Love, the moon, and translation

Natsume Soseki once taught his students that the correct Japanese translation for “I love you” is “Tsuki ga tottemo aoi naa” (The moon is so blue tonight); what he meant was that to express within the Japanese cultural framework the same emotion expressed in English by “I love you,” one must choose words like “The moon is so blue tonight.”

(From Satō Kenji, “More Animated than Life: A Critical Overview of Japanese Animated Films,” Japan Echo, December 1997.)

I included that quote in a post here some time ago. The other day, it came back to mind during some searching through the Honyaku Archive, when I spotted:

Anyway, in a book titled 「あなたもSF作家になれる…わけではない」by SF writer 豊田有恒 (Toyota Aritsune) (徳間文庫)there is a passage on page 230 that goes:

夏目漱石が、英語の授業のとき、学生たちに、 I love you. を訳させた話は有名です。学生たちは、「我、汝を愛す」とか、「僕は、そなたを、愛しう思う」とかいう訳を、ひねりだしました。

「おまえら、それでも、日本人か?」漱石は、一喝してから、つけくわえたということです。「日本人は、そんな、いけ図々しいことは口にしない。これは、月がとっても青いなあーと訳すものだ」

なるほど、明治時代の男女が、人目をしのんで、ランデブーをしているときなら、「月がとっても青いなあ」と言えば、 I love you. の意味になったのでしょう。もっとも、現在では、ここまで凝らなくても、直訳でも通じるはずです。ただし、文化的な発想の違いにぶるかって、面くらうことは、まだまだ、たくさんあります。

Very belated thanks to Kevin Kirton for tracking this down in 2001. In another post in that same thread, Emily Shibata-Sato offers:

A similar example is by 二葉亭四迷 (Futabatei Shimei) who, in his translation of ツルゲーネフ, used 死んでもいいわ for ”I love you.”

All interesting stuff. Persuasive arguments against computers managing to translate literature effectively anytime soon, too. (Once again, if you’d like to read that Japan Echo article, let me know and I will see if I can get a scan of it into a PDF for you.)

AKB48: The media response

There’s an interesting piece in the Japanese Wall Street Journal looking at the recent “election” to determine the most popular member of platoon-sized girl group AKB48. Kanai Keiko, a former Reuters reporter, translator, and editor who now teaches at Kinki University, titles her June 28 piece “Media coverage of the AKB48 ‘general election’ heats up, but almost no deeper analysis of the uproar.” Here’s a loose, abridged translation of it.


The media frenzy is finally dying down following the “election” to determine the top-ranking member of popular girl group AKB48. I’ve been struck by the fact that there has been plenty of media coverage of superficial aspects—who got how many votes, which members climbed to the top of the rankings—but almost no reporting has taken an analytical, objective look at what underlies this tumultuous affair.

The election wasn’t covered just by TV shows and sports dailies. Even the general-audience newspapers, which don’t usually give much column space to entertainment news, reported on it—a sign that Japan’s media companies judged this to be a major social matter with an impact on a broad population.

This reporting showed that the band has fans in many age groups and that the competition for the top spots in the election was fierce. The reports that stood out most, though, were those on fans who bought dozens, or even hundreds, of CDs—each of which counted as one “vote” in the election.

The more I watched, the more I came to see this as an election among bought candidates—the opposite of a contest where candidates press bribes into voters’ hands to secure their support. These fans are like female customers at host clubs, ordering bottles of Dom Perignon to try to boost their favorite host to the establishment’s top slot. These aren’t actions that people generally pursue in public view.

But this election was nothing more than a sideline entertainment industry story, right? No. The media took this up as a genuine social phenomenon; that makes it an issue to be addressed on a more universal level. Given that, you’d expect at least one media outlet to explore this event’s structural weirdness. It wouldn’t take more than a hundredth of the effort of uncovering the connections between politics and money.

It turns out there were a few entertainment industry figures speaking out about deeper aspects of this election. The June 30 Shūkan Shinchō reports that Okamura Takashi, of the popular comedy duo Ninety Nine, said during a regular radio appearance: “This is a reverse host-club situation. ‘Here, I want to make you number one in the club,’ is what the fans are saying.” Another comedian, Ijūin Hikaru, also noted on his radio show: “TV commentators have have sharp tongues when it comes to just about everything going on these days, but how are we supposed to take them seriously when they don’t have a single word to say about [AKB48 svengali] Akimoto Yasushi’s exploitation of the fans?” I find these comedians worth listening to.

