And here in Yui, people might not know what “kitsune udon” is, but they’re liable to know udon. Thus, they can infer that “kitsune udon” is a particular type of udon dish, even if they don’t know exactly what. No need to domesticate there. But with karintou here, they’re not gonna know that it’s a cookie made from fried dough and coated with brown sugar. It would be possible, as Lonesome actually suggested while I was typing this up, to just leave “karintou” in there and let the reader realize from Hirotake’s dialogue that Yui was off the mark, but I wanted people to actually feel that she had the wrong idea, so I domesticated it.

It’s rare that you see excess foreignization as a problem in VN translations; usually it’s excess domestication. But just know that people aren’t doing it in an attempt to erase Japanese culture, or anything. They’re doing it to increase readability. Translators just have a tendency to underestimate their readers’ cultural knowledge or, failing that, willingness to learn new cultural knowledge. I feel like something as benign as this karintou situation doesn’t deserve to ruffle any feathers. But then you get people domesticating yakisoba into lo mein for Dal Segno, at which point you’re kinda going overboard. Although if you’re reading Dal Segno, it’s not like you’re expecting an enjoyable read anyway. EY-OOOOOOOOO!

One example of heavy foreignization in VN translation is Muramasa. In some respects, it’s heavily domesticated; in others, it’s very much not. See, for example, the fact that it has so many romaji terms it needs pages and pages of translation notes in a separate PDF, even though it would’ve been perfectly within the translator’s rights to invent terminology of his own.

But yeah, uh, in conclusion, try not to be too vitriolic about this debate, okay? This is the kind of issue where people tend to think their position on the spectrum is, in Lonesome’s words, “uniquely privileged and self-evident,” so they get pretty up-in-arms when something doesn’t conform to it. Just chill out, okay, guys? Instead of calling people names, let’s use these issues as fuel to advance the state of translation discourse in this community.

Here’s another, albeit minor, example of domestication. This is deep into the chocolate shopping scene. I haven’t done anything special to explain Japan’s Valentine’s customs; I figure plenty of readers will already know about them, and the ones who don’t can easily infer them from what’s already in the text. (It helps that Yui is clueless, too.) This nameless senpai’s line in row 2557 can be tricky to translate if you try to tackle “honmei” head-on, so I ducked around it a bit and dealt directly with the sense of it. You could complain that we lose the distinction between honmei and giri here, but that distinction isn’t terribly important to this scene, and I’m quite proud of how naturally I managed to capture this senpai’s teasing in English. And, though it’s got nothing to do with domestication, her whining in 2561 and 2562.

FuturestepKazoo here popping in for a second.

I did get to the Valentine’s Day scene over the course of my work today, but I’m not screenshotting any of it. It’s some of the best work I’ve ever done, so I want to save it for the release.

Goddammit, Hirotake.

A few hundred of the intervening lines between these two screenshots come from different parts of the game, so I didn’t skip forward too much here. You’ll notice a little massaging of the text in 3242 and 3243 in accordance with stuff I talked about in the first Yui post, but that’s not what I want to call attention to here.

I’m trying to keep these posts spoiler-free, and this is something interesting I think I can talk about without crossing into spoiler territory. As I alluded to in my first post, and as you can see here, Yui frequently uses “koko” symbolically, specifically when discussing places she belongs. My solution at first was just to use “home,” but that still sounded weird in a few cases, so I decided to go a step further and italicize it whenever it happens. It’s like how House of Leaves (great book; you should read it) always renders the word “house” in blue and “minotaur” in red, or how Viz’s translation of Tegami Bachi always renders “heart” in bold. Heavy-handed? Yeah, but so is the double kagi kakko the Japanese uses, so it all works out.

Don’t mind me, just popping off about another clever translation of “shikata nai.” But while I’m here, can I just mention how weirdly common this “What do you mean?/Exactly what I said, idiot” exchange is in otaku media? It’s uncanny. It’s like authors want to make their protagonists sound momentarily stupid so the other character (usually a villain or someone of otherwise shady moral character) can repeat what they just said two seconds ago for effect. It’s almost as bad as “demo… iya, dakara koso,” which I usually trim down or omit entirely because while it serves as convenient padding in the rather garrulous writing style of Japanese otaku media, it’s a needless phaticism that never adds anything useful to an English script, but I digress. Point is, protagonists in these works really need to work on their listening comprehension.

Oh! Oh oh oh! This is one of the passages that made me want to do these posts in the first place. It’s still not my favorite line in the script, but it’s high up there.

In a blog post I never got around to publishing, I ranted about “kushou” (and its variant, “nigawarai”), and how a direct translation of it is a blatant indicator that you’re not reading an original English text. It commonly gets translated as a combination of “wry/forced/chagrined/bitter” and “smile/laugh/grin,” used whenever the smile on someone’s face isn’t the most pure, innocent, and childish of expressions. The fact that I’m 3500 lines into this script and only seeing it for the first time here is nothing short of incredible.

Seriously, this word gets used everywhere in Japanese, and a million times out of ten, it’s translated directly. But in English, how often would we say something like this? Would we not sooner describe the feeling inspiring the expression, rather than the expression itself? I certainly think so, and that’s why I think my “bemused consternation” here makes for a much more pleasant read than something like “He smiles bitterly and looks away.”

“Wry smiles” are still okay in moderation, I suppose, but I think going past them to their cause makes for much more idiomatic English. Good job, PastepKazoo.

See? Here they go again. Since it’s pretty close to the other one I just mentioned, I evidently shook things up a bit. Good ol’ PastepKazoo. He always has my back.

And here’s the poster child of why “koko” is such a slippery word in this game. I’m still not married to this italicized “home” solution; I’ll have to see what it looks like in-game. But yeah, see that note in row 6503? I left that during my first pass. Proof of how much it frustrated me back then.

Also, I didn’t just blow through 3000 lines without telling you. The common route ended around row 4100, after which it went back to about 2800 for a hundred-ish lines at the beginning of the Yui route, and then it skipped past a solid 2000 lines of Reika’s route to resume the Yui route just a couple hundred rows ago. The script is gonna jump around a lot like this from now on, so don’t take row numbers as any indicator of how far I’ve gotten. I did keep quiet about the relatively lengthy Valentine’s Day scene, but as I stated above, that’s because I was spitting straight fire there, and I wanna leave that as a surprise for when we actually release the game. There’s also the simple fact that the farther in I get, the harder it is to screenshot stuff without spoiling things. There’s a particularly big problem that crops up later in the game – perhaps the biggest – that I can’t talk to you about at all because it’s an incredibly massive spoiler. And to make matters worse, I still don’t have a solution for it.

Okay, this is really belated, but you’ll notice how sometimes I’ll stretch a single sentence across multiple segments, as seen here. I do this sparingly and for effect. To rewrite this part would likely introduce a lot of bloat that would be to this scene’s detriment. Granted, it’s usually because that’s what the Japanese did too, but a “sentence” is much more poorly defined in Japanese than in English, so you can get away with a lot. Makes it a real pain for me, though. Actually, there was another one that was even worse, that I forgot to screenshot earlier. Hang on, where was it…

This shit! Right here! Look at that. That’s three, count ’em, three segments! For one sentence! What the fuck was I supposed to do here? The only thing I could do was pull shit out of my ass. And I think I’m gonna have to change it, too. Since it’s the end of a scene, row 2628 auto-advances after less than a second on screen, so I might want to make it shorter.

This is a rare instance of a scene told from Reika’s perspective, by the way. There’s Yui ones, too.

Okay, yeah, I went back and changed it. Ironically, it’s now a single sentence spread across those three rows. God bless this game.

Nothing too fancy here. Just an example of what I can get away with when there’s no voice acting. Japanese has a lot of connective tissue between sentences to really spell out every single logical connection. And while it’s certainly possible to do the same in English, it’s far from necessary, and when done to excess, it can come off as pedantic and patronizing. This, in addition to the fact that keeping it would dull the impact of these lines, is why I did away with the “nanoni” in 6811.

But if this game were voice acted, that would likely give some readers pause, as they’d be able to hear Yui trail off there and find it strange that the text doesn’t do the same. Hooray for no-budget doujin games!

Witness! The power! Of rearranging LIIIIIIIIIIINES! Those first two rows would sound so hilariously dumb if approached more directly!

And in case you couldn’t guess, the first H scene is coming up soon. I am not looking forward to this, but I’d feel bad leaving it for FuturestepKazoo to deal with first thing in the morning…

Goddammit, PastepKazoo, you fucking asshole. I have my work cut out for me.

Yeah, uh, remember how in that post about H scenes a long time ago, I said I was the King of Virgins? That didn’t stop being a thing that was true, or anything. I am woefully inexperienced in the pleasures of the flesh. I’m gonna pray that that’s true for most of you, too, so you won’t notice how awful my H scene narration is. I mean, it’s leveled up considerably since Senmomo, but, well, Lonesome’s taking a sledgehammer to my Senmomo H scenes, and you won’t find a trace of my horrible prose there by the time we actually release the patch.

Heck, maybe I’ll get him to edit just the H scenes in this game.

AAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA! I’m sorry, this is too perfect. I have to keep it. Not that there’s anything wrong with it that says I should change it – it’s pretty accurate to the Japanese – but it just tickles my funny bone in a way I can’t quite articulate.

Actually, I am going to change “flan” to “marshmallows.” “Pudding” doesn’t work as a translation for “purin” here (since boobs have absolutely nothing in common with pudding), and “flan” is an oddly specific word choice.

You see? You see? This is the kind of nonsense I’m talking about. This is the kind of cringey stuff my team makes fun of me for. I’ve gotta change this.

Wait, why am I showing you people this? I could just, like-

Eyyyy, everybody! I’m back! I have trudged through hell and returned. What’s that? The 183 lines between this screenshot and the last one? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Okay, look. I know this is a very distinctly Japanese analogy. But I just love the imagery here, and even if you’ve never heard this before, it’s easy to picture and realize what it means. It’s like the kitsune udon thing from earlier – it adds a bit of flavor. I kept this in Senmomo, too; it’s just too funny to me.

So. Uh, I honestly wasn’t expecting to finish Yui’s route in today’s session, but here we are. Funny how that works. Like, Jesus, I know I was sick the first time, but damn, I covered a lot of ground today. I’ll, uh, see you next week when I work on Reika’s route, I guess?

This has nothing to do with Senmomo or translation, but I’m writing this post anyway on request. No pictures, since you’re not allowed to take any inside concept cafes, save for the shitty Polaroids you can pay an arm and a leg for.

Well, now what? I thought to myself as I wandered the streets of Yokohama. The date was October 25th; I’d just checked into my hotel in Sakuragi-cho a couple hours ago before immediately deciding to hit the town. But what was I to do, all on my lonesome? There were some card shops and manga stores nearby, but I’d already hit them earlier (did you know some artists draw 18+ doujins of their own stuff?).

I could try picking up chicks, I guess. “Excuse me-” I began to say to a passing pair of girls who I estimated were about my age.

They turned around and ran away at full speed.

About ready to shrug off this mortal coil, I started to pass over a small passenger bridge when I spotted a girl in a flashy uniform holding a sign that said, “One Hour 1000 Yen.”

I stopped. “An hour of what?” I asked.

She seemed surprised at first to hear a white guy speaking fluent Japanese, but she quickly gathered herself and said, “It’s a concept cafe. We’re doing a special discount for the anniversary of our opening.”

“A concept cafe?” I parroted like the airheaded protagonist of some anime.

“Yeah, it’s like… There’s like a theme we all dress up as, and you can sit there and talk to us as long as you want. And you can pay to play games, and take pictures, and buy us drinks. Our theme is ‘the future.'”

“So it’s like a maid cafe but not maids?”

“Kind of, but the charge system is a little different. What do you think?”

“I think I’ll have to think about it,” I admitted.

“It’s okay, take your time!”

So I walked away and contemplated. I’d be wasting a lot of my evening if I went. But what else was I going to do with it, anyway? I’d be throwing away my chance to forge a real friendship, but I could at least have some stimulating conversation while I was there.

I made my way back to the girl on the bridge. “I have returned,” I announced.

“Oh!” She must have thought she’d lost me. “So does that mean…?”

“Yeah, I’m interested. Where’s your place?”

“I’ll take you there!” This is something I didn’t discover until later, but apparently with concept cafes, if a girl advertising on the street gets you to come in, she goes in with you and is the first person to come chat with you.

She led me to a building I’d passed a few times already. The name of the cafe she belonged to was Navy2, on the fourth floor. According to the signage, there were some cabaret clubs in this building, too.

When the elevator let me off at the fourth floor, the girl I’d been talking to led me to a seat at the bar. After explaining the charge system to me – apparently it was now 1000 yen for all-you-can-drink for forty minutes, since it was a little later in the evening, though I’d known that from the sign she’d been holding outside – she introduced herself as Mirumo.

“I’m Kazoo,” I said in response, though of course using my real name.

“Kazoo-chan,” she repeated, writing my name on the bill.

“For some reason, everybody calls me that,” I remarked. “I wonder why?”

“I dunno,” she mused. “You just kind of look it. And your name’s cute.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. At least, I think so.”

From there, we just shot the shit – me sitting at the counter, her standing behind it – about pretty basic stuff. How I was in Yokohama for a conference starting tomorrow, how I was having trouble making friends in Japan, how I like translation, how I’m apparently God’s gift to Japanese-speaking, entry-level stuff. Fifteen minutes in, she said her time was up, and I’d either have to wait for someone else to come talk to me or buy something to keep her here longer.

Since I was here for the experience, I decided to enjoy what concept cafes had. I added to my bill a few rounds of Smash. She was Dorf, and I was Roy (they didn’t have the DLC characters or Chrom), and we each took one win off each other. If we weren’t using single Joycons, I might’ve been able to do a little better.

