Monthly Archives: December 2015

Using the non-past in Japanese when giving instructions

Japanese has relatively few verb tenses, at least compared to English, and you can get a lot across just with the past tense (i.e. shita), non-past (i.e. suru), and te-form (i.e. shite), plus their polite forms (shimashitashimasu, shimashite [this last one is pretty rare though]).

However, while this lack of tenses makes less conjugations to memorize, you still have to keep track of when to use which tenses. One case which can be a little counter-intuitive is when you are giving instructions in Japanese.

Your first guess might be the te-form, possibly with an added “kudasai” (please), since after all Japanese does contain a great deal of expressions related to politeness.

However, the most common way to give instructions, for example like when giving a recipe for something, is by simply using the polite non-past (i.e. shimasu) form.

Let’s look at a real example of this, using the first few steps of a pancake recipe I found here. I’ll put all the polite non-past forms in bold.

  1. 材料をホイッパーで混ぜます。[Mix the ingredients with an egg beater.]
  2. フライパンを弱火にして生地の半分を入れます。[Set the fry pan to low heat and add half of the mixture.]
    そのまま3分待ちます。 [Wait 3 minutes.]

A variation of this is when you are giving directions to someone on how to get somewhere. In my experience, the te-form is used with a combination of “moratte” or “itadaite”, and then at the end you may see the non-past form. These are the te-forms of polite verbs that literally mean “to receive”, but in this case they are used to mean something like “do X for me”. You can see more details about this usage in my article here.
Here is an example of this:

 

北へ向かってスタバが右手に見えましたら右へ曲がって頂いて、商店街に入って頂きます

Go north until you see a Starbucks on your right side, at which point you make a right turn, and enter the shopping center.

 

Gengo.com: update 1

About a week and a half ago I wrote a blog post about my initial experience with Gengo.com’s contract translation services website. I had failed the 5-question pretest, and had to wait at least three days before I could retake it.

So today I decided to retaking it after getting mentally prepared for another hard round of questions.

And yes–it was very difficult, requiring careful analysis of each question and answer. But I managed to pass this time, getting 4/5 questions right. Yippee!

As before, I wouldn’t feel right about sharing the content of the questions I got, but I will say that I discovered some of the questions were taken from actual web pages on the internet, though of course there was no English translations available for those pages. The only reason I think this could be helpful is if there are Kanji you need to lookup but prefer to just do a cut-and-paste instead of tedious radial lookup. I made use of this trick once or twice to save time.

In order to have a shot at getting the questions right, you really have to make sure you understand all the meanings which apply to each vocabulary word given, and also all the nuances of each grammar construction you come across. The frustrating thing about the questions is that for me it wasn’t like one translation was necessarily perfect, but after reading through all the answers, one seemed the best of all those given, even if some of the words I thought weren’t ideal. But if have a good test-taking skills (I think this is called being testwise) and can add logical deduction to your list of tools, you have a good shot at passing.

When I had originally taken the test, I felt that it was unnecessarily tricky, but now I have started to feel that they’ve picked a pretty effective way of weeding out those people who would never pass the main test, which is involves translation, hence saving themselves a lot of people’s time on grading.

I decided to also go ahead with the main test today which was (much like the pretest) somewhat within my expectations based on the information given before the test. I was asked to translate a roughly 300-word text from Japanese into English. Fortunately, for me the subject matter was much easier for me than the pretest, but translating it plus several rounds of double checking for errors and unnatural phrasing took me at least an hour and a half, even though they had estimated 45 minutes for this test. Luckily, since it wasn’t timed this was no issue.

I’m not going to give too many suggestions for this part, since either you can make translations that fit their quality standards or you can’t. And without passing myself I am not sure what they are looking for. But definitely make sure to read their style guidelines as well as check your work many times before you submit it. If you are used to translation or writing in any professional fashion you surely have the basics down already, but one trick many people use is to read out the final (translated) text as an extra proofreading step. That will sometimes allow you to pick up errors you otherwise might skip over with a cursory glance, especially if you have a quick reading speed.

Gengo.com said they will review the test in 7 days and provide a pass/fail result. If you fail, you have the option of retaking it, but I am not sure if there is a limit on this.

As a side note, recently I did some more searching around for sites similar to Gengo.com, but wasn’t able to find many. I applied for a few but haven’t gotten any jobs assigned yet, and at least one other site wasn’t accepting the Japanese->English language pair. There’s so much out there, but there doesn’t seem to be anything quite like Gengo out there, from what I’ve seen.

I hope this article has been of use to those looking to get into translation as a profession or side job.

Japanese story translation: Shusaku Endo’s “The man who shared my face”

As part of my training to become a (self taught) Japanese translator, I’ve been doing some unofficial hobby translations from Japanese to English. The first of these was the intro of the most recent Candy Candy novel.

For my second translation project, I chose a short story from Endo Shusaku’s “Humorous short story collection” which I reviewed a while ago here.

The story is titled “俺とソックリな男が。。。” which I’ve translated as “The man who shared my face”, though literally this is closer to “The man with the face just like mine…”, where the dots imply that this man did something.

This project was significantly more difficult than my previous one, not only because the sentence structure was much more complex, but also because it was written in the 1970s. As you might expect, the story is about the main character meeting a man whose face looks just like his. Though parts of it I would consider funny, overall it’s definitely dark humor.

I chose this story because I thought it was an interesting premise that developed in an unexpected way, and also because I don’t think it has been translated (at least not this particular story, others from the same book may have been).

Another reason this translation was tough is because it has a philosophical element to it, but that is why I enjoyed it so much.

It’s fairly long (about 20 pages in the original text), but if you are interested in Japanese literate from the 70s I highly recommend checking it out. There are some sexual situations so if you are too young, maybe you should avoid it (:

Ideally I would like to make the Japanese version available for comparison, but since it is still being sold I can’t provide that legally. I own both the physical book and the E-book, and I’m sure the latter would be easier to get. I got mine on Booklive.

 

(遠藤周作 ユーモア小説集:   “俺とソックリな男が。。。”)

“The man who shared my face” (unofficial translation)

The incident–shall I call it odd or mysterious?–occurred two years ago in July. What I thought was going to be another humid evening turned into a sudden downpour around 10pm, the roar of the rain blending with the dull hum of the fan near the bed.

“This isn’t good. I didn’t bring my umbrella,” the girl mumbled from the bedroom floor, crawling on all fours as she tossed my discarded cigarette butts into the ashtray.

“I’ll get a cab.”

“You think it’s that easy? We’d have to walk all the way to the train station.”

“All right then, just stay here until the rain lets up.”

In spite of my ostensible concern for her, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the clock. My wife’s exhausted expression came to mind, rereading an old magazine as she waited for my return.

The girl with me worked as a waitress at a small joint in Shibuya. We’d been meeting in secret for over six months now. There were even times I had considered marrying this girl who had a scar on the lower right of her abdomen where her appendix had been removed. Strangely, her slender body smelled of the sea. It reminded me of my hometown in Niigata prefecture which I hadn’t visited in many years.

The Japanese-style hotel where we always met was on a corner, a little ways off the main street where the trains and taxis sped by. There was little sign of life on the streets here, even around noon. As a result, no one paid any attention to us entering and leaving. Since I was essentially a civil servant, being seen by another person was my biggest fear.

We left the hotel separately, just like when we arrived. Fortunately, the rain had stopped. When I exited the lobby, I paused and looked around outside, curious to see if she was still walking on the side of the wet road. But there was no sign of her anywhere. I guess she had taken a different route home.

A couple walked towards me on the street. I unconsciously averted my gaze, although there was really no need for it. As a man who had just cheated on his wife, I felt uncomfortable being seen by anyone.

As they passed me by, I heard the woman yell out  “Wow!” in surprise. This in turn startled me, and I raised my head to look.

