Tofugu » » Learn Japanese http://www.tofugu.com A Japanese Language & Culture Blog Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:01:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 So You Want To Be A Japanese Translator? Starring Susanna Fessler http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/30/so-you-want-to-be-a-japanese-translator-starring-susanna-fessler/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/30/so-you-want-to-be-a-japanese-translator-starring-susanna-fessler/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 16:00:23 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43103 Here at Tofugu we get countless emails from people who want to be Japanese translators. While my own experiences are limited, I thought there would be no better person to ask than my former Japanese literature professor and university advisor, Dr. Susanna Fessler. She was nice enough to hop on Skype and answer all of my questions regarding literary and freelance translation, and interpretation. This is the written version of that conversation, so please pardon the casual tone and enjoy this unfiltered interview!

Q. What is your name and where do you currently work?

My name is Susanna Fessler and I’m a professor in the East Asian Studies Department at the University at Albany, I’ve been there for twenty years.

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Q. What kind of translation work have you done?

What I do is largely literary translation. I have done commercial, or what they call technical translation, it’s been a very long time since I’ve done it. I did it back when I was in graduate school on sort of a freelance basis. I can’t remember how many jobs I had – a few, I was in the midwest. And I also spent a summer being a technical translator in a car parts factory in Ohio for a subsidiary of Honda. They were just setting up production and they had a staff of about a dozen Japanese management and about a dozen Americans and they had a huge problem because the Japanese didn’t really speak English and the Americans didn’t really speak Japanese and they were trying to get their factory set up so they hired me to come in and both interpret and translate.

Q. How many years have you been working the the world of translation?

I guess all told, about twenty-five years, on and off since grad school.

Q. How did you become interested in being a translator?

Well, when I was doing technical translation I was in it for the money, I’ll just be perfectly honest about that (laughs). Technical translation is not something – I don’t know anybody who does it because they find it edifying – but it pays well. And what often happens is you’ll find that technical translators do that to put food on the table, but then they’ll also be really interested in literary translation because it’s the literary translation that is edifying.

Now in my case, I did the technical translation to make the money, and since I have pretty much stopped doing that. Sometimes I’ll get a query through the department or something but usually I’m not interested, or I can’t do it cause there’s a time conflict or something like that. So I just pass it on. But you’ll also find, if you talk to a lot of people who do translation, that in the world of,literary translation almost everyone, with maybe the exception of one or two people in Japanese to English translation, is not really a professional translator. They are probably like me; they are professors. They do translation on the side, so to speak. In academia, it depends on the institution but in a lot of places they kind of frown upon translation as research activity. They’ll say, Oh it doesn’t “count” – count toward the research portfolio that you have to build in order to get promoted and to get tenure. And so what pattern you’ll find is that a lot of literary translators start out as professors but they don’t really do literary translation until after they’ve gotten tenure. At that point they’re safe, that job is safe,  and they can go do that translation and it’s not going to be held against them when they come up for promotion further on. And I very much fit that pattern.

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Photo by Guwashi999

So my first two books were monographs, and then I got tenure, and then I remember chatting with another professor, who’s been my mentor since I came here, and I said, you know I have this opportunity to do this literary translation, I really want to do it, but I know everyone says, oh translation doesn’t count, but he said don’t worry about it, you’ve got tenure now you can do whatever the hell you wanna do (laughs). So that’s what I did, you know, I did that translation. Then that led to the next project, which is another translation, which I’ve just finished, and I’m not sure what the next project’s going to be, I’m kind of torn. I was asked if I wanted to do another translation and I’m just not sure. Maybe that’ll be like, the project after the next project.

Q. What was the very first thing you translated?

That goes way way way far back. I translated a short story when I was a sophomore in college. It was a story by Enchi Fumiko and the title of it is “Korosu” as in the verb “to kill” and it was published in this rinky dink little publication that the East Asian Studies Department at Oberlin College puts out called Ao Tung. So that was my sophomore year and in a way it was kind of like what you were doing last semester. It was my first foray into anything like that, it was an independent study, they call it something different at Oberlin, but that’s what it was. And so I worked with a professor and you know, I picked out the short story, and then I spent the semester effectively with Nelson’s chained to my ankle (laughs) and just sat there and, you know, worked and worked and worked at it.

Q. What would you say someone needs to do to professionally translate literature? Do they have to become a professor to do it? Or is there a different path?

You know there isn’t something you have to do, there is that standard path that I just described, but there are some people who are not professors who translate. They’re few and far between, usually they’re independently wealthy so they don’t have to worry about it, right? Obviously, you have to develop the language skills and you have to develop the research skills. You have to be an excellent writer in your own language. If you’re doing Japanese to English, your English has to be really good. There’s a website – I was thinking about this as I was madly peddling home today – that I have passed onto a couple of different people and I can’t remember if I passed it onto you. It’s called something like, So You Want To Be a Translator. It’s written as part of a blog by a woman who does Japanese – English translation. I don’t think it would be too hard to find if you do some judicious googling. And I thought she had some really good advice, she had like four or five points about what you need to do, and I’ve already reiterated three of those I think, in terms of developing research skills and language skills, and I think one of the other things she points out is that when you translate something, you become an expert in it. Especially when you’re doing technical translation. So you actually have to learn about that thing. That really rang true to me too when I was working in the car parts factory, that was a factory that produced rack and pinion steering components. About which I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, right? I didn’t know the English for half the things in that factory, but I learned really fast. And so later on I knew a lot more about that production process. Or, I did a small job translating some newspaper articles from the industrial glass world. And I didn’t know anything about industrial glass production, but I learned a lot doing that too.

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Photo by Roger Wollstadt

So for technical translation you do have to become that expert, but you know in literary translation you have to become an expert too, in that you have to find the voice of the author, and try and reproduce that. So you create a specific persona, or if it’s a work of fiction where you have dialogue and things like that, then you know the different characters have to develop that voice. You can’t just do a sort of mechanical kind of translation, it doesn’t really work very well.

There is at least one training road that one can take. That list of people that I contacted for you were all part of the British Centre for Literary Translation. I don’t think there’s anything like that in the United States. It’s located at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, in the UK. And every summer they run a workshop where they get people together who are interested in literary translation and they have different language groups each year. The year I went, which was about five years ago, there were, I think, six different groups and Japanese was one of them. In each group there were about ten participants, and in addition to the ten participants, this is the really cool part, they bring in contemporary authors. They have the author there, and they have someone who has worked with the author as a literary translator, and they run the sessions. So for a week, all day, everyday, you’re sitting in this room with a contemporary author and a bunch of other translators, and looking really closely at various passages that that author has written and deciding how it would be translated well into the target language, and in my case it was English.

The author that was there my year was Tawada Yōko, whose work I’m not a big fan of, I gotta say, but she is a very famous writer. And I met some really cool people, and had some fascinating conversations, and got to see other people’s methods and learning how to translate, or doing the process of translation. One of the things I learned that week was that there isn’t one method that’s right and we all have our different approaches. For me, it’s kind of, I don’t know what the right word is, it’s kind of organic. I do it sentence by sentence, I read a whole sentence, and I sort of turn it around in my brain or my gut, and then spit something out. Other people would mull over bits and pieces of sentences and then put them together. It really differed. And then we had all kinds of discussions about finding that voice, what I was saying earlier.

There were things I hadn’t anticipated, like in that room we had people from New Zealand, and the UK, and Canada, and the United States, and India, and we all had our own idea of what English should be. So what sounded natural to one person didn’t sound natural to the other one, and then all kinds of fascinating things came out of that session. So for example, I can’t remember if I told you this story or not, there was a passage where there was a noun, and of course in Japanese it’s just a noun, it’s not singular or plural, but in English we had to make that decision – whether it was singular or plural, and it made all the difference in the world. It was one of those discussions that could have gone on forever, except that the author was sitting right there! She said, “Oh that’s an interesting questions I never thought about it that. Like mm, what if I made it this way-” No no no, you can’t change your mind you have to just tell us what you intended (laughs).

So anyway, to my knowledge thats one of the few actual training places that one can learn literary translation. I have noticed the phenomenon of courses at the university level being taught on translation increasingly in the world and I have no idea how that works, because they’re not language specific. I can’t imagine how I would teach that class. I know people are interested in the topic, but I think it has to be language specific, and it would really have to be a very high level course to fly, I think. You know, you can’t have people who are in first year language or second year language struggling with texts.

Q. So what does a recent grad do to become a translator? You’ve just graduated and you have all this language knowledge that’s kind of there, how do you get where you need to be?

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Photo by Jessie Jacobson

Well if what you want to do it be a literary translator, then you go participate in the BCLT thing in the summer maybe (laughs). And if that’s all you want to do then, either you’re going to have to live hand and mouth, or you have to be independently wealthy for a very long time before you can get your foot in the door. Because in the literary world most publishers these days are not interested in publishing older stuff, they only want to publish new stuff. So I can’t say, oh I just discovered this new novel, or this novel by Natsume Sōseki that nobody knew existed and let’s publish it. People would say, forget it man, the guy died in 1916, who cares? Even though he was one of the great writers of his generation.

For the most part you’re working with authors who have current contracts with publishers, and so you have to work with the publisher and the author. So the authors get a say in who they want to translate their work and sometimes that goes really well and sometimes it just doesn’t. And the more famous the author is, usually the more cantankerous they are, you know, they can be really picky. If there is somebody who isn’t really well known, then they’re probably going to be more flexible.

Sometimes presses can be friendly and sometimes they can just be kinda standoffish. Most of the presses that do literary translations are university presses. And so if you’re competing in that pool, you’re competing with professors. There are a few presses, like Kodansha has kind of pulled out of the game, but for a long time Kodansha International was sort of one of the key players, Tuttle, obviously, is also still there, does a lot of translation. But they often let stuff fall out of print, and then it might just die a quiet death.

I work with a publisher – it’s a one man gig – so there’s one person working in the office and he does most everything. He lives in Fukuoka, and his love is books, and so he just wants more stuff to be translated. So he’s got a nice website and he’ll say if you’re interested in translating they actually have a process that you can go through. They have an application if you’re interested in publishing with them, and they will ask you to pick one of, I think it’s ten different things they have on their website to translate, and send it in as a sample. If they think you’re competent and there’s hope there, then you can start talking with them about it.

The guy’s name is Edward Lipsett. I don’t know how Edward deals with current authors. In my case, the guy I translate is dead, and has been dead for more than fifty years, so everything is public domain, we don’t have to worry about copyright or anything like that. But when you’re working with more current authors, then that’s where the publisher has to get involved. But Edward, I think he tries to contact the authors and says, you know we have somebody who’s interested in translating your work, would you be interested, or he talks to the publishers of the original Japanese and then tries to get them onboard. So there’s a big negotiation process, but you kind of have to, as the translator yourself, you have to first show that you’re competent, that you have something to offer, and getting to that point isn’t super easy.

Now, how do you get to that point? One way is by doing technical translation, and getting comfortable with that process. How do you do that? Well, it’s like looking for any job. You have to send a resume out to a whole bunch of different places. It’s like opening the phone book and looking under translation, because most technical translation is done through an intermediary, middle-man party. So Company A needs a document translated, they contact the translation office, and then the translation office farms that out to the appropriate person. So it’s never a full time job, where you get a salary. Unless you’re one of the very few people who does it full time, for say, Toyota is always the example we use, it’s not only Toyota, but you know huge companies like that actually do employ a few people full time. But often those people they employ full time are specialized, like they do law, or something like that. I would never take a law job. It’s too scary. I don’t know that vocabulary and I can’t learn it fast enough to be safe. Like, I don’t want to expose somebody to a lawsuit (laughs).

Q. So if someone wanted to work for one of those big companies, they should definitely have some kind of specialization. Like if you want to work for an automotive company you should know about that? Or medicine, etc.?

Right, so that’s one way to get your foot in that door. Talking to some of the people at the BCLT event who actually have worked for Toyota in the past, they say that what often happens is you simply do a couple jobs, a couple freelance jobs, and they really like your work, and so then you’re their go to person, and the middleman maybe gets cut out or something like that. But it takes a long time to be that go to person.

And the competition is, well Japanese to English not as great as lots of other languages, but it’s still there. One of the problems with translation, if you move out of the sort of musty world that I’m in and into stuff like video games and manga and anime, is that there is a large crowd of people out there who are willing, and who do, translate game scripts and web pages and all those kinds of things for free, for fun. And you know, you can’t compete with free when you’re talking about what you’re going to charge for something. So that’s why I keep saying it’s just not lucrative. I think in total I’ve made like, maybe $150 from my translation (laughs), from the book that I published in 2009. And I’ll probably make about that much money from the one that I’m publishing right now. So I just do it because I enjoy it, and it’s a fun, fascinating challenge, and it dovetails with my research.

Q. So it really has to be something that you’re passionate about, that you want to do because you want to do it, and not, “I want to be rich, I’m going to translate,” that’s not going to work out for you?

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Photo by epSos .de

I don’t think anybody gets rich doing it. At all. I’m curious, so for example, Jay Rubin, who is now retired, who’s my daisempai, if you will. He had the same advisor in graduate school as I did, he was the first generation and I was the last generation, We both worked under McClellan, and McClellen was, you know, one of these demigods of translation. So a lot of the students that he produced then went on to do translation. So Jay did a number of different translations and now in his glorious retirement, is one of the go to people for translations of Murakami Haruki. So Murakami Haruki has two translators and Jay is one of them. I’m not sure how much money he makes on that. I don’t think he does it for the money, I’m sure he has a nice pension (laughs). But I’m sure he’s making more, because Murakami Haruki, I’m sure he’s making more than I am. No question about that.

Yeah, if there’s a name that everyone knows now, it’s Murakami Haruki.

Yeah, exactly, well those books sell. I mean the reason I don’t make money is because my books don’t sell. Quite literally every year, maybe two or three copies sell, and that’s okay, I don’t care. But you know, I don’t depend on it to make money, that’s for sure.

I should also say, the cousin of translation is interpreting.

Q. Have you ever done interpreting, or do you stay away from it?

For the most part, I stay away from it, but at the car parts factory I did it. But it was exhausting, it was absolutely exhausting. Translating I can sit and do all day, I mean I get tired, but the mental work involved in interpreting, especially because I was a first year graduate student, and at that point I had been studying Japanese for six years, on and off, and there was just a ton of stuff that I didn’t know. So it was really very nervous making too. There was a lot of zangyō because they were just setting up everything, you know. And inevitably, half the time you ran overtime. And it was an hour commute one way, in summer, in a car that had no air conditioning. It’s the one time in my life when I’ve come close to falling asleep at the wheel.

But after three months I was so glad that it was ending. I was just exhausted. I wanted to go back to school and do something different. I can’t imagine interpreting for a long period of time, unless you were raised bilingually. It’s just really hard.

Q. What exactly did you do? Did you follow some people around and help them talk to each other?

Yeah, basically. Like I said, they were setting up the production line, so I would go and interpret for, usually it was the management, who was explaining to the Americans what needed to be done. Or it was an assembly line and they were doing it according to this sort of long standing Japanese tradition where you train everybody for every station, so that if someone’s out sick one day, production doesn’t stop. So they had to train all the Americans in all the different stations. Like okay, today we’re doing chrome plating, or whatever.

So there was stuff like that, and then I would kind of follow people around. One day we had someone come, an American subcontractor who needed to check out some of the air conditioning units that are on the roof of the factory, it was a flat roof, right? So the management was really funny, it was almost all men in this factory, there were like two women in the office, and then everybody else was male. And then there was me. They realized that they needed help with this and they said well, we’re not going to ask you to climb up on the roof and I said why not? I’m not afraid of heights (laughs). And so I just followed them up the ladder, and you know, did whatever I could do to explain things.

You’re just going to have to be intrepid about it, and say okay, I’ll take this challenge or that challenge. But they were nice, they realized that I had my limitations as somebody who’d only studied the language for six years, but my price was right. I was only charging – this was 1988 – I was only charging $10/hr, well 10 to 15, it was cheap compared to anybody else. I think they felt like they were getting their money’s worth, and I felt like they were getting their money’s worth too, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. I wasn’t like, oh my God, I’m an impostor I don’t really speak Japanese (laughs). That kind of thing.

Once in a while the department, even now gets a call, they’re looking for, and the people, they’re like folks over at RPI or whatever, they’re always looking for interpreters. They’re never looking for translators. And often its legal or court proceedings or some management muckity muck is coming into town and they need someone to help in a meeting, and I just think, no I’m not going there. You know? I would mess that up. If it were a hundred year old Meiji Japanese maybe, but I don’t know that stuff, right? So I just kind of pass it on.

Q. So from when you started learning Japanese to when you got your first job, it had been six years?

Yeah.

Q. Was that off and on studying or was it hardcore, everyday studying?

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Photo by Nomadic Lass

Well my first year I was a high school exchange student, so I lived with a host family in Kyushu, and I attended a regular school, and I went with no Japanese whatsoever. So that was a really inefficient but intense learning experience. And then I returned to the United States and studied Japanese at college for two years and then I went back to Japan for my junior year abroad, again another study abroad program living with a host family. That one was a little more like the UAlbany program, so I was attending language classes but then English language classes on Japan at the same time. So it was less intense than my high school experience.

Then I came back to the United States and there was really nothing, there was no Japanese left for me to do in my last semester. I graduated mid-year in January because I’d brought in some credits when I first went into college, so I wasn’t doing Japanese that senior year in any serious way. I was tutoring some undergrads, but that was about it. And that was a year that I studied Mandarin. Then the year after I graduated I went to China for a year and I was teaching English and studying Mandarin, but my roommate was Japanese and she doesn’t speak any English, and she had no interest in learning English. So actually I got to use a lot of Japanese that year that I was in China, so I sort of still consider that a year of study.

Then I came back to the States, I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve covered now, and I spent a year in graduate school in Ohio State in Japanese Languages and Literatures. It was the summer after that year that I had the job at the car parts factory. So, what is that, six or seven years.

Q. Our readers really want to know what level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) you need to be able to pass before you start being a translator.

You know the JLPT is one piece of the bigger puzzle. So just because you pass JLPT 1 does not mean that you’ll be a good translator and just because you failed JLPT 1 doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good translator. Because translating is deliberative. JLPT is timed and restrictive – you can’t use a dictionary, you just have to read and spit, or listen and spit, right?

The skills the JLPT tests are really not the same skills as translating, so I could give some kid in EAJ202 (Intermediate Japanese) who’s motivated, a bunch of dictionaries and a page of Japanese, and I could expect that person to produce something. It might even be something really good as long as they’re not too stuck on a particular grammar point, and it’s not in classical Japanese or anything like that. If I give them as much time as they need, and all the reference works, that’s a really, really different mental process.

You know if you walk into a situation where you’re trying to sell yourself as a translator and you say, well I passed the JLPT 1, people are just going to look at you like “so what”, I think. They’re going to ask you to produce an example of your work. That’s really sort of the first key thing.

I had a student who, two years before he graduated, somebody asked me, a friend of a friend, asked me if I could help with a translation, Japanese to English, and I thought, you know, I don’t want to work for the friend of a friend – it was actually the boyfriend of a friend. Like that could be good or it could be really bad. And so I said, how about I just give this to an advanced student, what do you think? He said I don’t care, he was not ready to pay the professional going rate, which is like $30/hr, it’s just ridiculous how much the super professionals do for technical translating. So there’s sort of this sub-world where if you’re not super professional but you’re good enough and you charge less, then you know, maybe you can get that job.

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Photo by Nic McPhee

So anyway I knew this student was looking for translation work and he didn’t need anything full time, so I asked him if he was willing to give it a shot, and he said well yeah, sure what the heck, right? And he just knuckled down and actually ended up working with one other student because it was a rush job, but they got it done and the guy was happy. It wasn’t perfect, but it was what he needed. They were actually translating a patent, again law stuff, God I hate that, so boring. So they translated the document. He was happy and the student was happy and the student emails me and says, “Uh how much am I supposed to charge this guy, I’ve never done this before” (laughs). And I said oo, well uh… (laughs).

Anyway how did I get there, where was I going with that? Oh! Right, what are your skills. So this student at the time was, he had tried to take the JLPT, just 2, and just barely didn’t pass. But does that mean that he couldn’t do that job? Absolutely not. He had the document, he had dictionaries, he had the research skills that he needed because he’d taken 205 (Japanese Research and Bibliographic Methods) and he just, you know, he did it. I think those skills have continued on for him in, at masters program too, but going back to that webpage I was mentioning earlier you know, So You Want To Be a Translator, I think that woman also mentions that just having a language skill – it’s part of what you need but it’s not the answer.

So I would hesitate to tell anybody that, oh you have to do JLPT 1 or something because I worry that people are going to bust their butt to pass JLPT 1 and then they’re going to discover that there’s no golden path down to Emerald City. And they’ll feel very betrayed and angry and unhappy.