I ended up enjoying my experience there so much that I stayed for another forty minutes, continuing to talk to Mirumo by getting a Polaroid with her and sharing a drink (non-alcoholic and unbelievably sweet). My bill when I left was around ten thousand yen. Jesus!

The next day was the first day of my conference, and it was unbelievably boring. It was for people in my position who actually do that position’s job, but my prefecture treats us all like glorified ALTs, so basically nothing applied. Even the lectures on translation were frustratingly basic compared to the excellent textbooks I’ve read. The instant they let us go at five, I raced to Sakuragi-cho Station to head back to Yokohama. This time for sure, I’d enjoy that big city life!

To hopefully nobody’s surprise, I ended up in Navy2 again. I didn’t talk to Mirumo this time, but she was there with other patrons, and we said hi as we walked past each other.

Day two of the conference was equally boring. A guy I work with a lot, who’s placed in a nearby village, went up to the mic once and asked, “So what do you do if your village tells you not to make foreigners want to go there?” I felt his pain.

For the third evening in a row, I drowned my sorrows in Navy2. I should mention by now I’d gotten the hang of keeping your spending reasonable at a concept cafe. Even if you don’t pay to keep talking to the same person, another one will come by soon enough. You only need to buy a Polaroid or a game or a drink to share if you really want to keep chatting with the same person. On this third day, I was able to keep my spending down to just a couple thousand yen.

Day three of the conference, the final one, was a half-day; I’d checked out of my hotel in the morning and left my luggage with the conference’s staff, and once we were let out around noon, I picked it up and headed to the station. My destination? Akihabara Station; I had a reservation at Hotel Mets Akihabara, which is right next to it.

I don’t know if every Mets is like this, but this one at least was very nice. The room was spacious and pretty, and everything was designed beautifully. I thought back to the Shibuya hotel I’d once stayed in for the same price. By comparison, that room was a lot smaller, and the hotel was a lot farther from the fun stuff.

That evening, I wandered the streets of Akihabara I was now so familiar with. I double-checked the app for my favorite maid cafe, @home. A maid I was particularly close to was scheduled to go on shift that night, though it was a little unclear exactly when. In the meantime, I got some shopping taken care of, such as TCG singles, doujinshi, and merch from the Yuzusoft store.

Eventually, around seven, the maid in question showed up on shift. Great, I thought. Let’s go!

But just then, a girl in an outfit reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood called out to me. “How about a concept cafe?”

I stopped. I didn’t usually wander Akiba after dark, but come to think of it, this was around when the concept cafe employees came out of the woodwork.

“I dunno,” I said. “There’s a maid at @home I was hoping to see.”

“When’d she go on shift?” asked the girl. She was in a skirt, without even so much as tights. She had to be freezing.

“Just a second ago, I think.”

“Oh, I know their shifts. She’ll be there all night. You’ve got plenty of time! How about it?”

“Well… Alright, I guess,” I conceded. “I did have a lot of fun at a concept cafe in Yokohama.”

“Awesome, let’s go!” And so she led me to Queen’s Court, a concept cafe tucked away in an alley near Lashinbang.

It’d been dark outside, but once we got inside, I noticed something: this girl – Miruku, I came to find out – was plastered. “God, I’m so drunk,” she laughed. “I can’t believe how well I was holding myself together out there.”

I laughed and sipped my Coke. This place advertised itself as “the cafe where you can talk to girls the longest.” At nine hundred yen an hour, I supposed they were right. And the staff certainly seemed to enjoy their job; one of Miruku’s friends frequently joined in on our conversation.

But one big difference between concept cafes and maid cafes is that the employees have a lot more freedom to cut loose. With me being a foreigner and Miruku being drunk off her ass, she inevitably wanted to test her amazing English skills on me.

“<You… are… MAN!>” she boomed.

Trying not to laugh too openly, I replied, “Yes! That’s correct! I am a man!”

“<I… am… GIRL!>” she continued.

Again, holding back the laughter, I said, “Yeah, I can see that.”

“No you can’t!” she blurted. “For all you know, I’ve got me a schlong under here!” She gestured to her skirt.

This time the dam burst, and we all had a good laugh.

Eventually, she said, “Hey, I’m thirsty. Can I get a drink?”

“Hmm, I dunno,” I waffled. “That’s a thousand yen, right? That’s kinda expensive.”

“Pleeeeeaaaaase?”

“Look, the puppy-dog eyes aren’t gonna get you any-“

“(stares in Japanese)”

“…”

“(stares harder in Japanese)”

“Alright, fine! But only one.”

“Yes!”

Since all I’d paid for was the entry fee and Miruku’s drink, I left with my bill coming out to a rather reasonable 1900 yen.

After I left, I went to @home cafe; specifically, the fifth floor of their main building. That’s where I’m a regular (this would be my 71st point), and that’s where the maid I’m close to, Tsuno, works.

She was quite surprised to see me. “Kazoo-chan-goshujin-sama! I thought you weren’t coming back to Tokyo until December!” We’d last spoken in August.

“Yeah, I got lucky. I had a conference in Yokohama, and I’m staying here in Akiba over the weekend before I head back down.”

“Wow, that’s really cool,” she replied. “Is it just a coincidence you came here on my shift, or…?”

“I actually checked your Twitter,” I admitted. “I know that’s kinda creepy, but I wanted to poke my head in while I was up here, and-“

“No, that’s not creepy at all!” she exclaimed. “I’m glad I got to see you!”

To save on costs, I usually just get a drink at this place (with a gold card, that comes out to less than a thousand yen), but this time, I got a Polaroid with Tsuno as well. Maid cafes are more for eating and drinking than talking, and they’re really busy, so you don’t get to keep a maid at your table unless she’s got a lot of time on her hands. They do all the moe moe kyun stuff, of course, and you can get Polaroids with them, but you go to these places for the overall atmosphere. I like @home quite a bit. I’ve actually been wanting to buy the BGM they play in order to remind me of the place while I’m stuck in Buttfuck Nowhere, but the CD is long since sold out, and there’s no download version to my knowledge.

After I left @home, it was getting pretty late, but I stopped in a new concept cafe: Bunny’s Guild. At a relatively steep nine hundred yen per half-hour, you could sit there, sip your drink, and talk to girls in sexy bunnygirl outfits.

Except this weekend, they had their Halloween event, so they were all in other forms of sexy cosplay. The first one I talked to was a race queen, for instance, and there was a nun, a shrine maiden, and plenty of other stuff along those lines.

Something I quickly learned about Bunny’s Guild was that none of the employees or customers gave two fucks. The girls were constantly feeling each other up, talking about how their nipples were chafing, and bantering with the easygoing guy employee (“Senpai”), whose role there hardly needs explaining.

Apparently one thing that sets Bunny’s Guild apart from other places is that you can pay to play card games like Blackjack with the employees, but I didn’t see anyone doing that. The customers there (and there were a lot) were just enjoying talking. And so was I; it was refreshing that the girls were keeping it real.

The next day, Saturday, I mostly went around card shops looking for singles I needed (and people to play against, though I came up empty on that front), but I also got a few more points at @home. In the early evening, I visited Bunny’s Guild again shortly after they opened. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty dead, so I was able to kick back and relax.

But I also had time to reflect. All week, I’d been running away to concept cafes due to my woeful inability to initiate a conversation myself. Once a conversation gets going? I’m fine. But getting one started in the first place is where I struggle. I never managed to do it in my home prefecture, and I hadn’t managed to do it here in Tokyo yet.

“I figure I’ll go to Kabuki-cho and see what happens,” I told the girl I was talking to.

“Yeah, go for it!”

So I did. Long story short? I got approached by some gaijin-hunting ossan and some foreign guy trying to shake my hand. I noped out of both situations. And I didn’t have the balls to go to a soapland or anything, so I ran away with my tail between my legs back to Bunny’s Guild.

It was a bit past eight now. “I’m back,” I said as I walked in the door.

“Oh hey,” one of the employees said. “Weren’t you just here a few hours ago?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I went to Kabuki-cho, but I was too much of a coward to do anything.”

She laughed at me and said, “So you came back here, huh?”

“Yup. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, isn’t Bunny’s Guild doing a special event tonight?'”

That’s right. I’d taken note of this on the blackboard the first two times I’d come, but since tonight was someone’s birthday, everyone was dressed up in kinky bondage outfits, and they had a special menu.

I gave it a look. What caught my eye was that in addition to the regular Polaroid (which is already a whopping 1500 yen), they had a “sexy” Polaroid with “punishment” for 2000. Well, this was a one-time event that might never happen again. I had to see what this was about, right?

I flagged someone down and said, “So I’d like to get this 2000-yen Polaroid…”

She cracked up. “Going ham, huh? Who you want it with?”

“Well, I don’t know her name yet, but-” I pointed to a particularly cute girl I’d talked to briefly before.

“Hey, Ren-chan! This guy wants the sexy Polaroid with you!”

“What?” Ren looked like, as the Japanese say, a pigeon who just met the business end of a peashooter. “Oh shit! I don’t know what to do!” She apparently wasn’t opposed to taking the photo in the first place; she just hadn’t assumed she’d be picked for it.

We stood in the corner where they take their Polaroids. “Uh, what should we do?” Ren asked me.

“I dunno,” I replied.

“Okay, uh, how about we play up that SM shit,” she began. “Here, you squat down – lower – okay, that’s good – and I’ll just do this…” She rested her knee on my shoulder and brandished a flogger in her hands. “There we go!”

When she came by my seat later to draw on the picture, as is customary at maid cafes and concept cafes, she was in high spirits. Apparently she’d had fun doing that, since hardly anybody was ordering the sexy Polaroid. I guess everyone was too chicken?

I also got a regular Polaroid with the first girl I’d talked to at Bunny’s Guild the previous day, but by the time it came back, it was getting pretty late, so with a slightly heftier bill than usual, I retreated to my hotel room.

The next day, Sunday, would be my last full day in Tokyo; Monday morning, I needed to catch a plane back to Buttfuck. This time, I had some decent card games. I got to strike the fear of Woody/Buzz into the heart of this one guy. (“And it just says, ‘put them into your clock,'” his friend was telling him, “so it’s not damage. So there’s nothing you can do about it.”) There was one funny moment where every game going on at the table, including my own, had someone using the eight-bounce Date A Live deck at the same time. One time, it was my Nino deck against another guy’s Nino deck. I was using the new combo (to test it; I’d never used it before), and he was using the old one. “Ah, see, I knew he’d be using the 1/1,” he told his friend. “Traitors must be purged.” I still need some more practice with it, but I think I’m seeing the limitations of the 1/1 compared to the older combo.

But you’re not here to listen to me ramble about degenerate anime trading card games. That day, I visited a couple more concept cafes. One of them was small and military-themed. Another, Chick Panic, was another bunnygirl one, though a smidge more wholesome than Bunny’s Guild. They also have a jailbird-themed branch, but that day, they were both operating in the same location.

“I get that the sexiness is kinda the point of the bunnygirl outfits, but I still never know where to look,” I confessed to one of Chick Panic’s employees. They were in their standard uniforms.

“Nah, I get it,” she laughed. “It’s cool, you can stare if you want. We don’t mind.” At least they’re good sports. Though I suppose they’d have to be, or they wouldn’t be working the job for very long.

I rounded out my stay in Akiba with one last trip to Queen’s Court, where they were now evidently having their Halloween event. The girl I talked to there was dressed up as an inmate.

“People always go crazy for the cop costumes,” she said, “but you know what? I think prisoners are just as cute.”

I nodded in agreement. Policewoman outfits certainly stimulate that masochism we all hold deep in our hearts, but there’s something to be said for the sadism the prisoner get-up elicits.

“My friend’s dressed as a cop, though,” she continued. “We’re kind of a pair. But she’s on break right now.”

As the conversation went on, she “arrested” me by cuffing my wrist to hers for a minute (never mind that that’s the cop’s job), and I noticed that she was quite animated.

“Apparently I’m really popular with foreigners,” she said.

“I can see it,” I replied. “You’re really cheerful and energetic and expressive.”

I thought for a second.

“Wait a minute, you get foreigners in here?” I was flabbergasted. “But you kinda get the feeling most foreigners can’t speak Japanese well. And speaking is kinda the point in a concept cafe…”

“Yeah,” she replied. “But you know, with a little broken English and a lot of energy, I get by.”

I only barely scratched the surface of Akiba’s concept cafes in my few days there, but I had a blast the whole time. Next time, I wanna try out even more. They’re relaxing in a different sort of way from maid cafes, so if you know Japanese, I encourage you to give one a try if you ever get the chance.

I’ll be in Akiba next on New Year’s weekend, for Winter Comiket. But until then? I’mma be sitting here in Buttfuck, working on Senmomo and Yui. I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my life, and I’ll see you in a day or two with another Yui post! Probably. Later!

Howdy hey, peeps. As I declared earlier this week, here I am to show you a bit of what goes on behind the scenes when we translators do our job. Let’s jump right into it!

EDIT: The screenshots are a decent size now. Problem solved!

We’ve already got a lot going on in this picture. First, lemme get the technical explanation out of the way. This game was created in Livemaker, and the tool I used to extract the script… wasn’t the best. A cell could contain anywhere from one segment (a unit of text equal to the entire contents of the box on screen at any given time) to twenty. Operation Bellflower’s hacker, Pangolin, had some better luck, but even then, it came out a bit wonky. See, Livemaker apparently doesn’t distinguish between segment breaks and regular line breaks, so if a single segment has a line break in it (as is the case in an overwhelmingly huge number of VNs; seriously, it’s a surprise Senmomo doesn’t do this), it’ll be split across two different cells. Obviously it would look really weird to have a random line break in the middle of a segment in English, but we discovered that if you just leave the second cell blank, it displays right. So that’s what’s going on with rows 103 and 104.