Yes, it’s just entertainment. Just a meaningless pop star tale. Just sit back and watch without thinking too deeply. Don’t fret about how the media is reporting the AKB48 story. I’m sure plenty of people feel this way. But the moment the media begin to pass on the day’s events in an uncritical stream—no matter how insignificant they are—is the moment the media begin failing to fulfill their proper role. Once they start down that path, there’s a real danger that that they’ll become unable to do anything but pass a shallow information stream straight on to the audience when more serious events take place, impacting our daily activities, our work, and even our very lives.

It’s ice cream time

I have to admit, I liked Stoyn.com a whole lot better when I thought there were actually booze-flavored popsicles shaped like Marxist revolutionaries and Disney characters and the like. Still a fun site put together by an “ambient advertising agency.”

Mario popsicle

Still Moving

This blog tends to fall by the wayside (on the grassier verge) for weeks or months at a spell. Been busy. Japan Echo is a foundation now, not a company—although the company is still there in name for a handful of clients with whom we’ve already entered contracts. I have a big post planned to explain all that at some point.

Life in Tokyo goes on and on. Trains move, people ride them to work and leap in front of them when they’re tired of that game. The summer heat is here and we’re concerned about power shortages. Not concerned enough to refrain from topping up the iPhone battery so we can take photos of the Sōbu line at Yotsuya and post them during the Chūō ride home, though.

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Today in sumo history

Fifteen years ago today, two men died at the Fujita Health University Hospital in Aichi Prefecture: Kōtetsuyama Kōnoshin and Hashimoto Seiichirō. I had expected to see their deaths being revisited in the press this year, considering what’s been happening in the sumō world. (Mark Schilling contributed a good piece to the Wall Street Journal in February covering all that.) But given the events of March 11 and the aftermath of the disaster it isn’t too surprising that sports are taking a back seat.

Kōtetsuyama, a former rikishi who wrestled under a number of names from 1957 to 1975 (see his Japanese Wikipedia entry for the details), took the name Ōnaruto when he became a sumō elder and stable master. Hashimoto, another former wrestler (Wikipedia), had served as an officer in kōenkai (“support groups,” or fund-raising fan clubs) for the yokozuna Kitanofuji and for the Ōnaruto-beya led by Kōtetsuyama. As vice chair of the Kitanofuji club, Hashimoto was allegedly involved in raising money to pay for the bout-fixing that helped the wrestler attain the sport’s highest rank—one tidbit that eventually went into Kōtetsuyama’s tell-all book, Yaochō: Sumō Kyōkai ittō ryōdan (Bout-rigging: The Sumō Association’s drastic solution).

Since February 1996, the two men had also been writing a series of articles for Shūkan Posuto under their real names, exposing the organized crime connections, match-rigging, drug use, prostitution, and other sordidness in the sumō world. Kōtetsuyama was scheduled to give a prepublication press conference on April 26, where he would talk about the similar content of his forthcoming book. He died 12 days earlier, though, in the early morning hours of April 14. Doctors at the hospital gave the cause of death as acute, severe pneumonia and heart failure.

An unfortunate death with unfortunate timing. But it became scandalous when Hashimoto died in the same hospital that evening, of what doctors described as the same causes. The article “Sumo Wrestling in Grip of Corruption,” published a month or so after their deaths, gives a good overview.

Three days before his death, the 53-year-old former wrestler told Tokyo’s Weekly Post magazine that he had received threatening phone calls from men identifying themselves as members of a large crime syndicate.

He also claimed that a senior JSA executive had told his gangster friends to “stop Onaruto”, and said he was afraid of being poisoned.

None of this prevented the book from going to press, and it sold well. Not well enough to force any sort of police investigation of the men’s deaths, sadly. In April 2010 the government abolished the statute of limitations for murder cases, so theoretically these deaths could be looked into once again, but that isn’t likely without some media pressure—and today, like I said above, the media has bigger stories to report than 15-year-old sumō scandal. But I thought Kōtetsuyama and Hashimoto deserved at least a mention on this day.