Monthly Archives: March 2017

Japanese fiction translation: “Final Days of Summer” by “Masaki Hashiba” [Story 1 / Part 3]

This is the English translation of the third part (of four) of the first story (“Stargazer”) of the series of short stories titled “Final Days of Summer” (残夏)  by Masaki Hashiba (ハシバ柾). I’ve gotten permission from the author to translate and put these on my blog, and he is very excited about his work being translated to English.

As always, since I have many other competing translation projects, any feedback on this story will help me decide where to focus my energies. You can vote for this story on my survey here, or even better you can leave a comment on this post, or like it. I’ve received some positive comments from a few people, and the more of this feedback I get the better odds I’ll keep translating it. So if you like the story so far, please consider telling a friend (:

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for proofreading this chapter.

This page contains this work’s synopsis and other translated portions. You can see the entire first short story in its original Japanese here.

Story 1: Stargazer (Part 3)

It was the fifth night I spent with Nameless–two days before the meteor shower.

The sky was shrouded in thick clouds. Nameless sat in his usual place near the rocks, gazing up into the night sky at stars barely visible through the cloud cover. It might rain tomorrow. This worried me, but I decided against voicing my concern to him.

After staring at the overcast sky for some time, Nameless suddenly broke out giggling.

“What’s with you?”

“Oh, nothing really. I was just thinking about how a giant star–a whale–had taken a big bite out of the moon……”

Thus began another of his fantastic tales.

According to him, all forms of life eventually shed their physical bodies and returned to the sky as stars. Irrespective of how they acted during their lifetime, they all ended up adrift in the night sky–large beings as large stars and small beings as small ones–waiting for their turn to circle the Moon, finally have their life judged, and fall once again to the Earth in the form of a shell.

However, it is said that all beings feel the irresistible charm of the Mother Moon, both during their lifetime and after they have become stars. Giving into this temptation is considered the most reprehensible act in all of the night sky, although the intensity of the temptation is far stronger than any fear of spending time on Earth as a plain, unattractive shell. The majority of small stars never even have an opportunity to come in contact with the moon, but it is rumored the massively large ones–the ‘whale’ stars–can. Whale stars that cannot bear this temptation sooner or later take a large bite out of the Moon.

“But, you see,“ Nameless continued, “those stars whine about not wanting to become unattractive shells. So they summon all their energy and spray water from their blowholes to hide the moon, hoping to prevent their wrongdoing from being discovered. That is the reason those clouds are there.”

I nodded from Nameless’s side and looked up at the thick clouds.

Was the whale on the other side of the clouds trembling in fear of being caught? Or was he gazing at us with a smug look on his face? In any case, from this far away there was little hope in telling which.

“Humans say that the sky is infinite. However, we believe differently. Rather, the sky is nothing more than an ocean where stars float, and our world is finite.”

Nameless said this with a grin, eyes fixed on me. He didn’t seem to include himself in the category of ‘humans’; this was probably because he considered himself a ‘dolphin’.

Assuming the sky really is a giant ocean, is the bottom of that ocean on the other side of the sky? If the sky ends there and the world we live in is enclosed like the room of a house, where would things like weather satellites go? Wouldn’t rockets just bump into the walls of this ‘room’?

Nameless continued, his eyes still fixed on me. It seems as if my face had betrayed my doubts.

“But, you know, the place where the stars live is very, very far from here. Anything made by human hands could never possibly reach the end of the sky. That’s why humans are convinced it is infinite.”

So, apparently at the limits of the place we call the ‘universe’, farther away than any human can reach, exists a so-called ‘ocean’. Indeed, if the star of a lost loved one was within our reach, we would do anything to get them back. Perhaps the absolute impossibility of this is the very reason we fear death, the parting with another whom will we never cross paths with again.

A large, dark cloud–the spray of a whale, according to Nameless–gradually expanded across the night sky, and before long almost completely obscured the stars.

I said it would rain tomorrow, and Nameless responded with a nod. Hopefully this would at least keep him from hazarding a trip back to this beach the middle of a rainstorm. To be honest, I wanted to just carry Nameless, unable to walk on his own, back to my home. Tomorrow night we could just come back here together. But I’m sure he wouldn’t accept that; no matter what I said, he’d evade by rattling off something about dolphins again.