Q. So if people say, but no, there’s gotta be something you have to pass, there really isn’t anything?

That’s right, I mean it’s really establishing a good reputation, doing good work, doing it in a timely fashion. Um.. what else..

So starting off as a freelancer so that you have something to build up a resume with -

Exactly. You can say, here is an example of the work that I did for, you know, building a portfolio for this company or for that company. You might say how long it took you to turn it around. You want to think about how much you’re going to charge as a freelancer. Those rates change over time because of inflation. You don’t want to undercut the whole market and then try and raise your prices because people will freak out about it, and you’ll kind of get a bad reputation. But like I was saying earlier, you kind of want to charge what you think is the right value for what you’re producing. So if you don’t have confidence about your Japanese then don’t feel bad about having a lower price (laughs).

One of the other things is that translators have to be good communicators not just in the process of translating but also in working with the clients because clients often will come to you – they’re blind, right? – they have this document that they can’t read, it just looks like chicken scratches to them, but they think the document’s important. And you’d be surprised how often it isn’t. When you’re doing a freelance job you’re usually charging by the word, that’s usually how they do it, 10 cents, 15 cents, 20 cents a word, something like that, right? Which I like because it means there’s no time pressure, you’re not charging by the hour, it’s not like a lawyer. But in any event, if you discovered that the document is not what the client thinks it is, and you go back to them and say, you know I don’t think you want to pay me for this, then that puts you in a really good place. Okay, maybe you lost that job, but they’re really happy that you were honest about it. Because the other option is that you translate the whole thing, and then you charge them out the wazoo for it, and it’s a piece of crap for them. They’re never going to come back to you because they’ll think, ah we wasted so much money.

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I’ve had that happen twice. I was asked to transcribe – well, I was sent an audio recording of a meeting. It was a meeting that had taken place, I think in Detroit, and most of the meeting was in English, because it was between two Americans and two Japanese. But in the course of the meeting the two Japanese guys occasionally said something to each other in Japanese and the American’s were like, convinced that they were sharing like industry secrets or something like that. So they wanted a translation of what these guys said so they sent me the audio tape and the first fifteen minutes of the meeting there’s no Japanese at all, and I’m sitting there listening, like when’s it going to show up, what’s going to happen? And then when they did start speaking a little bit of Japanese, it had absolutely nothing to do with the content of the meeting. It was stuff like, I wonder when lunch is going to be, or I need to use the bathroom where do you think it is? You know, stuff like that. And so as soon as I realized that I contacted the translation agency and I said, we can’t charge these people for this. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ll tell you, I’ll summarize what it is, I’ll sign off on it that that’s what it is and I’m not trying to cover anything up, but it would just be wrong Because I would have ended up charging like $500 for, “Where’s the bathroom?” (laughs) “Are we allowed to smoke in here?”

So I think it’s really good reputation builder as a translator to provide that kind of evaluation service – to look at the thing you’re asked to translate and verify yeah, it really is worth your money for me to do this. You don’t get paid for that but it’s easy to do. It’s easy to glance at a document and, translating it take a lot of work, but just glancing at a document to say okay I know what it is.

The one exception I suppose was when I was working in the glass industry, industrial glass production, that was also in Michigan, and they would occasionally send me newspaper articles from a trade journal and ask me to translate what was in the articles. And I did that, this is where I learned, for example, what float glass is. I didn’t even know what float glass was in English. I’d look at it and think, there are no industry secrets here, just none. Like I don’t recognize anything here that looks like it’s a gem, but the American’s were so concerned that the Japanese glass industry was doing stuff that wasn’t coming through the language barrier. So they just wanted to keep their finger on the pulse of what was being published in those Japanese trade journals. I said okay fine, I don’t see why you want this translated but it’s your money, you know? Whatever, I’ll translate it.

Q. Is there anything when you’re translating that is particularly difficult or you dislike coming across?

Certainly when you’re interpreting you don’t have any leisure time to think about what you’re going to say. And I was never trained as an interpreter, I always found taking on the voice of the person when I was interpreting really hard, so I’d always end up doing something awkward, like, “He says, yadayadayada” as opposed to just “yadayadayada”. But that’s interpreting it’s not translating.

Um, translating. God, I wish I had been a translator in the age of the internet. So many things… Because if you were caught without your dictionary, there was nothing, you know? There was no internet, there was no wikipedia, there was no google. And you just kinda have to fly by the seat of your pants.

And then dialect can be frustrating.

Q. We did have some people asking how you’re supposed to prepare yourself to translate dialect and colloquialisms without going to Japan and living in the areas that use them.

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Photo by Luke Ma

You really can’t. If you’re translating, you have to learn that dialect or read it a lot and get a feel for it. Nowadays you can google a lot of stuff so it makes it much easier. It used to be you had to buy a specialized dictionary.

Another thing that I ran into in the car parts factory, and I never would have anticipate it, was a generational difference. So the younger managers tended to use gairaigo (外来語) and the older managers would use some sort of, you know, hyōjun (標準) something. So for example, we had the chrome plating, right? Of the rack and pinion steering components. The younger guys called it pureteingu (プレーティング), and the older guys called it mekki (鍍金), which is the Japanese word for chrome plating. So in a way I was kind of learning two different vocabularies within the Japanese realm because there was that generational difference.

The thing is, when you’re translating you can’t be a word connoisseur, you have to kinda be a word garbage disposal (laughs). You have to take whatever is thrown your way and you can’t say, well people don’t say that, or whatever. Whatever is there on the page, you’re responsible for rendering in the target language, so you can’t get indignant about it. You can get frustrated (laughs), but you can’t get indignant about it.

It’s a lot easier now I think, because media has made language so much more standardized. Television and the radio and the internet. So if you’re dealing with someone from, you know, your generation from Hokkaido, you’re probably not going to run into big language differences compared to somebody from Kyushu. You’re all going to have the same slang because you’re all in the same generation and you’re all looking at the same media. And when those older generations die out, then those old differences I think will lessen to some extent.

So I guess the good news is, it’s getting easier. It’s not impossible to do those things without the internet but it’s just much more time consuming. I think translation has become a much faster industry now, because we can find the answers to things so much more quickly.

Q. One person said that they don’t know whether to translate literal meanings or cultural equivalencies and what situations would be better for one over the other.

I would tend to agree with translating the cultural thing and not literal. Literal sounds bad and awkward, so to me the best translation is something that does not read like a translation, and if you’re just doing literal stuff, you can’t get there. This is one of the reason’s that I love McClellen’s translation of Kokoro, because it really reads as if the novel were written in English in the first place. And a good example kind of a cousin of that, if you will, is Memoirs of a Geisha. Have you read it? I tried to read it, I couldn’t get past page three (laughs), but I guess the reason I didn’t want to go past page three was because as I was reading it, you know, ostensibly it’s supposed to be translation, but as you’re reading you know it isn’t. It’s just, there’s so many places that are not a translation.

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Photo by Norio NAKAYAMA

That’s neither here nor there, but anyway you want to represent the culture but you don’t want to get too slangy, or too specific to your own generation. So if I am reading along in a translation and I see a expression like “It’s the bee’s knees” I think to myself, well you know my grandparents might have said that, but nobody said that anymore (laughs). There was probably a better choice than doing that.

Now technical translation, yeah, absolutely just be technical. But literary translation, it’s a whole other situation. Somebody’s not paying you just to get the meanings of the words, someone’s paying you to transform a work of art. So what you produce should be artful, it shouldn’t be clunky.

There is an article I wrote, originally for the journal that the BCLT produces, about the challenge of translating catholicism and catholic terms in that translation that I did in 2009. So you’ve got somebody who is a scholar of Buddhism, but it’s somebody who was very well versed and familiar with the catholic tradition, but he had to convey specific ideas to his Japanese audience, and so he had to decide what words he was going to use. And then when I was translating it back into English I had to decide how specific I wanted to be or how general, because he’s never super specific. There’s this huge vocabulary associated with catholicism, and I wasn’t raised in a catholic tradition, so this was a big learning experience for me. Thank God there’s a catholic dictionary, and thank goodness Professor DeBlasi, who was raised in the catholic tradition, has his office right next to mine so I was constantly asking him for answers.

So when Anesaki was trying to convey these ideas in Japanese, he would do so but not with these really specific terms that got only used in catholicism. It seemed wrong to me to use those specific terms when I was translating in English, back into English. But you know I had to put some thought into it, so you can look at that article and you’ll see specific examples of choices I had to make. What do you call the Virgin Mary, how do you translate that? That kind of thing.

Q. How long did that whole book project take?

A book like that takes me about four years. I don’t remember exactly when I started Hanatsumi Nikki, but Teiunshū, which is the one I just finished, I know I started that in the summer of 2010. To be honest, it was largely done by the summer of 2013, but then it had to go through the copy editor and then back to me for changes, and we’ve been piddling around on this thing since last October. But just today I got the postcard in the mail that I’m going to scan and send a digital copy of to my editor in Fukuoka and that’s going to be the cover of the book, so that’s the last step. He said as soon as you get that to me, we should be able to get it up on amazon.

Ooh, exciting!

Yeah, it’s like, I came home today and I looked at the mail and I was like, yes! It’s here, I gotta scan it!

So it took… yeah, but you’ve got to remember, I’ve got a day job, right? So the really active time that I spend working on the project most certainly was not three or four years. Really active time, I would say a year, and actually, I asked Jay about this, Jay Rubin, how long does it take you to do a Murakami Haruki novel, now that he’s retired and had no other day job to do, and he said it’s about a year.

Wow, they’re so long though!

I know! But if you’re not doing anything else, you know.

Yeah, I guess so, but doesn’t he want to sit around and smell flowers or something? Like enjoy his nice leisure time now that he’s retired?

Well, you know translating for me, and I think a lot of people, is the kind of mental activity where you have to get into a zone. You can’t just pick it up for ten minutes and then walk away. It’s not like answering your email, something you can do while you’re standing at the airport gate, or whatever. So for me the summer is the best time to get that work done, cause I’m not teaching.

Q. So if someone had a really hard time concentrating and prefers to be doing twenty different things at once, this probably wouldn’t be the best thing for them?

Right. Technical translating, not so bad, cause who cares if you have a consistent voice or anything like that, right? But especially a sustained piece of fiction, or a sustained narrative, there’s all kinds of stuff, not just the voice that you have to keep in your head, so details that were six chapters earlier, specific terms that might get used, or whatever. You have to keep all that in your head so that you’re consistent later on. Cause as a translator you’re constantly making decisions, how am I going to translate this particular word? And then once you decide it, it’s a little bit like that lecture I did in 205 when I was talking about style, and I said you know, you can choose whatever style you want, but once you choose it, you have to stick with it. You have to be consistent, you can’t change midstream. That’s a lot of what translating is like, and I know from personal experience, I’ll work really intensely on something over the summer and then I’ll have to set it aside for a couple months and getting back into it is really hard. Then I’ll discover, as I have in the past few months doing fine copy editing and things like that, that there are places where I was not consistent. Thank goodness for search and replace, because then you can go back and fix stuff. But only when I’m reading it in one sitting do I catch those inconsistencies, and I don’t sit down and reread the whole thing every time I want to work on it. It’s only when I’m doing the copy editing that that happened.

Q. Do you have any fun stories about when you were translating and you made a mistake or something like that?

Let’s see, when I was doing Hanatsumi Nikki, it was right at the very beginning, in the opening pages. He’s in Switzerland, and this was before I’d done a lot of research on him, I hadn’t been looking of photographs of him or anything like that. He’s in a carriage, this is like 1908, there’s no automobiles, there’s horse carriages. He’s in a horse carriage in Switzerland and he’s going through the Gotthard Pass and they hit a rock or something and the carriage topples over and he falls into the snow, and he laughs about it. He says, oh I had all this snow on my hige, and I translated hige as beard.

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Photo by warrenski

It wasn’t until much later, I was looking at photographs of him and then looking back at my translation and I realized he never had a beard, he only had a mustache. Ever. In his life. Of course, hige can mean mustache also, right? So I wasn’t really sure (laughs) but then I fixed it and I thought, well I’m glad I caught that, cause somebody else would say, what? Beard?!

Okay, two more stories. When I started that project I had read Hanatsumi Nikki in order to do part of my second book, and that’s how it got on my radar in the first place. I was really just not familiar at all with Anesaki’s work, but I put it on the back burner and thought I gotta come back to that, so then I come back to it and if you look at the kanji that he uses to write his name (姉崎), it could be Anezaki or it could be Anesaki. So it’s a difference between a Z or and S, and I just thought Z sounded a little more like what it would be, and I hadn’t done due diligence to make sure that was right. So it’s still the beginning stages of this research project and I can’t remember if I posted it to H-Japan, somehow I got involved in a listserv discussion and his name had come up.

Eventually, I got an email from somebody who provided some answers and then said, oh by the way the name it’s not spelled with a Z, it’s definitely spelled with an S. I thought, oh how do you know? And then the next sentence said, “I know this because he was my grandfather.” And I thought, holy shit! (laughs). So then I felt like this punk, this irreverent punk, you know? I wrote this very polite, very nice email, and actually I still correspond with that grandson, and another grandson, I met another grandson in Japan. There’s more than that in that generation, but those two are both former professors, retired professors and have shared a lot of family knowledge with me about Anesaki, which has been great, but I was just so surprised when I got this email, like oh yeah he was my grandfather. Wow okay, you’re absolutely right, I’m not going to argue with you about that one. So that was that.

What was the third story… oh, this is an example, it kinda goes back to what I was saying where you catch things only if you’re looking at the full project. This happened two weeks ago. The very last changes I made to the manuscript before I said to the editor, please, please just publish the damn thing cause I could keep changing it for the rest of my life.

In the original, he visits all kinds of churches in Europe and when he’s describing the architecture, he uses the word (塔), the one that gets used for stupa, like in a Buddhist temple. So he uses that kanji 塔 for everything in the architecture, the physical architecture of buildings and I never thought about it until I was rereading it for the umpteenth time that a on a church could be a steeple, but it could also be a tower, like York Minster. One of the reasons I went to England last summer was because I wanted to see in person a lot of these places that he had visited in England. So York Minster, for example, does not have steeples, it has two towers. So first of all, we’ve got that problem of steeple versus tower, and the other problem is , as I was saying earlier, you know it’s not singular or plural, it just is.

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Photo by andy

I suddenly realized that I had translated as steeple for a building that didn’t have one, it only had a tower The only reason it all came together for me is because we had finally finished the layout and we had put the photographs where they belonged in the manuscript, and there’s the photograph of the church building and it’s clear there’s no steeple. So in that context, it looks like I’m an idiot because I’ve translated it as steeple. I had to do a search and replace and make sure that every building that where I had said steeple, there really was one, thank God for the internet again because I could go and I could find photographs of these building and also make sure that singulars and plurals were correct. Sometimes there’s one tower, sometimes there’s two towers.

So now that’s all been cleaned up, but that goes to that point that when you’re translating, you have to do a lot of research. Because authors, they kind of assume that you know what you’re doing and they also, they’re not responsible for the problems of your target language – like it requires singulars or plurals, and they’re not responsible for those cultural differences, like the difference between a steeple and a tower, right? But in English, if you don’t fix that, if you don’t specify, it’s just wrong. So you have to provide – to answer to that other question – you do have to provide that cultural stuff. You know, what if I just called a a tower every single time? That’s going to be an awful translation and it’s going to be inaccurate.

Especially if you have a picture reference right there for them to see.

Yeah, so there was another case in a scene where Anesaki says that a priest is wearing the hat of a priest, and my editor, who was very persnickety, said oh well it should be called a miter, cause that’s the hat that priest’s wear. And I got back to her and I said that’s a good point, but you know what there’s more than one priest’s hat in catholicism, it could be a miter, it could be this other thing, we don’t know, we’re just going to have to leave it as a priest’s hat (laughs). So you’ve got to do tons of research.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a former classmate of mine in graduate school, he’s now a professor at Binghamton, David Stahl. When he was a graduate student at Yale, he helped out a friend, a Japanese friend of his, who had gotten a contract to translate from English to Japanese a Stephen King novel. Now, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan, I don’t read Stephen King, I don’t know if you do, but apparently these novels are just chock full of all kinds of cultural references. This poor person in Japan was struggling, and so she would do a basic translation and then she’d send Dave all these questions, what does King mean about this, what does this mean in English, what are all these things? And Dave said half the time he didn’t know even though he’s a native English speaker.

So when you’re the translator, the text is unforgiving, you can’t fudge it, and literary translation frowns upon footnotes. Now mine have footnotes because it’s an annotated translation, but that’s a very small wedge of a bigger world. In most cases translating presses don’t want footnotes, so you don’t have that as an out, you have to figure out how to do it in the translation itself.

Which can be so hard if something isn’t clear.

Yes, exactly.

So you have to think in your head, I have to make this clear, but how can I do that? I can’t leave it out either.

Right. You have to say, I have to make it clear and what that requires, more often than you’d like is you and only you are stuck having to make a tough decision. You have to say, okay, I’m just going to pull the trigger on this one, it’s singular, or something like that. Or, I’m going to pull the trigger on this one, it’s a beard not a mustache, because there’s nobody there to answer that question.

I think especially when we come out of being a student, we’re so used to saying “I don’t know the answer I’ll go ask somebody else,” and once you get into that world you can’t do that anymore. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at my desk and thought, who can I ask- I can’t ask anybody (laughs). I just have to make this decision myself.

You know what was really good training for me was being department chair and then later university senate chair because you’re in a lot of situations like that where you consult with folks but eventually you are the one that has to make a decision and you just have to be comfortable with doing that. It’s not always the right decision, but you know, you do it, and you own it.

Q. Would you say that you enjoy what you do? And what kind of person would you say you need to be to enjoy translating works of literature?

I do enjoy it. It’s like a big mystery puzzle. Not all of it is fun, I hate copy editing, I’m so glad it’s over now, but the initial process is really cool, it’s like writing a book, actually, in that you have this really big project with lots of moving parts and I find putting it all together really satisfying. I like organization, I like being organized, I like organizing stuff, and I love reading a sentence in Japanese and rendering it into English that sounds natural. There’s something really organically pleasing about that and the more you do it the more comfortable you become with that process.

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I guess the only frustrating thing about it to me is that sometimes people will say, how do you do that?, and I don’t know how to teach how to do that. I try, you know, I teach EAJ410 and I teach EAJ411 (Readings in Modern Japanese Literature) and we talk a lot about translating, thats the main focus of those courses, but I still don’t feel like I know how to teach somebody how to do it. So I guess that’s the hard part for me. I wish I could, because I enjoy it, but I guess not everybody would. Not everybody would find that fun.

I wouldn’t be a professor of literature if I didn’t enjoy language and the beauty of language, and sometimes I’ll read a poem or a passage that I just find really moving and wonderful. So that’s the cool stuff, that’s the really cool stuff.

So other than just being passionate about literature, it helps if you like organization and those types of things?

Yeah, I mean one of the problems with the younger generation, my kids are such great examples of this, is that they live in a world of thirty seconds. My youngest son has a disgusting addiction to youtube and if he watches too much youtube, he starts to act like youtube. In other words, he can only stay focused for a very short period of time. You know, my generation, the people would complain about the kids watching too much television and having short attention spans, but I think it’s sort of accelerated right now, and the process of translating anything, even a short story, it’s not a short focus thing. It’s a project that requires serious attention and concentration and kind of getting lost in that particular text and I don’t think people do that very much anymore. I don’t see very many folks in the classroom who love reading, there’s a few, but most of them see reading as a chore, and I don’t think they get lost in a book the way that I like to do.

My kids, I don’t want to trash them too much, but they’re not here, they’re off at boy scout camp enjoying the rain, and not playing on youtube which is wonderful (laughs). My kids can get lost in a book and it’s fascinating because they’re very critical of their classmates who don’t read and who can’t find pleasure in reading. So I’m glad that they’ve discovered that but I think those concentration skills that you need for translation are closely associated with reading a longer text.

And if someone wants to translate they should probably already be reading that kind of stuff all the time. If you don’t like reading, there’s no reason to want to be a translator.

Oh, definitely. When I was started working on Anesaki I started reading more history of the early twentieth century and also trying to read fiction from the early twentieth century just to get a feel for how people spoke. One of the things that I didn’t do until later, but I did do it was, Anesaki also published in English, so I wanted to read his English writing to get a feel for what that sounded like, although I wasn’t absolutely sure that would be right, because of course you would have an editor. So what you see on the page might not exactly be what he would have been writing in the first place, it was his third or fourth language. Turns out his English actually was excellent. I went into the Harvard archives two months ago and found some letters that he had written to a former Harvard professor and the English is almost flawless, it’s fascinating.

Q. Last Question! Is there anything that you’d like to say to someone who wants to be where you are today? Or if a student came up to you in school and said, I want to be just like you, help me, what do I do?