On the right side of the street was a tobacco shop. Lit by the store’s lights, the couple stood unmoving, staring at me. The man was hidden by the woman’s shadow and hard to see clearly, but the woman, wearing whitish western-style clothes, had her mouth opened wide as if she had just lost her mind.

I tried to figure out what just happened. Maybe she was a girl I used to know. But I didn’t recognize her face at all.

Just then, the man’s face peeked out of his companion’s shadow. I looked at him and my eyes grew wide in shock. I now understood the reason for the woman’s reaction.

Is this kind of thing even possible? You’ve probably heard of a coincidental likeness, when a perfect stranger happens to bear a resemblance to you. But this was way beyond that. The man standing on the street–if I had an identical twin he would be it–looked exactly like me in every way imaginable.

For some time we stared each other down, like bitter enemies. We both remained silent, unable to speak.

“This is crazy…” the man mumbled. Then he pulled the woman’s arm and said, “Let’s go.”

They hurried away, as if they’d just seen the most terrible thing in the universe.

The feeling was mutual. But somewhere within the inexplicable discomfort that surged through my chest was a sense of amazement.

There was no explanation for why I felt like this. Perhaps it was because I’d met this man right after committing adultery. Or maybe because the man with my face had led the woman away so quickly, as if he had committed some terrible act himself?

My heart was thumping fast all the way home. After I returned, my wife–usually oblivious to things–asked me, “What’s wrong? Why are you staring into the mirror for so long?”

Her response was to be expected, given the fact I had taken my shirt off and was silently staring at my own face’s reflection in the mirror.

“Trying to pretend you’re hot stuff?”

I cared nothing for my wife’s remarks. In the vast Greater Tokyo Area, there was a man with a face identical to mine, and I felt restless, unsure of what to make of this.

As the days passed, the memory of the event gradually disappeared from my mind. The shock I’d received that night also faded, and I nearly forgot about it. On occasion, when I came across a TV show about celebrity doubles, I would recall the strange experience. But it no longer bothered me much.

One day, when I had come into the office as usual and was sitting at my desk, Toshiko Kurata came over and said, “Mr. Okumura?”

“What is it?”

Ms. Kurata was an older single woman who worked at this office. Her attractive face was overshadowed by an unseemingly pale complexion. There were rumors she had some sort of disease. I even heard that she would loan money with interest to the young guys who didn’t have enough cash to buy drinks.

“I heard something mysterious happened recently,” she said.

“Oh really.”

“What do you think it is?”

“I’m not clairvoyant, how would I know?”

“Then I’ll tell you: there is a man identical to you, somewhere in Tokyo.”

“What did you say?”

Ms. Kurata saw me getting flustered and responded, “I’m not joking. I was surprised myself. At first I thought he was you and struck up a conversation with him. Well, that sure was embarrassing.”

“Where at?”

“The Odakyu rail line.”

Yesterday was Sunday. Ms. Kurata said she had taken the train to visit some relatives at Enoshima, and the man boarded at Tsurugawa station.

“It appeared that he was looking for an empty seat, and the one next to me was available, so I raised my hand, calling out ‘Mr. Okumura’. Then he acts a bit surprised and sits down next to me…”

“Sits next to you?”

“Yes, he then apologizes and says his last name isn’t Okumura, but Matsuyama. The funny thing is that he was much politer and gentlemanly than you, the ‘real’ Okumura.”

“You think I care? More importantly, who gave you the right to tell him my name without permission?”

“What choice did I have? Maybe I did the wrong thing, but I also told him you work in this tax office. I’m so sorry. But he really didn’t seem like a bad person. He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he looked like a good person at heart.”

A group of coworkers listening to our conversation broke out into laughter, and at that moment I realized that this wasn’t the proper time or place to yell at this insensitive woman.

“Honestly, this man looked just like you. No, just saying ‘just like’ doesn’t do the resemblance justice, it was more like he was your identical twin.”

I knew it was him. And judging from the fact that he got on the Odakyu line from Tsurugawa station in the morning, he probably lived near there.

”Hey Hanabusa.”

On my lunch break, I went over to where Mr. Hanabusa sits. The reason was that I had discovered he commuted using the Odakyu line.

“Hanabusa, what kind of place is Tsurugawa?”

“Tsurugawa?”

The young man, who was really into baseball, was about to go out and play catch with a friend for an after-lunch break.

“The station there is pretty tiny. Makes sense considering there aren’t many houses in the nearby area. In front of the station there’s only about ten stores. Mr. Okumura, are you considering buying land over there?”

“No, not really.”

Humans are funny things. Although I had completely forgotten about that man, thanks to Ms. Kurata I now couldn’t get him out of my head. I felt a strong need to find out more about the man who shared my face: Where did he live? What was his everyday life like?

But nothing came of it. I didn’t visit Tsurugawa to investigate him, nor did I have the motivation to do anything like that.

I continued meeting up with my woman on the side, once or twice a month, at our usual place. Since that day, I had never come across the man, Matsuyama or whatever, who shared my face, even near the hotel. But as I lay together with the woman, a few times something crossed my mind.

(I wonder if that asshole has the same expression as I do now when he sleeps with his woman.)

That thought made me feel somehow unclean and uncomfortable. I didn’t have the slightest idea why.

Summer came, then fall, followed by winter. Once more, I had completely forgotten about him.

But what do you know? Yet another unexpected thing happened.

About an hour after I got into work, a girl brought me a package from the mail. As per my custom, I slurped tea loudly while opening it. Inside, I discovered a white letter written with a woman’s handwriting I didn’t recognize.

Its contents caught me off guard–I was clueless what the woman was talking about.

As we agreed upon, up until today I had refrained from sending you letters or calling. However you haven’t contacted me even once, so I consider breaking the agreement your responsibility. I won’t hear otherwise. Anyway, before we discuss talking about whether we should meet or not, please return the 1500 Yen I loaned you for drinking money. Even though it’s not much, I consider it part of my hard-earned income. If you don’t send it to me by the end of the week, I’m going to go over there and collect it myself. Tomiko Shiohara.

At first I was clueless about what this letter meant. Apparently, this woman was demanding that I repay a debt for drink money. But it wasn’t me who borrowed this money. Of course I’ve never heard of a Tomiko Shiohara, and more importantly, I’d never try to skip out on a 1500 Yen debt.

(It’s him!)

It only took a few moments before it dawned on me.

That Matsuyama guy, or whatever his name was, was definitely using my identity. And he did it just to get some free booze.

(What a stingy asshole!)

When we had met that day, he was wearing a clean-cut suit, with the look of a man who considered 1500 Yen pocket change. I can only assume that him stooping to this level was a result of one too many drinks. Whatever the reason, it was a terribly unpleasant thing to do to someone.

(In any case, I didn’t want this Tomiko lady coming here.)

So I immediately got a blank postcard and explained the situation in writing. I made it very clear that my name was being used by this guy.

However, she didn’t care to trust a stranger like me. Come Monday, I got a call from the girl at the front desk.

“Sir, you have a visitor. A woman by the name of Tomiko Shiohara.”

I hurried down the steps and ran to the front desk on the ground floor. Standing there was a woman in her early thirties with a prominent nose, wearing traditional Japanese clothes. The receptionist stared at me with curious eyes.

“Please follow me,” I said, and led her to the coffee shop next door.

“This is going to have to stop. I told you I’m not the guy who owes you.”

“Huh?”

She stared at my face intently for a moment.

“Alright, I believe you,“ she finally admitted with a thick Osaka accent. “But is this sort of thing even possible? You look exactly like him.”

“No, you got it backwards. He looks exactly like me. I’m the victim here.”

“Actually, I could tell because you’re missing a wart.”

“Wart?”