So I went home before the downpour began. Of course, Nameless remained behind on the beach, all alone.

……

The storm ended up being much longer than I’d expected. Starting the night before, it continued all through the morning, and by partway through the evening there was still no sign of it letting up. I realized I probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the beach today. It was all the fault of that troublesome whale. Couldn’t he take responsibility for taking a bite out of the moon without inconveniencing others? As I thought about these things, I felt a wave of loneliness wash over me. I wasn’t going to be able to see Nameless tonight.

My ears were tickled by the constant sound of rushing rain that was oblivious to my worries. I sighed; the cleaning I had planned on doing until the rain let up had begun to extend to places I normally never even touched. After digging out a few old photo albums from a dust-covered bookshelf, I finally stopped to take a break.

There was four yearbooks, and around ten photo albums put together by my mother. As I flipped through them in chronological order I had a strange realization. These pictures didn’t actually tell me anything about how I had managed to grow up.

The album closest to me on the bookshelf contained every single picture I’d sent her recently; looking at it, I felt a growing warmth in my chest. No matter how far away I was, my mother was always thinking about me. And yet, I never……

On the last page of this most recent album was a single picture. It was a photograph of me smiling that I’d sent along with a letter, right around the time I was overjoyed to be appointed a project manager. But once this little vacation is over, I have no desire to return to that company, even though I was so close to success. Even though I thought I finally had it all.

But where would I go then? Unable to close the album, I stared down with bitter regret at the picture of my past self–where everything was going right.

If Nameless was in the same situation, what would he say? Just as I began to consider that, a notebook suddenly fell out from between the pages of one of the older albums.

The notebook was surprisingly heavy. Small and yellowed with age, it appeared to be a journal. On the cover was scribbled “Nao’s journal. Mom don’t read!” I didn’t remember ever seeing this though…….With a trembling hand I opened it, a book containing my memories–or perhaps I should say my secrets.

I immediately understood why the book was so heavy: every page had an actual shell glued to it. Accompanying each of the colorful shells was a drawing done with colored pencils and some awkwardly scribbled comments. Some pages had dates, others didn’t. I got the impression these were written just for the fun of it, as opposed to being a serious record of anything.

As I flipped through the pages the memories gradually returned to me, and I was overcome with feelings of nostalgia. This journal captured my days as a young boy playing on that very same beach. Each day I had apparently selected my favorite shell and attached it to a page where I drew a picture of the beach. When I looked at these drawings, pitifully bad by any standard, I burst out laughing in spite of myself. I could just see myself as a young boy engrossed in drawing these pictures. Flipping through them, I saw pictures of beaches, more beaches, even more beaches, and……a dolphin.

A dolphin? Curious, I stopped at that page.

From a certain day onwards, drawings of dolphins took the place of drawings of the beach. There were several comments, such as “Many dolphins were here today.” Growing even more curious, I flipped a few pages ahead. Dolphins. Dolphins. Dolphins……For seven pages straight there was nothing but drawings of dolphins. At the last of these, the journal suddenly ended.

Playing at that beach, picking up shells–I had faint, but definite memories of these. However, seeing a dolphin in person……this would surely have been a memorable event, and yet I couldn’t remember anything about that, the existence of a group of dolphins that appeared for a week straight, or why I had suddenly stopped writing this journal.

What an unbelievable coincidence. I thought back to Nameless’s tales.

He’d said, “the dolphins start waiting for the meteor shower a week in advance”. Could it be that the last entry in the journal corresponded to the day of the meteor shower? For the six days leading up to it, I had spent time with the dolphins, and then on the day of the meteor shower something had happened?

“‘Naoyuki’…Wait, did you say ‘Naoyuki’?”

That first night, the strange way Nameless responded when I told him my name……The sound of the waves, ringing in my ears……The journal fell to the floor, my hands suddenly weak.

I felt some part of myself–the part rediscovered by Nameless that adored all things imaginary–was trying to urgently tell me something. The very same person who had written that journal had watched the stars with Nameless. Of course, I had no memory of that, but if it was true……Unable to restrain myself, I ran towards that beach while shielding my face from the rain that pelted me like rocks, using my other hand to tightly squeeze my chest where my heart throbbed furiously within.