Row 99 is an example of the dreaded mimetics, those words in Japanese whose pronunciation and meaning are closely intertwined. This game has a lot of ’em, and they’ve given me no small amount of grief. I got lucky in this instance because of how row 100 played out, making this one simple to write around, but you’ll see me really struggle with other instances later in the game.

And finally, I direct you to, well, row 103 again. Of note is the use of “seito daihyou shikkoubu” in this game, rather than the usual “seitokai.” Accordingly, I wanted to go for a more unusual translation than “student council,” so I decided to use a term that, personally, I’ve always felt closer to. It’s always been “Student Government Association” in all the schools I’ve attended. Though I’ve been assured that “student councils” are absolutely a thing too.

Oh, and it explains later why he calls her “kaichou” even though her actual title is “shikkoubu buchou.”

Meet the titular Yui. You know Date A Live? Well, Yui talks like Tohka from that. I do my best to reflect her odd speech patterns in the English translation.

Anyway, let’s take a look at rows 175 and 176. A more direct translator might have rendered them as, say, “This is my first time coming to this room, but I must say, everything here is quite fascinating.” And they wouldn’t be wrong, per se. That is closer to the original Japanese. But in English, we don’t really preface things like that. The implication here is “I was unsure what to think of this unfamiliar environment, but it seems nice.” Though that implication is very watered down–the contents of row 175 are practically filler text to avoid being too direct by jumping straight into row 176. This is exceedingly common in Japanese. All in all, in order to best reflect the sense of this segment, I needed to keep the compliment, but not make it too much of a thing. I think I struck that balance quite nicely with what I have here.

Now let’s examine rows 183 to 185. You’ll notice I got a tad bit creative here, and the non-translators among you might be surprised to see that. But this is par for the course with this practice. While “tsumetai kotoba” is a viable collocation in Japanese, “cold words” isn’t in English unless it’s a poor translation from Japanese. In the first place, it’s not the words we’d be talking about in English, but the situation itself. So something needed to change.

I couldn’t be too drastic, though. The comparison with the snow outside, I felt, was important, as it helps set the scene and convey the game’s atmosphere. And, well, when you’re comparing something with snow, you’re chiefly going to be thinking about temperature. So I had to use “cold” somehow.

I quickly landed upon what you see here. Then I just shuffled some words around a bit–like moving “correcting my posture” to 185, which was otherwise relatively lacking in semantic content–and bam. All in a day’s work for a translator. Or rather, a second’s. This sort of lateral thinking is so commonplace that it needs to be second nature for a translator in order for anything to get done in a reasonable amount of time. This is what goes into everything. Oh, sure, I could’ve just said, “O-Oh, right. At the words colder than the snow outside, I correct my posture. I’m in the middle of getting glared at by the prez.” But that reads like very stilted English without any sense of rhythm or connection between the segments. This sort of impressionistic and staccato writing is commonplace in Japanese otaku media like VNs and LNs, but it has a much bigger impact in English, an impact that is usually unwanted. So oftentimes, in order to remain faithful to the sense of the source text, we have to depart from the letter of it.

I do have to be careful I don’t make Hirotake sound too eloquent, though. A big theme of this game is maturity–specifically, how Hirotake and Yui grow over the course of the game. In many respects, Hirotake is still naive at heart, so if I make his narration too sophisticated, he’ll sound a lot more grown-up than he should, and when the game emphasizes his childishness, I don’t want readers going, “What? But he uses such fancy language.” This is also why I use a lot of short and simple sentences in his narration, as opposed to the long compound-complex sentences I usually write in, and most of the figurative language I have him use is either cliched or almost cliched (see “hot water”).

Oh, one last thing. You’ll notice I got rid of a stutter in the narration. This is for the same reason I just outlined above. First-person narration in otaku media aims to sound just like dialogue, and dialogue in otaku media goes for verisimilitude to an exaggerated extent, denoting false starts with stutters and brief pauses with ellipses, commas, kuten, small tsus, and what have you. English doesn’t do this. Punctuation rules are very rigid in English, so you can’t play with commas and periods, we don’t have anything equivalent to the small tsu, and ellipses need to be handled with care. Plus… we just don’t stutter much. If I kept every single dang stutter in the game, the characters would all sound like blubbering, brain-dead, mouth-breathing idiots. While actual Japanese people don’t stutter either, it’s at least more believable because of how many syllables their language has. So for the sake of readability and the integrity of the characters, I only keep stutters when I feel it’s significant to do so.

I do keep every single ellipsis in Reika’s dialogue, though. She’s the quiet but cool character, and I really wanna play up that archetype.

You can see me doing more of those little adjustments here, like how I keep Hirotake’s narration conversational and insert filler words into lines that were otherwise nothing but punctuation, though I do let Reika keep lines of just ellipses. And oh shoot, in light of future developments, maybe I ought to change 207 to “this is my home.”

Okay, I’m back. Anyway, in 212, I didn’t go for the straight “don’t look at me” because that sounded like he thought Reika was accusing him of something, which she obviously isn’t. She’s just looking for whatever help she can get comprehending this situation. Besides, the fact that she’s looking at him is implied by what I have here anyway.

And then 213 and 214 explain what a zashiki-warashi is, but even if the source text didn’t, I would’ve stuck my own explanation in there anyway. While zashiki-warashi are a part of Japanese folklore, they’re going to be completely foreign to basically any other audience, so English speakers would need that sort of guidance. Of course, I’m sure there’s plenty of English speakers who’re familiar enough with Japan that they do know what zashiki-warashi are, but I obviously can’t count on them being the entirety or even majority of my translation’s readership.

Here’s an example of a mimetic I couldn’t write around. The text box shakes for that segment, so I had no choice but to use a sound effect there; if I’d written it as regular narration, then that special effect wouldn’t make sense.

Where did “horny teenage delusions” come from, you ask? Well, while “your eyes were playing tricks on you” is a more or less acceptable thing to say in English, telling someone their eyes were “fushiana” in Japanese is quite rude, as Hirotake calls out, so I had to step things up a notch. Then Hirotake’s surprise in 272 becomes him reacting to how ridiculous Kozue’s suggestion is, rather than the way in which she said it, but that’s such a minuscule change that it’s not worth worrying about. I suppose I could write “horny teenage delusions” into that line too, but I kinda like the way it starts mild and steps up into rudeness. Also debating whether or not to kill that music note… Since, you know, they’re not a thing in English, nor do I feel a pressing need to make them a thing in English. You know Lonesome tries to put the dang things into Senmomo where they weren’t before? Every time he does, I have to break out the spray bottle. No! Bad Lonesome!

Do I need to go into every little thing like this? I feel like you get the point by now, right? All this screenshotting is tanking my efficiency, so I’ll just get back to work and pop back in when I’ve got something really interesting to share.

Go home, Kazoo. You’re drunk.

Okay, so what the heck am I doing here? Well, when’s the last time you audibly whimpered in an uncomfortable situation? Never, right? There you go.

Incidentally, I can get away with this because the only thing differentiating Hirotake’s dialogue from regular narration is the presence or absence of kagi kakko. That’s also why I’m retaining them in this game. It also allows me to be a little flexible in patches of narration broken up by Hirotake’s spoken lines. If I think a line of dialogue would flow better if placed earlier or later than it originally occurs, I can make that change. I recall having done that a couple times, so I’ll screenshot it when I get there.

Ah, see? Here I go. Makes more sense in English to have the tag immediately after the dialogue it refers to, so that’s what I did here. Thanks for not having a mini-portrait, Hirotake.

Now heeeeeere’s some bullshit! This took me forever to come up with. It’s another unpleasant example of the style and substance being inextricably intertwined. And oh crap, gotta fix 1261…

I’m still not happy with 1265 and 1266, by the way. In Japanese, he refers to dakuten, the little lines that turn unvoiced consonants into voiced consonants. The two are treated as equivalent when ordering words, such as in dictionaries, so it’s not completely out of the question that Tarou’s little cheating here might be viable. But the rules of crossword puzzles aren’t so lax.

The correct answer, which Hirotake provides in row 1289, is “mononoke.” I thought that poignant, given the subject matter of the game, so I at least wanted that to be reflected in the translation. I chose “spirit,” since it would be easy to come up with words starting with “sp,” and wrote the rest of this little section around that. (The Japanese equivalent to the “tale” resulting from “spirit” is thus “ketsudan;” in a way, I nailed that part too.) In the end, none of Reika and Tarou’s guesses are even remotely close to the original Japanese.

Can we take a moment to appreciate how stupidly hard this was, though? I needed three words that started with the same two letters. Two of them needed to help make another word with their final letters, but the third couldn’t do the same. But oh wait–it could if you cheat a little.

Now I wanna see someone write the clue that could plausibly lead to “sprain,” “spring,” and “spirit.”

Quick side note about why it ain’t easy to edit your own work. As Lonesome says, the true battle with this game is making the narration flow well and sound natural, not using hundred-dollar words, like we sometimes do in Senmomo. These are the kinds of things I think about on my first run through translating a work, so it’s rare that I’ll look at something of my own and go, “Ah, that sounds weird. Better change it to sound more natural.”

That (??) of his, by the way, comes from chess notation, which uses exclamation points to denote particularly clever moves and question marks to denote particularly baffling ones. He likes to use these to critique his own work in Senmomo. Personally, I seem to recall doing that on occasion in Yui with the phrases “im too sexy for my shirt” and “i want to commit die.”

When he first read my translation of Yui, Lonesome cited row 1158 here as his favorite line. This might come as a surprise to you. As a fellow–well, not translator, but editor who keeps the original Japanese in mind as he works–you’d think he’d get hype for the really fancy, important lines that are gonna be the most memorable, right?

Well, no. Those lines are easy. With all the ingredients they give you, making a tasty dinner is pretty straightforward. But these short, trivial lines? You hardly have anything to go on, so you have to bring your own sauce to the table. It’s the inconsequential lines, the throwaway lines, the ones nobody would ever notice, where a translator can truly show off their chops. And they’re usually short for a reason, so you can’t go writing an essay.

Here, “boobage” gives a bit of a silly air to the line, and it helps Hirotake come off as innocent. If I’d just left it as “boobs,” he might seem like a bit of a lecherous protagonist, and he’s not. See how he uses the polite “mune” instead of the crass “oppai” here. He’s also a boku guy, not an ore guy. In the world of otaku media, that means he’s a cute little goodboi who wouldn’t harm a fly. (In the real world, boku is a lot more pervasive. Most of the men in my office use it.) Thus, I wanted the prevailing reaction to this line to be, “Aw, look at him blushing! He’s so cute!” That effect would’ve been diluted with just “boobs.” In conclusion, this is why we should all take “boobage” seriously as a translation choice when discussing women’s breasts. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

My favorite line in this translation is even shorter. I’ll make sure to show you when I get to it. Just, uh, it probably ain’t happening in a post anytime soon. If I remember correctly, it’s buried somewhere in the Reika route.

And with that, I am going to call it a day because it’s almost time for dinner and I have a bit of a cold. I got about 1500 rows in out of, like, 11000, so that’s what, six posts? Maybe fewer if I go longer on some of the later ones? I’ll see you guys next time.

Sup, friends. It’s your friendly neighborhood Kazoo, here to announce the next game we at Operation Bellflower plan on working on. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for… Yui no Kotonoha! Title translation currently undecided. The titular “kotonoha” only appears twice in the text, but it’s a royal pain in the butt when it does.

This is a short little game, only a few hours long, about a zashiki-warashi who visits a sleepy rural town. I quite liked it, and I wanna bring it to a language near you. Or rather, I already did. I spent the month of April hacking away at it in my down time at work (I have a lot of down time at work), and before I knew it, my translation pass was done.

Now, the fact that I was working on this at work means I obviously didn’t have the game open. I shouldn’t have to tell you why that’s no bueno. So, I’m going to edit this myself, this time at home with the game open side by side with the script. While Lonesome is taking a very interventionist approach with Senmomo, he’s said he wants to be more hands-off with Yui, doing maybe the final five to ten percent of the work. Which is great, since it means he’ll mostly be focusing on Senmomo.

But why am I even bothering to announce this at all? I already have all the team members I need. It would make no difference if I just worked on it in secret and dropped a full patch out of the blue one day. Well, the answer’s simple. As a budding translation scholar, I want to promote critical thinking and analysis of translations. I’ve done that in the past by writing extremely wordy blog posts for this very website. Now, I want to show how the theory is put into practice: as I go through Yui again, I’m going to make blog posts about it with excerpts from the script to show a bit of how the sausage is made, what we translators think about in our work, and what mindsets lead to fruitful and meaningful discussions of what makes a translation good or bad. I’m excited to take another look at my work from half a year ago; Lonesome even says I’ve leveled up since Senmomo.

What’s that? If I finished the translation in April, why am I only getting to the editing now? Haha, funny story, that. It turns out that when Japanese light novels are readily accessible to you, and for a mere 700 yen each, you tend to get a wee bit distracted. Even now, my LN backlog is far from empty, but real-life considerations are urging me to say fuck it, I’ll set aside some time each week to work on Yui.

My first Yui blog post will be this weekend. I’m excited to see what you all think of it! Until then, peace.

Part One: English Do Be Like That Sometimes

“I swear to God, I didn’t do it!”

“She has an ace up her sleeve.”

“They want to maintain the status quo.”

Consider the above examples for a moment. I don’t expect that any native speaker would have any difficulty comprehending these simple sentences, but perhaps a brand new learner of the language might scratch their head at them – as you can see, each of them tells an interesting little story about English linguistics.

