Translation Notes


I am not a professional translator or an academic, so the reader may wonder how I came to translate this work. First, my language background in a nutshell: My parents both immigrated from Japan as adults. I was born in the United States, but spoke Japanese at home and attended school in Japan several times for stays ranging from half a year to a year (yochien, middle school, and college). I vividly remember learning English when I began kindergarten in Boulder, Colorado. I lived in Japan for a total of about ten years, spread out over several visits.

I enjoyed reading many Japanese-to-English translated works through my middle school and high school years, but found many of them to be difficult to read. I have consciously tried to avoid the stiff style I encountered in some of those translations. Once I reached college age, I did not major in Japanese but I did study Japanese at the University of Colorado, and in the Master’s program in International Affairs at Columbia University. (My major was economics as an undergraduate, and international affairs, with a focus on modern Japan, at Columbia University.)

Much of the Japanese I learned was through living and working in Japan. Besides attending Japanese schools, I worked for a large Japanese steel company (Nippon Kokan) for two years, the Japan-US Educational Commission for four years, the Chronicle of Higher Education for a year, and was the busy mother of three children who attended local Japanese schools for two years. Many of my relatives and friends are Japanese.

I do have professional experience as a Japanese-English interpreter (translating the spoken language) with two companies here in Colorado. I was an interpreter for a Japanese heart transplant patient in Denver, other Japanese medical clients, and an American engineering company with Japanese clients. I find translating written work more difficult because I am limited to written characters. Fortunately, I can ask family and friends to clarify the Japanese vocabulary. Now, I mainly communicate in Japanese with my parents.

I don’t have the linguistics background to explain the intricacies of my translation process. My goals are to be accurate and translate the emotional intent of each sentence. In any case, I hope that most readers are going to be more interested in the story rather than my translation process. I am going to cheat here and quote a professional translator, Professor Jay Rubin, who translates Haruki Murakami’s works and is much better than I am at articulating the translation challenges.

The Japanese language is so different from English …that true literal translation is impossible, and the translator’s subjective processing is inevitably going to play a large part.

I try to write in a natural style which is enjoyable to read. I believe the translation should be invisible, just as the camera is invisible in a good movie. But the reader should be aware that this is my interpretation of Tei Fujiwara’s story, not a literal translation. What is the difference, you ask? I will give you a specific example from Jay Rubin’s work mentioned in his book Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words (ISBN 1 86046 952 3 (tpb). A paragraph from the Professor Rubin’s translation of Haruki Murakami’s “The Girl from Ipanema”:

When I think of my high school’s corridor, I think of combination salad: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, asparagus, onion rings, and pink Thousand Island dressing. Not that there was a salad shop at the end of the corridor. No, there was just a door, and beyond the door a drab 25-meter pool.

Professor Rubin notes that a literal translation of the same paragraph would actually look like this (foreign non-Japanese words are italicized):

“High school’s corridor say-if, I combination salad think-of. Lettuce and tomato and cucumber and green pepper and asparagus, ring-cut bulb onion, and pink-color’s Thousand island dressing. No argument high school corridor’s hit-end in salad speciality shop exists meaning is-not. High school corridor’s hit-end in, door existing, door’s outside in, too-much flash-do-not 25-meter pool exists only is.”

The differences in grammar between Japanese and English make translation between these two languages challenging. Professor Rubin’s example is from a Japanese book which is widely regarded as more American in style than most Japanese books. So the reader can imagine Tei Fujiwara’s book, written in the 1940’s, is going to be even more difficult. Here are a few notes for this translation:

  • Please see the Glossary at the end of the book to see the original kanji (Chinese characters) used by Tei Fujiwara for the names of people and places. If I had a choice, I used the simpler pronunciation of a name.
  • I purposefully left out Tei’s husband’s first name since she only refers to him as “my husband.”
  • I used Western ages for people (a person becomes one year old after a year has passed from the date of birth.)
  • I inserted pronouns and gender and titles to clarify the identity of the speakers, and used Mrs., Mr. and Dancho as the form of address instead of the gender neutral -san.
  • I used -chan as the Japanese do, when addressing children.
  • Okusan (literal meaning Madam) is the form of address commonly used when talking to Mrs. Fujiwara and other married women.
  • I used the original map from Tei’s memoir with the Kanji characters. These are the 1940’s Japanese names of the cities and towns. I added a larger map for readers unfamiliar with the region.
  • I added a few details to clarify the context of the story and the identities of the people, but did not change any of the events of Tei’s story.
  • The Glossary in the back provides additional information.

If readers notice errors in the English or the translation, I would appreciate you letting me know. One of the drawbacks and benefits of the Information Age is the ease of making mistakes myself, and correcting them with the help of many others.

Nana V. Mizushima

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