Nonetheless, I knew there was no way he would be waiting there, in middle of a rainstorm. I stopped at the entrance of the beach, a modicum of sense finally beaten back into me by the rain. The sea was blurred from the downpour so I couldn’t even tell if the dolphins were there or not.

But I hadn’t come all the way here for nothing; there was something I needed to know. Unable to take it any longer, I called out for Nameless towards the rough sea–knowing full well there would be no reply.

What I heard in return was not empty silence but a familiar voice.

“Naoyuki? If you’re looking for me, I’m over here. It’s still too early for me to return to the sea.”

But why…..I hurried down the beach towards the sea and looked near the rocks. The owner of the voice–Nameless–lied there in his usual posture, “waiting for the stars.” He was soaked from head to toe, unkempt hair dripping wet.

“I told you, ‘the dolphins start waiting for the meteor shower a week in advance,’ right?”

He said this without even making an attempt to wipe his drenched cheeks. Something about his expression made me feel sorry for him, caught in the rain in wait of the stars; it was almost as if he was trying to embody his own words. I began to see him in a completely new light.

“You know, I think I might have met you before, long ago.”

Hearing this, he looked up at me slowly, as if exhausted. I took Nameless’s awkward grin as a silent acknowledgement.

I was right–we had met before when I was young. And yet, I had no memory if it. It pained me to see his lonesome face.

“For some reason, I just can’t seem to remember anything: about you, about the time we spent together, or about whatever happened the day of the meteor shower. I’m sure that we spent those days together, and yet……”

I paused mid-sentence and looked at Nameless, his eyes downcast as if all hope was lost, when I suddenly realized something.

Nameless had shown no indication he knew me since that first night when we met, almost a week ago. He hadn’t tried to get me to remember our encounter many years ago. That was most certainly because he knew that I had no memory of him. But that means……

“……I’ll forget everything?”

He nodded ever so slightly, still looking into the distance.

It would all disappear. All the memories of these seven days I spent at this beach together with Nameless and the dolphins would eventually vanish from my mind without a trace, just like they had when when I was young.

“That means that I’ll forget that we talked together like this, looked up at the stars, played in the shallow water, and even all the stories you’ve told me. I’ll forget……every single thing that happened during these days.”

He nodded once more.

The rain seemed to be trying to bore tiny holes into my shoulders as I stood there, dejectedly.

I’ll forget everything. Spending time with Nameless, seeing the dolphins, stories about the stars becoming shells and falling to the ground, a whale taking a bite out of the moon, and how the sky is actually a sea that ends somewhere far, far away. These memories will all be lost, without even a tiny fragment remaining. And I won’t even realize that I’ve lost them.

“This year, I think some particularly beautiful stars will be falling……Do you want to watch them with me?”

Nameless smiled at my motionless form, despite knowing I’d eventually forget everything.

“Don’t worry, Naoyuki. I’m so happy that you came again today to see me. I was hoping to watch the stars with you once more.”

Unable to get any words out, I sat down next to him. The sand was soggy and under normal conditions would have been uncomfortable, but as my entire body was drenched it didn’t bother me much. Even at a time like this, Nameless did what he always did–gazed up into the overcast sky.

Tomorrow was the day he had waited for patiently–the day of the meteor shower. Would Nameless make good on his claim of being a dolphin and return to the sea after finding a beautiful shell? I had no idea what would happen, though I somehow knew that tomorrow would be our last day together. I didn’t have any tangible proof, just a feeling.

I took his hand and held it tightly in mine. The tips of his fingers were nearly frozen from the rain, but there was a definite pulse. Even this sensation I would forget before long.

“Naoyuki, don’t be so sad.”

Nameless squeezed my hand in return and closed his eyes.

“Don’t worry. I’ll remember. Even if you lose every last memory, I’ll remember everything. Someday, it may be many years from now……just follow that which guides you and return here.”

On that day, we will meet again, for the first time. Over and over, we will repeat these seven days–until you lose sight of this place once and for all, until even that which guides you disappears.

My heart overflowed at his words, as if the floodgates had burst open.

But I don’t want to forget……returning to this beach again, all of Nameless’s words, their warmth……I don’t want to forget any of these.