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Photo by takako tominaga

Uhm… It’s hard because I do have students who come and they want to translate, they want to be in Japanese studies, but their incentives are never the same as mine. In other words, they’re not interested in Meiji literature, they’re interested in anime and manga and video games, and I’m not really sure what the path is to get into that realm. I think it’s tough, I think it’s really tough. It’s not super easy in Meiji literature either, but I think it’s different in anime and manga.

I guess the advice that I have for people who, if they want to go into academia, I usually say, well first of all, be absolutely sure that’s what you want to do. Understand what it involves, how much time commitment there is, understand what your life will be like, because you see me in the classroom, but you don’t see the other two thirds of my life as a professor so here let me tell you what that’s like. And you really have to be the person who loves books and who loves being surrounded by books. You know, sure I watch TV and movies, I’m not some sort of nun or something (laughs), but you do it because you enjoy it, not because somebody gives you those assignments. You also absolutely have to be a self-starter. I think as an undergraduate you become very used to being given assignments, because that’s how we structure undergraduate education, but if you move onto graduate school and beyond there, then you absolutely have to be a self-starter. You have to be the kind of person who can set personal deadlines and meet them, because otherwise it’s just not going to happen.

I think a lot of people want guidance, there’s nothing wrong with wanting guidance, but in the world beyond that undergraduate education it may not be there. You’ll get advice, but you’re not going to have someone saying you have to do X, Y, and Z.

It’s not like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. It’s not like there’s translation school. It’s not medical school, it’s not law school, it’s not professional guild. There’s a couple fringe organizations on those sorts of things but that’s it. This is not systematized.

Another thing for people who are interesting in translating is to join organizations like that, especially if they’re free, what have you go to lose? If they publish a newsletter, absolutely read those newsletters. If it’s literary translation, then the British Centre for Literary Translation’s journal, I think would be really helpful because it raises all kinds of interesting issues and problems with literary translation. It’s not going to get you a job, but at least it’s going to get you familiar with the industry and know what the professionals are talking about. It’s a pretty small world, they actually kind of get to know each other.

There’s also a few translation prizes. There is one that kind of comes and goes. It’s actually sponsored by the Ministry of Education in Japan. They provide a list of works that they would like to see translated and they’re always current fiction, and the languages that they’re interested having it translated into, and people submit their translations and then there’s a small cash award. It’s like $2000 or something like that to the winner, and then they list the winners every year and then those works actually get published.

So entering contests like that may also help people get a feel for the process, they’re probably not going to win, but at least get a feel for the process and then when the contest is over, they can compare what they produced to whatever the winning translation is and probably have a much better feel for what is considered a high quality translation. They’re not usually super widely advertised, the trick is finding them. I bet if you googled “translation prize” and then threw in Japanese, you might find some other stuff.

Even Kurodahan doesn’t do it every year, there were a couple years where they didn’t do it. What happened with MEXT, with the Ministry of Education, they got some big government grant that paid for the whole thing. I’m not sure how long that grant ran, that’s why I said it comes and goes, I’m not sure if it’s still active right now. It’s usually a short story that you’re translating, it’s not a novel or anything like that.

The stuff that, for example Kurodahan has, they say all translators are required to translate at least one sample from our trial translation, and then they provide you with a PDF of those. And I’ll tell you that Edward chose those things carefully, it’s not random stuff, each one, I think there’s thirty one pages in that PDF, I don’t know how many works there are. Each one presents it’s own challenges, so older vocabulary that might be a little trickier to parse, for example, dialect, in some of them. You get a choice, you have various things that you can translate, but they do it so that they can kind of weed out the riffraff, if you will (laughs). I’m lucky I don’t have to mess with it because I’m already a known entity with them. I can just call Edward and say, I want to publish this, publish it.

Well I think that’s it. Thank you so much for answering all of our questions!

You’re welcome! It was fun!

Works by Susanna Fessler:

Want to know more about translation? Check out our other interviews.

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How To Be A Japanese Literary Translator And Interpreter, Starring Jonathan Lloyd-Davies http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/23/how-to-be-a-japanese-literary-translator-and-interpreter-starring-jonathan-lloyd-davies/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/23/how-to-be-a-japanese-literary-translator-and-interpreter-starring-jonathan-lloyd-davies/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 16:00:01 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43091 We at Tofugu get a lot of emails from people saying they want to go into Japanese translation, looking for advice. To help you folks out (and to help anyone who’s ever been somewhat interested in translation), we did a series of interviews with professionals in this field. For today’s article, I interviewed Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, a 36 year old freelance literary translator and asked him all about translation, interpretation, how to break into the field, and what resources there are for people new to the field.

Jon

Let’s get started with the questions.

Q. What kind of work have you done?

As a literary translator I have worked on Edge by Suzuki Kōji. I have also translated Gray Men by Tomotake Ishikawa, the Demon Hunters Trilogy by Yumemakura Baku, Nan-Core by Numata Mahokaru, and The Owl’s Estate by Toshiyuki Horie. I am currently working on 64 by Yokoyama Hideo.

Q. How long have you been working in your field?

I have been working in literary translation for three years. I have three years of prior experience in translation and interpreting – one year for an NGO and two years on the JET program as a CIR working for a business incubator.

Q. How did you become interested in literary translation?

I have always loved reading and writing and languages, and they all come together in literary translation.

Q. What was your first job in the field?

My first job in the field was when I translated Edge by Suzuki Kōji, with co-translator Camellia Nieh. The book won the 2012 Shirley Jackson award in translation.

koji-suzuki-edge-coverCover art by Peter Mendelsund

Q. What does someone need to do to become a literary translator?

My route into the profession came from contacts I had made during my prior years as a translator and interpreter. This is quite a roundabout route and not necessarily the best.

It’s important to look for opportunities to learn about the trade and network with people already involved. In the UK, the BCLT (British Centre for Literary Translation) does a lot of great work in partnership with organisations such as the Nippon Foundation.

Getting a portfolio together is useful; if nothing else, it’s great practice. Some people get into the profession by translating samples and making the sell to publishers.

Submitting your translations to competitions is also a great way to get your name out there.

Q. What are the best schools for this type of translation?

In the UK, the BCLT runs a fantastic summer school.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) also offers MAs in literary translation.

Q. As a recent graduate, or someone who is new in the field, what kinds of challenges do you face?

It can be a challenge to manage workflow. There are empty periods and periods when you’re too busy.

Q. How competitive is literary translation? Do you have any stories about “competition” you’ve had with other translators?

I have found the profession to be very welcoming, with a number of organisations offering help to new translators. Supply and demand does mean that translators end up competing, but there are always new projects to find.

Q. As someone who has been doing this for a while, how do you continue to find work in literary translation?

Repeat work, and through contacts – other translators and mentors in organisations such as the BCLT.

Q. How did you become interested in freelance translation?

When I started work on Edge.

Q. How do you find jobs as a freelancer?

As above. I sometimes do agency work (for commercial translation), and find sites like ProZ useful.

Q. Is there a lot of work out there for a freelance translator?

There is a lot of work in commercial translation, especially if you have a speciality or two (or three).

Q. What kind of work does a freelancer get?

Agency work tends to focus on a specialisation (finance, medicine). Work comes in on relatively short notice. Direct clients are hard to build up, but once you have a solid base the work can be more stable and better paid.

Q. What kind of advice do you have for someone who wants to be a freelance translator?

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Photo by Ray_from_LA

Realise that you will be spending a lot of time alone with a computer. If you’ve worked in an office before, this will be a big change. You will also have to work longer, perhaps less sociable hours, particularly when you’re trying to establish yourself.

Look up agency sites such as ProZ. Surf some forums to get a feel for the kind of rates you need to be charging. Lots of the information is freely available.

Q. How did you become interested in interpretation?

When I was working as a CIR for a business incubator.

Q. What should someone do if they want to be an interpreter?

There are various schools that offer MA courses in interpreting. If you want to be a professional and not casual interpreter, these may be useful. The alternative is to learn on the job.

Q. How do you find work as an interpreter? How should a recent graduate or someone new to the field do to find work?

Mostly I learned on the job, through JET and then Peace Boat.

Q. What would you say are the main differences between translation and interpreting, in terms of the skills needed?

Interpreting requires confidence in speaking and fast reaction times. Translation is less hectic, but requires generally a high level of writing skill.

Q. What would you say is the most important thing that someone who wants to get into interpreting should do or know?

Decide whether you like speaking in front of people and being in potentially stressful situations (particularly in the case of simultaneous interpreting).

Q. How long did it take for you to learn Japanese and then to get your first job in your field?

I studied Japanese for 4 years in university, and graduated into a job as a CIR with JET.

Q. What recommendations or advice do you have for someone who is still learning Japanese?

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Photo by garberus

Make sure you spend time with the language, either by living in Japan or hanging out with Japanese people. Speaking the language is by far the quickest way to becoming proficient.

Q. What level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) would you say someone would have to pass before being able to work as a translator or an interpreter?

Level 1. And it is a great selling point on your CV.

Q. How can you beef up your resume? Are there any good starting jobs?

Take the JLPT. Working as a CIR is a great starting point. Doing anything in Japan will probably help, as long as you can show you are using the language.

Q. What do you find the most difficult about translating from Japanese to English? Are there any things that used to be really difficult for you?

There are a number of quirks in each language that you only really become consciously aware of after wrestling with them over and over again: the relative strength of pronouns, how often to use the passive voice, differences in punctuation and syntax. Once you’re able to edit out the quirks, everything else is voice. Getting to that point takes time and hard work.

Q. Should you translate literal meaning or cultural equivalencies? In which situations would one be better over the other?

I always prefer to go for literal meaning. But in many cases this just doesn’t work without resorting to footnotes. If an idiom sounds good in the original but silly in the translation, it probably needs to be changed. That being said, it’s usually important not to localise the text.

Q. Is it better to specialize in a certain field like medicine, engineering, automotive, computer science, etc., to find higher quality jobs?

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Photo by Antonio Tajuelo

This should lead to you being able to command higher rates, and it is certainly useful in marketing yourself to clients.

Q. Can you give some examples of projects you’ve done along with how long those projects normally take you / the team you’re on?

Literary projects can vary in length from four months to over a year, depending on the length of the book and the publisher.

Q. How should someone living in Japan find work as a translator or interpreter?

Translation can be mediated entirely over the internet. Failing that, applying for in-house positions.

Q. Do you enjoy what you do? What kind of person would you say someone needs to be to enjoy the kind of work you do?

I love the work I do. It can be very challenging, and the work itself is very solitary. You need to be able to sit alone with a computer for hours and still enjoy the process.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say to someone who aspires to be where you are today?

Keep your day job and break into things slowly. Stay positive, and seek out opportunities to get involved with the community.

Thanks for the interview! For more on Jonathan Lloyd-Davies check him out on Amazon!

Want to know more about translation? Check out our other interviews.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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How To Be A Manga Translator, Interpreter, and Freelance translator, Starring Jocelyne Allen http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/16/how-to-be-a-manga-translator-interpreter-and-freelance-translator-starring-jocelyne-allen/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/09/16/how-to-be-a-manga-translator-interpreter-and-freelance-translator-starring-jocelyne-allen/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:00:40 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=43088 One of the emails we get over and over again is: “I want to become a Japanese translator, what do I need to do?” We have some ideas, but we certainly don’t have a lot of experience in this field, so we found people who do and interviewed them. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting interviews with people who have experience with literary translation, technical translation, commercial translation, interpretation, manga translation, and more. You’ll hear about these professionals’ experiences and learn how to follow in their footsteps, should you want to jump into their fields. For today’s interview, I talked to Jocelyne Allen, a 39 year old translator and interpreter to talk about her experiences in the field of literature, commercial translation, interpretation, and manga translation. Let’s see what she had to say. JocelyneAllen

Q. What fields have you worked in?

Literary translation, freelance translation, interpretation, and manga translation.

Q. How long have you been working in your field?

10 years.

Q. How did you become interested in literary translation?

I’ve always been a huge reader and my dream job was always to get paid to read books. Once I started working in translation, it was an obvious direction to head in.

Q. What was your first job in the field?

My first literary translation job was probably a short story. I actually can’t remember.

Q. What does one need to do to become a literary translator?

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You need to love reading. And you need to read a lot in both (all) of your languages. See all the different voices authors have in each language, learn the subtle differences between words.

Q. What are the best schools for this type of translation?

I have no idea. I didn’t go to school for translation.

Q. Okay, then for people who are new in this field, how do you find work?

For people new to the field, I’d recommend reaching out to magazines that focus on literature in translation like Words Without Borders. Try to get work on shorter pieces first to establish a reputation and show that you can do the job so that editors will trust you with longer works.

Q. How competitive is literary translation? Do you have any stories about “competition” you’ve had with other literary translators?

I’ve never knowingly competed for a job with another translator, although I’m sure before an editor hires me, they are also considering other translators. I think the field is pretty competitive, though, given how little work is published in translation in English.

Q. As someone who has been doing this for a while, how do you find / get work in literary translation?

To be honest, my work now comes from editors and publishers approaching me. I do reach out when I hear about a project I’d like to be a part of, but usually someone contacts me, either because we’ve worked on other projects together or because someone I’ve worked with has recommended me to them.

Q. How did you get interested in freelance translation?

I’m assuming by “freelance translation”, you mean commercial translation. I basically was interested in translation and commercial work was the easiest to get.

Q. What was your first job as a freelancer?

I worked for a few years in-house with a translation agency before becoming a freelancer, and that relationship continued when I became independent. I still do work for that agency on occasion now.

Q. How do you find jobs as a freelance translator?

Pound the metaphoric pavement. Send your resume out to agencies and direct clients in the field you want to specialize in. Cold call. People will ask you to do translation tests or hire you for small jobs to see how you perform. Make the deadlines and send in quality work and you will get more work.

Q. Is there a lot of work out there for freelance translators?

Obviously, this depends on your field of specialization, but I think there is, in general. Global business needs translations. I do commercial work in the fields of automotives and engineering, and I am always turning work down.

Q. What kind of work do you get as a freelance translator?

Most of the work I get are documents or presentations to be used within the company, with the occasional user’s manual or academic paper.

Q. What advice do you have for people who want to become freelance translators?

Outdoor Classes

Be willing to work really hard. For the first couple years (at least) that you freelance, you will probably need to take any and every job that comes your way to build up your reputation and also make enough to pay your rent. Also, working in-house and training under veteran translators for a few years is a great way to learn your craft and earn a steady, risk-free pay cheque at the same time.

Q. Now let’s talk about interpretation. How did you become interested in interpretation?

Interpretation got interested in me. Because I translate manga, I ended up being asked to interpret for manga artists.

Q. What was your first interpretation job and what did it entail?

I interpreted at meetings and things while I worked in-house, but my first non-in-house interpreting job was working with a manga artist, basically hanging out with him during the entirety of his visit and speaking for him during public events.

Q. What should someone do if they want to become an interpreter?

Keep your ears sharp. Listen to a lot of stuff in your B language. Practise interpreting it. An interpretation course could help a lot too.

Q. How do you find work as an interpreter today? And what should a new interpreter / someone who just graduated do to get interpreter work?

My work as an interpreter is very focussed on manga, and fortunately, I am known for working with manga artists, so people find me. Volunteering with organizations you’re interested in is always a good way to get your name known in the circles where you’d like to interpret. Like, if you’re interested in working in manga/anime, see if a local con needs interpretation help.

Q. What would you say are the main differences between translating and interpreting in terms of what skills you need?

Interpreting is very much right now. You need to be able to concentrate and think very fast to interpret. It doesn’t matter if you use the perfect word for the situation as long as you use a word that means the right thing. Translation lets you linger (until your deadline at least) on finding exactly the right word to convey the sentiment. You also need to have a certain level of people skills for interpreting, whereas you can be a translator and basically never see anyone ever.

Q. What is the most important thing that someone who wants to go into interpretation should know or do?

Be aware that it can be pretty stressful. And always eat before any dinner where you will be required to interpret. My rumbly tummy has interrupted more than one conversation.

Q. Last topic. Manga! How did you get interested in translating manga?

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Photo by Andrew Subiela

I love manga and comics, so once I started working in translation, it seemed like the logical next step.

Q. What was your first job in the field?

I started working in BL manga. I can’t remember what my first book was.

Q. What is the difference between localization and translation?

Roughly speaking, translation is putting the words in English, while localization is making those English words match the target market English and maybe smoothing the rough translation edges.

Q. How do people normally get into translating manga?

I don’t really know. I think everyone’s path is different.

Q. How do you get in contact with employers/websites for manga?

Most manga publishers have a “jobs” page or contact form. They’ll tell you how to get in touch with them. In the worst case, they’ll have a general contact email address. Be very specific in your subject line so that your inquiry goes to the right person.

Q. Does it help to be familiar with current anime and manga? Or does it not matter very much?

I don’t know if it helps to be familiar with current manga (I can’t speak to anime since I don’t work in that field), but it does help to be familiar with manga in general. Knowing the tropes and the styles makes your job a lot easier and your work a lot better.

Q. What programs should you be familiar with, like editing software?

I use Scrivener, especially for longer series or novels, but I deliver my translations in Word documents and I’ve never had a publisher ask for any other format. So work with whatever software works for you, but make sure you can use Word to check and deliver your final translation.

Q. For someone hoping to work on manga translation, what is the most important thing they should know or do?

Don’t miss deadlines. This goes for every kind of translation, though. This is literally the most important thing. (Obviously, your translation should also not be straight out of Google Translate.) The project has a schedule, and the translation is usually the first step in that schedule. So when you miss your deadline, you knock everything down the line off the schedule. If you’re not going to be able to make the agreed on deadline, tell your publisher. Schedules usually aren’t that tight and something can almost always be worked out. But when you commit to a deadline and you don’t meet it, you’re basically telling the publisher (or the agency or the direct client) that you are unreliable. 5374200948_539b10fb1c_b

Photo by Dafne Cholet

Q. How long did it take for you to learn Japanese and get your first job as a translator?

A few years. I started studying Japanese when I moved there, so I had a bit of a leg up since I was surrounded by the language constantly.

Q. What recommendations or advice do you have for someone who is learning Japanese?

Go to Japan. I know that’s not always possible, but immersion is really the best method. So if you can’t go there, surround yourself in Japanese. TV, podcasts, books.

Q. What level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) would you say you have to pass before being able to work as a translator or an interpreter?

I don’t think the JLPT is a good measure of practical ability. I have JLPT Level 1, but I spent a lot of time studying things I’ve basically never used since to get it. If you want to work with clients in Japan, though, having Level 1 or 2 will make you look more credible.

Q. How can you beef up your resume? Are there any good starting jobs?

Volunteering is a great way to beef up your resume. Agencies can also be a good place to get work when you’re first starting out.

Q. What do you find most difficult when translating from Japanese to English? Are there any specific phrases or words that you remember having a difficult time on?

The set phrases are always the hardest. Really common everyday things like “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” or “ganbaru”. Because they mean so many different things in so many different contexts. One thing I remember having the hardest time with was this pun in a manga of rakugo stories. The whole story hinged on this word which meant two totally different things. That story nearly drove me insane.

Q. Should you translate literal meanings or cultural equivalencies? In which situations would one be better over the other?

Context is king. You should always look at your audience, look at the text, look at who is paying you to translate the text. There’s no hard and fast rule about this, other than hewing to the literal is usually preferred by commercial clients. But even that’s not set in stone.

Q. Is it better to specialize in a certain field like medicine, engineering, automotive, or computer science to get higher quality jobs?

Absolutely. Specialization is key to getting higher-paying, more interesting work.

Q. Can you give some examples of projects you’ve done along with how long these projects normally take you / the team you’re on?

A typical manga project usually takes me about a month, but that’s never the only thing I’m working on. Novels take a lot longer. Other projects vary depending on the length of the project itself. I don’t work in teams, in the sense that I am translating with anyone. My editor will come back to me with questions or comments, but that’s about it.

Q. Do you have any funny or interesting stories from when you were working on something?

I have changed the name of a character halfway through more than once. I’m very bad with names. Fortunately, I always notice in the editing stage and change it back. I also constantly hassle my friends and family with word usage questions. My sister has kids so she often bears the brunt of this as I try to figure out what the kids these days are saying.

Q. How should someone living in Japan find work as a translator?

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Photo by alq666

Pound the literal pavement. Japanese clients really like to meet in person before hiring people. Even if they hire you without meeting you, that relationship will definitely be strengthened by a (scheduled) visit to their office. Face time is very important in Japanese business.

Q. Do you enjoy what you do? What kind of person do you think someone would need to be to enjoy this kind of work?

I love what I do. I can’t believe I actually get paid to read all day long. I think to be in translation, you really need to be a person who’s comfortable being with themselves and alone with their thoughts. And you need to be a reader. Although I don’t know why you’d want to be a translator if you don’t like reading.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say to someone who aspires to be where you are today?