  • “Swearing to God” in English has become a highly colloquial expression to assert that one is emphatically telling the truth, which naturally comes from the highly privileged role that Christianity has had upon Western, Anglo historical development.
  • “Having an ace up one’s sleeve” is, like almost all English idiomatic expressions, rooted in Anglophone cultural traditions and social facts; in this case, originating from the commonplace pastime of card games and gambling.
  • “Status quo”, while originally a Latin phrase, is now very much a ubiquitous English expression to mean “the present state of affairs”, joining a long list of many other such words and phrases, particularly ones of Latin/Greek/French origin.

My point with this little illustration is that English, like all other languages, self-evidently doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is instead inextricably bound up within what we might call an “Anglophone cultural framework”, and the historical, cultural, and social traces of this particular framework can be found absolutely everywhere within this language of ours.

Going about our daily lives, I think it’s easy for this aspect of our language to remain largely invisible to us, being something we take completely for granted as a sort of “shared cultural knowledge.” It does not strike us as strange, for example, that even non-religious people regularly exclaim “oh my God” and “speak of the devil”, or that idiomatic allusions to bygone historical institutions like the Age of Sail are commonplace (eg. “all hands on deck”, “running a tight ship”, etc.), or that little bits of foreign languages invariably make their debut in English writing without caveat. English just do be like that sometimes.

Note: The rest of this post contains select samples of text from Senmomo and features extremely general discussion of its themes. It is very much non-spoilery in nature, but you may still consider not reading on if you wish to read Senmomo with as little foreknowledge as possible.

Part Two: Senmomo is a Really Japanese Game

Senmomo is a really, really Japanese game. That is to say, unlike lots of other eroge where the “Japaneseness” of the setting is not especially foregrounded or important, Senmomo’s “definitely-not-Japan” setting is an ineliminably core conceit of the game.

Incidentally, Senmomo doesn’t technically take place in Japan, but instead, an archipelagic island nation named “The Empire”.in an unnamed fantasy world that is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from modern Earth. The political capital of The Empire is “Tenkyo”, its religious center is “Iseya”, and the text even makes a one-off reference to a sparsely-populated northern region called “Hokkaishu”. The Imperials of the story eat traditional Japanese cuisine, dress in traditional Japanese clothing, practice an animistic religion named “Tento”, engage in traditional Japanese martial arts–yeah, yeah, we get it, it’s basically just “fantasy Japan” in literally everything but name.

What foregrounds the Japaneseness of the setting even more so, is the presence of the nation that exists as the Empire’s principal antagonist and direct counterpart – the Republic, whose parallels to the West and more specifically, America, are no less obvious. The Republic is ostensibly a champion of democracy and liberal values, and their biggest cultural exports are consumption goods like canned coffee and WcDonalds. Republicans wear European-inspired fashion, wage wars with modern firearms, and in a rather on-the-nose historical allegory, start off the story following a conquest and subsequent military occupation of the Empire. A very large part of Senmomo’s story centers around the civilizational struggle between the Empire and the Republic, and a major theme of the text revolves around the profound cultural differences that exist between these two very different cultures.

Indeed, these cultural differences are something that the original text went to considerable lengths to highlight, and are directly reflected in manifold ways throughout the text, often through the use of language itself.

For example, “Western” technologies like tablet computers and televisions are always described circumlocutiously with kanji (携帯端末, 映像筐体, etc.) with their more conventional Japanese names (taburetto, terebi, etc.) displayed only as ruby glosses. Moreover, native residents of the Empire use very little gairaigo, foreign loanwords, in their speech and narration, and many of these katakana-ized loanwords which are commonplace in modern Japanese are explicitly introduced or remarked upon as words that these characters do not understand, often to wonderful comedic effect. Here are some examples of this from the text:


あの後、ソードについて調べたが、なんでも共和国語で刀のことらしい。

I looked it up later, and apparently ≪sword≫ is how they say “blade” in Republican.


「共和国人は、パーティーとかいう宴会が大好きで、一度に沢山の花を注文するんです」

Republicans love having these banquets they call ≪parties≫, and they’ll order a whole bunch of flowers for them.


「あら? お店、通り過ぎて……

「少し流そう」

「共和国では、こういうのをドライブと言うらしい」

Huh? You passed by the shop…

Let’s stay out a little longer.

In the Republic, I hear they call this kind of outing a ≪drive.≫


Conversely, characters from the Republic are coded as “foreign” in their speech and narration through their conspicuous usage of an above-average amount of katakana loanwords, an avoidance of yojijukugo four-character-idioms, and occasional misunderstandings and ignorance of Japanese language folkways (for example, the way that the expression 結構 can be used to either affirm or decline something based on context).

All this is to illustrate that Senmomo is a game that places great importance on language and the cultural context that surrounds it. The conspicuous differences in how “native” Imperial and “foreign” Republican characters use language is a major, foregrounded element of the text, serving as not just a source of comedy, but also as an important site of characterization and a diegetic means to elucidate the sharp differences in values and worldview between the traditional, “Oriental” Empire and the modern, “Occidental” Republic.

Part Three: Intercultural Translational Challenges

You probably see where this is going, right? The task of translating this extremely Japanese setting into English for a Western audience clearly poses some very particular challenges. As discussed previously, a great deal of English words and expressions and idioms don’t merely convey semantic information in a neutral way, but necessarily also embed an Western, Anglophone “cultural framework” that can very easily seem incongruous and out of place in a setting like Senmomo’s. A very non-exhaustive list of potentially problematic language usages include:

  • Allusions to specifically Western institutions. E.g. “Pleading the Fifth”, the crime of “lese-majesty”, terms of art originating from Western philosophy like “the divine right of kings” or “a monopoly on violence”
  • Idiomatic expressions that evoke particularly Western cultural practices. E.g. Idioms relating to The Age of Sail (“all hands on deck”, “taking a different tack”), gambling (“hitting the jackpot”, “doubling down”), sports (“a false start”, “moving the goalposts”, etc.)
  • Allusions and references to Western religious beliefs and practices. E.g. “to bear one’s cross”, “to say one’s prayers”, “to be a Good Samaritan”, mentions of uniquely Christian theological concepts such as God, the devil, angels, heaven, etc.
  • Expressions that have unique historical, political, or social currency. E.g. “Winter of Discontent”, “War on Terror”, “she’s no Einstein”, genericized Western brand names (Kleenex for facial tissues, Band-Aid for adhesive bandages, Thermos for insulated beverage containers, Sellotape for clear adhesive tape, etc.)
  • Word choices that strongly evoke English’s Greco-Roman influences (septentrional, ecclesiastic, etc.) or direct loan words that have become accepted as commonplace English words (raison d’etre, fait accompli, vis a vis, ex ante, de facto, etc.)
  • Turns of phrase that are distinctly cultural and/or regional. E.g. the metaphorical use of Western units of measurement (to inch closer, to be miles away), expressions that are very recognizably American or British in origin, or just feel very Anglophone in character (“good enough for government work”, “give it the old college try”, etc.)

In some respects, this is an issue ubiquitous to all Japanese to English translations! Most Japanese media is set in Japan and features Japanese characters, so any translation of such a work into English absolutely needs to be mindful about the unintentional imposition of a Western cultural framework with respect to its choice of language. Honestly, I feel like most translations, at least in the otaku sphere, tend to not be especially cognizant of this consideration, although of course, it’s always a delicate balancing act between many other tradeoffs. Here are a few interesting examples of this from a few games I’ve read recently:


Naturally, Amatsutsumi, a game centered around the Japanese concept of kotodama, the mysticism of words and their power, would contain a number of fascinating lexical and cultural challenges when translated into English. Here, the scene features Kokoro using a large number of “modern Japanese” gairaigo loanwords in her speech like ァ (sofa), ー (privacy), and ス (share-house) which are words that are not in the protagonist Makoto’s lexicon due to his extremely traditional and isolated upbringing. Though I felt like the translation of this game was generally very competent and pleasurable to read, I don’t think it does especially effective job solving this particular puzzle and capturing the sense of the Japanese. It doesn’t seem at all credible that any English speaker, even if they had an extremely outdated and archaic lexicon, would fail to understand any of Kokoro’s words. Even though words like “privacy” and “shared-space apartment”  effectively capture the semantic meaning of ー and シェアハウス, they fail to reflect the unique cultural fact that these words are modern, postwar introductions to the Japanese lexicon, something crucial to the sense of this scene. 


This line from Golden Time is such a fascinating little piece of cultural domestication with super interesting implications! The original line contains the term 簀巻き, an archaic term referencing a traditional form of execution involving rolling a victim into a bamboo mat and throwing them into a body of water. Not unreasonably, the translation opts to eschew a literal translation (likely for word economy reasons) and instead opts to render this as “concrete shoes”, a remarkably serendipitous parallel to a strikingly similar execution method in English – the sort of resourceful, lateral-thinking-required take that one should usually be proud of! However, this act of cultural domestication ends up having some really fascinating and likely unintended consequences. In my mind at least, the concept of “concrete/cement shoes”, despite its obvious parallels with 簀巻き, carries with it a tremendous amount of unique cultural associations, being an expression that feels (1) distinctly and uniquely American and (2) inextricably linked to organized crime and the underworld. Naturally, the original phrase of 簀巻き had none of these specific associations, but rather carries the sense of a collective, community-based lynching for moral transgressions. Hence, it strikes me as slightly (but not excessively) incongruous that a character like Mina, a high-class and sheltered European princess, would have a word like this in her lexicon (is she the type to watch many American gangster flicks?) or that she would so flippantly analogize the actions of her bodyguards to that of the Mafia. I doubt that I would have ultimately opted for a different rendering of this line, cement shoes really does just line up too well, but I do think that it’s important to be mindful of the implications of cultural domestication such as this.


Admittedly though, for most works, the Japaneseness of its setting tends to not be as foregrounded as strongly as a historical fantasy like Senmomo, and so, a reader is probably much more willing to suspend their disbelief when a particularly “Western-cultural” expression or idiom shows up in a translation – it doesn’t strike me as incongruous, for example, to translate a modern Japanese speaker’s (secular!) expression of surprise as “Oh my God!” in English. In Senmomo’s case however, the cultural differences between the Empire (Japan) and the Republic (the West) are brought into sharp relief by the source text itself, so we felt like it would be especially jarring for avowedly Imperial characters to be using noticeably incongruous language; whether its invoking the (Judeo-Christian) God in epithets, using idioms that are commonplace in English but would be out of character given the Japanese setting, or opting for word choices that challenge this delicate suspension of disbelief.

Of course, the specifics of the text in Senmomo itself further complicates this issue even further. Besides the “obvious” examples of problematic language use outlined above, Senmomo also introduces lots of its own, largely arbitrary issues and constraints! As shown in the above example, the protagonist Soujin presents the (completely unremarkable in English) word and concept of going for a ≪drive≫ as a strange, foreign curiosity. If we were to suspend our disbelief and inhibit the interiority of a character for whom this is true, doesn’t it follow that they would also be unlikely to use the word “drive” in non-literal, metaphorical contexts as well (i.e. “having a drive for success”)? Presumably this also extends towards a broader indifference for and ignorance of the highly Western “cultural framework” of an automotive-centric society; and so doesn’t that mean all motor vehicle-related metaphors like “spinning one’s wheels” or “in the driver’s seat” or “an engine for growth” are also off the table? Similarly, if the word ≪party≫ (to refer to a social gathering) is a foreign word that isn’t in the character’s vocabularies, then wouldn’t it be strange for them to use the word “party” in all its other meanings (“toeing the party line”, “gathering the party”, “a party to the negotiations”, etc.)? These are just two examples of many, by the way, there’s plenty more of these sort of issues where that came from!

At this point, an apparently reasonable objection might be something like “why does any of this even matter; surely the source text didn’t have these sort of incongruities that contradict the setting like nautical or gambling or automotive idioms, so why can’t you just literally translate what it says and avoid any of these issues?”

Obviously this is a fairly naïve objection, one that anyone with a meaningful understanding of how translation works can see through, but I do want to spend some time unpacking it all the same – there’s first the “obvious” response, but also the much more “interesting” one.

I think this should be fairly obvious, but correspondences and equivalencies between languages are rarely so simple or straightforward. Consider the Japanese phrase 朝飯前, for example, which literally translates to “[to be done] before breakfast” but actually means “[to be] extremely easy.” Obviously, a word-for-word rendition of this phrase is usually intolerable, because the output would be complete nonsense in English, and so, an equivalency that captures the “sense” is required. The common English expressions that come to mind as very close equivalencies might be something like “[to be] easy as pie” or “[a] piece of cake”, right? But! Notice how both of these expressions reference extremely Western-cultural foods! For an extremely Japanese setting like Senmomo, where the characters are only accustomed to eating wagashi, and would view “Western” desserts like cake or pie as, at best, exotic foreign curiosities, it seems somewhat strange for them to suddenly start using expressions like “that was a piece of cake”, right? There are just lots and lots of Japanese words and phrases for which the best equivalencies runs into issues like this; as another example, the best equivalency for 存在意義 is certainly the phrase “raison d’etre”, but this phrase, despite having long been assimilated as an “English” word that is universally understood by English speakers, still looks and sounds conspicuously French, and therefore in my mind, would likewise seem extremely out of place for the characters in Senmomo to use!

An even bigger problem, though, is that even if it were possible, omitting any sort of language use that carries the baggage of a “Western cultural framework” unavoidably impoverishes one’s English writing to an intolerable degree. I hope at the very least, that all the above examples have shown just how commonplace and “invisible” the cultural framework of language really is. Even to avoid merely the most obvious and extreme instances of this still precludes a very considerable range of English expression. A group of synonyms like “class”, “standard”, “quality”, “distinction”, and “caliber” each have unique and subtle differences in sense, and each of them might prove to be le mot juste for a particular situation where other words might not suffice.

