Unofficial English translation of the first few pages of Hibana (火花) by Naoki Matayoshi (又吉 直樹)

By | January 17, 2016

Update: Several years later, the English translation for Spark has finally been released. I was not involved in the official translation but you can find it here. Because of this I have a removed the majority of my unofficial translation, and kept only the first paragraph.

In December of last year I had published a review on Naoki Matayoshi’s book “Hibana”, which has been very popular in Japan, winning several awards including the prestigious Akutagawa Prize.

As part of my training to get more into translation, I decided on translating the first few pages of this novel into English. The book does not have any concept of formal chapters, just sections which are divided without a name of number, so I just went until I got until a good stopping point.

For those fluent in Japanese or studying the language, you can see the an excerpt of the book here which includes everything I translated.

Just to be clear this is a completely unofficial fan translation, and when/if the official English version comes out I highly recommend buying it. If you want to get the full Japanese version now you can get it here on Amazon Japan.

This was a very difficult translation project, not only because the source material is so advanced, but because fully understanding this story requires some knowledge of the Japanese comedic style “Manzai“. In particular, the first few pages are in a very strong “literature”-type style, which means there are words and expressions you don’t normally see. I’ve even read some people commenting on how the style of the first paragraph is very unique, even to the point where it uses grammar that is borderline unusual. I don’t hold this against the author at all, since this sort of style is what helped him become such a success. The only minor complaint I have is that this heavy literature style doesn’t really continue that much throughout the book, which reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite novels, Dhalgren.

Even though the translation and editing of this took me quite some time, I think that the more I translate the easier and faster it would get. So if you are interested in seeing more of this translated, please show your interest by liking this post.

Since this novel is so great I really hope eventually they publish an official translation. But that may be years away, assuming that someone decides the novel will sell well in English-speaking countries.

Anyway, I’ll stop talking now and let you read it. Enjoy!

(Warning: this portion contains sections which are not appropriate for children, including cursing and violence)

 

=== Unofficial translation of “Hibana” by Naoki Matayosh ===

Shrill flutes rang out above the rhythm of Earth-shaking Taiko drums. Summer kimono-clad couples and families bustled along Atami bay, straw sandals trampling the grass, while the last vestiges of intense daylight melted away in the night air. In a small space near the road was a makeshift stage made from yellow beer cases turned upside down, upon which laid several layers of plywood. We performed our comedy routine there, facing the people who passed us by on their way to the fireworks.

[removed the rest of the translation]

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19 thoughts on “Unofficial English translation of the first few pages of Hibana (火花) by Naoki Matayoshi (又吉 直樹)

  1. Ken Friesen

    That is really beautifully written. ” Summer kimono-clad couples and families bustled along Atami bay, straw sandals trampling the grass, while the last vestiges of intense daylight melted away in the night air.” It reads like poetry.

    Summer kimono-clad couples
    and families bustle
    along Atami bay
    while straw sandals trample
    the grass
    the last vestiges of intense
    daylight
    melt away
    into the night
    air

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment and for reading!

      I had spent a very long time translating this sentence to make it sound great, though I have to give most of the credit to the original author of the Japanese prose (:

      Working on a new translation, hoping to get it online in a month or less.

      Reply
  2. Jo

    Thank you for this! I watched the Netflix show and was so impressed. I absolutely loved it even with having no experience or insight into Japanese life. Your few pages really helped me. I like the show even more now. Again, thank you.

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks much for the comment! Actually I didn’t know there was a Netflix show based on this book until you told me (:

      Reply
  3. Matt

    I’ve just finished the show on Netflix and found your page trying to look for more information about it. Great translation! I’d really love to read the book. Have you read the whole book and watched the whole series? Can you compare the two?
    Keep up the inspiring work!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks very much for the comment! I’m glad you enjoyed my translation.

      Yes, I’ve read the whole book, but I haven’t seen any of the Netflix series. Actually, until a few days ago I didn’t even know about the series.

      I don’t have Fetflix but would like to see the series some day, at least part of it. If I ever do, I may write up a post comparing them.

      Reply
  4. Zaira

    I’ve just finished watching it too! I don’t know about the book but the drama style is kinda slow, and it makes you feel like part of the narrative, emotions, their routines etc, you know the characters by “living” with them. I’d say that watching Hibana is an experience.
    I want to read the book too, my main language is Portuguese but I’d be already satisfied with the English translation since my Japanese still basic. Thanks for the material!

    Reply
  5. Julio César Restrepo

    I see the show in Netflix twice and I´m very impress with the story and the characters.
    I think is a very good way to see a very diferent side of Japan.
    I would like to read the book too even if is in an english version.
    Thank you for this work

    Reply
  6. Chris

    Thanks for the post and translation. It reads really well — must have been a lot of work! Like a few other people here I found this post looking for more information having watched the Netflix adaptation of 火花. I’m wondering if you know whether the work is autobiographical? Also, the ending was quite surprising in the TV version but I’m wondering if it makes more sense in context? Would love to know more about the book too if you can tell me. Shame I can’t read 漢字 better so I could read it myself!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Chris,

      Thanks very much for the comment. This part was indeed a good bit of work, especially the first few paragraphs.

      While I know the author himself is a Manzai comic, I don’t think the book is intended to be autobiographical, however I think it’s fair to say some things in the book were probably based on his own experiences.

      I can’t really speak about the ending in the TV version, as I haven’t seen it. I’ll just say that the ending of the book is a bit ‘surprising’.

      If you have any other questions about the book let me know.

      I wish the entire book would be translated so that all English-speakers could appreciate it in full. I could even do it myself, though I’d probably only do that if they paid me (:

      Reply
      1. Chris

        Thanks for your reply! Without giving away spoilers here, do you know if there is some cultural context for the ending or reason why it’s supposed to be funny/make sense? The thing Kamiya did to himself was just so odd (even by his standards as he was always eccentric throughout). I wondered if I was losing something in translation and actually there was some meta-gag or significance I was missing.

        Reply
        1. locksleyu Post author

          Can you please email me at selftaughtjapanese (at) gmail.com, and we can continue this discussion? Even your message is a borderline spoiler, so I will delete it soon (:

          Reply
  7. Gabriel

    Hey thanks a lot! I’ve tried to get this book since nov 2016. I was in Japan on Apr 17 but I couldnt find it (just a few in japanese versions). I just don’t want spoilers, but as I watched the TV serie I would like to know if novel goes beyond the last episode (10) or it’s more or less the same time when the novel’s end?

    Cheers from Argentina!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      From what I understand, there is no published English version and not sure if there is any plans for one.

      I haven’t seen the series, but I have been told the ending is the same, so I think it somewhat matches the book.

      I really wish someone would make an English translation, but that would involve negotiating with the original publisher, author, etc…

      Reply
      1. Gabriel

        Thanks for the quick answer. I really appreciate the work you did. Hope you get in contact with the right person so we all can enjoy the entire book.

        best

        Reply
  8. Haruka K

    That was great! I hope someone does a really great job of translating the novel without Westernizing anything. My Japanese isn’t great yet so I doubt I can read it in Japanese.
    The tv show, however, was the best tv show I have ever seen in my life (31 yrs).

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hello Haruka, thanks for the comment!

      Hopefully someday we will get this book published in English, although I haven’t heard of any concrete plans for one yet, unfortunately.

      Reply

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