And thus I learned my identical twin had a large wart underneath his chin. What a disgusting thing to have stuck on the face.

Tomiko explained the situation to me. Four months ago, Matsuyama had apparently began frequenting her restaurant in Shinjuku.

“Now I couldn’t care less for a mere 1500 Yen, but this guy kept smooth-talking Kiku, one of my waitresses.”

“Smooth-talking?”

“Thats right!” she retorted glared angrily at me, as if I was the culprit here. “Matsuyama said he would hook her up with a restaurant that paid better… and as a tax collector, he’d put in a special word for us when tax time came around, so both Kiku and I completely believed him.”

“Why?”

“Because we thought that if he was a tax collector, it’d help us out somehow. So we ended up going to a hotel with you.”

“You went to a hotel with him?”

“Sure did, with you. It kind of just happened.”

“Stop mixing us up like that again. It wasn’t me!”

“That’s true. But you’re just so similar to him…”

Dammit! This bastard was having his way, sleeping with not just this lady but some waitress named Kiku as well. To make matters worse, he did all this while using my name, Sanpei Okamura.

“Is this even possible… for one man to be this unlucky…”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see? This guy gets time in the bed with you and Kiku. And yet me, the guy whose name is being stolen, doesn’t get to sleep with you.

“Huh?”

At any rate, even after Toshiko went home, anger consumed me as if my blood were boiling. Things had just gone too far. I wouldn’t be satisfied until I got my hands on this Matsu-whats-his-name and tore him to pieces.

Just so you know, I even paid the 120 Yen drink bill at the coffee shop. While I’m at it, I’ll also get the name-thief to pay me back for this injustice.

On Saturday afternoon, I rode the Odakyu line towards Tsurugawa. The train fare was 100 Yen. I added this to the running debt he owed me, something I have every right to do.

It took quite a while to get from Shinjuku to Tsurugawa. The train had passed over Tamagawa river some time ago and then through several small stations, but still had more to go.

(Why is this asshole living in the middle of nowhere? Must be to save money on rent…)

I stepped off the train–we’d finally arrived–just as my anger rose to a dangerous level. It was exactly like my coworker had said, with only about ten stores lining the front of the station. The only other thing nearby was a handful of houses whose construction had recently begun, dotting the landscape among hills and sparse groups of trees.

Without hesitation, I set off for the small drugstore in front of me. The middle-aged man standing behind a glass case called to me with a look of surprise. I had expected this.

“My, isn’t it Mr. Suzuki! What in the world happened to you?”

Oh boy, I thought to myself. The jerk’s real name is “Suzuki”. This guy really has some guts to go around telling people like Toshiko Kurata a fake name like “Matsuyama”.

“Come on man, I’m trying to make a living here. If you’re going to move away, at least have the decency to pay me for the drugs you bought.”

Once again, explaining the situation was a bit tricky. But when I showed him there was no wart below my chin, he finally believed me.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right… But you two are extremely similar. Truly similar!”

“Because of that my life is being destroyed. So where did Suzuki move to?”

“If I knew that I wouldn’t be complaining to you. And I’m not the only one. The owner of the nearby liquor store is also trying to find out where he went.”

“Where does he work?”

“From what I hear, he works at a wig manufacturer in Shibuya. Very persuasive, telling men like me his wigs are perfect for thinning hair, and nobody can tell them from the real thing. He says he’ll sell them for a great price, in exchange for helping him out.”

“Sounds like he’s up to his old tricks again.” I cursed him under my breath. “I’ll find him and make him pay.”

On the way out of the drugstore, I paused at the exit and turned to the clerk.

“By the way, what medicine did this Suzuki guy buy from you?”

“Antifungal cream.”

“Jeez…”

Just great. This guy, who happens to have almost the same face as me, has a bad rash problem.

I took the train back from Tsurugawa all the way to Shibuya. The fare this time was 110 Yen, raising the total to 210 Yen.

When I arrived in Shibuya, I crawled inside a phone booth and impatiently flipped through the phonebook. It was a Saturday afternoon and a crowd of young men and women passed by, smiling like they were having the time of their lives. But I had more important things to do.

I checked for wig companies but couldn’t find a single one in Shibuya. At first, I thought this was another one of Suzuki’s lies, but then it hit me: I often come across advertisements for companies that manufacture and sell wigs in magazines like Leon Catoup. That’s the kind of company where this guy worked. So I gave Leon Catoup a call.

“In Shibuya, there would be the ‘Bushy Brothers’ company,” the young woman on the phone explained politely.

Bushy Brothers was right next to the Tokyu building. The 5th floor of a rental plaza was their office. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, the office was empty except for a handful of people playing cards who turned towards me with puzzled expressions. Once again, I did my best to explain the situation, after which I was told, “That guy doesn’t work here anymore.”

The man who spoke sported a white dress shirt and had been watching his co-workers play.

“Seems he had some things going on.”

“What do you mean ‘things’?”

“I’ll just say that if you know where he went, you better let us know. He was using customers’ money to cover his horse racing debts, and was fired. You know, you really look exactly like him. You’re not brothers, right?”

“You can’t be serious.”

On my way out, I looked outside the stairwell window between the 5th and 4th floors, upon the dull grey ocean that was Tokyo. Somewhere within this sea of buildings was a man with my face, whose life was nothing but a succession of failures. As I thought this, a strange wave of sentimentality came upon me.

“Knowing him, he’s probably still using your identity to do something malicious,” said my wife when I told her what had happened. I shared her concern.

“You should talk to the police right away.”

“You’re right.”

But I never worked up the motivation to contact the authorities and left things as they were for two months. Things were calm until December of last year.

I was woken from a shallow sleep. After we took care of business, I had dozed off in the disheveled bed while she took a bath.

“Hey, wake up. Wake up,” she said with an odd ring in her voice.

“What’s wrong?”

She pointed, speechless, towards the TV sitting in the corner of the room. Glancing over, I saw a blurry picture of my own face projected on it. No, it wasn’t my face. It was his face, Suzuki’s face. A news reporter standing in front of the large image began speaking.

“Today, the Minister of Health Sugihara’s granddaughter Kiyotaka, age 6, was kidnapped on the way home from her Kindergarten at Tsunohazu, Shinjuku prefecture, where a man suddenly came out of a car parked on the street, forced her into the car, and sped away. Moments ago, the car was identified as being from Shinjuku Rental Club, registered by a certain Jiro Suzuki of Den`enchofu, Ota prefecture in Tokyo. Furthermore, this man hasn’t been seen in the last two days. Based on the testimony of a witness, Kiyotaka’s house maid Ms. Ume Ojima, a young woman was in the car along with Suzuki.“

She stared at me, as if I were the criminal from the news report.

“So, what are you going to do?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. This has nothing to do with me.”

“I’m going home. I don’t want to get involved with this. I’m sure you’re going to be questioned by the police. They have your picture and everything.”

“I told you, it’s not me!”

“That much is obvious. You could never do something this crazy. But you’ll definitely be suspected of this crime.”

The woman quickly got dressed and then left the hotel. What a cold-hearted girl. But she was right–being suspected by the police and interrogated would be no fun. I followed her lead and rushed home.

Even my wife, face pale, was watching the news. Of course, she knew that I wasn’t the culprit of this crime. “You could never do this type of thing,” she said in what didn’t sound like a compliment, echoing what I was told back at the hotel. “It’s a relief to say that…. but I don’t want the whole neighborhood making fun of us. After all, you two are nearly identical.” As she panicked, her words became irrational, “Why do you have the face of this criminal… this kidnapper?”

Angry and at a loss for what to do, I decided to finally go to the police station. The middle-aged officer there responded to my request with a bitter smile and a laugh.

“Let me get this straight–you want me to give you proof in writing that you aren’t Mr. Suzuki? There is no precedent for this sort of thing, so I don’t think I can help you buddy.”