“I won’t forget. I won’t let that happen. I’ll wait with you for the meteor shower again next year while we tell crazy tales in the pouring rain. I promise to come back here next summer, no matter what.”

Still gripping my hand, Nameless blinked. His expression softened and he replied simply, “I’ll be waiting.” Hearing these words, weak and yet certain, I felt my chest tighten.

We huddled up close together to brave the storm, which ended up lasting all night. But never, even for a moment, did I consider going home. For I knew that our time together was nearly over.

Japanese vocabulary list: School and Educational Institution Terms

This is a list of Japanese words related to school and educational institutions.

I’ve always enjoyed school and If you are staring to use these terms either for yourself, or for a loved one, I wish you the best luck! While I haven’t attended a school in Japan personally, I hear that they are much more difficult than American schools on average, especially for earlier grades.

  • 学校 (gakkou): school
  • 幼稚園 (youchien): kindergarten (also キンダー)
  • 小学校 (shougakkou): elementary school
  • 中学校 (chuugakkou): middle school
  • 高校 (koukou): high school
  • 大学 (daigaku): college or university
  • 専門学校 (senmon gakkou): vocational or technical school
  • 予備校 (yobikou): preparatory school (also 塾 ‘juku’)
  • 授業 (jugyou): class
  • 学生 (gakusei): student
  • クラスメート (kurasumeeto): classmate
  • 校内 (kounai): campus, school grounds
  • 教室 (kyoushitsu): classroom
  • 廊下 (rouka): hallway
  • 先生 (sensei): teacher
  • 担当 (tantou): person in charge (ex: 担当の先生: teacher in charge)
  • 教職員 (kyoushokuin): faculty or staff of a school  (also 教員)
  • 校長先生 (kouchou sensei): principle
  • 教頭先生 (kyoutou sensei): vice principle
  • 休園 (kyuuen): (kindergarten) closed
  • 休校 (kyuukou): school closed
  • 〜年生 (~nensei): student at a certain grade in school [ex: 二年生 (ninensei): second grade student]
  • 学年 (gakunen): grade in school (referring to 一年生、二年生, etc.)
  • 代講 (daikou): substitute teacher
  • アシスタント (ashisutanto): assistant (teacher)
  • (に) 落ちる (ochiru): to fail (a test, etc)
  • (に) 受かる (ukaru): to pass (a test, etc)
  • (を) 受ける (ukeru): to take (a test, etc.)
  • 合格 (goukaku): pass (a test, etc.)
  • 不合格 (fugoukaku): fail (a test, etc.)
  • 卒業する (sotsugyou suru): to graduate
  • 卒業生 (sotsugyousei): graduate, alumnus
  • 卒業アルバム (sotsuyou arubamu): yearbook
  • 試験 (shiken): test (also テスト)
  • 学期 (gakki): school term or semester
  • 中間 (chuukan): mid-term (ex: 中間テスト)
  • 期末 (kimatsu): end of term (ex: 期末テスト)
  • 見学する (kengaku suru): to observe (a class, etc.)
  • 飛び級する (tobikyuu suru): to skip a grade
  • 教科書 (kyoukasho): text book
  • 机 (tsukue): desk
  • 黒板 (kokuban): blackboard
  • 鉛筆 (enpitsu): pencil
  • 実習 (jisshuu): ‘real’ practice (actually doing something)
  • 自習 (jishuu): self-study (time given by teachers for students to study on their own, like before a test)
  • お休み (oyasumi): a day off or holiday (for work or school)
  • 休日(kyuujitsu): holiday (New Years, etc.)
  • 下駄箱 (getabako): shoe cupboard / rack
  • 単位 (tan’i):  (college) credit
  • 科目 (kamoku): subject / course
  • 必修科目 (hisshuu kamoku): required course
  • 退学する (taigaku suru): leaving / getting kicked out of school
  • 入学する (nyuugaku suru): entering school
  • 給食 (kyuushoku): school lunch
  • 理系 (rikei): science track, or a student in such a program
  • 文系 (bunkei): humanities track, or a student in such a program
  • クラブ (kurabu): a club (tennis, etc.)
  • 部活 (bukatsu): participation in a club (short for クラブ活動)
  • 稽古 (keiko): practice session for a club, like Karate (also お稽古)
  • 教育 (kyouiku): education
  • 教育制度 (kyouiku seido): educational system (also 教育システム)
  • 教育委員会 (kyouiku iinkai): board of education
  • 補習校 (hoshuukou): supplementary school (often weekends only)
  • 勉強する (benkyou suru): to study
  • 学ぶ (manabu): to learn
  • 専攻 (senkou): specialty/major
  • 運動場 (undoujou): playground/schoolyard
  • 体育館 (taiikukan): gymnasium
  • 食堂 (shokudou): cafeteria (also カフェテリア)
  • 不登校 (futoukou): not attending school
  • 成績表 (seisekihyou): report card (that contains grades)
  • 文科省 (monkashou): Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) [short for 文部科学省]
    • I was recently told this is something like a ‘board of education’ in the sense that it decides the educational standards for Japan, although this is just a subset of it’s duties. See more information here.