However… the word “caliber” derives its figurative meaning from the measurement of a bore of a firearm, and so, wouldn’t it be rather out of place for an extremely traditional, sword-wielding warrior like Soujin to be using this word? As you can see, this very quickly ends up being a considerable restriction on the amount of tools available in your toolbox as a translator! This is especially true for idioms, turns of phrase, and set expressions, for which there are rarely adequate alternatives – “doubling down”, for example, is an immensely useful expression, capturing all the nuance of “a stubborn re-commitment to a current, likely dubious or risky, course of action” and it happens to be a wonderful equivalency for a phrase like 漱石枕流. But, it likewise inextricably embeds this “cultural framework” of the particularly Western institution of casino gambling, which again, perhaps feels somewhat out of place in a setting like Senmomo?

Now of course, it is by no means impossible to “take the easy route”, to exclusively opt for the most straightforward and literal renderings possible, and to always reach for simplistic paraphrases instead of compelling equivalencies. But to always simply render 朝飯前 as “extremely easy”, 存在意義 as “the meaning of one’s existence”, and to apply such a philosophy across an entire text would clearly result in an extremely flattened script that erases all of the richness of the source text. It would necessarily entail extensive erasure of all the idiomatic language of the original text, generic paraphrase of otherwise colourful turns of phrase, and so on, all without any compensation in your English script! The output might be accurate and readable, but it would be a pale shadow of the original text, and a very poor translation indeed.

Ronald Knox, in his book Trials of a Translator makes this extremely insightful argument that “It is relatively easy to notice when to avoid a foreignism but harder to notice the ‘negative effect’ produced by the absence of English mannerisms.” But I think this “negative effect”, though hard to explicitly notice, is still very subtly impactful when applied across the totality of a text. It results in a very lifeless and translationese output, one that is notionally accurate, but doesn’t sound like quality, natural English at all – because obviously, good, natural English writing and dialogue make copious and artful use of the aforementioned “English mannerisms”! A target text that is wholly absent these mannerisms, while still nominally readable, lacks the dynamism and smoothness that genuinely good English writing commands, and invariably ends up reading like something that is obviously a (mediocre) translation. We should be striving to do better than that.

Thus, this is the real challenge; the fine balance that needs to be struck. On one hand, we need to preserve the integrity of the setting, to uphold the worldbuilding and cultural distinctions that the source text takes great pride in establishing, and to maintain the suspension of disbelief that these characters really are authentic inhabitants of the world of Senmomo; characters who are highly “culturally Japanese” and insulated from Western cultural folkways. On the other hand, however, we also need to preserve the integrity of the writing, to deliver not merely readable, but compelling and pleasurable English narration and dialogue that is naturalistic and actually sounds like believable English, and to uphold the suspension of disbelief that this could have even been a text written originally in English! …A piece of cake, right~?

Part Four: What Is To Be Done?

 

By the way, if you’re wondering how this works the other way around in English to Japanese translation, I’m at least pleased to report that it’s every bit as much of a problem for them as well! This is a passage from Nohara’s Translating Popular Fiction: Embracing Otherness in Japanese Translations that showcases similar such challenges, with an example from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Squire Toby’s Will and a corresponding Japanese translation:


“It’s not a great deal, Cooper, but it troubles me, and I would not tell it to the parson nor the doctor.”

“He was a good man, sir, in his way,” repeated old Cooper, returning his gaze with awe. “He was a good master to me, and a good father to you, and I hope he’s happy. May God rest him!”

「たいしたことではないのだが、そ れが気がかりになっているのに、 牧師にも医者にも話す気になれな い。」

「ご先代もあの方なりに良い方でご ざいました。わたしには良いご主人 でしたし、旦那さまにも良いお父さ までしたよ。きっとご成仏なさって 居られましょう。ご冥福を」


Charles is terrified that his brother and father, who are both dead, have placed a curse on him because of their past rows. In the TT, there are two religious modifications: gojōbutsunasatte [entering Nirvana] and gomēfuku o [wishing for the repose of his soul]. Both of the ST expressions, “I hope he’s happy (in heaven)” and “May God rest him”, obviously have Christian beliefs as their background, so the translator has substituted Buddhist expressions for them. It should be noted that the word “parson” is used a few lines earlier in the ST and has been allocated the semantically and culturally straightforward translation bokushi [clergyman] – not an ambiguous, neutralising term like bōzu [priest]. It is absolutely impossible to interpret the term bokushi as meaning anything other than a Christian clergyman. Thus, items of both Christian and Buddhist language are embedded in a single literary setting. This imparts a peculiar sense of incongruity and of cultural mixture to the discourse.


Ehehee~ Isn’t it at least comforting to know that we aren’t the only ones struggling with this stuff? As Nohara remarks very eloquently though, the effect of this intermixing of cultural atmospheres really does contribute to a “peculiar sense of incongruity”, one that is certainly unavoidable to some extent, and likely overlooked or tolerated by almost all readers, but still, something that is probably best to minimize, especially when the integrity of the story’s setting is very important.

So then, what did we do about this issue throughout Senmomo? First and foremost, as can be seen in the examples in Part Two, we elected to mark “words that are explicitly introduced as foreign” in angle brackets, as with ≪sword≫ or ≪party≫ or ≪drive≫. If we were translating into any other language, this wouldn’t even be an issue, since all of these words are explicitly English loanwords and we could simply render them as such. However, because our target language is also English, it would obviously introduce incongruities if, say, Soujin inexplicably didn’t understand what the word ≪sword≫ means only when framed in angle brackets, but then went on to casually narrate cutting down enemies with his sword a couple of lines later.

The solution that Dubs first decided to opt for and I elected to preserve is the rather radical option of never using any of these “canonically foreign” words in all of the Imperial characters’ dialogue and narration. Hence, the only occasions where words like sword, and party, and drive, but also words like surprise and hurry appear are (1) in the narration of Republican characters, and (2) when spoken aloud and recognized specifically as unfamiliar, foreign words. This was, er… really not easy! Having a side-constraint of two-dozen-plus “banned words” that we have to categorically avoid using, (including one extremely common and completely irreplaceable English word that appears in a stupid-ass gag in Chapter 5!) ended up being a considerable challenge to write around, but I do think the effect ends up being quite nice and flavourful! In particular, the conspicuous omission of the word sword and use of alternatives like blade instead ended up being a device I felt really contributes to the flavour of the setting.

This conceit even enabled some nice bits of compensation not present in the original text – as mentioned before, it perhaps seems out of place for Soujin to use “driving-related metaphors” like “being in the driver’s seat” if the word ≪drive≫ is not a regular part of his vocabulary, and so, we refrained from using any form of figurative language that references modern, Western technology like firearms or cars in his narration. However, for Republican characters, this would clearly not be the case; they likely would freely make use of these “banned words” and all the metaphorical language associated with them, which we made sure to make liberal use of in their narration. I think the cumulative effect of this is to hopefully capture a distinctness in the narration of Imperial and Republican characters, one that reflects their civilizational and worldview differences. A few examples of this in action:


混乱の引き金が引かれた。 And thus the trigger for chaos is pulled. And thus the arrow of pandemonium is loosed.

This is Soujin’s narration, and hence, I felt that it much more flavourful and in-line with the setting for him to be using a metaphorical expression that references a traditional martial arts weapon of a bow rather than a firearm.


今更、信頼も何もない。 Trust isn’t part of the equation. Trust never needed to be part of the equation in the first place.
翡翠帝がこちらに背かぬようコントロールできればそれでいい。 All I need to do is control Empress Hisui so she doesn’t turn against me. I just need to stay in the driver’s seat and make sure she doesn’t turn against me.
「あなたを信じたいのは山々だけれど、どうしても躊躇いがあるの」 「I’d love nothing more than to trust you, but I can’t help but hesitate.」 「I’d love nothing more than to trust you again, but you can probably understand why I’m rather hesitant…」

Here, we instead see Elsa, a native of the Republic’s narration. Note the conspicuous use of the “foreign” katakana verb コントロール, which I opted to compensate for with “in the driver’s seat”, a piece of vocabulary that as mentioned above, is notably absent from all the Imperial characters’ diction.

「ふふふ、今頃慌てても、もう遅いですよ」 「Heh heh heh. Panic all you want, but it’s already too late.」 「Heheheh. Panic all you want, but it’s already too late.」
「私の用意周到さに、恐れおののくと良いと思います。じゃじゃん」 「Cower in fear at the thoroughness of my preparations. Ta-da!」 「Cower in fear at the extent of my mighty preparations! Ta-da!」
古杜音が鞄の中から紙切れを出した。 Kotone takes a scrap of paper out of her bag. Kotone withdraws a scrap of paper from her bag.
「何これ? 屋上観覧席『松』、千五百圓?」 「What’s this? “Rooftop seating ticket (front row), 1500 yen?”」 「What’s this? “Rooftop Viewing Ticket (Front Row), 1500 Yen?”」
「これさえあれば、屋上から翡翠帝を悠々拝見できるのですっ」 「With this bad boy, you can admire Empress Hisui from the rooftop at your leisure!」 「With this bad boy, one may admire Empress Hisui from the rooftop at one’s leisure!」
「ふっ」 「Hup!」 「Hup!」
滸の腕が<R はし>疾</R>った。 Hotori’s arm flies. Hotori’s arm flashes through the air.
「あ、あれ?」 「H-Huh?」 「H-Huh?」
屋上観覧席『松』が、パラパラと紙片になって風に飛んだ。 The rooftop seating ticket (front row) is reduced to tiny pieces floating on the breeze. The Rooftop Viewing Ticket (Front Row) is reduced to tiny scraps drifting on the breeze.

One of many interesting pieces of cultural translation to negotiate in Senmomo, which I thought my translator absolutely nails! Here, the original Japanese features 松竹梅, a three-tiered system used to sort substitutable goods (like seating tickets) in terms of quality. It is an interesting little piece of cultural trivia, but not something that we felt was at all essential to the scene in question, and we think that the rendering of “(Front Row)” captures the sense in an unobtrusive and elegant way.


On the topic of lexical challenges however, another very common issue we encounter is the role that non-English loanwords play in our language. Our shared intuition is that words with Old English roots almost universally have a neutral, unnoticeable effect on the text, but recognizably French, Latin, or Greek words and expressions have a subtly damaging effect on the integrity of Senmomo’s setting. That is to say, would it not come across as fairly strange for a very “traditionally Japanese” character like Soujin in a very “traditionally Japanese” setting like Senmomo’s to make use of expressions like “raison d’etre” or “ad hominem” in his speech or narration?

The problem, however, is that many of these words are extremely irreplaceable and useful for English expression, with few if any reasonable alternatives! Unfortunately, I don’t feel like there is any one definitive “solution” to this, and as with almost everything else in translation, it ends up being a matter of evaluating competing tradeoffs. Obviously it’s completely untenable to avoid using any words that have even a whiff of foreignness to them, but likewise, some words are so intolerably immersion-breaking that no matter how much it captures the sense of the original text, they can’t be justified. What is the value of using this particular word or phrase in terms of “aptness” in capturing the sense of the source text? How much unique “literary value” does it contribute compared to lesser alternatives? How much would the presence of this word or phrase genuinely damage the “integrity” of the setting? None of these questions have very obvious answers, and negotiating the tradeoffs between them is very much an intuitive, feelings-based sort of endeavor.

An observation I’d make, though, is that in my experience, “how foreign a word feels” is somewhat distinct from its objective etymological origins. For example, words like surrender or genre or chauffeur are notionally foreign words of French origin, but they’ve been so thoroughly domesticated into becoming “English” words that I don’t feel like there’s any issue with using them, even in a text like Senmomo. Conversely, however, words like laissez-faire or avant-garde likely come across as too incongruously French to ever justify their inclusion in Senmomo. Very conspicuously Greco-Roman words like septentrional or hyperborean are probably out of bounds, but something like brumal or gelid seems safe enough? At the end of the day, it very much is just a matter of subjective intuitions and sensibilities, and unsurprisingly, Dubs and I occasionally disagree about how “foreign” and thereby, permissible, certain words are. For example, I personally thought that the phrase “I bid you adieu” was sufficiently domesticated into English that it would be suitable as a posh, slightly pretentious farewell for high-class members of the Republic’s gentry to use with each other, but to Dubsy’s ears, this phrase seemed still too “French” and out of character for the (ostensibly American) Republicans to use, and so after much deliberation, we ended up omitting it. Generally speaking, I feel like we were fairly judicious with excluding any sort of language that sticks out as being at odds with the traditional Japanese setting of Senmomo, but there are certainly instances where we felt that the improvement to fidelity to the source text or literary value contributed by certain words justified their “tax” on the integrity of the setting.

One area that was particularly challenging in terms of this lexical negotiation ended up being specifically words relating to religion. Unfortunately, almost the entire lexical inventory available in English for describing religious institutions are heavily influenced by Christianity and rely on manifestly Greco-Roman vocabulary. Themes of religiosity are very prominent in Senmomo, and words like 巫女 or 神殿 or 神職 appear extremely often. These terms are not notionally difficult to translate per se; priestess, temple, and priesthood are very close equivalencies, but the problem comes from the fact that these words in English unavoidably carry with them implicit associations with Christianity, whereas the original terms are likewise inextricably bound up in the Japanese cultural framework of Shinto and Buddhism. We considered many different alternatives; rendering 巫女 as “shrine maiden” or simply “miko”, for example, but found that these solutions carried with them much bigger issues. Ultimately, after much consideration, we felt that even though titles like “Your Eminence”, descriptors like “the hieratic order”, and verbs like “to ordain” embed rather unfortunate associations with Christianity that perhaps feel slightly out of place in a notably Japanese setting, they still capture the particularly solemn and stately “cultural atmosphere” associated with religiosity that best reflects the sense of phrases like 神殿組織 or 要職に任命. I’ll leave off with one final sample passage from our translation; as you’ll notice, there are indeed many words that contribute to the “instability” of the setting like “anoint”, “priesthood”, and “quietus”, and much like Nohara’s E>J example, there is an inescapable sense of incongruity with the intermixing of Christian and Shinto (or rather, Tento) atmospherics, but I believe that our rendering still ultimately does a very fine job of capturing the “sense” and “feel” of the original Japanese all the same.