You might not be able to get work in the field you’re most interested in right away, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. There are lots of different roads to where you want to go. I studied math at university, worked for a car company as my first translation job, and now I translate manga and fiction full-time. There’s no straight line from where I was to where I am.

Thanks for the interview! For more on Jocelyne Allen check out her website!

Want to know more about translation? Check out our other interviews.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Weird Kanji – Unusual Readings and their Origins http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/25/weird-kanji-unusual-readings-and-their-origins/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/25/weird-kanji-unusual-readings-and-their-origins/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 16:00:59 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=42088 Good old kanji! You know, the 50,000 some odd characters borrowed from Chinese that are used to read Japanese? They’re daunting at first, but get easier once you know the rules. There’s the on’yomi and kun’yomi readings, the Chinese and Japanese readings, and all kanji can be read as either one or the other. OR CAN THEY?! There are several Japanese words that don’t follow the standard readings. Don’t fret, however, because I’m here to clear things up. By the end of this article, you’ll have a firm grasp on these renegade kanji and be on your way to understanding them fully.

Jūbako-yomi 重箱読み and Yutō-yomi 湯桶読み – Mixed Readings

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Jūbako-yomi and Yutō-yomi are both types of compound words, meaning more than one kanji. However, instead of simply taking the on’yomi or the kun’yomi readings, they actually take both. These words are named the way they are because they actually follow the same rules.

In jūbako-yomi the first character takes the on’yomi and the second character takes the kun’yomi.

重箱 jūbako

重 on’yomi reading ジュウ / jū

箱 kun’yomi reading ばこ / bako

The opposite of this is yutō-yomi. The first character takes the kun’yomi reading and the second takes the on’yomi reading.

湯桶 yutō

湯 kun’yomi reading ゆ / yu

桶 on’yomi reading トウ / tō

The reason these words ended up mixed like this is because they are hybrid words. This means that the parts that make them up are derived from two different languages. In this case, China and Japan. These words aren’t as uncommon as you may think. Here are a few everyday examples:

金色 kin’iro / gold color

金 on’yomi reading キン / kin

色 kun’yomi reading いろ / iro

 

場所 basho / place

場 kun’yomi reading ば / ba

所 on’yomi reading ショ / sho

 

合気道 Aikidō / the martial art aikido

合 kun’yomi reading あい / ai

気 on’yomi reading キ / ki

道 on’yomi reading ドウ / dō

Ateji 当て字 – Words that Borrow

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Photo by The Q Speaks

Ateji are basically words that borrow only a part of themselves from their kanji, and they are NOT kun’yomi. Way back in time, when Japan was still adapting the Chinese writing system into its own, there were problems with words that already existed in Japanese and new loan words that were imported. A way to handle these old and new words arose, creating three types of these ateji words.

1. Words that borrow the reading of the characters

First we have words that borrow the phonetic value, or reading, of the characters. We see this commonly in country names. Have you ever seen the kanji for America: 米国 beikoku. If you look at those characters, they don’t really have anything to do with America. 米 means rice and 国 means country. Of all the countries in the world, America isn’t exactly at the top of the list for those we would name the “country of rice.”

米国 was originally written like this: 亜米利加

They didn’t use those characters for their meaning either, they simply used them for their phonetic value, their sounds. Below is the on’yomi reading:

亜 ア / a

米 マイ / mai

利 リ / ri

加 カ / ka

Okay, so this spells out “amairika,” but you should be able to see why they chose these characters. Using Chinese characters only for their readings was actually something Japan had been doing for a long time, all the way back to the 7th century with man’yōgana.

Man’yōgana is the name of the writing system used in a famous collection of poems called the Man’yōshū. During that time, Japanese was written out using Chinese characters for their sounds, not their meanings. Sentences were just big blocks of kanji (before it was even called kanji). Honestly, it’s pretty horrifying to look at. What’s worse is there were so many characters with the same sounds, that different characters could be used for the same sounds in the same sentence.

Scary as it was, man’yōgana writing paved the way for hiragana and katakana, and led us to the way we write Japanese today. Love it or hate it, it was a really big deal, and it should help you see why using 亜米利加 to spell out America, made a bit of sense.

The same thing happened with other countries like France, 仏蘭西 which was shortened to 仏国 (fukkoku). It doesn’t mean that it’s a Buddhist country at all. Just that the characters 仏蘭西 were pronounced the same way as フランス.

Other words include: 寿司 sushi, 亜細亜 Asia, 珈琲 coffee, 流石 as expected, 沢山 many.

2. Words that borrow the meaning of the characters

There are also ateji that borrow the meaning of the characters but not the readings. This happened when the Japanese already had a word for something before the writing system came into use, and there was no existing character in Chinese for whatever it was.

One of the most commonly used examples of this type of ateji is tobacco.

煙草 tabako / tobacco

煙 means smoke

草 means grass

Smoking grass, why that’s obviously tobacco, right? But if you look up the readings, you won’t see any part of “tabako” listed under the on’yomi or kun’yomi readings. That’s because the word tobacco, along with the plant, came to Japan via the Portuguese in the 16th century. They were given a way to say it, but they needed a way to write it. So they used the characters for grass and smoke, while still calling it “tabako”.

Other words include: 台詞 speech, 南瓜 Japanese squash, 海老 shrimp, 海苔 nori/seaweed.

3. Words that borrow both

Then of course we have words that take both the reading AND the meaning of the word. If you’re wondering how this works, sometimes they were able to find characters that matched the reading and the meaning of the words they were trying to find a way to write. For example:

合羽 kappa / raincoat is a word that was introduced by the Portuguese with the word capa, meaning raincoat. The kanji they chose mean “join” and “wings” which they saw as a great way to represent a raincoat (wings coming together, like how a bird protects itself from the rain). The readings also end up giving you a similar reading to the original capa, with kappa. So they were able to take both the meaning and the reading of the characters for a foreign word.

Other words include: 倶楽部 club, 算盤 abacus,  剃刀 razor, 田舎 countryside.

Around the Meiji period Japan switched to katakana as a way to handle loanwords, so when you encounter ateji, they’re probably from long ago. In some cases newer katakana versions have become more popular, like アメリカ rather than 亜米利加.

Single Character Gairaigo 外来語 – Loanwords get Kanji

zero

Photo by Leo Reynolds

Gairaigo is a term used for loanwords in Japanese that are usually spelled out using katakana. These are words like アルバイト part-time job and コンピュータ computer. However, there are some cases where single character gairaigo are given a kanji. Many of these are units of measure, like the metric system, and there are a few that are simply common words.

メートル mētoru / meter can be written with the kanji 米

ページ pēji / page can be written with the kanji 頁

ゼロ zero / zero can be written with the kanji 零

These are NOT ateji because they don’t borrow their meaning or their reading from the character. Instead these readings are considered kun’yomi. Is your head spinning yet? Sorry about that because next we’re looking at names.

Nanori 名乗り – Name Readings

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Photo by kazamatsuri

For anyone who has studied enough Japanese, or maybe just met enough people, names can make anyone feel like their language skills are inadequate. Even native Japanese people can look at a written name and not know how to read it because there are SO MANY possible readings for the characters used for names.

One of the reasons for this is that sometimes people go to pick a name for their baby and… well they mess up. A lot of the time, new readings pop up simply because someone’s mom or dad made a mistake, thinking that a kanji had a particular reading, and in the end it just gets added on to all the others. Sometimes parents want their child to have a unique name, so they purposefully add on a reading to a character that didn’t exist before.

There is some control over the name situation though. The Japanese government has a list of approved kanji to be used for names. The thing is, people always slip through.

Another problem, for non-native Japanese speakers in particular, is that these name readings don’t show up in normal dictionaries. Here is an example:

長谷川 is a surname. If you look each character up in a dictionary, none of the readings will help you know how to read this name. Try it out and see what you can come up with. Okay, did you try? Do you have Hasegawa? Of course you don’t, because the name readings aren’t in your dictionary!

How about 裕仁. If you look these two characters up here is what you will probably find:

裕 has the on’yomi ユウ

仁 can be the on’yomi ジン, 二, or ニン

However, no combination of these readings will give you the real reading of this name. It’s actually Hirohito ひろひと, as in Emperor Hirohito.

As a side note – Japanese names can also take on the opposite extreme. Some names can be written a ridiculous amount of ways, while they are all pronounced exactly the same. The name Akira is so popular that there are literally dozens of ways to write it! It can be either a boy or a girl’s name too.

彰, 明, 顕, 章, 聴, 光, 晶, 晄, 彬, 昶

Those are just a fraction of the ways you can write Akira! And if you look them up in a normal dictionary, that reading won’t even be listed. Luckily sites like jisho.org have an option to search their name dictionary, rather than their general dictionary, so if you don’t have a proper name dictionary at home, I’d suggest using theirs. For those of you that are looking for a name dictionary, “Japanese Names: A Comprehensive Index by Characters and Readings” by P.G. O’Neill is a great one. Though you’re more likely to find it in a library than a bookstore.

That’s All Folks

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Okay, so if you’re still reading, good for you. I know this can be overwhelming but it’s some pretty important stuff if you’re interested in the Japanese language. Hopefully this helps you realize that words which make no sense at first, actually have reasons for being that way. They simply fall outside of the box you’re used to. Break out of that box, my friends!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Sources:

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Gaming To Learn Japanese http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/19/gaming-to-learn-japanese/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/08/19/gaming-to-learn-japanese/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:00:47 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=41746 Teaching yourself Japanese isn’t easy, and let’s face it, it takes a large amount of time, effort, and dedication to make noticeable progress. After coming home from a long day of school or work, sometimes the last thing you want to do is sit down at a desk with another textbook. Wouldn’t it be more relaxing to just play some video games?

There are games out there designed to teach you Japanese. Most of those games only offer the basics of grammar and vocabulary, but they certainly aren’t the only games out there that can supplement your studying. Some of your favorite video games may hold within them the ability to become a teaching tool and can become a legitimately fun way to study.

Back in 2011 we made a list of the Top 5 Nintendo DS Games for Learning Japanese. A lot has changed since then, and some great new games have come out that you can use to your advantage. Most of these games are available in the US!

Games Made to Teach You

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First, I’d like to mention My Japanese Coach, a Japanese learning game released for the Nintendo DS in 2008. If you’re not familiar with the My Coach series, they are a bunch of self-learning and self-help games that range from learning languages to losing weight. There is even one that’s supposed to help you quit smoking.

The game starts off with a placement test, but don’t be fooled, this is definitely a game for beginners. It will teach you the basics: hiragana, kana, starting grammar, etc, but it only has about 100 lessons total and hasn’t really been updated since it’s release.

One of the major problems with this game is that some of the kanji require you to use the wrong stroke order to pass them. When the lead programmer’s response to this was, “With thousands of characters in the dictionary, there were bound to be some incorrect strokes that would get overlooked,” instead of suggesting a patch correcting the problem, they’ve chosen to ignore it. So, I can’t recommend it for advanced, or even intermediate members. And while stroke order mistakes may seem like a trivial matter, using correct stroke order is extremely important if you’re serious about learning Japanese. (You’ll have a horrible time using a traditional or electronic dictionary if you get them wrong.)

Otherwise, if you’re willing to double check the information you’re getting, this can be a decent way to start out. If you like word searches, matching, and multiple choice games, this may be a fun way to get you into Japanese, but can you really call this a game?

My Japanese Coach may call itself a game, but what I listed above can’t really be considered gameplay. Instead of more examples like this, the following are real games that you can play to learn but ALSO enjoy for the games that they are.

Listen While You Play

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Change the language settings! You may not know this but a lot of the games you’re already playing may have Japanese language options. Depending on the game, players can change the spoken language into Japanese with English subtitles, or even better, Japanese with Japanese subtitles. This is possible for quite a few modern JRPGs (for the non-game savvy: Japanese Role Playing Games).

One of the best examples of this is Ni No Kuni, which came out in the US in 2013 for the Playstation 3, and was developed by Studio Ghibli. You may know them from such classics as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and any of the other awesome movies they’ve been churning out since the 1980s.

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This whimsical and highly entertaining game offers English and Japanese voice tracks as well as English subtitles. (The only downside being the English subtitles are for the English version – but you can take advantage of that.) So while you’re enjoying this epic and colorful adventure with Oliver, Drippy the Lord of the Fairies, and all of their friends, you can also be brushing up on your Japanese skills. One of the best things about using this game in particular for study is that it is absolutely bursting with puns. Character, town, and creature names, not to mention good old jokes, are all chock-full of these eye-roll worthy play on words. They can really help you learn what’s malleable in the Japanese language. Not to mention there are fairy-tale references all over the place.

This may sound daunting, but don’t worry, these aren’t cryptic Japanese idioms like 猿も木から落ちる / Even monkeys fall from trees. No, it’s actually much easier than that. In the first area of the new world that Oliver is thrust into, the town is called Ding Dong Dell (ゴロネール王国) and the king is a giant cat names King Tom Tildrum XIV (ニャンダール), otherwise known as His Meowjesty, who speaks to himself in the third person.

Just reading the English names should give you an idea, but when you listen to the Japanese voice track you can hear what the Japanese equivalent to these puns are. It makes you think, helps you put things together, and really makes you laugh. Instead of just reading literal translations, you are able to see the connections the localization team was able to make. The game is seriously dialogue heavy too, meaning there is plenty of material available to you. This kind of studying is pretty hard to find in a book or in a classroom, but it can really open up your mind, so take the plunge!

Just don’t blame me when the game breaks your heart.

Similar Games: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (2014), Xenoblade Chronicles (2012). The Japanese Version of Persona 4 (2008) is also a great game for learning more natural Japanese but requires a Japanese game and a Japanese console.

Reading With The Nintendo 3DS

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Games that are not all about listening, but more about reading and doing things, can have the written language changed to Japanese as well. After all, we all have our favorite silent protagonists. One of these games that is still fairly new is Animal Crossing: New Leaf / とびだせ どうぶつの森, which came out in Japan in 2012 and America in 2013.

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This is a cute, and honestly, terribly addictive game that, if you buy the Japanese version for the Japanese Nintendo 3DS, can be a really great study tool. This is a laid back type of game in which you are suddenly tasked into being the mayor of a town. You interact with the animals that inhabit it, catch fish, bugs, and sea creatures, and do your best to improve the town until it’s the best it can be! (Which is really whatever you want it to be.) For those familiar with previous versions of the game, this latest installment has everything you love and more!

The great thing about using this game to learn Japanese is that it isn’t difficult. You play when you want, learn at your own pace, and take away from it what you put in. All of the bugs and fish you can catch are real creatures, this means you’ll be learning the actual Japanese names for them. You can also bring them to the museum where you can read a short description of each creature you catch.

The real benefit to playing this game in Japanese is the conversations you have with the animals in your town. Different animals have different personality types ranging from cranky, to snooty, to lazy, to uchi. That’s right, uchi, which is commonly translated as “big sister-type” in English, because that’s how they treat you, like they’re you’re older sister.

Like Ni No Kuni, ACNL has puns. These can be a bit more difficult because you don’t have any English subtitles, but they are still fairly simple.

For example, when you catch a nibble fish, you read this:

ドクターフィッシュを釣り上げた!
川のエステティシャン!

In Japanese a nibble fish is known as a “doctor fish” so this reads:

I caught a doctor fish!
A river esthetician!

This isn’t the same joke that’s made in English because, well, it just wouldn’t make any sense. In fact most of the jokes are different based on which language you’re playing in. So even if you’re familiar with the English version of the game, you’ll be able to have a fairly new experience in Japanese, and you’ll have to figure out the puns for yourself.

Similar games: Pokemon X & Y (2013), Bravely Default (2014). *These two games have Japanese language options in the NA versions, so you won’t need to worry about a Japanese game or 3DS for them.

PC Games Exist Too

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Photo by Webhamster

If you don’t have any new consoles, or you simply don’t feel like spending money, you can always hop on your computer and play Slime Forest Adventure. There are three different versions of this JRPG style game available and the demo version is absolutely free.

First, let me warn you, the art is pretty abysmal and there is no sound. However, this game does lend itself to the simple RPG style of fight monsters > save princess. You won’t be playing a variation on flash cards and calling it a game.

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In the game you fight through different areas, defeating slime monsters by typing in the readings of the hiragana, katakana, or kanji on the slimes. It’s simple, useful, and did I mention free? Of course you can choose to pay for an upgrade to the Gradeschool Kanji version or the Common Use Kanji version. Both of these offer sidequests and more vocabulary and kanji.

For those of you who aren’t fooled by the games that use matching and word searches (those aren’t real games!), this could be something to try.

Dating Sims for Your iPhone

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No modern game list would be complete without mentioning at least one phone app. Moe Academy is a dating sim-type gaming app available for free in the itunes app store. Though, a quick word of warning, this is very much a dating sim, so if you aren’t already a fan of those, you probably won’t like this game. It’s pretty directly targeting straight male players, and doesn’t really offer much for anyone else, unless you’re playing it ironically.

However, the game does give you lessons for vocabulary words and time based mini games that differ based on which girl you’re playing them with. While the lessons aren’t much more than a list of words with the Japanese and English equivalents, the games are pretty entertaining. Picking the right meaning for a word will let you shoot ghosts with arrows or enjoy festivals with girls, and if you get a high score you could get a love confession from the girl you played with. The higher lessons do cost money to unlock, so if you really like this style of game, there are currently twenty different courses with levels ranging from beginner to what they call advanced plus.

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The game also offers both Japanese and English text for all of the conversations you have with the characters, including your own thoughts. Sometimes the sentences in both languages can be a bit strange, the translations into English aren’t always the greatest, but they are there for people who want to use them as a study guide as well. The conversations are also skippable, so if they’re too corny for your liking, you can go straight to the lessons/reviews instead.

If you are going into this game without any prior Japanese knowledge you may be out of luck. It teaches you hiragana and katakana but uses kanji and no furigana (kana readings above the kanji) in all of the conversations, and the lessons/reviews seem to be more of a refresher than a real teaching tool, but that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have merit. The art and the music in the game is actually really well done, and it does feel like a real dating sim. But again, this game isn’t for everyone.

Learn Japanese with Koe (声)

Okay, so this game isn’t out yet, but bear with me on this one. Koe (声) is a game that was just recently backed on Kickstarter in March of this year. It is set up as a JRPG and is all about learning Japanese. They’re calling it communicative language learning and it looks really interesting. This means you’ll be hearing and reading Japanese, something that Slime Forest Adventure certainly doesn’t do.

One important aspect of this game is that they say they’re putting a focus on actual gameplay. That means it will be more than flashcards and multiple choice, unlike My Japanese Coach. Koe promises to contain all the traditional JRPG elements we know and love, like a story, random encounters, weapons, and a turn-based battle system. That’s more than any Japanese language focused game has been able to brag about before.

Koe looks promising and they’re aiming for a summer 2015 release. While the game does seem to be focused on completely new Japanese learners, there really isn’t any news about the learning level they go up to by the end game. There is talk of an editor, allowing the player to add new vocabulary to their in-game kit, but unfortunately, it’s too new to tell at this point. Hopefully this will be a great addition to the few Japanese learning games currently offered in the US.

To learn more about Koe, check out their Kickstarter page.

“Let’s Play” In Japanese

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For those of you who prefer to watch games being played for you, there is something out there for you too! While online streaming of games has been growing in popularity over the last few years, especially on sites like twitch.tv and youtube, more and more Let’s Plays have been coming out of Japan.

For those who don’t know, a Let’s Play or 実況プレイ in Japanese, is a video in which someone plays through a game with commentary. It’s not the same as a walkthrough, because the point of watching isn’t to help you get through the same game yourself, but to enjoy it and the personality of the person making and hosting the video. There are quite a few Japanese Let’s Players and watching them can give you both the joy of playing numerous video games and help you study and learn Japanese.

Watching Let’s Plays can be beneficial in a lot of ways. First, you can hear Japanese that isn’t scripted. This isn’t textbook Japanese, it’s how real people talk, and that’s an important thing to learn how to understand and do if you want to be able to use more than just polite and bland Japanese. If you don’t have a way to get to Japan to experience this type of banter for yourself, Let’s Plays are probably the closest thing you can get to a real, colorful conversation with friends. This is also a great alternative for people who aren’t fans of Japanese talk shows.

The next awesome thing is that you can pause, rewind, and relisten to the things you hear. Some Let’s Players even edit their videos to add in subtitles like you’d see in talk shows, which can help you be sure of what you just heard. While watching these videos you can pause when you hear something you don’t know, use an online dictionary to look it up, and then easily return to the video and completely get what’s going on.

There are literally hundreds of games to choose from! If you only like first person shooters, there is a Let’s Player for you. If you love hardcore action role playing games, there is a Let’s Player for you. What about games with friends like Mario Kart and Minecraft? Yup, they exit. There are so many different types of people, games, and experiences out there to help you with your Japanese.