 

 

スクショ: a Japanese loanword you’ll never guess the meaning of

It’s pretty commonly known that Japanese takes many loanwords from other languages, especially English. (I’ve written in detail about this before here)

These range from obvious ones like オレンジ (the color ‘orange’), some that are bit tricky like セーター (sweater), and there are even combination words like the famous カラオケ (‘karaoke’ which is a combo of  the Japanese word ‘kara’ (empty) and the first part of ‘orchestra’). There are even ones that are confusing like the notorious マンション, which actually means ‘apartment’, not ‘mansion’ like you would first expect.

But just today I ran across one that sounded so different from it’s original English I don’t think I would have ever guessed it’s meaning.

スクショ  

Any guesses?

This can be written in romaji as ‘sukusho’, but when you pronounce it fast it sounds like ‘suksho’. Does this sound like it came from Russian, or it just me?

Anyway, the answer here is that this is a shortening of:

スクリーンショット

Which is clearly derived from English ‘screenshot’.

It is just when the “リーン” and “ット” parts are removed it sounds like a completely different word. (To me, it sounds dangerously close to “チクショ” which is a nasty word I don’t recommend ever using (:  )

For reference, this can be used as a noun by itself, or as verb together with する, as in:

  • エラー画面をスクショしてください
  • Please take a screen shot of the error screen.

Got any other crazy loanwords (外来語)? Let me know!

Japanese learning mobile app review: Sokuji (即時): Japanese Dictionary Browser

The other day I got an email from Megzari Raphael, the author of the app “Sokuji: Japanese Dictionary Browser” who asked me to check out this app which targets Japanese learners.

“Sokuji: Japanese Dictionary Browser” is an iPhone app which tries to serve a single, important purpose: easy, fast lookup of Japanese words while browsing the web. The name Sokuji comes from “即字” which is a combination of the characters for “fast” and “character”, a pretty appropriate name for what it does.

I tried it out, and it really does what it claims to–you can to browse websites within the app itself and have access to a little pointer, which when moved onto a word shows its reading and meaning(s). If there are multiple meanings, you’ll see a list you can scroll. All of the additional information is displayed at the top of the screen.

While this app’s core idea is pretty great, there were a few  little things that annoyed me in a brief session of usage. For example, I couldn’t pinch-zoom part of the time, the calibration of the pointer seemed a few pixels off which required some trial and error to select the word, and some compound words didn’t show up. (To to be fair, I think this last item would be very difficult to implement)

I mentioned these issues, along with a few other suggestions, to Megzari and gave him an opportunity to fix them before I wrote a review, but he said he was more interested in seeing how much demand there was for the app so I should go ahead and publish an honest review.

Even in it’s present state, I think that some people will find this app can save them a good bit of time, especially in passages that are filled with unfamiliar words. So I recommend checking it out if you have an iPhone.

Hopefully Megzari will make further refinements and make it even easier to use. If he doesn’t, maybe I’ll eventually take it on myself to make a similar app  (:

 

 

 

Japanese fiction translation: “Final Days of Summer” by “Masaki Hashiba” [Story 1 / Part 2]

This is the English translation of the second part of the first story (“Stargazer”) of the series of short stories titled “Final Days of Summer” (残夏)  by Masaki Hashiba (ハシバ柾). I’ve gotten permission from the author to translate and put these on my blog, and he is very excited about his work being translated to English.