林立する朱塗りの柱の間を、幽玄な香が漂う。 A mysterious and profound aroma wafts from between the vermillion-painted pillars. An airy and ethereal aroma gently wafts betwixt the grove of vermilion-lacquered pillars.
外光が切り出す陰影が、この空間が積み重ねてきた時間を隠微に囁く。 The shadows excised by the outside light whisper abstrusely of the time accumulated in this place. The long shadows cast by the outside light whisper of accumulated eons of yore.
欄間の鳳凰と目が合った気がして、呼び出しを受けた巫女は、<R うずくま>蹲</R>った身体をより小さく凝り固めた。 Feeling like she’s made eye contact with a transom phoenix, the summoned priestess stiffens her cowering body even further. Having come face-to-face with this majestic phoenix perched in her parapet, the summoned priestess cowers even further into herself.
玉座にあるは翡翠帝である。 Empress Hisui is on the throne. Empress Hisui sits on her throne.
水仙を思わせる可憐な姿に、同年代の巫女は深い感銘を受ける。 Her lovely figure, evocative of daffodils, leaves a deep impression on the priestess, even though they are of the same generation. Her regal figure, lovely as a daffodil, leaves a deep impression on the priestess, even though they are of a similar age.
──かの方こそ、日々祈りを捧げる《大御神》の血を引く存在なのだ。 ─This individual truly bears the blood of Oomikami, the god to whom she prays every day. ─This personage truly bears the blood of Oomikami, the deity to whom she dedicates her every prayer.
「<R しいのはことね>椎葉古杜音</R>、あなたを第百九十二代・<R いつきのみこ>斎巫女</R>に任じます」 「Shiinoha Kotone, I hereby appoint you 192nd Exalt-Priestess.」 「Shiinoha Kotone, I hereby anoint you as this Empire’s 192nd Exalt-Priestess.」
「斎巫女は、呪術の根源を司る国家の要職です」 「The station of Exalt-Priestess is of great national importance, for she must govern the root of magic.」 「The station of Exalt-Priestess is of paramount national importance, for she holds dominion over the very essence of magicks.」
「重圧はいかばかりかと思いますが、体を大事に忠勤を尽くすことを願います」 「The pressure will surely be great, but I pray that you will remain in good health and offer faithful service.」 「You shall surely be met with many adversities to come, but I pray that you might remain in good health and render most faithful service.」
居並ぶ大臣の中から、宰相・小此木時彦が進み出た。 Prime Minister Okonogi Tokihiko steps forward from the line of cabinet ministers. Chancellor Okonogi Tokihiko steps forward from the long line of ministers.
無言のまま、古杜音に向け、任命状を差し出す。 Without a word, he faces Kotone and holds out her letter of appointment. He faces towards Kotone and wordlessly holds out a letter of appointment.
「慎んで拝命いたします」 「I humbly accept my position.」 「I humbly accept this station.」
古杜音が深々と頭を下げる。 Kotone bows deeply. Kotone bows deeply.
斎巫女は、女性の神職である巫女、男性の神職である禰宜、合わせて約五千の神職を総べる存在である。 The Exalt-Priestess commands the approximately five thousand-strong clergy consisting of male and female practitioners alike. The Exalt-Priestess is the head of the priesthood, chiefest among all five thousand of its priests and priestesses.
そもそも神職とは、《大御神》やその祖先神を信仰の対象とする《天道》の司祭だ。 In the first place, the clergy are ministers of Tentou, which sees Oomikami and His progenitor gods as objects of worship. In the first place, the priesthood are practitioners of the Tento faith, which exalts Oomikami and His progenitor gods as objects of worship.
厳しい修行により呪術を身につけ、古来より武人と共に皇国の防衛に深く関わってきた。 They learn magic through strict training, and they have worked closely with the warriors in the Empire’s defense since ancient times. They learn magicks through rigorous training, and they have worked closely with warriors in service of the Empire’s defense since ancient times.
また、一般の国民にとっての神職は、人間の生と死を司る存在でもある。 Furthermore, to the average citizen, the clergy command human life and death. Moreover, to the general public, they hold powers over life and death itself.
誕生、成長、病、死── Birth, growth, disease, death─ Be it childbirth, coming-of-age, malady, or quietus─
人生の折々の機会に、人々は神殿に通い神職の祈りを求める。 On various occasions throughout their lives, the people visit temples and seek prayers from the clergy there. On all occasions of great import, the common people flock to the temple in search of prayers.

If you’ve read all this way, then you have my great appreciation for indulging my rambling about some of the unique translational challenges associated with Senmomo! I certainly look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have about this topic I personally find extremely fascinating, and I look forward to continuing what Dub’s started in posting more chats about translation, with more of an emphasis on praxis rather than theory. Until next time then~

In my last post, I made the foolish mistake of typing my own thoughts instead of copy/pasting Rubin’s, so I’m gonna go back to letting him write my posts for me with this really funny passage:

 

As usual, official policies of the United States toward Japan are totally misdirected. Instead of pressuring the Japanese into lowering trade barriers or taking a greater share of the responsibility for their own defense, we should be urging them to bring their verbs from the ends of their sentences into second place, right after their subjects, where they belong. Unless we accomplish this, the rest of our foreign policy is so much tofu.

 

If you think you have trouble with Japanese verbs being withheld from you until you get through all the intervening time expressions and modifying clauses and whatever else the writer decides to put in your way, don’t worry: the Japanese have the same problem themselves. They know their language works backwards, but they persist in keeping it that way as a matter of national pride.

 

Of course, some writers, such as Kabuki playwrights, have capitalized on the perverse placement of the verb at the end. The theater is charged with suspense as the retainer, center stage, slowly, tantalizingly intones the lines, “As to the question…of whether or not this severed head…is the head of my liege lord, the mighty general Kajimura Saburō Mitsumaru…known throughout the land for his brilliant military exploits…beloved by the people of his domain for his benevolence towards even the lowliest farmer…I can say, here and now, without a single doubt clouding my mind… that although the throngs gathered here before us may wish the truth to be otherwise…and the happiness of his entire family hangs in the balance…this my master’s head…is… NOT!” (p. 102)

Another thing Japanese is famous for is having the verb at the end of the sentence. This can produce some annoying problems when translating, such as the one Rubin so humorously put forth above. However, in this chapter, he notes how the Japanese hate this bullshit too, and thus have “signal words” to put at the beginning of a sentence to telegraph what’s coming, such as moshi to precipitate a conditional or maru de to precipitate a simile.

 

Ultimately, he only makes mention of these crutches for understanding and gives no further treatment to instances where the crutches are not there—after all, this isn’t a book about translation. As usual, we’re on our own to figure out what to do when a character holds the verb tantalizingly outside our reach.

 

But this next thing is what I really want to talk about in this post:

 

I often warn my literature students, especially those whose language skills have reached the stage where they can handle new texts with some degree of independence, that, as they read, they should try to maintain a distinction between literary pleasure afforded by the work itself and what might be called “linguistic pleasure” stimulated by the sheer satisfaction of making their way successfully through an orthographical garden, the gathering of whose fruits is only becoming possible for them after years of disciplined study. For the fact is that Japanese, especially for those of us who have learned to read it after childhood, never loses its exotic appeal; each page turned reveals to the eye a new spectacle of outlandish squiggles that momentarily takes the breath away. And written in those squiggles or spoken by the people who were raised in the language are equally outlandish syntactic structures—not only passives but causatives and passive-causatives and te-forms with oku’s attached or morau’s and itadaku’s and zu’s that make our minds work in ways that can never be conveyed to those who do not know the language. There is a thrill in realizing that you can process this stuff with your very own brain. I have long been convinced that, as we speak—but especially as we read this foreign tongue—just beneath the threshold of consciousness, a voice continually shouts, “Look, Mom, I’m reading Japanese!” (p. 106)

This is something big we really need to be conscious of. Too many times, Japanese speakers will lord their ability over English speakers, saying, “Look what I can do! It’s all so profound and literary! The grass is so much greener on this side of the fence!” But Japanese is just a language. Let me tell you a secret: some of the prose in the untranslated VNs I read is ass. It could be uncreative with its vocabulary or pointlessly wordy, explaining the same damn thing three times in a row—or even picking apart the meaning of what someone just said, as if the reader can’t understand spoken Japanese. Heck, as much as I like the Tsuriotsu series, I’ve often caught it reusing the same sentence structure many times in a row, and not in a way that feels intentional or creates any sort of interesting effect (yes, even considering Japanese’s heightened tolerance for repetition, which I’ll cover in a future post). And if you compare the prose of Eustia to that of Senmomo, the difference is night and day: Eustia’s prose is very matter-of-fact and utilitarian, while Senmomo’s tries to be more flowery and evocative.

 

Many times, I see people blowing Japanese prose out of proportion, saying how impervious it is to translation into our plebeian gaijin language… until exactly that happens, and suddenly the naysayers clam up as we go on with our lives. Let me make this clear: Japanese isn’t “better” than English; it’s just different. As such, it’s ridiculous to look down on someone just because they can’t speak Japanese or harass them to learn it so they can read the “better” version of a game. As Rubin said, Japanese makes your brain work in ways that can’t be explained to people who don’t know the language. That doesn’t mean concepts are incapable of being explained in other ways. I’m sure I don’t have to name names here; you know who you are. Cut that shit out. Next time you’re about to give a TED talk on grorious Nipponese prose that could never be rendered in English (or alternatively, was absolutely butchered in English), ask yourself if you’re not actually saying, “Look, Mom, I’m reading Japanese!”

 

Indeed, it’s like these people are patting themselves on the back for understanding this beautiful yet bullshit language. Heck, maybe I’ve come across that way before. If I ever act like I’m better than you because I understand Japanese and you don’t in a discussion that doesn’t require knowledge of the language, do me a favor and call me out on that shit. I try my best to never unduly put Japanese on a pedestal over English, but sometimes I might express myself poorly, so don’t be afraid to tell me I’m being a dick.

 

Though again, just like with the vagueness thing, Rubin says the Japanese themselves are partially at fault too:

 

And, having struggled year after year to learn the thousands of characters needed to read and write modern literate Japanese, her readers respond with a thrill of satisfaction, and perhaps with their own subliminal shouts: “I understand what this beautiful, brainy woman is telling me! Look, Okaasan, I’m reading Japanese!” (p. 107)

And of course, this is not to say that you should always tune people out when they talk about good Japanese prose. Sometimes they’re right. The differences between the two languages do make each of them better equipped for certain purposes, after all. Judge for yourself how seriously you should take them based on their history and your perception of their knowledge of Japanese, as well as their attitude toward it.

 

You know what? Let’s lighten the mood a little with more of the haha funny man:

 

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if we could say that one type of “to be” in Japanese is aru and the other is orohonpo: no one would ever get them mixed up. Unfortunately, one is aru and the other one often takes the form de aru, the written equivalent of the spoken da or desu… By the way, orohonpo is a real word in the Saga dialect, and it means “I’m not too crazy about it,” which is probably how most students feel about having to keep track of aru and de aru. (pp. 108, 110)

Hee hee! Translator funny!

 

The rest of Rubin’s book is largely serious grammar explanations, along with one very long section where he dissects some long Japanese sentences one word at a time to create an in-depth understanding of their grammar. If you want to see that, read the book yourself. It’s certainly worth your time.

 

This is a bit of a shorter post than usual, but I’ll call it here. Next time is going to be the long-awaited listicle (oh god why isn’t Word giving that a red underline) of words that are a pain in the ass to translate. Lonesome and I have been looking forward to this one.

Okay, screw the usual preamble. Time for some more Rubin. I love this guy so much.

 

The waga chapter is followed by one on the “giving” verbs and all their various uses throughout Japanese grammar. Most of the chapter contains grammatical explanations you can find in most textbooks (though he cites his “zero pronoun” on several occasions), but it starts getting funny when he gets into -sasete itadaku. He opens with an anecdote about a sign he purchased with text he particularly enjoyed:

 

Honjitsu wa yasumasete itadakimasu. Two verbs. No subjects, no objects, no agents, nobody. And the Honjitsu wa tells us only that these two incredible verbs are happening “today.” Despite this, the sentence is both complete and perfectly clear. As the great Zen master Dōgen himself might have translated it, “Gone fishin’.” Is that all it means?! Well no, not literally, but it is just as much of a cliche in its culture as “Gone fishin’” or “Closed for the Day” might be in ours. (p. 60)

After some messy analysis of the relatively convoluted grammar involved, he sums it up with this:

 

Here, the context comes from the real world. The sign hangs in a shop window and the would-be customer finds the place closed, the sign telling him that “(We, the shopkeepers,) humbly receive (from you, the exalted customer,) (your) letting (us) rest today.” This is all phrased in tremendously polite language, but the fact remains that the shop owner is telling the customer that, whatever the customer may think of the matter, the owner is closing the shop for the day. Itadaku is performed by the subject, at his own discretion, and it carries the message “I take it upon myself in all humility to get from you…” It’s like those signs “Thank you for not smoking,” which always impress me as having an underlying growl that makes them even more intimidating than a plain “No Smoking.” (p. 61)

In case you didn’t know, the -sasete itadaku (or morau) construction in Japanese is a roundabout way of saying, “I’ll be taking the liberty of…” Or, more succinctly, “I will…” At the end of the day, this is just a simple fact of Japanese grammar, but its underlying logic is fascinating to English-speaking ears. And Rubin seems to think highly of it:

 

A completely naturalized translation for the sign might simply be “Closed,” though that way we lose the interesting cultural difference. Perhaps “We thank you for allowing us to have the day off” or “We appreciate your permitting us to have the day off” would begin to convey some sense of the respectful tone of the Japanese in natural-sounding English. But make no mistake about it: the owner has gone fishin’. (p. 61)

I think he’s going a bit overboard. This shit is downright mundane in Japanese, and to use one of those long-winded translations he proposes would stick out to the reader. Perhaps if said cultural difference was essential to convey in the situation—I’ve been known to use the aforementioned “take the liberty of” for this construction—but for the most part, I wouldn’t literally translate this construction any more than I would literally translate “It’s raining cats and dogs” into another language.