Here are some great Let’s Players on youtube. Feel free to check them out!

Language Options Are Getting Better

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Over the last few years there have been some pretty great improvements to learning Japanese from games. With international editions of games coming out, like Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, players outside of Japan are finally able to change their language settings to be in Japanese. Even some games not coined “international” like the new Pokemon games are having simultaneous release dates, and suddenly languages are an option, not a preset or region-locked to your console.

Hopefully with games like Koe coming out in the next year or so, more advanced games will follow their lead. If Koe does well, we might even see a sequel aimed at advanced language learners. Our future could see more interaction, more options, and better resources. Maybe in the near future we will see an MMORPG where you focus on speaking Japanese with other people to finish quests. Instead of killing spiders in caves, you have to talk your way through. You never know where the future of games will take us!

(If there are any game developers reading this, make me that MMO!)

Tips and Suggestions

  • Keep a notebook handy while you game. If you hear a new word or expression you don’t understand, pause, jot it down, and look it up when you’re done. Then you can add those words to the list of things you’re already studying.
  • Don’t just rely on subtitles. Paying attention to English subtitles while listening to a Japanese voice track can be really helpful, but try to wean yourself off of them. Subtitles should be a reference and if you catch yourself reading and thinking in English while you play a game, then it doesn’t really matter that the voice track is in Japanese.
  • Try to recognize the speech patterns and dialects different characters use while they speak to one another. You can do this whether you’re listening or reading in a game. Being able to recognize emotions and personality types from the way someone speaks is a great skill to have.
  • Repeat what the characters are saying aloud, or if you’re playing a game without sound, try to speak as you read. A major problem of self-taught language learners is in practicing verbal communication skills, and even students in a classroom may not be getting the enough time to practice speaking. Copy the inflection and tone of the characters you’re playing. Don’t worry about who can hear. They’ll be impressed by your mad Japanese skills!
  • Don’t make playing games too much of a chore! Remember, this is supposed to be a fun way to learn. An exercise for your brain. If you go at it too hard, you can tire yourself out quickly. Pace yourself. If you’re the kind of person who likes to marathon games, you may get overloaded and end up forgetting quite a bit of what you learn. Learning a language is going to take time, the more you cram, the more likely it is you’ll forget.

Above all, remember to have fun! And be sure to let us know if there are any other games you’ve used to study recently.

Bonus Wallpapers!


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Interview About Lang-8’s New Service: HiNative http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/07/interview-about-lang-8-new-service/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/07/07/interview-about-lang-8-new-service/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=40040 Most everyone who reads Tofugu knows about the language learning site Lang-8 (and if you don’t you should check it out). Lang-8’s creator, YangYang, has recently released a new service which has seemingly spawned from something that comes up a lot in Lang-8: People want to ask questions about languages. There is a saying in Japanese: 餅は餅屋 (Mochi wa Mochiya), which literally means “you should ask a rice cake shop about rice cakes” and figuratively means “leave it to a specialist”. We wanted to know more about this new service so I talked to the CEO of Lang-8, YangYang Xi. He will answer all our questions about HiNative in this article so we can learn more about it and why they created it.

Name: YangYang Xi. Occupation: Lang-8 CEO

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Q. What’s your story?

I was born in China, moved to Japan at the age of four and grew up in Japan, so I was never really good at speaking Chinese when I was younger. So when I was a university student I went to Shanghai to study the Chinese language for one year. During that time, I did a language exchange and my Chinese skills rapidly improved. I then thought it would be a great service. After coming back to Japan, I developed lang-8 with my friend and made it into company after my graduation.

Thanks to everyone, it grew in to a worldwide service with about 870,000 users from 190 countries (4 more countries to conquer the world). Then, this year, we launched a new service (still need to improve a lot of things though) called HiNative which enables you to ask native speakers any questions at any time. I can’t wait to introduce this awesome new service to you all!

Q.Really quickly for the people who don’t know, what is Lang-8?

Lang-8 is a language exchange platform, which is an SNS language learning service that native speakers utilize to teach their languages to each other.

Q. How did Lang-8 go from your bedroom to the company it is today?

I just wanted to make Lang-8 bigger, so I set up a company.

Q. Why should people use Lang-8?

I think learning from native speakers is the shortest way to improving language skills. That’s how I improved my Chinese and Lang-8 enables everyone to do so without actually going abroad.

Q. So you now have a new service called HiNative. What is that?

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It’s a service where you can be frank about asking native speakers about absolutely anything, including language-related things, as if you were saying “Hi!” to them.

It’s aimed to be used on the Smartphone or tablet, though we are still in the middle of developing the app, so literally you can ask questions from anywhere you are with a simple press of a button.

Q. Why should people use HiNative?

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In my experience, I often come up with random questions about the language I am learning and/or some cultural things of other countries. I could ask my friends to find the answer out, but I don’t want to bother them too much. I think many people have similar experiences. In such situations, if you have “HiNative” on your phone or tablet, you can freely ask questions without imposing on your friends.

We also set up some question forms that people can make a question sentence just by tapping the screen because we want HiNative to be very user friendly for everyone. We received a lot of Lang-8 user’s voice messages saying that they don’t even know how to ask questions, though they have many things to ask in their minds. So we hope this format option will be helpful to such people.

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You can choose the language level you believe yourself to be at, so if you choose beginner, it is often that you will you be replied back to in your native language.

Q. Can you give me some examples of how somebody might use HiNative in real life?

You may think you can just Google the meaning of a word, but if you are a serious language learner, you’ll probably know that the dictionary is not always right. Even if it is right, the word you searched may be too formal for the situation you’re in. So when you want to find the true and natural usage of a word or a sentence, HiNative will be a perfect tool for it.

As I said above, you can ask any questions such as “What is the current most popular thing in the country?” Furthermore, if you are at a restaurant and you don’t understand what the menu says, you can take a photo, upload it, and ask native speakers what it is. In the future, we will make it an option to upload sound or video and a native speaker will be able to answer whether or not your pronunciation is right. There are a lot of uses.

As a real life example, I thought this one is quite unique. The Chinese person named bebe found the word 泡盛り(Awamori) on a face washing soap. Awamori is actually a type of alcohol and that’s the only meaning that she/he found on her/his dictionary. So she/he was wondering why it was written on the soap. Japanese people answered it is not a common usage and only used to emphasize that there are a lot (盛) of bubbles (泡) that the soap can make as a pun of the famous alcohol 泡盛. I’m pretty sure that bebe would not be able to find out the answer without asking native speakers.

Q. Do you have plans for an app in the future?

We are currently making the app. HiNative is intended to be used with smooth operation on smart phones and tablets just tapping the screen.

Q.What do you think about the language learning industry right now (in general?)

There are so many language-learning sites right now, but most of them are “contents-type”, which offer you a set material. On the other hand, the “SNS-type” such as Lang-8 and HiNative aren’t that numerous yet. In that sense, I think our services still have great potential.

Q. How could language learning be improved more (in general)?

I believe that you can improve language by actually using the language that you have learned and by making a lot of mistakes, then ask native speakers to fix it or adjust your requests.

Q.How are you trying to fix those problems with Lang-8 / HiNative?

Even though you are in an environment without native speakers around you, you can get the language you are learning fixed by native speakers on Lang-8 and ask questions to them via HiNative without any wait time. If you study with non-native speakers, you may not learn natural expressions, but you can learn natural phrases from native speakers on Lang-8 and HiNative.

Q. What do you think language learning will look like 10 years from now?

I’m not sure about 10 years from now, but in the near future the technology will be incredibly increased by machines making the perfect translation. If such time does come, HiNative will be used not only for language questions but for things more related to cultural differences and opinions.

Q.What are some upcoming features or updates for Lang-8?

We are focusing on HiNative from now on, so we will maintain the current state of Lang-8 for a while.

Q. What are some upcoming features or updates for HiNative?

We will make an app and an option to upload sounds and videos. We will also make some small improvements as well. Oh, and we haven’t decided the mascot character’s name yet, so we will get that done.

Q. Why is your mascot character Momonga (Flying Squirrel)?

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I’m not sure, so I’ll let our designer answer that.

(The Design of Lang-8 Nutti~ answers)

I wanted to use a unique character and I’ve never seen a flying squirrel used as a mascot for anything else. They also fly quite fast from branch to branch, and it reminds me of a scene of people chatting with and questioning each other. That is why I chose the flying squirrel for the HiNative mascot.

The name hasn’t been decided, but I call it “Monga-sama” with myself. The name of the Ai file that I drew the illustration in is Mongasama.ai too. We would appreciate it if you could let us know if you like the name Monga-sama, or if you have come up with what you think is a better name and why you believe it is so.

Q. Do you have any other messages about HiNative to share with the Tofugu readers?

HiNative is an incredibly useful and cool website, so please try it out if you’re interested in learning a new language.

こんにちは、HiNative!

We at Tofugu are interested in seeing how HiNative grows and evolves. I mean, anything made by the creator of Lang-8 is worth keeping an eye on, I think. At the very least, perhaps you can direct some of your Japanese-related questions to HiNative instead of our support emails :p

But, being able to ask a native speaker a question and get an answer fairly quickly is quite a nice thing to have. In the past, you would have to search for an answer or ask the question on a forum, and you’re never sure if anyone will answer it. Now there’s an actual place for it, and if this works as well as Lang-8 does, you’ll be getting answers soon after posting them. Plus, being a community environment you add the “give and take” equation in there. You help out people and they help you out. Everyone’s warm and fuzzy.

If you’d like to try out HiNative for yourself you can visit the HiNative website on your smartphone or tablet.

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Introduction to Kobun (Classical Japanese) Part 6: Old Kana http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/26/introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-6-old-kana/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/06/26/introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-6-old-kana/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 16:00:33 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39458 Finally, you can translate The Tale of Genji from the original! But can you read it out loud without confusing your Japanese-speaking friends? It would be strange, after all, if you didn’t read「今日」 as「 きょう」, despite the fact that it was spelled as「けふ」in older texts.

If  the けふ >  きょう reading doesn’t make sense, consider that languages change. Important sounds change, but writing takes a while to catch up to the new sounds, or sometimes it never does. You know these transformations occur because I just spelled the word “know” with a ‘k’, yet there’s no ‘k’ in its pronunciation. There used to be! A long, long time ago.

In this post, I’ll focus on two important sides of the same coin, which you’ll use to purchase meaning in the Classics:

  1. How to phonetically read Classical Japanese kana and
  2. how this knowledge helps you decipher Kobun texts

In Japanese, this system of sound conversion is called “Rekishi-tekina kanadzukai” (歴史的な仮名遣い), or “historical kana usage”. I’ll assume you’ve read the other Kobun posts (introverbsjodoushiadjectives, and honorifics), but even if you haven’t, you’ll learn cool skills, like how to read old-timey hiragana signs in Japanese.

English Mirror

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Before you can use Old Kana rules, you need to know why they’re beneficial. By looking at more familiar English — specifically, Middle English — you’ll see why.

Read the stanza below from William Langland’s “Piers Plowman” (from the 1300’s). If you’re strict with your “suspension of disbelief”, this could ruin certain time travel movies for you; I don’t remember Timeline characters having babel fish or translator microbes, and the script didn’t sound like this:

“In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne
I shoop me into shroudes as I a sheep were
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes
Wente wide in this world wondres to here…” (Langland)

You can listen to that stanza, read with accurate Middle English sounds in this video:

Here’s my interpretation just based on reading and listening:

In a summer season, when soft was the sun
I shop(?) me into shrouds as I a sheep(?) were
In habit as a hermit, unholy of works
Went wide in this world wonders to here

The question marks are beside words I couldn’t make sense of, but made a stab at based on my Modern English. Want to see how close I got to a reasonable translation?

“In a summer season when soft was the sun,
I clothed myself in a cloak as I shepherd were,
Habit like a hermit’s unholy in works,
And went wide in the world wonders to hear” (Attwater)

Notice the words that don’t resemble our modern vocabulary. This exercise should give you a taste of the comprehension scale a Japanese native speaker approaches their own Classics with. historical kana usage rules help you do to Kobun texts what I did to the “Piers Plowman” stanza. In other words, you’ll be reading funny Kobun spellings, filling it in with your Modern Japanese knowledge, and coming to quicker conclusions about the Classical texts you read.

Kobun Rules

Don’t let the word ‘rules’ scare you. These aren’t rules for you to follow; they’re rules the sounds have followed, leaving a trail of bread crumbs from, say, an old ふ in the Kobun word 給ふ  to an う in the Modern 給う.

Watch the above video to hear what I mean.

Unfamiliar Faces

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Photo by yamayadori

ゐ/ヰ and ゑ/ヱ are characters that are not used in Modern Japanese (except to invoke Shakespearean, old-timey language), but they crop up in the Classics.  The hiragana ゐ and katakana ヰ represented the sound ‘wi’ but the words written with ゐ/ヰ evolved simply into an い (look back at the Piers Plowman video; English ‘hear’ used to sound way different, and was spelled differently, too).

The same is true for ゑ/ヱ, which used to be ‘ye’ (or even ‘we’), and is responsible for “Ebisu” sometimes being romanized as “Yebisu”.

If you would read ゑ/ヱ as え, you could discern what a Classic story is talking about based on your Modern Japanese vocabulary. For example, what comes to mind if you read こゑ below as “koe”? Let me help with the other vocabulary; 祇園精舎 (gion-shouja) is a temple name, and 鐘 (kane) means “bell”.

「祇園精舎の鐘のこゑ

Probably, you thought of the most common “koe” you hear in Japanese, and that’s “voice”. “Voice of the Gion Temple Bell”? Close enough; koe had a few other meanings, including 音色 (neiro), the quality, or “color,” of a sound. So it’s a metaphorical sense of ‘voice’ in that clause.

If you had read こゑ as “koye” instead of “koe”, you might have missed this clue and had to go searching through a Kogo-jiten. We do that enough already, so you can see how sound rules make the process faster  and easier.

Magic Particles

kiki-delivery-service

Moving away from unamiliar characters, を is a kana you know best as the direct object marker in Modern Japanese. But in Kobun texts, this was common in many other places where the ‘o’ sound could appear, mostly at the beginning of a word. In the Nara period, the pronunciations of を and お were consistent and starkly different (wo and o). But the を pronunciation began wobbling in the Heian period. Here’s an example of the Kobun を acting unexpectedly:

と兄(いろせ)といづれか愛(は)しき」(From the Kojiki)

That を? It’s actually 「男」- “boy / man”, which could also be hiragana’d in the slightly more familiar 「をとこ」way, but also as 「をのこ」. You just need to read these を’s as お.

Also, you learned at the beginning of your Japanese education that は (wa) and へ (e) aren’t pronounced the way they’re written, so you’ve already been using modern pronunciation for tricky, archiac spellings!

Small Things

Ochanomizu

This Kobun rule of thumb will help you with words like しずか (“quiet”) and 味 (aji; “flavor”):

Read づ as ず and ぢ as .

There are a lot of words that have changed their spelling in this way, like 水 (みづ → みず),  何れ (いづれ → いずれ), 閉(と)ぢる → とじる, and 紅葉 (もみぢ → もみじ).

If you look at the photo above, you can see that this train station post has on the side the location: Ochanomizu. Yet, the hiragana  is “Ochiyanomidzu.” I described the づ → ず rule, but it’s also worth mentioning that small characters weren’t really a thing way back when; hence, おちゃ is written as おちや. Little y-sounds (や、ゆ、よ) and small つ’s (such as in あった) will often be rendered as the standard-sized hiragana in Kobun texts, so try sounding things each way for clues.

Tenko, or stage directions

the-theatre

Photo by Ralph Daily

Below you’ll find bulleted lists of Tenko -“change of call”. These have to be practiced and memorized, but the bright side is that they’re straight-forward.

On the left is a Kobun word, and the sound change formula you should remember is on the right of the semicolon. In the formula, the left is the Kobun kana, while the right is how you read it:

  • かは (かわ);ha → wa
  • ひたひ (ひたい);hi → i
  • たまふ (たまう);hu → u
  • まへ (まえ);he → e
  • おほす (おおす);ho → o
  • らむ (らん); mu → n

The Tenko rules above are for the middle of words, so 我 is still “ware”, and 昔 still “mukashi”.

These are the other Tenko trends:

  • くわかく  (かかく);kuwa /guwa → ka, ga
  • あふぎ>扇 (おうぎ);a + u → ō; verbs with the a + u vowel ending are an exception (like 給ふ, read as 給う in modern)
  • じふじ> 十時 (じゅうじ);iu → yuu
  • けふ > 今日 (きょう);eu →  yō
  • きやうだい>兄弟 (きょうだい);iya → yō(pronounce the Kobun hiragana for that word; it’s almost like a southern accent)

Sound rules make the song below pretty interesting. The original melody uses modern Japanese lyrics, but the musical group likes to make Kobun-esque cover songs. In doing so, “koe” (声) became archaic “koye”, but the jodoushi らむ is still pronounced らん.

There might be an explanation for the discrepancy, but I haven’t found one. Whatever the reasoning, it’s fun to listen to the song and see what other oddities or consistencies it has compared to typical historical kana usage.

Conclusion

kyoto-places-and-art

Cover of Matsuyama’s 1895 “Kyoto Guidebook of Famous Places and Art

Nobody was born knowing the English alphabet; someone taught you how letters represent sounds. Think back to that learning process. Rules like ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ are inaccurate but often helpful. The Japanese sound rules for historical kana usage aren’t accurate 100% of the time, either, but they should make Kobun a little less confusing and empower you on any quest to better understand the Japanese language.

I focused on concepts that I struggled with, but there are clumpier presentations, like “Wakatta zo!” at Yotsuya Otsuka.com. If you want more details or history, Jim Breen’s site mentions some of each. As always, I’d love to hear your questions and any Kobun or kana experiences!

Sources

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An Introduction to Kobun (Classical Japanese) Part 5: Honorifics http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/28/an-introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-5-honorifics/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/28/an-introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-5-honorifics/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 16:00:17 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39155 I talked about Kobun adjectives last time, but you might want to review verbs and jodoushi before reading this. You should also know how Modern Keigo works. Review those because, this time, I’m outlining honorifics in Classical Japanese, including verbs, prefixes, and some special nouns.

The scale of respect shown in honorific language helps you to identify sentence subjects. I’ve mentioned before that Classical Japanese frequently omitted sentence subjects (like Modern). So to figure out who is honorably on first and what’s humbly on second in the monogatari’s, honorifics can be a big clue. A possible side benefit from reading this article, if you remember ‘agar mode’, is that you might indirectly improve your Modern Keigo.

Respectful Language

burger-king

Photo by Håkan Dahlström

Imagine you’re a writer in the Heian Times, and you want to tell people about your nobleman landlord. If he heard you’d been talking about him like you were an equal there’d probably be a punishment of some sort. The following are words you would use to avoid getting your head chopped off while talking about the higher-ups. If you want in-depth examples of navigating different formalities in Classical texts, see the video below (Japanese):

The Nobleman Gave

There’s mostly just one word for honorific “give”, and it’s a very important Kobun word: 給ふ (tamafu). Tamafu’s Modern counterpart, 給う (tamau), means “receive/give”, which goes back to how this verb, on its own, also meant “receive/give” in Classical Japanese. That makes it sound contradictory, doesn’t it? If you’re confused about which meaning is true, “receive” or “give”, then just think of how Modern kudasaru and itadaku work; who receives what from whom are questions answered by the particles involved. You’ll have to pay attention to that stuff with tamafu and other honorifics, too.

Kobun:「いざたまへ、出雲(いづも)拝みに。かいもちひ召させん」(From Tsurezuregusa)

Modern: さあ、いらっしゃい、出雲神社の参拝に。ぼた餠(もち)をごちそうしよう。(context explanation here)

English: “Come… . let us worship at the Izumo Shrine. We’ll have . . . rice cakes” (Keene 192).

The Nobleman Was

Tamafu means more than “to honorably bestow upon someone”. It’s like Modern nasaru (“to honorably do”) and irassharu (“to honorably be”). If this Yodan tamafu is immediately preceded by a verb, then, just like with Modern “~ni naru”, the whole verb phrase is elevated to respectful language.

Tamafu isn’t the only Kobun verb equivalent to Modern nasaru, irassharu, and ni naru. おはす is an honorific expressing the “go/come/relocate/is” parts of irassharu. Then there’s つかはす, which is “to honorably do”, with an added meaning of “to honorably send”.

There’s also a kind of super honorific form, called Saikou (最高) Keigo, which was reserved for discussions of emperors, their families, and even those royal-marrying Fujiwara’s of yore. Saikou Keigo is expressed using one of two former jodoushi, せ or させ, plus tamafu, but you should consider せたまふ and させたまふ each as a set verb. Both mean “nasaru” or “irassharu.”