As always, since I have many other competing translation projects, any feedback on this story will help me decide where to focus my energies. You can vote for this story on my survey here, or even better you can leave a comment on this post, or like it.

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for proofreading this chapter.

This page contains this work’s synopsis and other translated portions. You can see the entire first short story in its original Japanese here.

Story 1: Stargazer (Part 2)

The next night I returned to the beach, breathless with anticipation. When I saw Nameless sitting there in the same place as the previous day, without a moment’s hesitation I sat down next to him. He welcomed me with a warm smile.

“You actually came.”

“I wouldn’t have said see you tomorrow if I wasn’t planning on coming today. Good evening.”

Nameless opened his eyes wide and repeated the salutation back to me. My formal greeting seemed to catch him off guard. Given how much he’d surprised me yesterday, it felt sort of strange to be the one doing the surprising for a change.

I showed him the bottle of cheap saké that I’d brought from my parents’ house, which he stared at quietly like some bizzare item. When I gave him a little to drink, it soon became clear that he had a very low tolerance to alcohol. It was quite amusing to watch his eyes glaze over as he hiccuped repeatedly.

I drank with Nameless, already red-faced, while we stared up together at the night sky. The light of distant stars passed through wispy clouds to reach us all the way here on Earth.

Something made a splashing sound. I searched the dark ocean but found nothing. Puzzled, I shifted my gaze to Nameless, who pointed to a place a little way out at sea where the water was shallow. I squinted to examine that area–my eyes were accustomed to staring at documents and computer screens–and could just barely make out the slippery faces of something breaking the surface of the water, causing little disturbances.

It was dolphins, and more than just a handful. The large group of them gathered near the shore.

“They have been waiting here for the meteor shower like this since yesterday. I told you about how the dolphins start waiting for it a week in advance, right? They are waiting here to find the most beautiful shells on the night of the meteor shower…and I’ll also be…”

Nameless slurred his speech as if the alcohol had begun to take effect.

I thought about why dolphins would want to gather here, on this beach. What in the world did he mean by the dolphins start waiting for the meteor shower a week in advance? Why would dolphins search this beach for the most beautiful shells? And finally, how would dolphins search for shells on land anyway–after going through all the trouble of waiting until the day of the meteor shower?

My logical facilities kicked in and put a stop to these absurd questions. A normal person would never believe some crazy story like this so easily. Especially an adult in their right mind…I admonished myself, turning a blind eye to the hint of despair that gnawed at me.

When I glanced at Nameless, he was hugging his knees on the sand, starting to nod off. Giving him the saké had been a mistake. Despite his thick, warm clothes, he’d surely catch a cold if he dozed off here.

“Hey Nameless, I’m sorry but you can’t sleep here. I’ll carry you home. Where do you live? If it’s too far, you can stay at my place tonight.”

“I’m fine……this is my home now……so just let me stay here……until I find a beautiful shell…”

His mumbling tapered off until it became the quiet breathing of peaceful slumber. Had he actually said this is my home? I put my hand to my chest as I looked down at him, a strange premonition stirring within me.

Nameless was waiting for the meteor shower for a week in search of the most beautiful shell. What he was doing was suspiciously like the dolphins he had spoken about earlier. It was almost as if he had been talking about himself.

But that was impossible. Despite acknowledging that, I decided to not take him home with me against his will. But if you asked me if it was because I believed his story, I’m not sure how I would answer.

……

On the third night after I’d encountered Nameless, I visited that beach once more. He greeted me like an old friend. Needless to say, the pod of dolphins was still nearby in wait of the stars.

I dipped my bare feet into the sea water and gazed silently up at the sky. Nameless, sitting in the shade of a large rock, and the dolphins, gathered where the water was shallow, stared intently up at the stars. Together we looked skyward: me–a man who had frolicked around embarrassingly on the evening beach, Nameless–a man with a strange appearance who paid no mind to my odd behavior, and a group of dolphins whose expressions gave no indication of what they were thinking. We were an odd spectacle indeed, yet none of this felt the least bit funny. After all, I myself was a part of this odd spectacle–and strangely, everything somehow felt right.