The next day, I went to work wearing a surgical mask, though it wasn’t because I had caught a cold. Even on the bus, I felt like the other passengers were glaring at me suspiciously. Each opened newspaper contained headlines about the kidnapping of the Minister’s granddaughter in huge letters. Apparently, last night the criminal had called the Minister’s house and left a message: “The child is safe. As for the details on the terms of her release, I’ll contact you again tomorrow at noon.”

At the office, as soon as I arrived everyone went quiet. The silence was unnerving and I just couldn’t bear it any longer. So around noon I stood up and clicked on the TV for everyone in the office to watch. All busy hands froze on their desks, and all eyes were turned towards the news broadcast on the screen.

“We now begin a special report on the kidnapping of Minister Sugihara’s daughter. In addition to demanding five million Yen in ransom, the kidnapper stated his actions would help the Minister understand the feelings of those who have lost a child, and demanded that he increase the budget for day care centers of physically and mentally disabled children. During the phone call, he also made the unusual declaration that he himself would donate sixty percent of the ransom money to related institutions. In addition…”

Toshiko Kurata started intently at my face. What a bitch.

“Furthermore, we have been told that during that phone call, Kiyotaka was supposedly getting along very well with the kidnapper. She was heard happily singing ‘The belly button you licked still itches’, a parody of the famous lyric ‘The pinky finger you bit still hurts.’”

“Wow, that’s impressive!” Toshiko suddenly yelled. “He is one of the few real men left out there. I’ll admit his methods are less than ideal, but compared to men who waffle around and never get a single thing accomplished he’s a refreshing change. How attractive!”

The office girls, listening to Toshiko’s little speech, nodded in agreement. Though technically a “kidnapping”, the child in question seemed to be having a great time with her captor, who even taught her the cute song “The belly button you licked still itches”. It’s only natural that this story would push the womens’ buttons. Moreover, the criminal was offering to donate three million Yen of received ransom towards juvenile institutions. He had single-handedly captivated the nation even more than the Kinkiro hostage situation of 1968 had.

“This Suzuki guy is far above those men who spend their meaningless lives shuffling between work and home, like carrier pigeons,” Toshiko said while giving me a nasty stare again. It was as if she was saying that Suzuki and I, with identical faces, were to her as different as night and day

The other men in the office, sensing something gone wrong, distanced themselves from the TV, quietly sneaking back to their desks where they began to eat their packed lunches or rice curry plates. Looking at these lonely figures, I recalled the phrase “Somebody like you could never do that”, and felt a certain type of regret, and even envy, towards Suzuki, the man who shared my face. It was he that was causing an uproar in sprawling Tokyo, while I was sitting at my work desk, dejectedly eating flavorless curry rice. While part of me held an unbearable disgust for this man, another part began to envy him. This terrible dissonance within me was both strange and inexplicable.

A little before 5pm, I stood on a backstreet of Sangenjaya. Coming to a place like this, I knew there was a chance I would be mistaken for the criminal. The only reason I was here, being well aware of the dangers, was because I couldn’t suppress the urges that had tugged at me day and night.

Before I knew it, I was entertaining the idea that Suzuki was in fact my alter ego–another me in another body. But I, having lived a cowardly life all these years, couldn’t stand back and watch the man who shared my face get away with this.

Thanks to the fact that I worked at a tax office, I was good friends with a newspaper reporter. Once when a large company had been caught for tax evasion, I had helped this reporter with the investigation. I wasn’t exactly trying to get him to repay the favor, but nevertheless I decided to give him a call, keeping my voice low to avoid being heard.

“Yeah I know. Since you look exactly like that guy, I was just about to call you and tease you about it,“ said Mr. Taguchi, the reporter, with a smile in his voice. “Oh, I see, thanks to this kidnapping you’re life is all messed up too. Huh? You want me to tell you where Suzuki is planning on exchanging money for the girl? Sorry man, can’t do that. In the police department, they are keeping that totally classified. I’m sure you understand. If a bunch of people showed up, the criminal would be able to escape, right?”

I begged with him again and again to give me the location, promising I would not interfere in any way.

“Why do you want to see him so badly?”

“It’s just that… with a face just like mine… I can’t leave him alone.”

These words seemed to touch something deep within, and with a whisper he said, “Okay… Alright I’ll tell you. At 5pm, they’ve agreed to meet him in front of the “M” store in Sangenjaya, Setagaya prefecture. But don’t let the cops mistake you for him. Since you’re virtually identical to him, it’s extremely dangerous.”

That danger began now, as I stepped off the Tawagawa train into Sangenjaya, mask still on. The popular shopping area was busy as ever, its narrow streets packed with people.

Billboards touting Christmas sales lined the streets with Jingle Bells melodies blaring from loudspeakers, while shopping baskets hanging from the arms of housewives and those on the way home from work, knowing nothing about what was about to happen here.

I had no idea why Suzuki had chosen this place, nor where the police were hiding in disguise.

After entering bookstore on the near side of the street, I pretended to read a book while keeping at eye on the “M” store. Someone was there. A middle-aged woman with an oval face stood still, as if waiting for something. That was probably Kiyotaka’s mother.

I felt my heart begin to beat fast, as if I were watching a Hitchcock movie. That’s how exciting what Suzuki was trying to do was.

(Return the kid to her family. But make sure you get the 5 million Yen in exchange!)

Before I knew it, I had these evil thoughts in my head. Something had changed within me, and I found myself rooting for him.

Inside the bookstore, high school students were rummaging through reference books. However, there was no one who looked like a police officer in sight. The clock on the wall of the bookstore was only moments away from 5pm. The oval-faced woman was still in front of the “M” store. A passing whirlwind lifted the hem of her kimono, but she made no effort to hold it down, standing boldly as if protecting something she would give her life for.

It was now five past the hour. Everything remained the same. The Tamagawa train came to a stop, spewing out businessmen and college students. Cars passed back and forth. The crowd expelled from the train completely blocked my view of the woman in front of the “M” store. But nothing happened.

Damn, I can’t see her anymore. I put down the book I was holding and hurried out the bookstore–to find she was longer there.

Oh, there she is. Squatting on a sidewalk around 20 meters away from her last position, the woman embraced a child tightly. Two or three men rushed towards her from the crowd and began talking to her. They were police officers who must have been hiding somewhere nearby.

The woman pointed in my direction. Actually, she was pointing right at me.

(They’ll mistake me for Suzuki!)

An instinctual fear surged through me, and I began to run. Just then, an Isuzu Bellel appeared before me. I saw Suzuki’s face through the front window. A face identical to mine. I frantically threw myself at the car. His contorted face looked towards me, and I screamed out, “Get out of here! But someday you’re going to return my 330 Yen! 120 for coffee and 210 for the train that you owe me. Never forget it!”

The car dragged me for about 5 meters, after which I fell to the street, and it sped away.

“Go! Go!” I continued to scream as I stood up. Two police motorcycles, appearing out of nowhere, sped past me in pursuit.

Suzuki’s Bellel crashed into a telephone pole 100 meters away with a loud bang, fractured pieces of glass scattering on the pavement. The motorcycles reached the car almost immediately, pulling up alongside it. Pedestrians on the sidewalk halted in their tracks, shocked.

Suzuki got out of his car with an expression that refused to admit defeat, blood running down his cheek. He was captured easily by the two bike officers, plus three men who had followed on foot. A large crowd of people had already gathered around the scene. Some of the cars passing by even pulled over to watch. The fact that someone had just been arrested here finally become apparent.

That was when the man who shared my face flashed me a wide grin. His cheeks, identical to mine, were stained with crimson blood. His face, identical to mine, smiled as if mocking me. He really was my alter ego. My other self was laughing at me–the me who commuted to work every day like a carrier pigeon, eating curry rice at lunch, and cheating on my wife twice a month, while in constant fear of being discovered.

