Japanese phrase “mou hitotsu” (もうひとつ)and a brief Murakami translation

By | December 2, 2016

Recently I was reading an interesting blog which contains reviews of Japanese books (in English), and I came across an article about the Haruki Murakami (村上春樹) book “After Dark”.

While I am not going to go into that book in detail in this post, in the the article I found there was a short passage quoted (bold was added by me):

次に果物ケースに移り、りんごを手に取る。照明の下でそのりんごをいろんな角度から点検する。もうひとつ気に入らない。もとに戻し、べつのりんごを手にとって、また同じように精査する。それを何度か繰り返し、まずまず許容をできるものをーー決して納得したわけではないがーーひとつ選ぶ。

When I read this, I was caught off guard by the usage of “もうひとつ” (mou hitotsu), which is a set phrase that is frequently used to mean “one more”. However, if you look in the dictionary you will see it also means “a little more” (もう少し).

However, that second definition doesn’t seem to fit the context here, where the speaker is picking up an apple (the first one, presumably) and trying to examine it.

I asked a Japanese person about this and was told it means something like “a little”. This is ironic, since this meaning isn’t directly in the common usages of もう (already) or ひとつ (one). However for the latter, if you look in the dictionary you actually see this meaning: (there is a total of 12 meanings there, wow!)

3.  行為や状態のひとまとまり。副詞的に用いて、少し、の意をも表す。「今日は―気分がすぐれない」「今―調子が出ない」

The part in bold means “when used as an adverb, can also signify ‘a little’ “.

Anyway, the author of the article in question had asked me how I would translate this, and since I didn’t want to translate just a sentence I thought I would do the whole paragraph to get full context. Although I am big fan of Murakami, I have purposefully stayed away from translating his work since I’m fairly certain it is all either translated and published or licensed to be so. But I thought that a single paragraph wouldn’t hurt (:

===

Next, he went to the fruit case and took out an apple. He inspected it from various angles under the lighting. There was just something about it he didn’t like. He returned it and picked up another one, examining it in the same way. He repeated this process again and again, finally choosing an apple that was acceptable–though by no means ideal.

===

This translation is a little rougher than most of those I put on my site (for example, it has three sentences that start with ‘He’ which is a bit awkward), but I’m just including it here to show how you could translate the “もうひとつ気に入らない” phrase in question (see the bold part above).

If you want to see the entire discussion in question you can see it as comments in the article here. The translation I posted as a comment there is slightly different than the one I put here, which is edited a little more.

*UPDATE: I got an update from Dan (of Reajer.com), who agreed that this phrasing was odd when just looking at this paragraph, so he went back to the previous paragraph. He discovered that the main character is complaining about milk there, which makes the “もうひとつ気に入らない” about the apple make more sense with this added context. Given this, it simply means what you would expect it to, “This was one more thing he didn’t like.”

Interestingly, in the English translation I saw it is rendered as, “It is not quite good enough.” This means one of three things:

  1. Dan’s interpretation is correct, and the translator of the published English translation purposefully didn’t literally translate it using “one more” for some reason.
  2. Dan’s interpretation is correct, and the translator made a mistake and translated more like I did.
  3. Dan’s interpretation is incorrect.

I’m guessing #1.

This is a great lesson about the importance of context across paragraphs. I should have went further back when this expression first caught my eye. If I had the book in front of me, I might have.

 

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2 thoughts on “Japanese phrase “mou hitotsu” (もうひとつ)and a brief Murakami translation

  1. Yeti

    I can see the point of view that the apple was another thing Takahashi didn’t like in addition to the milk, and that may be what the author’s intention was. However, the other interpretation still makes more sense to me because the dislike of the apple and the dislike of the milk were quite different, and they were separated by him finding the milk he was looking for.

    He was dissatisfied with the low-fat milk he accidentally picked up, but this was a case of picking up the wrong product instead of checking for an item of passable quality, like he was with the apple. It wasn’t that the milk was not of good enough quality, but that he has a deep moral issue with low-fat milk. Since the type of dislike is so different, I wouldn’t think they would need to be tied together.

    Also, at the end of the preceding paragraph, he finds the milk he’s looking for. I would think it would be more likely to mean “one more” if he had ended up not finding any milk to buy or choosing a carton of milk he’s not satisfied with.

    Neither of these arguments means there’s no way it could mean “one more”, but from the context I’m still leaning towards “not quite good enough”. I’m glad I posted that paragraph. It has made quite an interesting discussion!

    Reply
    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment! Maybe my analysis was right after all (:

      We may never know for sure unless we ask Murakami himself, but it is an interesting debate nonetheless.

      Reply

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