Here’s just one sampling of Saikou Keigo:

Kobun: 「人の謗りをもえはばからせ給はず」 (From Genji Monogatari)

Modern: 桐壺帝は人々の非難をも気兼ねなさることもおできにらならないで。

English: “But the Emperor… paid not the smallest heed to those who reproved him” (Waley 7).

The Nobleman Said

parrot

Photo by Derrick Coetzee

And the esteemed parrot king said, “Polly, let’s have popcorn instead.”

おほす, like modern おっしゃる, means so-and-so “honorably says” something. You’ll likely see it before or after quotations. おほす could also be “to command” or “appoint”.

Kobun:「大将おほせて、『おり』とのたまふ」(From Makura no Soushi)

Modern: 大将が命じて「下りよ」とおっしゃる

English: “Come down,” the general ordered.

Now I should mention the chimaera of honorifics: 召す (mesu – easy enough to remember because this word is a mess). Its basic meaning is “to summon or call upon”, but it can also be an honorific for “govern”, “see”, “eat”, “ride”, or “wear”. Mesu can also tag onto another verb and make a ~ni naru type honorific phrase, as in 思し召す.

The Nobleman Knew

知ろし召す(shiroshimesu) is like Modern ご存知である – “to honorably know / be aware of.” It can also mean 治めになる (おさめになる) – “to govern” or “manage.” Those meanings sound incongruent. But just think of how a queen has subjects in the land she reigns over, but she can also be proficient in the subjects of math and astronomy. Those subjects are different (one being “constituents”, the other being “topics of scholarly focus”), but the word used is the same.

Kobun:「かかるに今天皇(すべらぎ)の、天(あめ)の下しろしめすこと」(From Man’youshu)

Modern: 今上天皇が天下を統治なさることが

English: “In the reign of our [peerless] emperor” (Rodd 46)

While we’re talking about what’s in this nobleman’s head, I may as well mention 思ほす(omohosu), equivalent to the Modern “お思いになる” – “to honorably believe/think/consider.” There are some variations on this, including 思す(obosu) and 思し召す(oboshimesu), but they all mean the same thing.

The Nobleman Ate

07_The_Red_Wedding

Photo by David Hollin

You’ve noticed, surely, that half of these words have more than one meaning. I mentioned how 召す(mesu) expresses “to honorably eat” in addition to it’s crazy collection of other meanings. 聞こしめす(kikoshimesu) is another indecisive honorific. Its base meaning is “to ask/listen,” with an additional meaning of “to be concerned with” and “to manage,” and, finally, “to consume.” That goes for food and drink.

Altogether, that’s a long list of honorable words to remember. Songs, like the one below, should help keep things simple and fun:

Humble Language

Now, back to you: the Heian Times writer. You want to pen a memoir. When it hits the market, you hope readers think you are cool, but not in an arrogant way. So your editor advises that you describe your past actions with some of these humble words.

I Gave

skeleton-memoir

“Did my humble self give these guys weapons which are effective against animated dead? Hope so.”

The first humble verb for “to give” is pretty straightforward: 参らす (mairasu). The other two have a medley of other meanings. 奉る (tatematsuru), for example, can mean “humbly give”, but also “to humbly eat”, “drink,” or “wear.” Then there is 参る(まゐる), which is so much like modern polite 参る(まいる), meaning not only “to humbly give”, but also “to serve”, “go”,” “come,” “visit,” and “do.” (Of those, only the movement words really hold true in Modern 参る.)

Kobun:「いかにもしてたすけまゐらせんとは存じ候(さうら)へども」(From Heike Monogatari)

Modern: どうにかしてお助け申し上げようとは存じますが。(the whole passage here in both Kobun and modern)

English: I would spare you if that were at all possible.

I Received

“To Humbly receive” is also a mixed bag. First, 賜はる (tabaru, tamaharu) is a humble verb for “to receive”, and that’s pretty much its main meaning. But then there’s 承る (uketamaharu), which is a humble form of “accept” or “receive”, but also “to listen.”

Finally, (and this is where the song videos help dramatically), there is the Shimo-nidan verb 給ふ (tamafu). Yes. It’s the exact same kanji and dictionary form as in the Yodan verb 給ふ. When each one conjugates, the endings differ sometimes, and, obviously, the meaning differs, too. This tamafu means “to receive the privilege of….” and is like modern sasete-itadaku.

Kobun: 「今はこの世のことを思ひたまへねば」 (From Genji Monogatari)

Modern: 今は現世のことは考えさせていただきませんので。

English: Because, humbly, now, I think no longer of worldly things…

I Was

I’m calling this section “I was” because these words mirror how the Kobun equivalents of irassharu, nassaru, and ~ni naru have overlapping meanings.

Let’s start with one you should already know: 致す (itasu) – “to humbly do”, as in the Modern 失礼いたします. Then, again, 参る(まゐる) has some meanings for “do”, but also for “go/come/visit.” Since 参る, like itasu, looks familiar, it shouldn’t be hard to remember. A new one, however, might be まかる, which means “to humbly go,” or sometimes just “to humbly ~” if it compounds onto another verb.

Kobun: いづ方へかまかりぬる。いとをかしう、やうやうなりつるものを」

Modern:(飼っていたすずめは)どこへ行ってしまったのでしょうか。かわいらしく、だんだんなってきたのに。

English: “Where can it [the sparrow] have gone off to? And this after we had taken so much trouble to tame it nicely!” (Waley 98).

I Said

microphone

Photo by Grant

In your novel, you’re going to write “I asked Mr. Mountain-Rice Field what he expects this season from crops.” So what’s humble Kobun for “ask” or “say” (or even “call”)? Here’s one word that can do all that, and it’s even survived to Modern Japanese: 申す(もうす), as in 「山田と申します」.

Next, there’s 聞ゆ (kikoyu), which originally meant “to hear/be audible”, but in situations demanding humble speech, this is actually “to humbly say” or even “to humbly give.”

Another word won’t ring any bells but hits the same “to say” spot: 啓す (keisu). Keisu is equivalent to the modern 申し上げる, which is just “to humbly say.” One of the ways you can write a Japanese letter is with the set greeting 拝啓 (haikei). That second kanji is the same as in keisu, see?

Speaking of addressing people, the emperor is one person you’ve spoken to. That is, you have been privileged to humbly speak to the emperor. So heed this word, Kobun language user, when you write about that experience: 奏す (sosu), which is like 啓す(keisu) when the person addressed is the emperor or the royal family.

I Knew

You think you know things, writer? You want to open your novel with the line, “I know this guy named Prince Genji, and I think he’s an idiot”? Stay classy and use the word 存ず (zonzu). It means “to humbly know,” “think,” or “consider/believe.” Then your sentence will sound more like, “I am but a petty aquaintance of Prince Genji, and I humbly believe he’s an idiot.” Much better, isn’t it?

Kobun:「ただ一身の嘆きとぞんじ候ふ」 (From Heike Monogatari)

Modern: …ただ我が身の嘆きと思うことでございます。

English: When I think of the sadness of it…

Check out all of these and a couple other humble forms in the fun song below. Listen to it enough and you’ll have them memorized!

Beautifying Prefixes

bears

Photo by MattysFlicks

Now, writer. You want to make sure your audience thinks that the things you mention are awesome. It’s nice to sound humble about your actions, but there’s no reason other things can’t have some flourish. So, you don’t just eat senbei, you eat osenbei. Enter the beautifying prefixes.

Two such prefixes still exist in Modern: お- and ご-. Nowadays, お- (sometimes を in Kobun texts) is used for kun’yomi words, while ご- is used mostly for on’yomi vocabulary. But that distinction isn’t a modern innovation. お- and ご- act pretty much the same in Kobun texts.

According to Vovin in A Reference to Classical Japanese Prose, the Kobun prefix み- is mostly paired with kun’yomi words, but “can also be used in combination with words of Chinese origin, probably those that were more nativized than others” (30). He then describes three vocabulary categories that pair with み- regardless:

  • “Human appearance, body parts, and secretions” (30, like tears or voice)
  • “Dwellings, buildings, and their parts” (31)
  • “Kinship terms” (32)

Nowadays, the み-prefix is permanently a part of certain words, like mikoshi (a mini, portable shrine) and isn’t detachable the way the お- in おせんべい or ご- in ご飯 are.

It’s hard to tell, though, which prefix you’re looking at if Kobun writers used the kanji , which could not only read お-, ご-, or み, but also おほん or おおん. おほん and おおん are two sides of the same coin and form an interesting pronoun-like prefix. See this example, where おほん stands in for something previously mentioned:

Kobun:「対の上のおほんは、三種(みくさ)ある中に」(From Genji Monogatari)

Modern: 対の上の(合わせられた)お(香)は、三種類ある中で。

English: “Murasaki had submitted three kinds” (Waley 691) of incense to the contest.

There’s one more pretty prefix to talk about, which builds on the same kanji. 「大御」 reads 「おほみ」, and a noun following it won’t just sound cool. That noun will sound super respected. 大御 usually preceded vocabulary for emperors, gods, shrines, or parents.

Ending Grammar

finish-grammar

Photo by Philo Nordlund

This is the last post on Kobun grammar. However, there is one important thing I’ve left alone throughout this series that you can expect soon. If you listened to any of those songs I linked, you’ll notice that the way Kobun words were written wasn’t how they get pronounced. There are rules governing those sound discrepancies which can improve your interpretations of Classical texts. Until now, I’ve (deliberately) just provided links to guides on old kana. But rest assured, I’ll still be writing a post to walk you through the rules of reading Kobun kana and why it’s helpful to know said rules.

Meanwhile, Hello-School has a larger chart to help you solidify your knowledge of Classical honorifics. I hope both your Kobun and your Modern Keigo muscles flexed a little after reading today. This post only covered prefixes and verbs, but I’ve read about other sentence elements, like pronouns and plurals, that border honorific language. So, if you’re curious about those or want to share your Kobun/Modern Keigo stories, make like Murasaki and write something in the comments section.

Bonus Wallpapers!

kobunhonorifics-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

  • Keene, Donald, trans., and Kenkō Yoshida. Essays in Idleness; the Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. p. 192.
  • Rodd, Lauren Rasplica, and Henkenius, Mary Catherine, transl. Kokinshu: A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern. 1984 Princeton Uni Press. p. 46.
  • Tollini, Aldo. “Keigo”. Tables of Classical (Tavole di lingua classica) Japanese Keigo. Classroom materials from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.
  • Vovin, Alexander. A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. p. 30-32.
  • Waley, Arthur, transl. The Tale of Genji: a novel in six parts by Lady Murasaki. New York: Random House, 1993. p. 7, 98, 691.
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How To Speak Beautiful Japanese: An Interview With Yomiuri TV Announcer Naomi Uemura http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/13/how-to-speak-beautiful-japanese-an-interview-with-yomiuri-tv-announcer-naomi-uemura/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/13/how-to-speak-beautiful-japanese-an-interview-with-yomiuri-tv-announcer-naomi-uemura/#comments Tue, 13 May 2014 16:00:24 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39244 I know most everybody here loves to watch Japanese television. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to interview somebody who was actually on Japanese TV. I was surprised when I heard back from Yomiuri TV’s 25 year veteran announcer Naomi Uemura, who I’ve respected for a long time. She is one of the most popular announcers in Japan, especially so in the Kansai area (Yomiuri TV is located in Osaka and serves the Kansai region). Honestly, I never thought this would work out the way it did, considering I watched her on TV all the time when I lived in Japan. However, she is an incredibly kind person and I was so pleased when she (and Yomiuri TV) politely accepted the offer and agreed to answer our questions.

“But why an announcer?” you might be asking. First of all, she’s someone I’ve been a fan of for many years, so this is a lot of fun for me. But, I also thought that someone who is an announcer could also help all of you who are learning Japanese. Part of their job is to speak beautiful Japanese, after all! We’ll get to that part later in the interview.

So, a very special thanks to Naomi Uemura and Yomiuri TV, once again. I’m sure all of you will like it because she shared her great experience and provided us with some great advice. Don’t miss it!

1. Uemura-san’s Details

Let’s take a look at her details first. This way you can get to know her a little bit before the interview starts!

Name: Naomi Uemura
Born: December 27, 1966
Graduated: Sophia University Faculty of Literature (Major in Philosophy)
Occupation: Yomiuri TV Announcer
Length of Announcing Career: Since 1989; 25 years
Main TV Programs She’s On / Appeared On

  • “NNN naomi-uemuraNews”
  • おはようドクター” (It’s airs Sunday at 5:50 a.m.)
  • おはようニュースマガジン
  • ザ・ワイド
  • ミヤネ屋
  • おもしろサンデー
  • ニュース・スクランブル
  • テンベストSHOW
  • マルバレ
  • リーダース・アイ
  • 極上の散歩道
  • 読売新聞ニュース
  • ザ・サンデー
  • サンデー・ドクター
  • ダウンタウンDX
  • BLT
  • 11PM
  • and more!

 

Note from Uemura-san: I believe that the meaning of the word “announcer” in English isn’t exactly the same as in Japanese. In Japan, the word announcer refers to various roles, whereas in English there are specific terms used to denote the people working in those roles. For example, in English there are news anchors, broadcasters, reporters, talk show or game show hosts and narrators of documentaries. Everyone who does these kinds of jobs would be called “announcers” in Japanese. My work calls for me to take on all kinds of such roles.

2. The Life And Work Of Naomi Uemura

Q. Why did you want to become an announcer?

What made me decide to become an announcer was a summer part time job that I had when I was in university. I was offered an MC position at a sporting event and I worked as a vendor in a sports drink tent where people threw a die and the number rolled indicated the number of free sports drinks we would give away. The event was held for about a week, but within a couple days some people from the neighborhood, from children to grandfathers to business men, became regulars of mine and came to my place every day. I hosted the dice show with a funny story and managed to create a great atmosphere. When I teased the audience, they quickly reacted with hearty laughter. It was very fun and interesting for me to see how the crowd swung from joyful laughs to empathetic sighs all because of what I said. Because of that, I thought I would seek a job in something that involved this type of talking.

Q. What was the most difficult thing about becoming an announcer?

Actually, I had almost no difficulty. When I was in my 4th year of university, I went to a job interview and just popped into Yomiuri TV. The difficult thing was…well, when it comes right down to it, the interview may have been the most difficult part because I was the only one chosen out of over 2000 applicants. At the time, going to job interviews was basically my hobby as I had interviews with more than 40 companies. Most of the companies had several rounds of interviews for applicants to go through until they were hired. There were even companies that had up to nine interview stages. My calender looked like it had been painted black due to all those interview appointments.

Q. What was it like to be the only female announcer in the company? (There weren’t any female announcers when she entered the company at least, but there had been a few before her)

In the Kansai area at the time, female comedians were very popular and because of that, jobs such as reporters and assistant hosts on television shows were often reserved for those female comedians. At that time, however, there were about 20 announcers on Yomiuri TV in 1989 and they were all men. Since they were all male, they were accustomed to changing their clothes in the announcer room without hesitation and, strangely enough, my new presence there did not change this. The pin microphone position in the news studio was standardly set to fit to the left lapel of a man’s jacket, so I was scolded when I changed it to fit to mine, the right lapel of a woman’s jacket. It was tough that there weren’t any female announcer superiors to consult with, as well. As for the job, there weren’t any positions for female announcers, as I mentioned above, and we had to obtain them from female comedians one by one. In order to do so, I worked hard and brushed up my announcing skills and expressiveness to appeal to the merits of using a female announcer. Now, out of the 20 announcers in the company, 10 of them are women. Those women undertake the announcing positions that are reserved solely for females. My first job involved creating something from nothing and doing it from the ground floor.

Q. What are the differences between when you started announcing and today, in terms of being a female announcer?

Nothing really.

Q. What was your greatest / most memorable moment in announcing?

Announcing is not a job that helps someone directly. It’s a job that requires the delivery of information to a camera and then through the TV screen. So, it’s rare to find yourself with an opportunity to help someone else. However, when the Great Hanshin earthquake occurred in 1995, I was actually in Ashiya, which was right in the center of the affected area that got a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Fortunately I lived, so I reported what was actually happening in Kobe day to day through live news feeds and interviews with the perspective of the victims.

One day, after finishing a live news feed as an on-scene reporter, a man approached me to tell me that his life was saved by me. A lot of questions burst into my mind like, “Why? What did I do? Where were you? What do you mean I saved your life?” I then asked the gentlemen why he thought so and he began his story.

“I ran a photo shop in Kobe, but the photo studio, which was also my house, was completely demolished by the earthquake. Additionally, my wife passed away as a result of being trampled by a stampede of people. I lost not only my job, but also my family. After the earthquake, I got stomach cancer because of the stress. When I found out the only life I had left from the earthquake was disappearing, I began to wonder what I was living for. During that time, on the way to the hospital in Kobe, I got into an interview with you. You and I talked about the harsh times I had encountered and about how sad I was. I told you everything. You listened to my story with a full heart and burst into tears with me. Before that moment my sadness had nowhere to go and I had been struggling with the pain of my new life, but you accepted all my feelings and cried with me.

Upon the realization of that, the burden on my heart went away. In that moment I was able to think that if I continued to live, something good might happen. I was actually contemplating suicide, but a ray of light plucked me out of the darkness and and I knew I could hang in there.”

One day, by chance, we ran into each other in the effected area again, and told me that story and how “his life was saved by me”.

Hearing those words was the greatest and most memorable moment of my career.

Q. What is the funniest thing that happened to you while working?

In 2000, I bought an apartment for the first time in my life. At first, I took out a 35-year mortgage, but I would pay it back partly when I saved up some money. It is called “kuriage-hensai” (繰り上げ返済) which means pre-payment in Japanese. It was very fascinating for me that the mortgage term was shortened by about 10 years after “kuriage-hensai”, even though it wasn’t a lot of money. Shortly afterwards, I was obsessed with it and repeated the ‘kuriage-hensai’ as soon as I saved up even more money. Saving money kind of became one of my pastimes.

Meanwhile, Kyosen Ōhashi, who served briefly as a member of the House of Councilors in the Diet of Japan, resigned from his political position. On the evening news, I happened to report this story and during that piece I said, “Due to the resignation of Mr. Kyosen Ōhashi, Mr. Martti Turunen was”kuriage-hensai“-ed.” Of course, I didn’t intend to say “kiriage-hensai”, but “繰り上げ当選 (kuriage-tousen)”, which means to win an election as a result of the death or disqualification of one of the winners. All the staff members who knew that I liked paying “kuriage-hensai” were shaking their shoulders to prevent themselves from bursting out laughing. It was a news cast, you know, so they couldn’t laugh out loud. I didn’t even realize that I had made that mistake, so it turned out to be a funny story after the show ended. On the other hand, who knows, Mr. Martti Turunen may have been paying kuriage-hensai as well, so it might have not been a mistake after all….as if. (She chuckled)

Q. What is the most difficult thing about being an announcer?

[The most difficult thing] is the action of “conveying”. I’ve worked hard for 25 years to properly convey the news to people, but the fact is it’s still difficult to convey stories exactly as I want to. Sometimes, even though I think I conveyed things properly, it didn’t come off to the audience the same way as I thought it should have. Things like the environment that someone grew up in or the books they have read, there are so many factors that contribute to making the mind of an individual different from the next. Even if I say the same thing, whether it was to someone who just lost their loved ones, or to someone whom just had just seen their baby come into the world, my words would be received differently and it’s no wonder. Even for the expression “thank you”, some people may feel that it sounded “pushy” or “sarcastic”, whereas others may meekly consider it to be an expression of gratitude from the bottom of someone’s heart. After all, to convey something exactly how you want is such a difficult thing, and perhaps that is the reason why this is a job that I will never lose interest in.

Q. What is required to become an announcer like you?

Please graduate from a university and come to an interview here at Yomiuri TV. Try to habitually take interest in various things and convey that interest to as many people as you can. Attempt to feel various emotions, understand them, and learn how great it is to convey your feelings to other people. I’m looking forward to seeing you all.

Q. Do you think a foreigner could do that and become an announcer in Japan?

If the person could speak Japanese properly and have a lot of knowledge and insight, then I’d say why not?

3. Advice For Japanese Learners

Since Uemura-san is a professional at speaking, and since many of you would like to speak Japanese better, here are some questions that will help you with that!

Q. Being able to speak clearly and nicely is important to learning a language. How did you train to improve your voice to speak such beautiful Japanese?

I trained with abdominal breathing and pronunciation drills. I’ve been doing them since the beginning of my career.

Q. Could you talk more about the abdominal breathing?

In order to produce a beautiful voice, you have to inhale a lot of air into your lungs. To do so, you need to expand the space surrounded by your ribs. The only thing you could do for that is either to throw your shoulders back or to lower the diaphragm. However, if you strain your shoulders, it will strain your neck and your throat will constrict, so it won’t help you find your beautiful voice. So, to create a beautiful voice, lowering your diaphragm is the only way. For that, you have to train your abdominal muscles and try to learn how to move your diaphragm up and down. That is abdominal breathing. You become able to do that type of breathing once you get strong abdominal muscles.