I ran my toes through the cool water and turned to Nameless. Staring up at the night sky, his jet-black eyes reflected the stars clearly, like a mirror.

“On the day of the meteor shower, the stars will rain down upon this beach. Each one will become a brightly colored shell as it falls to the ground. It will be a day where countless shells of all kinds–some beautiful, some not–fall to the earth…That will be the day of the meteor shower.”

Nameless’s voice blended perfectly into the stillness of the night. I looked around the ground near my feet and prodded at the shells in the shallow water with my toes.

He said that long ago, all of these were once stars; the crazy thing is that I almost believed him.

I picked up a nearby shell and tossed it at the distant, pitch-dark horizon. As if running low on energy, it skipped against the surface of the water and disappeared soon after.

“Naoyuki?”

There was something comforting about being next to him like this. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to respond to what he said about the meteor shower. Facing away from him, I stepped out of the water and grabbed my shoes.

“……I’m really not into imagining things that don’t exist or anything like that……You know, I’m not a kid anymore.”

The very words that I struggled so hard to get out stabbed deep into me. How was he reacting to what I said? I was too scared to turn around and find out.

Just as I started to walk away, barefeet with shoes in hand, I heard a voice from behind.

“I’m not joking around with you. Naoyuki, I thought that at least you would…”

Believe you, right?

His voice was clear, leaving no room for doubt as to what he meant. But I said nothing and continued walking.

Shortly after, when Nameless and the crowd of dolphins had disappeared into the shadow of a rock, I felt all the energy suddenly drained from my body and collapsed to my knees.

Ever since I was asked to take a vacation and get away from the company for a while, I’ve started having these episodes where I can feel the blood draining from my face, like the time my boss told me I needed a break. What if I was never able to return to work? This fear weighed down heavily upon me.

I don’t think anyone knows this, but to advance in my job, to become a “well-respected adult”, I’ve sacrificed some things along the way that were very important to me. For example, I stopped using my imagination that I had loved so dearly because others said it was childish, because it interfered with me becoming a “normal” member of society.

A moment ago, you were shining so brightly.

I thought back to what Nameless said that day and lowered my head in shame.

When was I still young, I really enjoyed using my imagination. It was great fun to think about things that could exist despite being unseen. But why would I suddenly remember that at a time like this?

I’d put distance between me and my job, but my imagination had become equally distant. There was no longer anywhere in this world where I belonged. A sense of desolation of being abandoned by everything–even the stars in the sky–swirled around me along with a stagnant breeze. I forced my weary body to stand and, dragging my foot, took another step of the long, dark way home.

……

I found myself standing before that beach once again.

I hadn’t gotten any sleep all night. I was exhausted, to be sure, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fall asleep; as I was killing time, the day dawned and bathed me in light. I remember up to the point where I absent-mindedly drank some more until night fell and then went on a little walk to try and get rid of my unpleasant hangover. After that I unconsciously–yes, you guessed it–somehow stumbled upon this beach again, as if drawn by an unseen force.

At least you believe me, right?

Nameless’s words were a knife that gouged deep into me. I still had no answer to his question.

Actually, I think I’ll go home. But just as I had given up and was starting to turn around, I heard a voice.

“Naoyuki!”

This voice–the one thing that I dreaded, yet longed to hear more than anything else in this world–came from somewhere between the rock and the sand.

Nameless crawled out from the shade of his usual rock and into view. His legs appeared completely devoid of energy, useless to him. Supporting his upper body with only his arms, he smiled at me foolishly.

Seeing him like that, I immediately understood why he had never walked around in my presence. It wasn’t that he didn’t walk–he couldn’t walk.

“I was starting to think you’d never come.”

He wasn’t trying to complain to me. Rather, he was dragging his two lifeless legs, inching towards me to try and stop me from going.

I suddenly felt a strong need to leave that beach, and yet my body froze. I wasn’t able to help him up, not could I run away.

“Have you ever heard that when something dies, it becomes a star?”

Nameless spoke to me, still unable to move, as half of his body lay against the sand.

When something dies, it becomes a star. It was a common saying. But if that was true, then how could you explain what happens when a star dies? Stars are ultimately just celestial objects, in no way related to living things and thus can’t die in that sense. It was hard to believe any such claim without any real scientific grounding.