 

The next chapter is about the passive voice in Japanese, which is less frowned upon than it is in English. In particular, it has a construction often called the suffering passive (which is a bit of a misnomer, since it doesn’t necessarily imply negativity), wherein something that would ordinarily be the subject of a passive verb is now its object, with the new subject being someone affected in some way by this event (and often, of course, represented by the zero pronoun). Again, yet another fascinating aspect of Japanese grammar, and here’s what Rubin has to say about translating it:

 

In translating a sentence like Kaban o nusumareta, don’t resort to something like “The suitcase was stolen and I was distressed.” The suitcase was not passively stolen: the unmentioned “I” was the one passively affected. Much closer to the original would be a “literal” equivalent such as, “I was unfavorably affected by someone’s having stolen the suitcase,” or “I suffered someone’s stealing my suitcase.” These are pretty awkward, of course, and not for consumption beyond the walls of the classroom. Since “I was stolen my suitcase” is probably even worse, you might finally want to go as far as “Oh, no, they stole my suitcase!” or “Damn! The rats took my suitcase!” or any number of other expressions of dismay befitting the overall tone of the translation. (pp. 66-7)

He’s got the right idea here, but you shouldn’t be too strict about following this. Oftentimes, the context will make the effect on the subject perfectly clear, with no need to draw explicit attention to it. After all, if someone says to you, “My suitcase was stolen” or “Someone stole my suitcase,” your immediate reaction is going to be, “Oh, that’s terrible,” not “Hey, good for you!” And if someone’s na wo shirareta as a skilled musician, you’re going to be impressed, not sympathetic. So make direct reference if appropriate; but if you choose not to, do make sure the nuance comes across in some other way.

 

For the next several chapters, Rubin provides more nitty-gritty explanations of grammatical structures like -kara da­ or hodo (in an affirmative sentence), mostly in a matter-of-fact way and largely devoid of humor, so I’ll skip over ‘em. I will, however, copy/paste the entire section on kanji:

 

Kanji are tough. Kanji are challenging. Kanji are mysterious and fun and maddening. Kanji comprise one of the greatest stumbling blocks faced by Westerners who want to become literate in Japanese. But kanji have nothing to do with grammar or sentence structure or thought patterns or the Japanese world view, and they are certainly not the Japanese language. They are just part of the world’s most clunky writing system, and a writing system cannot cause a language to be processed in a different part of the brain any more than it can force it to some other part of the body (excepting, of course, Lower Slobovian, which is processed in the left elbow). George Sansom had the right idea back in the thirties when he noted that the sounds of Japanese, simple and few in number, are very well suited to notation by an alphabet, and it is perhaps one of the tragedies of Oriental history that the Japanese genius did not a thousand years ago rise to its invention. Certainly when one considers the truly appalling system which in the course of the centuries they did evolve, that immense and intricate apparatus of signs for recording a few dozen little syllables, one is inclined to think that the western alphabet is perhaps the greatest triumph of the human mind. To this, I can only add that banana skins provide one of the best surfaces for writing kanji if one is using a ballpoint pen. Since this book is intended to help with an understanding of the Japanese language, it will have nothing further to say about kanji. (pp. 89-90)

Where’s the Duolingo course for Lower Slobovian, huh?

 

And hey, remember Seidensticker? The guy whose rendition of Senba dialect I didn’t like a few posts ago? Get this:

 

Edward Seidensticker is such a magnificent translator of Japanese fiction that I can probably be forgiven for gloating over catching him out at a little flub he made in what happens to be one of his best translations, that of my favorite Kawabata Yasunari novel, The Sound of the Mountain. (p. 97)

Gasp! What did he do? What was his crime? Is Seidensticker actually a hack?!

 

He misunderstood tsumori when it was being used in a way that rarely gets directly explained. Didn’t really change the meaning or impact of the passage, though.

 

Most textbooks will present a verb in the non-past tense followed by tsumori and explain it to mean something along the lines of “[I] intend to…” That is correct. But rarely will you see an explanation for what it means after the past tense. I know I had to pick it up through context.

 

You see, when tsumori follows a verb in the past tense, it carries the meaning of “I am under the belief that I did such-and-such.” It can happen after nouns and adjectives, too. I’ve seen people make this mistake myself, and I find it perplexing that this usage of tsumori is so rarely discussed.

 

But I actually bring this up for a different reason. Oftentimes, you’ll see a Japanese speaker in the VN community point to a translation error and cry, “Look! This translator made a mistake! Rake him over the coals! He doesn’t know the first thing about Japanese! This translation is shit!” But how often is it a significant error? How often is it part of a pattern? If it occurs consistently, and in ways that change the meaning, then yeah, it probably is a shit translation by an incompetent translator (like how Nekopara 1’s translator clearly hadn’t finished learning Japanese grammar, judging by the constant mistakes with causative and passive constructions—at least according to my hazy memories of when it first came out), but if it’s just sporadic and slight misunderstandings? I’d say it then falls into the category of “dumb mistakes,” which I wrote about twenty thousand posts ago. Don’t go roast someone over the fire for the tiniest of infractions—even Rubin considered Seidensticker magnificent, and this book to be his best translation, despite the minor oopsie he committed. Hasegawa actually catches him misidentifying a zero pronoun in another Kawabata work, though to copy/paste that passage would probably be belaboring the point, and he’s certainly not as bad as the rampant translation errors Megan Backus commits in her renditions of Yoshimoto Banana’s works. So don’t jump down a translator’s throat for having a brain fart once in a blue moon.

 

But yeah, no, some translations genuinely are hot garbage.

 

Whew, wasn’t expecting to actually type so much at the end there! Don’t worry, I’ll make up for it next time by copy/pasting lots of Rubin here. We’re nearing the end of his book, but the last few topics are some I really want to make sure I cover. Leave me your feedback, and as always, I’ll see you later.

So far in these posts, I’ve quoted from two textbooks: the Hasegawa and the Wakabayashi. But today I’m going to introduce another book by the name of Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You, written by prolific translator Jay Rubin (whose work was actually quoted many times in the Wakabayashi). In this book, he clears up misconceptions about the Japanese language and explains some of the more difficult grammar structures in easy-to-understand ways.

 

Now, if you’re at the level where you actually need his insight, you really shouldn’t be translating anything yet. I certainly wouldn’t be confident in a translation written by someone who still gets confused by -sasete itadaku. But this guy’s really funny, so I wanna show you how witty and yet pointed he can be.

 

His first order of business is to combat this notion that Japanese is some mystical, exotic language shrouded in vagueness:

 

Thus, it would seem, the Japanese sentence is subject more to rules of fragrance than of grammar. It is a delicate blend of incense… Non-Japanese novelists and supermarket encyclopedias are hardly the exclusive source of the idea that Japanese is fundamentally “vague” in contrast to Western languages. Japanese themselves promote the myth, and sometimes with the aid of so venerable a medium of truth as National Public Radio. Once NPR carried an interview with a member of the Tokyo String Quartet… Japanese, he concluded, is vague, while English is more precise. (pp. 14-5)

He goes on to argue that the Tokyo String Quartet had an easier time talking in English not due to any feature of the language, but because they were adopting the cultural norms of English-speaking countries when doing so, since they were in the presence of a non-Japanese, as opposed to the Japanese cultural norms of expressing things indirectly or incompletely. Particularly cutting is this:

 

No, Japanese is not the language of the infinite. Japanese is not even vague. The people of Sony and Nissan and Toyota did not get where they are today by wafting incense back and forth… [W]e must never let its apparent strangeness blind us to the simple fact that Japanese is just another language. And we can increase the precision with which we understand that language if we do away with some of the mystical nonsense that continues to cling to it even in the age of the computer and the electric nose-hair trimmer. (pp. 17-8)

Japanese isn’t any more vague than English; the two languages just stipulate about different things. Yes, English is exacting about singular versus plural while Japanese isn’t, but at the same time, Japanese is exacting about formality while English isn’t. When someone translates an English work into Japanese, they essentially have to invent the characters’ speech registers out of whole cloth, since hardly any such information is encoded in English speech compared to Japanese. The street goes both ways.

 

If you’ll permit another digression, I’d like to again reference Haruhi, which talks about this “vagueness” issue. During the discussion about Tsuruya-san’s second story, the brigade zeroes in on a tara construction that appears to denote a sequence of actions, but might actually be a hypothetical.

 

“Wait a second. Right after she wrote, ‘Is there perhaps any other place you might wish to go, milady?’ Tsuruya-san has something that screws your theory up. ‘Tsukibito-san ga kono joukyou de ittara hiniku ni kikoeru serifu da ne” (p. 222). Isn’t this proof that that line was spoken by the attendant?”

 

Ah, but that’s the very moment her trick came into focus,” said Koizumi, tracing that part of his copy of Episode 2 with his finger. “That sentence is a hypothetical: the grammar is expressing what would have happened if something that didn’t actually happen were to come to pass. If we were to rewrite it more precisely, it would be something like, ‘If the attendant had said that in this situation, it would have come off as ironic.’ That is, the attendant didn’t say it, and wasn’t even present to have the chance. Tsuruya-san intentionally abridged some parts of the situation, and thus created a sentence that doesn’t look like a hypothetical at first blush.”

 

 

I’m not sure I buy it. I feel like you’re pulling a fast one on me. You’re in the Mystery Club, T—is this okay?

 

Hmm, in my estimation… it is something asymptotically close to ‘out,’ but nor is it ‘safe.’”

 

Normal people call that ‘out.’

 

But without missing a beat, Koizumi turned toward T and backed her up. “You think that because you translated it into English as you read it,” he explained. “Tsuruya-san used a vague expression unique to Japanese. Japanese doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural, and even the past and present tenses of verbs can be unclear at times… The key is the ittara. You can read it as shorthand for ‘if the attendant had said it,’ but it can also be taken in the present as ‘saying it.’ She deliberately used informal language to make sure it could be read either way.” (pp. 237-8)

Yeah, as you can see, the Japanese seem proud to push their language as vague. Also, note that I rendered two of Kyon’s three lines without quotation marks. Just to illustrate that thing I mentioned a few posts ago.

 

Anyway, Rubin closes the introduction with a caveat:

 

One of the worst things I see students doing when they start to translate texts is numbering their sentences. They take a perfectly sound paragraph, in which the author is trying to develop a thought, and they surgically slice it up, writing the translation of each sentence separately in their notebooks as if it had no relationship to the others. Especially in a language like Japanese, with its frequently unnamed subjects, it is crucial that you take each sentence within its context. (p. 22)

Please don’t do this. I know that it can be tempting in VNs, with each line in its nice and neat row in your Excel spreadsheet, but don’t take them one at a time. As I’ve alluded to before, treat them all at once as a single translation unit. Would this detail work better at the end of this patch of narration in English? Then put it there. Does this word need extra clarification for an English reader? Throw in an adjective to help you. Don’t be afraid to do some reassembling. Japanese organizes its points differently from how English does.

 

Rubin’s first concrete order of business is to address perhaps the most famous feature of Japanese: the subjectless sentence.

 

The very first time they present an apparently subjectless sentence, all Japanese language textbooks should have large warnings printed in red: You Are Now Entering the Twilight Zone. It is here, more than anywhere else, that the language suddenly begins to melt into that amorphous mass of ceremonial tea and incense and Zen and haiku, where distinctions between self and other, I and Thou, subject and object, disappear in a blinding flash of satori. Now the student sees that the phenomenal world is but an illusion, it is all within you and without you. Absorbed into the great Oneness (or Nothingness; take your pick), we enter into the true Japanese state of mind, and we experience firsthand what makes the language vague.

 

Meanwhile, the Japanese themselves go about their business, commuting and shopping and cooking and raising their kids’ math scores to some of the highest in the world and making super color TVs and cars, using unnamed subjects—and objects and everything else—all over the place, utterly unaware that their language makes it impossible for them to communicate precisely. (p. 25)

He argues in this chapter that every sentence in Japanese does have a subject; it’s just not always explicitly stated. He calls this absent subject the zero pronoun, asserting that it’s no more vague than the English tendency to use pronouns. As long as everyone involved in the conversation involved knows the context, the meaning is perfectly clear. Think about it—I’ve been using he this entire paragraph so far, but you know exactly who I’m talking about because you’ve been following this post. But show this paragraph in isolation to someone else, and they’d never be able to name the man he refers to. The zero pronoun is no different.

 

In the next chapter, he talks about wa and ga, the two postpositions that trip us up the most. They’re like a and the to speakers of languages without articles: no matter how good you get at the language, you’re bound to still mix them up sometimes. The short version is that wa places emphasis on the predicate, while ga places emphasis on the subject.