Q. How about the pronunciation drills?

In Japanese, there are basically only 5 mouth shapes, which are the shapes when you say vowels “あいうえお” and the unique consonant “ん”. You can make 50 different sounds just by adding a consonant to the beginning of those 5 vowels. You can easily make consonants sounds with your tongue, but you have to properly shape your mouth when you pronounce vowels. Once you can make good shapes, your pronunciation will be proper and beautiful. So, pronunciation drills for proper mouth shape are very important. I still practice these at least once a day in the studio.

Q. What’s the difference between speaking Japanese and delivering what you think in Japanese”?

To read scripts in a beautiful way, to speak, to communicate, and to deliver are all different. Even though you pronounce words perfectly, without an accent and speak in fluent Japanese, sometimes what you want to say doesn’t come off as you intended. In order to have a better delivery, you may try changing the tone of the word you want to emphasize, to higher or lower, or you may change the volume of it, either louder or quieter, or you may even want to whisper. On top of that, a change of tempo might be called for, either slower or faster. You need to get a little creative and make all kinds of efforts. Put yourself in the frame of mind that you want to deliver the story in and think about what you could do to delivery that story to the people in the most effective way, and then talk. That’s the way to improve the skill of “delivering what you think”. I think it’s the same whether it’s Japanese, English, German, or French.

Q. What do you think is the most important thing to practice or learn if you want to speak “good Japanese”?

This doesn’t just apply to Japanese but to any foreign language, and the fastest way to improve your skills in another language is, I think, to make friends who speak that language. If you listen to that language with your ears and speak it from your mouth every day, then you’ll naturally learn new Japanese phrases, the way to say things and how to deliver what is said.

However, even if you become a fluent speaker of Japanese, I’d say that writing is a whole other monster. Unlike the alphabet, there are so many characters in Japanese with the incorporation of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. So I believe it would be much more difficult to write a letter in Japanese than it would be to recite what is written in the letter.

Q. When the news is delivered, I think it’s constructed to be easier for people to understand. How can we make “easy-to-understand” Japanese?

This is again not only for Japanese, but information given through speech is “easy-to-understand” if you focus on the base formula of communication – That is “5W1H”: Who, When, Where, What, Why, and How. If your message is compact and consists of these elements, it will be “easy-to-understand” in any language. Whenever you talk to your friend (or whoever), be aware of how you are delivering what you’re attempting to communicate and afterwards try to recall whether or not you’ve contained each element of 5W1H. It’s a great training method and you’ll end up being able to speak “easy-to-understand” Japanese if you focus on this.

Q. Do you have any other advice for Japanese learners?

The Japanese language might be difficult if you study its grammar. Yet, it is a great language for you to deliver and create sentimental expressions and atmospheres. You may like Japanese more if you not only study the Japanese language, but also Haiku or Tanka poems. In Japanese, it’s also common that the words from other countries find their way to Japan and settle in as a part of the Japanese language. Words such as 金平糖 (konpeitou), which means “confetti” which is Portuguese, or マネージャー (manger), which comes from English, are two of hundreds. Since ancient times, Japan has adopted many elements of foreign cultures and it even shows in its language as well. Japan has accepted many foreign things throughout it’s history, with Chinese influence being the most resonant of them, as Japan adopted techniques, social behaviors, Buddhism, ideas, customs, and kanji characters from China. The language is, in part, a demonstration of the country’s culture. When you study a language, try getting interested in its history, background, and culture. As you learn more, you may also enjoy learning more.

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Mining For Japanese Gold: The Professor Who Teaches Japanese Through Minecraft http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/12/mining-for-japanese-gold-the-professor-who-teaches-japanese-through-minecraft/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/05/12/mining-for-japanese-gold-the-professor-who-teaches-japanese-through-minecraft/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 16:00:45 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=39338 Minecraft… err, マインクラフト! Of course, I think almost everyone knows the game. Either you’ve played it, someone you know won’t shut up about it, or you’ve heard of it through popular culture / the media. To me, I’ve always thought of it as the incredibly addicting, fun, and educational game that I don’t mind seeing kids playing (darn kids and their CoD). The deeper you get into Minecraft the more educational it gets, really!

But, couldn’t the “educational” aspect of Minecraft be taken a step further? I thought exactly this during a month-long binge of Minecraft I had in 2012. Playing on various servers, you would meet people from other countries, Japan included. Mostly, I would see people trying to explain or ask things in the English language. Sure, we were mostly talking about diamonds, pick axes, and survival, but the grammar and the need to communicate was all being learned.

The game itself is simple, it encourages teamwork (or lots of fighting and whining), and communication is fairly realistic, all things considered. You have to talk in the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense. Also, you have to explain directions, where things are, what things are there, and so on. It’s a real (virtual) world, after all! Plus, the game is extremely simple to play at first, and builds very gradually to the more complicated, which is similar to how languages are learned. Unlike virtual worlds such as Second Life and MMOs, Minecraft has a very pleasant learning curve that’s almost perfect to learn a language alongside it.

That brings me to James York, English teacher at a Japanese university and PhD student researching language learning in virtual worlds. He has actually built a Japanese class around Minecraft, teaching several classes a year up to the JLPT5 level (at least for right now). Just from seeing how Minecraft encourages language learning from my experience “in the wild” I was really interested to find out how Minecraft could help someone’s language learning in a slightly more organized “class”. So, I interviewed York-Sensei to learn more about how he’s trying to improve how Japanese can be learned.

Q. What’s Your Story?

james-yorkI learnt a lot of Japanese when I joined a Japanese WoW guild back in 2006 and since then have been interested in games/virtual communities as language learning domains. I teach English as an assistant professor at a university in Japan and am also a PhD student researching how spoken language proficiency can best be promoted with virtual worlds. So lets just say Kotoba Miners (editor note: that’s what he’s calling his in-Minecraft Japanese class) is my hobby, but also my job, and will hopefully help me get a PhD.

I started the server originally as a LAN-based server where my Japanese university students could learn/practice English. Then I asked over on Reddit if I could bring my students to their server and if anybody would like to help them learn. The response was really promising and one very generous redactor offered to give me a server with his hosting company to make my own server. Of course I accepted and so became “Mining English” as it was originally called. So, we had Japanese university students learning English with some native English speakers on my own server. Then, the course finished and all the students stopped playing. What I was left with was a server with a bunch of English speakers eager to learn Japanese. It was at this point that the original objective of the server to teach English flipped to learning Japanese.

Q. What were your key takeaways from doing “Mining English”?

That you can’t force people to learn.

Students are sneaky :P (By this I mean that they will often do the bare minimum or cheat. For example, I gave them the task of interviewing a native English speaker on the server, but they actually ended up interviewing each other and then handing that in (haha). I wouldn’t have known unless one of the native English speakers happened to be online at that time and saw them do it.)

Task goals designed by teachers are often misconstrued into something completely different from what students actually do, but we have to roll with that and adapt on the spot.

Slightly negative: The Japanese don’t want to learn English (sweeping statement I know, but true… At least in a structured, Minecraft-based course). I opened the server up to the Japanese Minecraft forums and had very little response. It’s a shame, but I’m glad we became Kotoba Miners. I really enjoy teaching people that are eager to learn!

Q. So why Minecraft?

minecraft-japanese

I experimented with a number of virtual worlds and games as part of my research. I rejected MMOs for lack of control over content and their often extremely specialized discourse (e.g. “Prot Warrior LFG SFK pst”). I also rejected a lot of social worlds (i.e. Second Life) for their painful aesthetics, controls and distance between user and content-creator.

Minecraft is simple. Controls, aesthetics, and gameplay. This means that you spend less time learning how to navigate the game and more time learning and focusing on language.

Q. How is your classroom in Minecraft set up?  How does a typical class work?

Class topics loosely follow the Genki textbook in terms of progression and the overall objective of the class is to get students to a JLPT N5 level.

The overall objective of the class is to get students to a JLPT N5 level. Lesson content is stored on the server in the “JP buildings” JP1 – JP10.

minecraft-japanese

Activities related to the lessons in each building can be found around the building itself:

kotobaminers-book

Classes are not lectures and students speak and interact with others for the majority of class time. Speaking is achieved with the use of TeamSpeak where we all log into the Kotoba Miners server (address: voice.kotobaminers.org). If you are to join the class you should expect the following as a typical class:

  • Start with a review exercise to refresh our memories of previous lessons content (an activity from another JP building).
  • Brainstorm vocabulary.
  • Sometimes I explain a new grammar point, but then other times, students go and Google it and share what they found (student-centered learning).
  • The next main activity is designed to make use of the new grammar point, but also requires the use of grammar/vocabulary that we have covered in the past also.
  • After class, there is sometimes homework (such as to create a similar activity for others to complete the following week) and I provide practice exercises via our LMS (learning management system): languagecloud.co.

Q. What kind of lessons have you created that are unique to the Minecraft interface?

minecraft-japanese2

We do a couple of lessons where students have to play Minecraft in survival for 2 full Minecraft days. They have a number of objectives to complete.

The objectives are given to them in a book. These objectives are pretty specific to Minecraft.

kotobaminers-activity-example

Once the two days are over, pairs get together and compare their experiences over the two days. This is obviously used to practice the past tense in affirmative and negative forms. An example of a conversation might go something like this:

A: 畑は作った?
B: 作らなかった。ダイヤは見つけた?
A: 見つけた!そっちは?
B: 見つけなかったorz
A: あまりできなかったねw

So, you’re doing things and you’re talking about them afterwards. In a regular Japanese classroom you you don’t really have these kinds of shared experiences that you can talk about. But, thanks to Minecraft we can do this. In addition to this we can speak WHILE doing them. Doing the activity itself requires the use of language.

A good example is the “Ice Palace” which is set up so that you cannot clear it unless you communicate with your partner. Here is a screenshot of one of the rooms:

This side has the route to tell your partner:

ice-palace

This side is a row of pressure plates that need to be navigated correctly. If you don’t pistons push the blocks at the top and crush the player.

ice-palace2

Q. What advantages does Minecraft hold over a real world classroom?

minecraft-japanese-3

Learning by dying. Simply put – games offer feedback loops that show/punish you when you do something wrong. And people are more likely to take risks and get things wrong when playing a game than they are in a classroom.

However, the biggest advantage for Kotoba Miners is the fact that people can log in from all around the world at the same time and connect with other Japanese learners and actually practice SPEAKING the language. The majority of students that come to Kotoba Miners that have been studying Japanese in the past invariably say something along the lines of: “I’ve been studying Japanese for a while, but I’ve never actually spoken it…” So I think the lessons we do on Kotoba Miners are a great place to improve your Japanese speaking and listening ability. (as an aside: these skills are generally not looked at as much as reading and writing in the literature on virtual worlds and language learning, and this is why I’m pushing them in my own research).

Q. What’s your language learning philosophy?

  • (Specifically for Japanese) Get the Kanji out the way early on. If you are serious about learning the language, and aiming for a high level of proficiency 6 months to 1 year is not a long time to spend on learning Kanji.
  • Use and SRS. RtK aside, Anki was the most useful tool I had when actively studying Japanese. Not just for vocabulary, but grammar, and even things like famous peoples’ faces, and famous dates etc. Extremely important.
  • Speak, make mistakes and learn. I (very fortunately) was able to learn Japanese while living in Japan. But it didn’t come without an almost uncountable amount of 恥ずかしい moments when I messed up. There is nothing more embarrassing than being told by a 6 year old kid 「なに?日本語変だよ」(What? Your Japanese is strange) but it makes you god damn certain that you will never make that particular mistake again. A famous point on mistakes is that you can do one of two things: speak or not speak. If you speak you get a result “I was correct” or “I was incorrect;” but if you don’t speak, you will never know if you are correct or not, and therefore never actually learn or progress. Get out there and mess up!
  • Read. Can’t understand what they are saying in anime? Start with books. Books should not be overlooked. I started with stories aimed at 小4−5 level (elementary grade 4 and 5) and learned an absolute metric cuss ton of useful language. Especially onomatopoeia which is so important in Japanese.

Q. How does the community outside of the Minecraft game enhance the Japanese language learning experience?

kotoba-miners

I’ll let my students answer this one:

Kotoba Miners the community enhances the language learning experience in every way, and I honestly can’t think of a better resource. Most of all for me is that it keeps me motivated, and I can say for sure I wouldn’t still be studying Japanese if I didn’t come across Kotoba. The way it does this I think is that the topic within the community is always language learning, but the specific activities we do may be things that we just enjoy. Naturally the Japanese learning leaks in to what we’re doing, but it doesn’t feel like I’m burning out on the learning aspect, rather than just enjoying it and getting immersed. For example I love video games; I grew up as a gamer. Within Kotoba I have found friends to game with, on games like Garry’s Mod, League of legends, Osu and more. Since we’re learning Japanese, even though we’re not focusing on it, you can bet a friend will show off some new word or grammar he learned, which will naturally make everyone want to know what it means. Then there is the social aspect, I have people from class as friends now (one of the main reason I got into the language I guess). There are constantly conversations going on within Teamspeak, IRC, the app “Line” on my phone, all in Japanese.

The community has Japanese natives also, so with all this combined it’s hard to get away from the language, I’m virtually immersed so to speak. The thing is, I’m just being social, it’s fun, but I have to learn Japanese if I want to be even better at participating in these conversations, which I want to do. A few weeks ago I even met Cheapsh0t, and a few other guys interested in the Japanese culture. I learned so many interesting things about Japan and got some nice manga just from being involved with Kotoba.

Then there is my imagined rivalry with other students within the community. When I see that they just held a conversation with a native speaker better than I would of, it makes my blood boil. How dare he be progressing quicker than me? You can bet that’s motivated me for the night until I think I could have done what I’ve just seen my friend do. It’s nice to be able to compare myself to others and make sure I’m not slacking. So the community is fun, sociable, and I use it to benchmark my progress, keeping me motivated to keep learn the language.

Let me touch on what I see on /r/learnjapanese lately, which is output. Quite a few of these people are like “output is important, but how do I do it?”. Then things like reading books, news, listening to podcasts, writing journals on lang-8, watching drama’s etc. are all suggested. This is literally, so easy without effort in Kotoba. Podcasts? I can talk to natives or friends and get my listening comprehension and speaking practice. Books? I could open up Line on my phone now and find a whole conversation to read. Grammar? “Hey mate, I didn’t quite understand what this bit meant, can you explain it?” I would ask, rather than searching it up and taking longer than I’d like. Writing journals? Well, I do this on the Kotoba forums, the forums are my favorite part (I can rikaichan everything!).

Honestly I used to use Genki textbook, Japanesepod101, Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide and all that cool stuff. However, I’ve substituted all those for Kotoba, I really think it helps me more and is way more fun. I think Kotoba’s only downfall as a community when it comes to enhancing my language learning is learning kanji, which I use WaniKani for. Besides that, it’s the perfect resource with immersion second to only actually living in Japan.

Q. What are your plans for the future of Kotoba Miners?

kotoba-miners-rust

One thing that I haven’t been spending too much time on is how to study kanji. I personally went the Remembering the Kanji route, and a lot of my current students are using WaniKani, so although it is probably not needed, I’d still like to figure out a way to teach kanji in the Kotoba Miner’s world (James goes on to say that the blocky graphics make this particularly difficult).

Another thing I am focusing on is branching out into other games with our Saturday “Let’s Play” series where we play games in Japanese. We’ve mainly focused on Minecraft up until now, but we’ve got Rust, LoL, and DarkRP coming up, as well as suggestions from current students.

Finally, I think the Kotoba Miners model is usable for other languages, so if any readers would like to use it to teach another language, get in touch!

Q. How can people sign up for your Japanese classes?

We will be starting a new run of our course for EU students at the start of June. You will need a Minecraft account of course. I wrote a guide about signing up.

Currently, classes are Tuesday 11:00 AM and 9:00 PM (JST).

Bonus Wallpapers!

kotobaminers-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

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An Introduction To Kobun (Classical Japanese) Part 4: Adjectives And Musubi http://www.tofugu.com/2014/04/03/an-introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-4-adjectives-and-musubi/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/04/03/an-introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-4-adjectives-and-musubi/#respond Thu, 03 Apr 2014 16:00:34 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=38559 In Tokyo, you can rarely walk along a street, turn left four times and arrive on the same street you started on. Like Edo roads, Kobun conjugations do not form expected paths. We’ve gone over most of the winding alleys already in Parts 2 & 3, using the translation tour guide that is Part 1. And while there is one more mile marker after this (Kobun honorifics), I’m wrapping up the most confusing of conjugations and sentence endings in Classical Japanese with an outline of the rule breakers: adjectives and musubi.

An Adjective by Any Other Name

apples

Photo by Evelyn Saenz

Adjectives describe nouns, right? My favorite Kobun scholar, Vovin, actually calls Kobun adjectives “quality verbs.” The “quality” part points at how these gems ascribe quality in a sentence (“the stupid jellyfish), not action (”The jellyfish cooked). In “quality verb,” then, the “verb” part describes Kobun adjectives in form; unlike nouns (私) or particles (は), adjectives are dynamic and flexible in shape.

Modern Japanese adjectives aren’t all so dynamic. Na-adjectives, like しずか, come in one form that only changes in what particles it attaches to. But i-adjectives are dynamic with interior changes similar to Kobun ones.

The Two Adjective Types

fork

Photo by Wonderlander

Again, like Modern, there are two Kobun adjective types, which isn’t bad compared to the nine verb categories. These two types, ku- and shiku-adjectives, only really appear in three forms: Renyoukei, Shuushikei, and Rentaikei.

Ku-Adjectives (く活用形容詞)

Renyou: __く (赤く, “red”)

Shuushi: __し (赤し)

Rentai: __き (赤き)

Izen*: __け (赤け)

Kobun: 「白き鳥の嘴(はし)と脚(あし)とあかき」(From Ise Monogatari)
Modern: 白い鳥であって、くしばしと脚とが赤い(鳥)。
English: It was a white bird with a red beak and red feet. (My translation)

*Occasionally adjectives appear in the Izenkei as well. For more adjectival enlightenment, see Kafka-fuura’s in-depth page or this page (Japanese, but more examples), and like all Kobun elements, it can’t hurt to peek in a dictionary.

Shiku Adjectives (しく活用形容詞)

Renyou: __しく (を**かしく, “strange”, “interesting”, “awesome”)

Shuushi: __し(をかし)

Rentai: __ しき(をかしき)

Izen: __ しき(をかしき)

**Yes, spellings like this are abound in Kobun. There are guides, like Kafka’s page, which describe the crazy writing conventions and spelling in Kobun. Pay attention to the existence of two characters/sounds Modern lacks: ゐ (wi) and ゑ (we). If any of your teachers ever cautioned you against getting creative when scrawling “る”, now you can see why.

The “Verbal Adjectives”

cheetah

Photo by Art G.

Alas, Kobun is not simple. There are two other adjective types lumped into a category of Keiyou-doushi (形容動詞). Unlike ku- and shiku-adjectives, these overachievers appear in all the forms verbs can except the Meireikei (command form). I think of these as similar to Modern na-adjectives because the base part of the word doesn’t change – there’s nari and tari at the end, and those are kind of jodoushi already.

Vovin, in fact, posits the nari, tari, and occasional kari that follow the base of adjectives like 静か (shidzuka, “quiet”) are definitely just adjective + jodoushi and thus naturally end like jodoushi. The traditional dictionaries call 静けし a ku-adjective and 静かなり a nari-adjective, but 静かなり just looks like 静けし in an altered form (ka) to connect to -nari. However it helps you to look at them, here are those nari and tari endings for you:

Nari Conjugation (ナリ活用)

Mizen: __なら (静かなら, “quiet”)

Renyou: __に・なり (静かなり・に)

Shuushi: __なり (静かなり)

Rentai: __なる (静かなる)

Izen: __なれ (静かなれ)

Tari Conjugation (タリ活用)

Mizen: __たら (堂々たら, だうだうたら “austere”, “magnificent”, or “elegant”)

Renyou: __たり or と (堂々たり・と)

Shuushi: __たり (堂々たり)

Rentai: __たる (堂々たる)

Izen: __たれ (堂々たれ)

Believe it or not, it’s actually kind of hard to find examples of adjectives in text, at least flipping through the poetry of the Kokin Wakashuu. There are experts that write about this stuff, but I’m personally wondering if it might have been an aesthetic or rhetorical technique to use noun phrases and verbs more than the Keiyoushi or Keiyoudoushi above. Or perhaps it just worked better for the rhyme scheme to use “noun + の”. For example:

Kobun: Haru no yo no/ yami wa ayanashi/ ume no hana/ iro koso miene/ ka ya wa kakururu. (From Kokin Wakashuu)
English: “How foolish is the darkness on this spring night – though it conceals the plum blossoms’ charm and color it cannot hide their perfume” (Rodd & Henkenius 60).