Several ways to say “Never” in Japanese

In Japanese there are a few expressions which are close equivalents to English “never”, and in this post I’ll go over a few.

If you want to express the concept of “never” in Japanese, you can keep things simple and just use the negative form of a verb. Literally, this is close to “~will not”.

  • ここでは、雨は降らないよ。
  • Here it will never rain.

If you want to add emphasis, you can use the negative tense with “絶対に” (zettai ni), which means something like “definitely not”. You can usually omit “ni” if you like, especially if it is informal Japanese.

  • あの試験、絶対に受からないよ。
  • You’ll never pass that test.

You can replace “zettai ni” with “全然” (zen zen) and retain the same meaning, though it sounds a bit more informal to me.

The word ’決して’ can be used to mean the same thing as “zettai ni”, though it sounds more formal and I don’t hear it in everyday conversation often. When I use it, it’s usually for dramatic effect.

  • アニメをいくら見ても、決して日本語がペラペラになれない。
  • No matter how much Anime you watch, you’ll never become fluent in Japanese.

“全く” (mattaku) means the same thing as “決して” when used in a negative sentence.

  • テレビなんて全く見ない。
  • I never watch TV.

Here the use of “なんて” makes it sounds like the speaker is speaking negatively about TV.

The biggest difference between “全く” and “決して” is that the former can be used in positive sentences too to express something will definitely happen. According to the dictionary, “決して” can also be used in a similar sense, but I’ve never heard this in practice.

”一切” (issai) is yet another word that can be used to mean “never”, and like “決して” is has a formal feel to it. I usually only see this in writing.

If you want to say “never” in the context of something that was done before (i.e. “never again”, “never anymore”), you can use the word もう (mou).

  • 納豆はもう食べない。
  • I’ll never eat Natto again.

If you want to add emphasis, you can put in “二度と” (nido to), which means “a second time”.

  • 君にもう二度と会わないよ。
  • I will never see you again!

In cases where it makes sense, you can use use a word like “一つも” (hitotsu mo) to express you wouldn’t use even one of something. I don’t think this is a very common expression, but just pointing it out as a possibility.

  • フルーツは一つも食べない。
  • I will never eat even a single fruit.

Another slightly more advanced way to say “never” is “non-past verb” + “ことはない”.  Here “は” can omitted. This expression sounds a bit formal to me.

  • 彼とはもう会うことはないと思います。
  • I don’t think I will ever see him again.
  • Literally: I think I will never see him again

As a side point, I should point out that most of the above words can be used in contexts where they wouldn’t translate to ‘never’, even when a negative verb is used. For example:

  • お金全然ない。
  • I don’t have any money.

In this usage, “全然” (or similar words like “全く”) are used to express that there is “none” or “not at all” of something, which can be an object or something more abstract like a feeling.

 

Thanks to one of my readers for recommending this interesting topic. If anyone has any more requests for Japanese grammar explanations, please let me know!

 

Japanese Grammar Focus: “tomo” (とも)

Due to a request from one of my readers, in this post I’ll be talking about the Japanese expression “to mo” (とも), which has a variety of uses.

First, “to mo” can be used to mean the particle “to” along with the particle “mo”. I won’t be going over either of these particles in great detail here, but here is a quick refresher for the more common usages of these two:

  • mo (も):  Can be used to mean “also”, or “not at all” when used with a negative tense.
    • 行きたい [boku mo ikitai]
    • I want to go too.
    • そんなこと、誰しないよ [sonnna koto, dare mo shinai yo]
    • Nobody would ever do that type of thing.
  • to (と):  Commonly used to mean “and” or “with”.  Also can be used to describe what someone said or thought.
    • 好きなフルーツはりんごバナナだ。 (suki na fruutsu ha ringo to banana da)
    • The fruit I like are apples and bananas.
    • 先生は正解だ言った。[sensei ha seikai da to itta]      (“tte” (って) can also be used for this meaning)
    • The teacher said “correct answer”.

When “tomo” is used as a combination of these particles, the result is roughly what you would expect – a combination of their respective meanings.

For example, “to mo” can mean “also ” + “with”:

  • とも勉強したいよ。 [kimi to mo benkyou shitai yo]
  • I want to study also with you.  (or: “I want to study with you too“)

Here is a case where “to” is used to quote something (as with “正解だ言った”), but the “mo” is added to represent the meaning of “not at all”.

  • 僕は漫画なんて詳しくないからなんとも言えない。 [Boku ha manga nante kuwashiku nai kara nan to mo ienai]
  • I don’t know anything about Manga so I can’t say anything (about it).

This is an example where “to” is used to quote something, and “mo” used to simply mean “also”.

  • すごく難しいとも思った。 [sugoku muzukashii to mo omotta]
  • I also thought it was very difficult.

The above usages are the most common compared to the ones I’ll describe below, so if you want to keep things simple you can just memorize these for now.


Now for a completely different usage. “to mo” can also be used to mean “te mo”, in the sense that “~even if”, “~no matter”. In most cases I feel that “te mo” is more common, however, and “to mo” has a certain literary feeling to it.

  • 辛くとも頑張ります。[tsuraku to mo ganbarimasu]
  • Even if it’s difficult (=emotionally painful) I’ll try my best.

“To mo” can also be used after the “zu” form of a verb, for example:

  • なにもせずともいい。 [nani mo sezu to mo ii]
  • You don’t have to do anything.

This usage also sounds quite literary to me, though it’s meaning is equivalent to “なにもしなくていい”

Similarly, “(verb in dictionary form) + to mo” can be used to mean “(verb in te form) + mo”. So “するとも” can mean “しても”. However, I haven’t seen this usage very often.

A related expression I hear more frequently is “(verb in past tense) + tte” which can be also be used to mean “(verb in te form) + mo”. So “したって” would be equivalent to “しても”.


“To mo” can also be used after an adjective in the “ku” form in order to express an amount or limit. There are a few adjectives which are commonly used this way. For example:

  • 遅くとも一週間以内に終わらせる。[osoku to mo isshuukan inai ni owaraseru]
  • I’ll finish it in a week at the latest.
  • 少なくとも僕はそう思います。[sukunaku to mo bokuha sou omoimasu].
  • At least I think so.

The the last example, “sukunaku to mo” literally means “at minimum”.


For a final usage, “to mo” can be used at the end of a sentence to express strong agreement with someone. Often this can be thought of as meaning “of course”.

  • 一緒に行きたいとも![issho ni ikitai to mo!]
  • Of course I’d like to go with you!

In fact, there was a popular variety show that used this to make a pun. The title was called “笑っていいとも!” (Waratte ii to mo!) , and took advantage of the fact this could mean “Of course it’s ok to laugh!” or “Laugh, good friend!”. The latter meaning comes about from the “tomo” in “友達” (tomodachi), which means “friend”.


Though strictly speaking I don’t consider it a usage of “to mo”, in case you came here looking for the expression “to mo naku” (ともなく) , I’ll go over that as well. This can be used to give a sense of vagueness when describing something.

  • お化けがどこからともなく現れた。[obake ga doko kara to mo naku arawareta.]
  • The ghost appeared out of nowhere.
  • 何をするともなく、一日が過ぎて行った。[nani wo suru to mo naku, ichinichi ga sugite itta].
  • The day passed, without me doing anything particular.

 

I’m always open to new ideas for articles, so if you have any questions about Japanese grammar please let me know!