 

Sure, we have the expression “as for” in English, but sane people use it much more sparingly than do students of Japanese. Take Patrick Henry, for example: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Now, there’s a man who knew his as-fors! The next time you are tempted to say Watashi wa ikimashita, stop and think about whether you really want to proclaim to the world, “I know not what course others may have taken, but as for me, I went!” Your wa differentiates you as a topic of discussion from other possible topics (“I don’t know about those other guys, but as far as I am concerned…”) and then, after building up this rhetorical head of steam, it blows it all into the rest of the sentence (“Yes, I did it, I went!”). Notice that wa builds suspense, arousing curiosity in the reader or listener about what is to come. If the speaker were to pause at the wa, the listener’s brain would whisper subliminally, “Yes, yes, and then what?” After having differentiated the named topic from implied other potential topics, wa dumps its emphatic load on what comes after it. This makes it very different from ga, which emphasizes what comes before it. (pp. 33-4)

A bit over the top, but you see his point, right? Sometimes, I see a tricky wa translated as as for, and I wonder if the translator just turned his brain off. Since, as Rubin says, we hardly ever use the phrase in natural English. He goes on to explain other uses of wa, and he interrupts his discussion of these particles with this:

 

Even the most accomplished Japanese speaker of English will continue to make mistakes with “the” and “a,” and native users of English will probably always have some degree of difficulty with wa and ga. This is surely one of those intuitive areas of language that can only be fully mastered in early childhood. (p. 37)

As I said above. I’ve seen very proficient English speakers among the Japanese people around me, and even they still have trouble with our dastardly articles. Likewise, I’m sure I’ve fucked up wa and ga, and they’re just not telling me.

 

If you’ve ever studied Japanese, I’m sure you’ve heard the explanation that wa marks the topic of discussion, and ga marks the subject of a verb. The explanation usually continues, “Oh, but the topic usually is the actor on a verb, so wa often marks the subject in effect.”

 

Rubin disagrees. He asserts that wa never, ever, ever marks the subject (or any other grammatical part) of a sentence. All it does is proclaim to the listener, “Hey, the coming discussion is gonna be about this.” Even when it looks like wa is attached to the subject, Rubin argues that the real subject is the zero pronoun. In his words:

 

[I]n Japanese, once you’ve established the topic you are going to be talking about, you can use the Japanese zero pronoun when you give it a verb to perform. And that’s just what is happening in Watashi wa ikimashita. Our old standby “as for” can help clarify this a bit further. “As for me, [I] went.” The “I” is in brackets here because it is present in the Japanese sentence only as an unspoken subject. Watashi is not the subject of ikimashita and is not the subject of the sentence. It is simply the topic of the upcoming discussion. The wa tells us only that the following discussion is going to be about watashi as opposed to other possible people. The subject of the verb ikimashita is not watashi but the silent pronoun that follows it. In other words, when you used to make up sentences with double subjects in the first grade, you were trying, in your childish wisdom, to use wa constructions in English. You could have mastered wa at the age of seven, but that pigheaded Mrs. Hawkins ruined everything! (p. 39)

This is a really interesting take on understanding wa. Obviously I’m not saying this has any place in translation—we should keep translating as we always have—but in terms of conceptualizing the usage of wa, this is a fascinating perspective. Indeed, Rubin acknowledges how well as for actually matches wa, but has this to say:

 

The only problem with “as for” nowadays, as I mentioned earlier, is that we tend to stop interpreting it properly in English when we encounter so many wa’s in Japanese. Understood correctly, “as for” is an excellent device for helping us analyze a Japanese sentence, but when it comes to translating Japanese into real, bearable English, it is usually best disposed of. (p. 42)

As fantastic as as for is at capturing the meaning of wa, it’s also considered way too emphatic in English for most purposes and needs a damn good reason to exist as a translation of wa.

 

I could keep quoting this chapter all day, but that would make this post longer than it already is, so I’ll give you the executive summary. Rubin goes on about waga sentences, which any serious student of Japanese should hopefully have no trouble understanding, and even observes the power of wa in opening a fictional story. Since wa presupposes that the listener knows the thing it marks, it can conjure a sense of familiarity out of thin air. Natsume Souseki’s Mon starts with Sousuke wa sakki kara engawa e zabuton wo mochidashite…, handily translatable as Sousuke had brought a cushion to the porch. You know, Sousuke! That son of a gun we all know and love. With common nouns in English, the word the can have the same effect, e.g. The elevator continued its ascent at an extremely sluggish pace. You know what elevator we’re talking about, right? It’s been here all along, even before you started reading the book. In this way, Rubin draws similarities between waga and thea.

 

Wow. What started out as an excuse to copy/paste funny passages turned into a serious discussion on basic Japanese grammar. I’ll pick up where I left off next time. If you can, I highly encourage reading Rubin yourself, as there’s so much good shit I had to pass up due to space constraints. And if you’re learning Japanese, I hope this gave you new insight. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you next time.

It’s time to wrap up our discussion of Wakabayashi, at least for now. Just two topics today, but I’m gonna go pretty ham on both. So let’s get started. (In case you couldn’t tell, this is the third part of a series of posts where I go through a textbook and analyze how academia thinks about the various translation problems that frequently crop up in otaku media. I highly recommend reading the other two, as they’re fascinating stuff.)

 

So! I’m sure you’re dying to know what academia thinks of honorifics. Here are a few quotes to sum it up:

 

The romanised suffix -san after names is becoming more familiar to English readers, but it is still not widely understood, and it can be distracting or convey an inappropriately exotic air. The decision on its use will depend on the assumed ‘Japan literacy’ or cosmopolitanism of intended readers and on whether the ‘Japaneseness’ of the text is relevant. If appropriate, a phrase such as with the polite/deferential addition of -san can be inserted. Usually, however, this suffix can be dropped, although with surnames the result might sound misleadingly abrupt or even insulting. (p. 46)

In Japanese, dropping formal suffixes such as さん or using the personal name instead of the surname speaks volumes about the relation between the people concerned. It can be challenging, however, to convey these distinctions in English, where use of just the first name is common (unmarked) and calling someone by their surname can sound insulting. (p. 46)

And most importantly:

 

Depending on the target audience, retention of the suffix is an option. (p. 47)

In other words, the debate about honorifics is no more advanced in academia than it is in the otaku sphere, and there’s no one right answer. It boils down to two considerations: is the Japaneseness of the work important, and is the target audience likely to understand them? The answer to the former question will depend on the work, but the answer to the latter question is a resounding yes most of the time in the VN medium. Even if a reader doesn’t understand honorifics at first, they can pick them up through context, just like actual Japanese people do when learning the language in their formative years. That’s actually a reason my father gave for preferring honorifics in anime subtitles: so he could learn the hard way about how Japanese people refer to each other instead of having the subtle nuance localized out. Is that a good opinion? A bad one? You decide, but I’m at least happy he’s thinking for himself instead of mindlessly accepting whatever’s put in front of him.

 

At first, Lonesome was reluctant to keep honorifics in Senmomo, but he ultimately admitted that they’re necessary. By which I’m guessing he meant he didn’t want to make Kanami stop calling Soujin onii-sama, but hey, I’ll take the victories I can get.

 

Even the Ace Attorney localization lets Prosecutor Blackquill call people -dono, and the recently released The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles has Ryunosuke and Susato use -san with each other. As anime gets more popular in Western countries, its viewers are becoming more and more receptive to Japanese honorifics, just like how Japanese translations of English-language works aren’t afraid to retain English honorifics like Mister. So it’s one thing if you’re translating a Murakami Haruki novel for the masses, but when you’re working on a manga, anime, or game, you have to ask yourself if you’re really gaining anything by cutting honorifics and making life harder on yourself.

 

That doesn’t mean it’s inherently wrong to localize honorifics out. The Danganronpa localization actually did a pretty good job of it. But unless you can do it that consistently well and sidestep all the obvious issues that come with the territory, you’re going to annoy your audience, which knows what’s missing. The easy road works perfectly fine, and often even better than the hard road; you might as well take it.

 

The last stop on the Wakabayashi train is titles.

 

Literal translation of Japanese titles can result in flat, vague, awkward or unenticing English, failing to create a sense of expectation or leading to unwanted associations. For instance, Juliet Winters Carpenter (2007: 14) mentions how she rendered a book titled なぜ生きる as You Were Born for a Reason, to avoid giving “the exact opposite of the message the book is trying to convey” [the literal translation is “Why Live”]. In general, translators have greater latitude with titles than with the body of a text.

I’m sure you’ve seen really creative takes on VN titles in English, and it’s often impressive how a long Japanese title can be rendered in snappy and eloquent English. I particularly liked Nukitashi: I’m a Celibate, Get Me Outta Here! Compare that to a closer translation of the Japanese title, What am I (a flat-chested girl) supposed to do, living on an island straight out of a nukige? RIP in pepperonis, Sol Press. May Nekonyan pick up what you dropped.

 

Here’s the thing, though: titles are supposed to be very short and catchy in English. So why did I go with what I did? Allow me to break it down.

 

First of all, let’s examine the full Japanese title: Sen no Hatou, Tsukisome no Kouki. Well, even a beginning Japanese student can tell you that sen means thousand, so the first part means “a thousand hatous,” whatever that is. Tsukisome is a word made up for the game, built from the kanji for peach, flower, and dye. As the game explains within the first hour, it’s an adjective revolving around peach blossoms. The some in particular suggests color. And Kouki is written with the kanji for emperor and princess, and it means exactly what you’d expect.

 

Both halves of the title are name-dropped within the game, so I immediately decided to retain them both for impact. However, that meant that no matter what I did, the title would be long and unwieldy, so I decided to take a page out of the light novel translation industry’s book and include an abbreviation within the title. Just as much as it loves long titles, Japan loves shortening them to four syllables for ease of pronunciation. The accepted abbreviation for this title is, you guessed it, Senmomo (the momo coming from the peach kanji that’s pronounced differently in the full title). Just as Yen Press decided to include Konosuba as part of that series’ localized title, I decided to include Senmomo as part of this game’s.

 

We’ll start from the second half of the title. It’s no surprise to anybody that this refers to the main heroine, Akari. I immediately ruled out Imperial Princess for being too much of a mouthful, shortening it to just Princess. And by the time I was thinking about the title, I had already translated Tsukisome in-game as Peach-Blossom. Hey, look at that—alliteration! Suddenly, half the title was A Peach-Blossom Princess.

 

One problem: peach is not a very pretty-sounding word. At all. Just listen to that ugly ch sound! Nasty. Thankfully, Lonesome came up with the idea of using part of the scientific name for peaches: Persica. A Persica Princess sounds much nicer and rolls off the tongue much easier. There’s the obvious flaw that the average English reader won’t know what Persica means, but that’s not a problem because the game explains it very early on anyway. (We also briefly considered A Princess in (or of) Persica, but that ran the risk of being misinterpreted as a proper noun, so we decided against it.)

 

Now back to the first half of the title. I glossed over it earlier, but let’s look at Hatou again. It means a stormy sea, but there’s one problem: the actual word uses the kanji for wave for the ha, whereas the game’s title uses the kanji for blade (which can also be read as ha). Awesome! Wordplay right in the title. I had my work cut out for me.

 

However, as Wakabayashi said, I had considerable latitude, even knowing that this phrase appears in the body of the text. It only shows up once, near the very end. Having seen that, I knew that the thousand part wasn’t important. Indeed, in Japanese folklore and mythology, ridiculously large numbers aren’t often used for their literal meaning. Such-and-such god doesn’t have ten thousand arms—just a lot. So my takeaway was that the Sen should be interpreted as providing a sense of grandness, of multitudes, of volume.

 

Having already achieved alliteration in the second half of the title, I wanted to see if I could do the same in the first. Didn’t have to be the same letter—the comma between them provides a good pause to sort of reset the reader’s mind—but it would give a nice sense of rhythm to the title. I wanted to incorporate blade somehow due to how frequently it shows up in the game, and I decided to make it part of a portmanteau to reflect the neologistic nature of Hatou. I considered tide briefly, but I quickly zeroed in on storm, making Bladestorm. Now I just needed a suitable adjective beginning with B.

 

In keeping with my contextual understanding of Sen, I tried to think of words that could be used to show the size or severity of a storm. It didn’t take long for me to land on Billowing, and so I had my full title, Senmomo: A Billowing Bladestorm, A Persica Princess. (This was before Lonesome joined, of course, so at the time it was A Peach-Blossom Princess, but you get the point.) What’s nice is that both halves of the title have the same syllable count. I wasn’t even trying for that.

 

Funnily enough, long after the title was set in stone, Lonesome found scans of an official soundtrack booklet with August’s in-house English translations of some of the track names. One track within the game is called Sen no Hatou, which August rendered as In Billows of Blade, or something like that. By sheer coincidence, I came up with the same word they did!

 

Many titles are easy to translate—heck, some don’t need translating at all. But when you’ve got something as elegant and creative as Senmomo’s Japanese title, you have to go the extra mile, and I’m quite proud of what we have.

 

To finish our odyssey through these four chapters of Wakabayashi’s textbook, allow me to copy/paste a passage from its end:

 

Translating is an intellectual puzzle and a creative challenge, and this chapter has looked at aspects where these elements come to the fore even more than usual. Wordplay, phonological and prosodic effects, mimetic expressions, slogans, titles and headings all present special challenges. Yet they also allow translators to savour the effects of the Japanese text and have fun recreating similar or compensatory effects in English, or even to introduce creative usages where none existed in the Japanese. Depending on the genre, text type (informative, expressive, persuasive), target readership and the translator’s creativity, the elements discussed here lend themselves to taking some poetic licence in producing a text where nothing is ‘lost in translation’ and something might even be gained. (p. 211)

God, I love translation.

 

Holy shit, this turned out a lot longer than I expected. I initially wrote this Wakabayashi journey as a single post, but I went back and split it up into three because of how absurdly long it ended up being. Next time, I’m gonna cool down a bit and talk about a much shorter book by a prolific translator named Jay Rubin. Until then, leave any feedback you have in the usual places. I’ll see you next time!