Kakari-Musubi

knot

1) “Cheetahs run very fast.” Good!
2) “Cheetahs runs very fast.” Not grammatical!

1 and 2 above demonstrate a language feature of English called subject-verb agreement. Classical Japanese had its own “agreement” parameters to be met, which writers were more or less second nature to Classical writers. Unfortunately, this means some unexpected sentence or clause endings. Instead of agreement being based on plurality, it was based on particles. These four make up the kakari-musubi set:

  • ぞ (emphatic, anxiety)
  • なむ (emphatic)
  • や (doubt, question)
  • か (doubt, question)

Motoori Norinaga first described this phenomenon in 1779. He was determined Japan had the best old language, that there was something divine and magical in the old words, and that only by getting away from the Chinese style of literature and all that on-yomi could Japan become stronger. If you’re thinking this sounds like the seedling of the empire-building nationalism of the late 1800’s, you’d be right. It happened around the world, actually.

Norinaga called the Kobun particle-verb agreement 係り結び – kakari-musubi, using the characters for “connect” and “tie/bind”.

There is one other type of musubi, but I’ll get to that after illuminating the kakari-musubi.

The Rentai-Bully Particles

boy-with-crawdad

Look here, sentence. We’re ending on an attributive note, today, and there’s nothing you can do to change that

Musubi would be like ball lightning if the phenomena was more common. That is, musubi have scientifically observable patterns, but they still skew our view of the sentence. Musubi are also like bullies. We’ve actually seen them before; I included this example in Kobun Part 3:

Kobun: 「雪降れば木毎(ごと)に花咲きにけるいづれを梅と分きて折らまし」
English: “After the snowfall, flowers have burst into bloom on every tree. How am I to find the plum and break off a laden bough?” (Kokin Wakashu 81).

The presence of the particle ぞ forces ける into the Rentai (attributive) form. Since I personally wouldn’t question the attributive being in that spot in the sentence (though the Renyoukei might make more sense), I’ll explain through a clearer example:

何事をは中納言にはつたへならはすべき
“[W]hat thing should [we] entrust to the Chunagon?” (Vovin 209)

Normally, sentences end with the Shuushikei, right? But the Shuushikei of that final jodoushi is actually べし, while what we see above is べき, the Rentaikei (attributive). This is a case where the sentence ends in the rentaikei because of the presence of a musubi. So when you’re checking charts to see if the ending verb or jodoushi is what you think it is, take this into account.

That said, there are some non-musubi occasions for the sentence to end in the rentaikei, which I’ve cautioned about in the past Kobun articles. According to Vovin, this trend was, at first, only in 11th century recorded dialogue; the narratives of Kobun texts avoided Rentaikei-ended sentences. Over time, however, the trend was adopted into narratives, as well.

Pay attention to what you’re reading. If you’re reading something on the earlier scale of Classical texts, you’ll be okay just keeping an eye out for musubi. If you’re reading, say, the lyrics to a folk song from the Edo period or maybe even the Tsuresuregusa (14th century), there might not be a musubi around when a sentence ends in the rentaikei.

The Koso Musubi

cats

Photo by Audrey

First of all, you’re doing zazen meditation wrong. Second of all, I said Izen, not zazen, which you would know if you’d open up your ears for once

One other musubi should be noted, and it forces the Izenkei. If you don’t remember, the Izenkei indicates started or even completed actions (not “past tense” or “end of sentence”) and usually pairs up with ~ば for “since” or “when”.

When こそ is used, the Izenkei form seems out of place in the middle of the sentence with no ~ば. In this example of the koso-musubi, what Shirane calls a “concessive” (49) is what the rest of us would translate as “though” or “but”. For example:

Kobun: こまかにこそあらねどときどきものいひをこせけり (From Ise Monogatari)
English: “[he] sometimes sent [her] messages, although [they] were not cordial” (Vovin 214)

The あらね is 有り (to be) + ず (neg.) in the Izenkei. After that, the ど you see is a particle of contradiction (“although” or “despite…”).

In other instances, こそ will force the last verb or jodoushi into the Izenkei as a word of emphasis.

Kobun: 折節(を理節)の移(うつ)りかはるこそ、ものごとに哀(あはれ)なれ.(From Tsurezuregusa)
English: “It is precisely the changing of the seasons that makes everything so moving” (Shirane 49, italics his).

You should know koso from the modern, but if you need a refresher, Vovin remarks that, “koso seems to place especially strong emphasis on a preceding word or phrase, much stronger than the [Kobun] particles zo and namu” (430).

If you’re wondering, “What on earth do I do if I see koso and zo, etc. in the same sentence?”, then Vovin’s got you fixed there, too, for almost every instance: “the form of the final predicate is defined by the particle that comes closest to the final predicate” (214).

The End of the Road?

roads

Photo by Elliot Brown

That might not have been quite as easy breezy as jodoushi were, but then, I just taught you how to disarm Kobun bombs that would otherwise destroy your attempts at translation. Plus, Classical Japanese adjectives look so similar to modern ones, don’t they? You’ll probably understand them as you see them in texts without needing to look them up. Plus, when you think about the “core” meanings in the musubi gang, the only new particles are namu and ya.

So yes, that’s it: four adjective types, which mostly overlap in the ending sounds, and five agressive particles. If you’ve got questions, the comments section has an empty text box with your name on it. Ask away! Otherwise, get ready for the next and probably last Kobun post: Classical Japanese Honorifics.

Bonus Wallpapers

kobunpt4-1280
[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

Sources

  • Kokin Wakashu: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry : with Tosa Nikki and Shinsen Waka. Trans. Helen Craig McCullough. Stanford Univ. Press, 1985. p. 81.
  • Rodd, Laura Rasplica, and Mary Cathy Henkenius. Kokinshu: A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern. Princeton University Press, 1984. p. 60.
  • Shirane, Haruo. Classical Japanese: A Grammar. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. p. 49.
  • Vovin, Alexander. A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. p. 187-188, 208-209, 214, 430.
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An Introduction To Kobun (Classical Japanese) Part 3: Jodoushi http://www.tofugu.com/2014/03/18/an-introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-3-jodoushi/ http://www.tofugu.com/2014/03/18/an-introduction-to-kobun-classical-japanese-part-3-jodoushi/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 16:00:12 +0000 http://www.tofugu.com/?p=38361 What do dinosaurs, outdated fashions, and SNL have in common? They’re going to help us with Classical Japanese. Today’s course in your Kobun education is easy breezy: Jodoushi (助動詞). They’re “helper” or auxiliary verbs. I mentioned these critters a little in my last article on Kobun but I’d recommend you read Part 1 (the introduction to kobun) first if you haven’t already.

Kobun jodoushi are pretty old (we are talking about classical Japanese, after all!), but they do still show up in modern Japanese from time to time. We’ll see them fixed with verbs, in set phrases, or even adverbs. Some exist as useable grammar points. Most, however, appear in much the way that everything else in Kobun does: in the monogatari’s and nikki’s and other classical Japanese texts. That is, after all, why we’re learning so much about Kobun!

Timeless Jodoushi

dinosaurs

Somehow, these dinosaurs made it into Modern Japanese, but they often sound formal or eloquent. Like, “Asteroid scientist, I am Danneth of Sharpteeth Abbey. You know the whereabouts of the asteroid which vanquished my ancestors. Kindly take me to it, or kindly prepare yourself for death”, kind of eloquent. Not so old-timey sounding, but definitely eloquent.

For each jodoushi below, I’ve provided a Kobun sentence taken from my favorite online Kogo-jiten where that jodoushi makes an appearance.

——

べし

べし was the base form of a jodoushi that has survived through two evolutionary tracks to the Modern: べき (the old Rentaikei) and べく (the old Mizenkei and Renyoukei). べき is used these days to talk about the way things ought to be done, like English “should”, and doesn’t sound particularly high-brow or anything like the rest of these. べく is less common, and is a conjunction that indicates a direct cause or prerequisite. But in Kobun, べし could also mean that someone is assuming or framing a situation a certain way.

Kobun:「人は、形・有り様のすぐれたらんこそ、あらまほしかるべけれ」(From Tsurezuregusa)

Modern: 人間は容貌(ようぼう)や風采(ふうさい)がすぐれていることこそ、望ましいだろう

English: “It is desirable that a man’s face and figure be of excelling beauty” (Keene 3-4).

——

In both Modern Japanese and in Kobun, ず is a negative, like “not”. In Modern, ず can sound pretty formal. The ず jodoushi is ぬ in the Rentaikei (see part 2 of this series, scroll down to step 2), and that form appears in Modern as well, though less frequently. There’s important nuance to the ぬ breed of negation, so ask around before using it or you might sound like a better-than-thou snob (or, in Mami’s words, “a bossy Shogun”). In Kobun, however, ず/ぬ is a frequent (non-snobbish) -ない kind of negation.

Kobun:「京には見え鳥なれば、みな人見知ら」(From Ise Monogatari)

Modern: 都では見かけない鳥であるので、そこにいる人は皆、よく知らない

English: “Since it was of a [bird] species unknown in the capital, none of them could identify it” (Tales of Ise 76).

——

ごとし

I’ve only run into ごとし once in Contemporary Japanese literature (as ごとく), if that tells you anything about its frequency. ごとく is a sophisticated-sounding ~のようだ, in Modern Japanese. The Kobun ごとし, however, could mean a variety of things. Like the modern version, it could be used for comparison, but also for equivalence or as an example-provision:

Kobun:「世の中にある人とすみかと、またかくのごとし」(From Houjouki)

Modern: 世の中にいる人間と住居と(が無常なこと)は、また、これと似ている

English: “In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing” (from here).

——

る、 さす、and す

Yeah, I know, there’s -る in almost every verb garden out there. This one is pretending to be a Kobun weed when really it’s the base form of almost the same passive or potential you’d recognize today. The others – さす、しむ、 and す – are causative, which also kind of overlap with modern. Go here for a more detailed breakdown of them.

Kobun:「涙のこぼるるに、目も見えず、物も言はれず」(From Ise Monogatari)

Modern: 涙があふれ出て、目も見えず、物も言うこともできない。

English: ”I am blind and speechless with tears” (Tales of Ise 110).

——

Debbie Downer Jodoushi

christmas

These Jodoushi are negatives. When Classical writers saw an affirmative verb’s bridge of dreams and wanted to crush it, they used one of these bad boys. What’s that, Taketori Monogatari? Bamboo cutter “有りけり”? NOPE. Author guy’s Pokémon Pen slams the sentence with “有らぬ” and there wasn’t an old bamboo cutter.

——

まじ

Do you remember this advertisement from the very first part of the Kobun series?

Written there you can see maji、which negates “forgive” and generally seasons the sentence with some negative feelings:

Kobun-ized ad: 許すまじ

Modern: 許す! or 許さないぞ!

English: Don’t yield (to pollen)!

——

This is pretty equivalent to the modern 「まい」. It’s a negative + “probably” or negative + intention. See here:

Kobun:「京にはあら、あづまの方に住むべき国求めにとて行きけり」 (From Ise Monogatari)

Modern: 京には住むつもりはない、東国の方に住むのにふさわしい国を探し求めるためにと思って。

English: “Perhaps because he found it awkward to stay in the capital”… “[He] journeyed toward the east in search of a place to live” (Tales of Ise 74).

——

Yesterday’s News

whatever

“That outfit is so past tense.”

The following jodoushi relate to time. Most of them are for the past, but not all.

——

けり、き、and けむ

We encountered けり in the Kobun verbs article – it’s a past tense thing. き is the same, but it has a crazy line of conjugation, so be sure to check out the chart I include at the end of this article. けむ、meanwhile, talks about something that has happened and is part conjecture (see the -ただろう in the sentence translation).

Kobun:「昔、こはたと言ひけむが孫といふ」(From Sarashina Nikki)

Modern: 昔、こはたと言っとかいう(人)の孫という。

English: “They said that they were the descendants of a [once-]famous singer called Kobata” (Doi and Omori 11).

——

らむ

Like in Disney’s Mulan, when Mushu says, “Dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow….” This jodoushi casts “Deshou” on the situation, “deshou” on a reason for the situation, and general vagueness all around, in my opinion, since らむ can also equate to euphemism or simile.

Kobun:「などや苦しき目を見るらむ」(From Sarashina Nikki)

Modern: どうしてつらい目に遭うのだろうか。

English: How did it come to such a rough time as this? (my translation)

——

む/むず

This jodoushi can be the volitional (modern ~しよう!) or a “deshou”. As in modern, a “deshou” or volitional can go a long way towards soft suggestions for the way things ought to be. Likewise, む/むず in Konbun could represent a suggestion and even, as with らむ, simile.

Kobun:「かのもとの国より、迎へに人々まうで来(こ)むず」(From Taketori Monogatari)

Modern: あのもとの国 から、迎えに人々がやってまいるだろう

English: “People are going to come from my original land for me” (Behr 128).

——

Completion

complete

These jodoushi are flip-a-table, pull-the-plug, 800% done. Or, the verb they attach to sounds like a completed action, at least.

——

The Renyoukei (see part 1 of this series and scroll to “step 2”) for つ is て. Classical Japanese had a few other sentence parts (like particles) with ‘て’ at the border between words, so you’ll want to list out some guesses when translating. In addition to completion, つ was written for lists (like “…たり…たり、…” in modern) or a “deshou”-tinted “certainly” or “without mistake” (“たしかに…だろう”).

Kobun:「蠅(はへ)こそ、憎きもののうちに入れべく」(From Makura no Soushi)

Modern: はえ(という虫)こそ、憎らしいものの中に確かに入れてしまいたいもので

English: “The fly should have been included in my list of hateful things . . .” (Morris 70).

——

This is a different ぬ than the negative ず/ぬ. This ぬ is completion. How do you know which ぬ is being used in the sentence? You’ll have to look at charts and forms. Remember that the Mizenkei usually precedes negatives, while the Renyoukei is usually used as a connective form. So verb in Mizenkei + ぬ = negative action, while Renyoukei + ぬ = completed action (probably). There’s more to it than that, but here’s an example sentence to get you started – it’s a beautiful poem from the Kokin Wakashuu, as translated by Kuma Papa-san).

Kobun: 「散りとも香をだに残せ梅の花」

Modern: 散ってしまっても香りだけは残していってくれ、梅の花よ

English: “If these plum blossoms must wither/scatter, at the very least leave your fragrance. . ..” (Kafka-Fuura).

——

This jodoushi can signify either completion or an on-going action – use your best judgement when translating.

Kobun:「くらもちの皇子(みこ)は優曇華(うどんげ)の花持ちて上り給(たま)へ」 (From Taketori Monogatari)

Modern: くらもちの皇子は優曇華の花を持って都へお上りになった

English: “Prince Kuramochi has returned with the Udonge flower!” (Behr 108-109).

——

The Wishlist

ishlist

Photo by Noel Portugal

Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary, defines hope as “Desire and expectation rolled into one”, which is exactly what 希望(kibou) sounds like. Guess what these jodoushi express? Hopes, wishes, and dreams, like the modern -たい form.

——

たし and まほし

These are both like the modern -たい or (て)ほしい, depending on the subjects and objects in the sentence.

Kobun:「帰りたければ、ひとりつい立ちて行きけり」(From Tsurezuregusa)

Modern: 帰りたいときはいつでも、(自分)一人ふいと立って行ってしまった。

English: “When he was ready to go home, he at once got up and went off all alone” (Porter 53-54).

——

The Circus Group

circus

Photo by Les Chatfield

The final group of jodoushi are a hodgepodge mix. Some resemble verbs, while some simply have unique meaning or classification.

——

なり

This jodoushi only sounds like the regular verb “なり” by coincidence. なり tags onto a verb to convey an assumption of some sort, hearsay, or to point out that something has been physically heard, as in:

Kobun:「音羽山(おとはやま)今朝(けさ)越えくればほととぎす梢(こずゑ)はるかに今ぞ鳴くなる」(From Kokin Wakashuu)

Modern: 音羽山を今朝越えて来ると、ほととぎすが梢はるかに今鳴いているのが聞こえるよ。

English: “Journeying onward over Otowa Mountain while the day is young, I hear a cuckoo singing high in the distant treetops” (Kokin Wakashu 41).

——

まし

まし is what’s called a “counter-factual supposition”. It’s inherently hypothetical – sometimes just an observation, but sometimes conveying wistfulness. It often connects to the conditional ~ば, but it doesn’t have to. “Would that I had eaten ice cream one last time before the zombie apocalypse began!” is an example in English.

Kobun: 「雪降れば木毎(ごと)に花ぞ咲きにけるいづれを梅と分きて折らまし」(From Kokin Wakashuu; more breakdown here)

Modern: 雪が降って、木に白い花が咲いたように見える。どの木を本当の梅の木と区別して折ったらよいだろうか

English: “After the snowfall, flowers have burst into bloom on every tree. How am I to find the plum and break off a laden bough?” (Kokin Wakashu 81).

——

めり

Like a lot of things on this list, めり indicates a projection of circumstances, but, unlike most of the others, has a strong tinge of uncertainty or neutrality. In English, this would be the difference between “Someone forgot their bag” and “It looks as if someone forgot their bag”.

Kobun: 「簾(すだれ)少し上げて、花奉るめり」(From Genji Monogatari)

Modern:(尼君は)すだれを少し上げて、(仏に)花をお供えしているように見える

English: “A nun, raising a curtain before Buddha, offered a garland of flowers on the alter” (Suematsu 92).

——

らし

The Kobun らし acts exactly like the Modern らしい, but I don’t know that they are actually related (changing from a jodoushi to an adjective?). But like so many others on this list, らし is conjecture, a statement about the appearances of a situation or thing, including the reason something came to be.

Kobun:「ぬき乱る人こそあるらし」(From Kokin Wakashuu)

Modern: 糸を抜いて玉を乱れ散らす人がいるらしい

English: “There must be a man unstringing them at the top” (McCullough 482).

——

らる

らる is classified on charts and in Kobun discourse as 自発. Spontaneous? As in “Spontaneous Combustion Man”? Yeah, I didn’t get it either, at first. But if you reframe it as an expression of naturally occuring or unplanned actions and circumstances, then it makes more sense.

Kobun:「なほ梅の匂(にほ)ひにぞ、いにしへの事も立ちかへり恋しう思ひ出(い)でらるる」(From Tsurezuregusa)

Modern: やはり梅の香りによって、以前のことも(当時に)さかのぼって、自然となつかしく思い出される

English: “It is the perfume of the plum which sends our thoughts lovingly back to the days of old” (Porter 21).

——

Wrap-up: A Kobun Jodoshi Chart

jodoushi-chart-kobun

As promised, here is a jodoushi chart, made by the education site “Wiquitous”. The top row is the verb form (Renyoukei, etc.) that the jodoushi tags onto, while the right side scales down the forms the jodoushi conjugate through. Empty circles mean that the jodoushi doesn’t appear in that form. Meireikei (command form), for example, doesn’t go hand-in-hand with many helper verbs, and that makes sense when you think about it.

Jodoushi were way easier than verbs, right? The verb patterns I talked about before permeate everything, so knowing the forms is truly essential. Hopefully, learning about helper verbs just made the previous lesson snap into focus. We’re not completely done looking at conjugations, though, because adjectives are still to come.

Sources:

  • Behr, Maiko R.. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter: A Study in Contextualization. Diss. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1998.
  • Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil’s Dictionary.
  • Doi, Kōchi and Annie S. Omori. Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan. Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920.
  • Kafka-Fuura’s Classical Japanese Blog
  • Keene, Donald, trans., and Kenkō Yoshida. Essays in Idleness; the Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • Kokin Wakashu: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry : with Tosa Nikki and Shinsen Waka. Trans. Helen Craig McCullough. Stanford Univ. Press, 1985.
  • Kuman Papa-san. (“散りぬとも香をだに残せ梅の花恋しきときの思ひ出にせむ”.](http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/meganebiz/diary/201303190006/)
  • McCullough, Helen Craig. Brocade by Night: “Kokin Wakashu” and the Court Style in Japanese Classical Poetry. Stanford University Press, 1985.
  • Morris, Ivan, trans. The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.
  • Porter, William, trans., and Kenkō Yoshida. The Miscellany of a Japanese Priest, Being a Translation of Tsure-zure Gusa. London: Humphrey Milford, 1914.
  • Suematsu, Kencho. Genji Monogatari by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. 1982. Reprint. New York: Colonial Press, 1900.
  • Tales of Ise: Lyrical Episodes from Tenth-Century Japan. Trans. Helen Craig McCullough. Stanford University Press, 1968.
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