 

References

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/55053/meaning/m0u/とも/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/je/55052/meaning/m0u/とも/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/160335/meaning/m0u/とも/

http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/160413/meaning/m0u/ともなく/

http://ejje.weblio.jp/content/どこからともなく

 

Japanese Novel Review: Hibana (火花) by Naoki Matayoshi (又吉直樹)

In our trip to Japan this year, we visited many bookstores throughout the country. I love Japanese bookstores not only because I can see what is popular in literary Japan, but also because it’s fun to read the covers and backs of a bunch of books and figure out what type of book each is. When I select novels to read in English I’m very picky, and this is even more so in Japanese since my reading speed there is much slower.

One book that was prominently displayed at the front of nearly every bookstore we visited was “Hibana” (literally “Spark”) by Naoki Matayoshi. Several months ago during the time of our trip, it was apparently a huge seller to the extent that the author’s face was posted about here and there. They always used the same picture, where Matayoshi had a silly smirk on, which I interpreted as something like being anti-social and awkward. His hairstyle somehow reminded me of musician/comedian Weird Al Yankovic’s curly hair.

Reading the descriptive blurb on the back didn’t convince me to purchase it at the time, and we ended up leaving Japan without Hibana in our luggage.

However, as luck had it we received a package a few weeks later from a relative which happened to contain this very book. It seems that Hibana’s popularity had continued, and it had received several awards including the prestigious Akutagawa Prize (芥川賞). I made up my mind to read it in the next few months, and just finished it today.

I had forgotten what I was on the book jacket, so all I knew coming into this read was that it was an extremely popular novel. The first few pages were a very difficult read, dense paragraphs packed with advanced words, most of them missing Furigana to aid in meaning lookup. Had I been perusing through this book in a bookstore, this linguistic storm of an introduction would have likely caused me to loose interest and put down the book. You can see the first two lines of the intro in this post to get an idea.

However, armed with the facts that the book was a prize-winning work and it was relatively short (under 200 pages), I decided to push on. I eventually purchased the E-book version on Amazon and read it on my Kindle which made word lookup much faster, and allowed me to adjust the font size when my eyes got tired.

As is typical with foreign-language novels for me, after a few pages I got used to the author’s style and my speed jumped, and partway through it improved a bit more. Having said that, there were several places that I had trouble understanding what the author was saying, even after several re-readings of a sentence. In some strange way this feeling was nostalgic, reminding me of when I first starting reading Japanese books and every sentence was a puzzle waiting to be solved. It just goes to show how diverse the styles of various authors are.

This fictional story chronicles several years of the life of Tokunaga (徳永), a Manzai comedian (漫才師). Manzai is a traditional Japanese style of comedy which has been said to originate from the Heian period (794-1185), and usually involves a 2-person team standing on stage and trying to entertain the audience with their amusing conversation. Comedians are very often from the Osaka (大阪) region, and speak the dialect from there (大阪弁). Despite the fact that much of the book is composed of dialogue, which generally makes a faster read, a great majority of this is done in the Osaka dialect which can be difficult to understand. Even if you are lucky enough to grasp the meaning, deducing what is funny (about the parts that are supposed to be funny) is an even greater challenge.

Even though I had experience with this dialect, there still was many times when I didn’t fully understand what was being said. But if you have a good foundation in standard Tokyo-dialect Japanese, you can usually pick up the general gist. I’m not going to go into this dialect in detail here (I may write another post on it if there is interest), but one common characteristic is the “da” sound (especially in the word “to be”) is pronounced as “ya”. For example, ”sou da ne” is said as “so ya ne”.

When reading this novel, the thought “What makes this novel so popular?” was constantly in the back of my mind. Partway through, I had learned that the author was actually a Manzai comic himself, and his popularity may have contributed to Hibana’s success. Until the end I didn’t know whether this book was purely fiction, or a biography of the author himself. I won’t tell you which since it adds to the fun.

After finishing this work I feel I now know the main reason it has become such a hit. Hibana doesn’t just tell of the events of Tokunaga and those close to him; through these people Matayoshi is telling us about the essence of what it means to be a Manzai comedian. Before I picked up Hibana I knew very little about Manzai, but Matayoshi managed to convince me of the depth of this traditional art. Regardless of whether his beliefs are shared by other comedians and how funny Matayoshi himself is on stage (I’ve never seen him), this philosophical outlook on making people laugh was at turns entertaining, interesting, and educational.

For those interested in Manzai, this is a must-read. Unfortunately, as the book was just published this year there isn’t an English version yet. I’ve been toying with the idea of unofficially translating part of the book as an exercise (maybe just a few pages), but no promises yet. If I did attempt this, it would surely be the most challenging translation project yet.

UPDATE: I’ve translated the first few pages of this book here.

You can get this book on Amazon Japan in paperback form for around 1300 Yen (around $11 USD) and E-book version for around 1000 Yen (around $8 USD).

References

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/漫才

Gengo.com – contract translation services: First take

A few weeks back when I had written an article about translation, someone had posted a comment about the site Gengo.com, which is a web-based human translation service. “Gengo” (言語) means “language” in Japanese, and the company is in fact located in Tokyo.

The concept of the site is pretty straightforward: Those who need text translated can work with Gengo.com to satisfy their translation needs for a variety of source and target languages.

Those who become translators for Gengo can work on translations on a per-item basis, receiving a payout based on the number of words, their skill level, experience, and other factors. Their process seems pretty refined and includes a system for feedback from the clients, proofreaders to validate translations, and even a way for clients to specify preferred translators.

Looking at the rates, doing a few calculations, and research about those with experience using the site, it seems pretty difficult to make a (good) living on Gengo.com alone. I don’t mean this to reflect anything on the site–it seems like a great service–but just to keep prospective interpreters’ expectations from getting too high.  I’m not going to quote any per-word rates since I know they change over time (These likely are determined by supply and demand), and I am not interested in Gengo as a means to become rich. Rather, I think Gengo is a great opportunity to get one’s feet wet in translation business without any huge commitments. Any money made on this site would be a nice bonus to my existing salary, and eventually I could try out several similar sites and potentially make a reasonable living.

In order to become a Gengo translator, you first have to pass two tests, a pre-test and a translation test. The whole process is described pretty well here, and if you plan to attempt this please I highly recommend reading everything in detail, especially this link, which gives a good overview of some common mistakes (punctuation, etc.).

Yesterday I decided on taking the pre-test, which is a requisite for the translation test. The pre-test is a short multiple choice test that contains five questions, where you are required to choose the best translation for a given sentence. These are displayed in whatever target and source language you choose, assuming the pair is supported (some are apparently not). In my case I chose Japanese to English.

When you start the test, they are very adamant about not sharing the test questions with anyone, and since I want to stay on good terms with Gengo I will not be sharing any of the questions. The format of the questions was exactly as I was told it would be, however the difficulty was significantly above what I expected. The questions are *very* tricky – they are looking for people who can recognize subtle differences in spelling, word usage, tense, punctuation, readability, and other things. Also, the content was quote formal compared what to I had translated in the past.

The purpose of the test is to weed out those who will have no way of passing the main translation. This is logical since the translation test requires humans to grade it, whereas the pre-test is fully automated and you get your results after completing all five questions.

Besides reading the above links, I hadn’t done much specific preparation for the pre-test, and I failed with 3/5 questions right (4/5 is passing). Though it’s a bit disappointing, it was a real eye-opener for what they are looking for, and thinking about it more I feel satisfied just for getting 60% on this difficult test. I think this experience will even influence my own hobby translations, as I am for a higher level of quality in those.

When you take the test I would recommend taking screenshots of each question (the site doesn’t let you cut and paste), and if you fail I’d recommend going over the questions at a later point before attempting to retake the test. But please don’t share the questions with anyone. I don’t know if they give the same questions on the retake, but I would guess not.

You have to wait 72 hours between pre-test retakes, and only have three chances total. I think the translation test retake rules are a bit different, but will leave details on that for a future post.

I’m hoping to retake the pretest in a few weeks, and hopefully I can pass the translation in a few months. Good luck to anyone who makes the attempt!

The joys of translating

Very early on in my studies of Japanese, the idea of translation from Japanese to English popped into my mind. Many times, it would appear as a watchdog, a double check on my understanding. For instance, if I just glazed over a passage which had a few words I didn’t understand, I’d say to myself “What if I had to translate this?” or “How would I translate this?”, and it would give me motivation to look up all the words I didn’t know, and get as close to a complete understanding as possible.

On the other hand, I tried to keep myself from actually doing said translation in my head, not only because it would take extra time, but because I felt that developing the habit of translating everything into English would be going in the wrong direction. As I’ve written before, I feel that it’s good get into the habit of thinking in Japanese (or whatever other foreign language you are studying), so you can approach the feel of words as natives of that language do. Constantly thinking in terms of your home country’s language keeps you from reaching that stage.

While writing this blog in the last few years, I had a few opportunities to translate short passages from Japanese to English as part of explaining grammar or some other point (example). These experiences were challenging, but at the same time enjoyable, so a desire within me to do more serious translations gradually blossomed.

Then came my first semi-serious translation, of the Candy Candy Final Story‘s first chapter, which you can see here. Though only 20 pages or so, I spent several days doing the initial first draft, and then another few going through rounds of editing to polish things up. One of the reasons that I feel potentially suited for translation is my interest in writing fiction, which I was pretty heavy into around four years ago. At that time I had used the site Critique Circle to get very helpful feedback from the wonderful community there, and learn how to refine my writing to a new level. So when it came time to edit this first serious translation, things went pretty smoothly. (In case you are curious, although I do edit my blog entries, I spend less time writing and editing them then I would for other writing, so the style and quality you see of these posts does not necessarily reflect my fiction and other non-blog works.)

As for the actual translation process of this first self-given assignment, it was extremely enjoyable, perhaps more than I had expected. For the first time in awhile I felt a rare form of Joy, which I think was partly because I was really able to get involved in what I was doing, without becoming distracted and wanting to take a break. Another reason for this fulfillment was because I learning so much from the act of translation itself.

Despite how much effort I had put in before to completely understand Japanese books or other media, until you set down (virtual) pen to paper and try to actually translate, you won’t know if you actually get it or not.

You can look up each and every little word in the dictionary, and understand those separately, out of context, but to do real translation you need to have a good feel for how everything gets put together, and also make sure the resultant text is as natural as possible. Since I was trying to do this work with the imaginary assumption I was doing this as a career, I was even more careful about having a professional-looking result.

In the future I’m considering writing up posts which talk details about translation of specific sentences and why I chose certain wording, but for now I’ll just say that going through this process requires a very deep understanding of the original text – much beyond what you would find written in the dictionary. In some cases this literally required several minutes per paragraph, where I would first make sure I understood the Japanese, and then experiment with various ways to try and communicate that same feeling into English. Many times there were elements that just couldn’t get conveyed using natural English, though I did my best and began to learn when to accept such compromises.

In doing this, there were discoveries I had in the original Japanese text that were little rewards in and of themselves, little surprises I hadn’t seen on previous readings. Sometimes they were related to the style and composition, sometimes the story.

At the end of this task, I finished knowing I had not just deepened my understanding of the story itself, but I had enriched my knowledge about many of the Japanese words that were present in it (even those I thought I knew before). I even brushed up my English writing skills and vocabulary. It’s funny how thinking about translation of a sentence can dig up English words I haven’t used or heard in some time.

After Candy Candy, I decided on taking on a short story from a classical Japanese author, written in the 1970s. This is mostly done and I am planning on posting it soon.

Anyway, I think that’s all for this post. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey as I explore translation, though I still plan to make posts about grammar as before. As with my study of Japanese, I’m going to try and retain my beginners mind regarding the art of translation as well, which means I’ll keep an open mind about where I can improve.

 

Gacco: Online Courses in Japanese

One thing that makes mastering a foreign language tricky is how the vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation can change depending on the environment and situation. For example, watching an cartoon targeting children and a comedy show broadcast on TV will be extremely different experiences.

For Japanese, assuming you have a good foundation in grammar, if you watch enough dramas and TV shows (the more variety the better), you can start picking up some phrases and eventually learn to understand conversational Japanese as spoken by everyday people. Make some Japanese friends, practice on Skype, and then travel to Japan once in a while for some extra practice.

This is all well and good, but even if you become pretty adept at everyday conversation, there are surely some areas where your language is especially weak, even just considering comprehension ability. One exercise I like to do is think of how I learned my native language, English, in terms of what types of situations I was frequently placed in.

When doing this, one giant hole I became aware of his how I’ve spent a great majority of my life attending some sort of school, whether that be elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate college, or graduate school. Besides reading books and watching documentaries, school is one of the major influences for our intellectual development, and that includes not just ideas, but the language to express those ideas. But I had no experience in attending school in Japanese (classes where you learn Japanese don’t count).

In the past, I recently tried some YouTube searches to find classes taught in Japanese and watched a few videos, but there was a few problems. First, the sound quality was not that great. Second, it was hard to find a set of videos on the same topic, so I had to jump between unrelated topics, which made it hard to learn the terms for a specific topic. Also, watching videos on your computer, smartphone, or tablet is quite different than actually attending a class, especially in terms of interaction with the material and other people.

Then, a few days ago, I did a search for “オンライン講座” (Online Course) on Google and found what I had been searching for so long.

Gacco is a website dedicated to free online classes in Japanese. Though I have known for some time these existed for English-speaking people, this is first time I discovered a comprehensive website which aims to provide online learning for Japanese speakers.

Here are a few classes available, to give you a taste for what is offered:

江戸文化入門: Introduction to Edo Culture

初めての情報システム: Beginners class for Information Systems

脳と創造力: Creativity and the brain

It’s pretty easy to sign up, assuming you can read enough Japanese to get past the signup pages. I created an account linked to my Google account, and was able to join a class and start watching the lectures in under 10 minutes. And it really is free, with no strings attached yet, at least from what I’ve seen.

For the class I joined (社会人のためのデータサイエンス入門), the portion of the lecture I watched had relatively good sound quality, though there was some papers rustling and people talking part of the time. Since this is a domain I am pretty familiar with I was able to understand the general idea of what he was saying, but he spoke too fast for me to get all the details. I’m sure that if I keep listening to it I’l pick it up quickly, though.

There are several styles of classes, but the general flow is something you are already familiar with: watch lectures, do homework, and take online tests. Each class has their own dedicated discussion board, and apparently some of the classes involve meeting in person for discussion. When you complete a class you receive a certificate.

The main disadvantage I can see is that the class selection is relatively limited. Only around 30 classes showed up on the listing, and a portion of those hadn’t started yet. But I’m sure they’ll adding more going forward, and if you just manage to complete all the ones available now, you’ve gained a great amount of experience in Japanese.

I think Gacco is an amazing resource for anyone who has a few years of Japanese study under their belts, and wants to take their intellectual language to the next level. It wouldn’t hurt to try even as a beginner if you have the ability to deal with the difficult level. Aside from the content, just listening to the professor’s speaking style was an interesting experience in itself.

Japanese to English translation: “Candy Candy Final Story” – Prologue

For some time now, I’ve been thinking of getting into Japanese to English translation more seriously. I’ve just finished the novel “Candy Candy Final Story” by Keiko Nagita, and when I discovered there was no official English translation (and no unofficial one I could find), I realized it was the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at translation

For starters I did the book’s prologue which lasts only a few pages, but I gave it a serious effort with several iterations of editing to polish it as much as possible. Though there are a few places that I feel are not ideal, overall I’m satisfied with the effort. At some point during this process I felt that translation was my “tenshoku”, which means something like “calling from heaven”. I think it would be great if I could someday making a living doing something like this.

Keep in mind this translation is completely unofficial, and is in no way associated or endorsed by the original work’s author or the publisher for any of the Candy Candy books, manga, or anime. If you enjoyed this, please consider buying these, or write a letter to Keiko Nagita asking to speed up the process of making an official English version (I’ve heard uncomfirmed rumors they are working on one). To avoid getting into trouble with copyright laws, I will not give the original Japanese text, only my English translation.

If you are studying Japanese and think you might enjoy this book, please consider buying the original work here and here. You can read my review of it here which gives some history about the Candy Candy series in general.

This was an extremely fun process, and I learned so much in doing it that I’m eager to find what to work on next. If you have any suggestions or requests please let me know. I’m open to doing more of this novel (and have even started on the next chapter), but realistically I don’t think I would ever translate the entire work, unless by some miracle I was given permission to make an official translation. Corrections or critique on this translation are also welcomed.

 


 

Candy Candy Final Story (first book): Prologue (by Nagita Keiko)

– Unofficial translation –

 

Miss Pony

 

Writing this name on the white stationery paper triggers a warm surge of emotion in my chest, and I lay down the pen.

I exhale deeply, a sigh of relief and gratitude.

Without thinking, my hands fold themselves tightly in prayer.

These last few weeks, all I could do was pray…

… and send my prayers along with the letters I wrote to Miss Pony, day after day.

Pony’s house, as we always called it, is very far from here. I’ve never hated this distance more than I do now, spanning a vast ocean.

My only desire was to be at her side, to care for her, and encourage her back to health.

I leave the page as it is — blank except for Miss Pony’s name — and begin rereading the letter from Miss Lane.

The worst was over for Miss Pony, and she was on the road to recovery, said the small characters of the letter. They seemed to dance on the page, reminiscent of her warm smile.

“Really? Miss Lane, you’re not just saying that to put me at ease?”

I just can hear your voice saying this, so I’ll include a message from Miss Pony. Once she recovers a little more, you’ll surely receive a much longer one from her.

I have reread Miss Pony’s brief letter many times over, and each time brings me to tears.

 

Candy, I know I’ve worried you terribly.

But I’m fine now.

I still have so many things to do for the children.

I’ve also decided I must see you once more before I die.

Surely, God will listen to my prayers and permit me to do this.

– Paulina Giddings

 

I trace my fingers gently against her signature.

Without a doubt, the large, rounded characters possessed the warmth of Miss Pony. Although they lacked her usual energy, I could almost hear her voice, smelling of freshly made pancakes.

“Miss Paulina…”

Mumbling her name, I couldn’t help but smile.

I learned of her real name only after I had become an adult.

“I was called ‘Pony’ ever since I was young. You see, there was a small, chubby horse living on a neighboring farm which looked just like me,“ said Miss Pony with a grin. “Apparently, my physique hasn’t changed much since then.”

Miss Lane gestured in repentance again and again – a funny habit she had whenever the topic of their names came up.

“With a name like ‘Lane Roache’, you can imagine how often Miss Lane was teased. ‘Roache’ made her feel like she was a ‘Roach’ or a ‘Loach’, which bothered her enough to pronounce it incorrectly to hide these similarities. But disrespecting this noble name which was passed down from her ancestors.. what a sinful act!”

I can just picture Miss Lane, looking towards heaven as she prays for forgiveness.

The warm fireplace at Pony’s house. Firewood crackling. Miss Pony, sitting in an old chair. Miss Lane passes me a cup of steaming cocoa.

“It’s hot, be careful Candy.”

Miss Lane tries to warn me, but it’s already too late – I’ve just put my mouth to the cup, mumbling “ouch” as I pucker my lips.It’s a scene from one of my most treasured memories of winter.

“After all these years, you haven’t changed a bit, Candy!”

Miss Pony, now smiling at me. The taste of marshmallows roasted in the hearth. Outside, it’s snowing.

The adjacent building where the children were was quiet, but I knew the truth – not a single one of them was sleeping. They were waiting eagerly for the snow to pile up.

Once we were fast asleep, the children would probably sneak outside and build a giant snowman, hoping to surprise us in the morning.

After all, I did the same when I was their age. Annie, Tom, and I would wait for enough snow to fall, late into the night. We’d do anything to keep from falling asleep, even pinch one another.

I’m very grateful to my parents, who abandoned me at Pony’s house when I was young.

Thanks to them, there is a place where I can always return to, a place to call home.

I stood up from my desk and slowly approached the cabinet.

There stood oil painting “#10”, enclosed within a handmade frame. My love had placed it so it could be seen from anywhere in the house.

Several years back, he had found the painting in a London flea market.


Oh, what a wonderful gift it was.

With only a quick glance, he had picked #10 from a pile of old paintings, knowing immediately it depicted Pony’s house.

It wasn’t just any picture – it was a complete view of Pony’s house drawn from the perspective of the large hill nearby.

I stood before the painting, gazing into it’s depths.

In one of the corners was an unobtrusive signature, barely visible.

“Slim”

When I first discovered that name, I felt my heart would burst.

(Slim!)

Slim was half Caucasian and half African American, with grey eyes that reflected an inner sadness. Without fail, he would begin to cry when the sun went down.

“Maybe Slim cries every evening because he remembers being abandoned as a newborn at this same time of day?”

I remember Miss Lane – the one who decided on the name “Slim” – saying this with a touch of sadness in her voice.

Slim was extremely shy around most people, but became quickly attached to me. When the morning came, he would softly nudge me and purse his lips in a silent admittance of guilt. Slim had a habit of bed-wetting, and even though he did his best to clean things up, apparently the Mothers all knew what was going on.

Slim, always skinny and looking frail. Slim, who did nothing but draw pictures.

“That boy… I always wanted to teach him to draw.”

Suddenly, a vivid memory of Miss Pony whispering this came to me.

When I had returned to Pony’s house, Slim was no longer there.

The word was that he got adopted by a blacksmith in a distant city. Slim ended up in a life where art had no place – something the Sisters deeply regretted.

(Slim, after all these years you never forgot how to draw!)

With a fine, delicate touch, Slim was the only person who could paint Pony’s house in a way so real that you felt you were almost there.

Since then, the house has developed and become much larger.

To this day, I still don’t understand how a boy adopted by a blacksmith had painted a picture that somehow ended up in London, thousands of miles from America.

All I knew about Slim’s life was that it was a very bumpy road. Just like mine.

 

Candy, this coincidence is surely a miracle from God, sent to cheer you up. Take great care of this picture. All of us are within in it. Candy, we’re always watching over you. I’m sure that Slim and the others are somewhere in the picture too.

Please keep this with you wherever you go.

 

This was Miss Pony’s encouraging response when I told her about discovering Slim’s painting. For some time I had been considering sending it to the Mothers (?), who had spent so much time worrying for Slim.

I think the Sisters had somehow knew it – I was the one who truly needed this painting,  needed a place I could always return to.

Even though we are so far apart, Pony’s house is always in my living room.

 

Still, I can’t help but feel that Slim had painted the picture especially for me.

It was a lovely day in May.

Buttercups and white clovers covered Pony’s hill.

Anyone who climbed it was greeted with a spectacular view of Pony’s house, surrounded by a lush, green forest that dazzled the eyes. Long, soft grasses swaying in the wind. Lupines and sunflowers in many bright colors adorning the yard.

It’s as if at any moment, the wooden door will open with a creak, mischievous Tom bolting out with Miss Lane close behind.

We we’re there too – Annie and I…

On the day my life completely changed.

The day that Annie was adopted by the Brighton family.

 

Time winds backward in a flash.

I close my eyes and…

[end of prologue]

 

Thanks for reading!