But I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt him. His soft voice continued.

“That’s actually the truth. When something dies, it becomes a star. And that star, on the night of the meteor shower, becomes a shell and falls to the Earth here, at this beach. The shell’s appearance, you see, changes slightly based on how that life was lived.”

Those who lived an honorable life will become beautiful shells, and the others will become unsightly shells–each of them coming to rest on this sand.

“I’m not into imagining things”–these words no longer had any meaning to me. I listened carefully to what Nameless said, trying to grasp his meaning. His words, his voice, permeated my body like water. The feeling of drunkenness that still lingered in my chest gradually became a calm drowsiness.

I took a few steps towards Nameless and helped him to stand up. He seemed a little confused, but when our eyes met, he smiled bashfully. When I asked him why he’d never told me that he couldn’t walk, he replied as if stating something obvious.

“Dolphins have no need for legs, right?”

“So you’re saying you can’t walk because you’re a dolphin?”

He nodded. His expression was dead serious, as always.

I no longer cared whether or not Nameless was joking around with me. I responded only with a noncommittal “sure” and gazed up at the tiny, distant points of brilliance that watched over Nameless, the dolphins in the shallows, and me.

Things glittering brightly, out of reach. The things of dreams and imagination I thought I’d long given up in order to become an adult. The truth was they still remained a part of me, waiting somewhere deep within for me to welcome them back into my life.

I took him to the edge of the water, dipped his feet in, and kicked off my shoes. At first, he seemed puzzled by the sensation of the water, but a smile gradually returned to his face. After watching him for a little while, I couldn’t help but put my own feet in the ocean and swish them around playfully.

Each time the water splashed in a chaotic dance, I saw the glittering stars reflected in the ocean’s surface. Within the constellations expanding below us–a star chart that was wholly ours–I felt as if Nameless’s eyes, sparkling brighter than any star, were leading me back to where I truly belonged.

Japanese Grammar: Using kara (から) and node (ので) to express a reason in isolation

As I’ve written about before, in Japanese oftentimes words or entire phrases can be omitted, even more so than in English.

I’d like to talk about another case where things can be omitted in Japanese, but first I want to give a quick summary of talking about reasons in Japanese.

Expressing a reason is pretty straightforward and typically uses the form 〜から (~kara) or 〜だから (~dakara).

  • リンゴがおいしいから食べたい。
  • Apples are tasty so I want to eat (one).
  • 好きだから君に会いたい。
  • I like (you) so I want to see you.

The reason and what the reason is talking about can be separated into different sentences.

  • 雨が降ってる。だから行きたくない。
  • It’s raining. That is why I don’t want to go.

Also, a reason can be stated after the fact, like let’s say you are asked why you like to study Japanese.

  • だって、難しいから。
  • It’s because it’s difficult.   (This is an answer only I would give (:   )

The pattern 〜ので  (~node) or 〜なので (~na node) can also be used in a similar way, except it has a more polite, formal feel.

So now onto the main topic. Sometimes in Japanese the thing the reason is talking about can be omitted completely and is implied from context.

For example, say you just asked someone to do something, but they aren’t listening. In frustration, you could say:

  • (もう)いいから。。。
  • Because it’s already good…

Here I purposefully gave the literal translation which doesn’t make much sense. “いいから” (ii kara) is more of a set phrase that means something like “Come on (already).”

Here is another one:

  • ちょっと待って。すぐ戻るから。。。
  • Wait a minute. (Because) I’ll be right back…

The “から” here is a little tricky to translate because in English, we generally don’t say “because” in situations like this. Literally it means “I want you to wait because I’ll be right back.”

Here’s one more:

  • 子供じゃないんだから。。。
  • You aren’t a child anymore so…  (or ‘Because you aren’t a child anymore…’)

Depending on the situation, the implication here could mean “stop that” or “you should be embarrassed”.

Sometimes the thing the reason is referring to may be omitted in order to avoid saying something too direct. Let’s say someone asks you to help them study math but for whatever reason you want to decline. You could say:

  • ごめん、数学はちょっと苦手だから。。。
  • Sorry, I’m not really good at math so…

This one translates pretty well to English where “so” is more natural.

For yet one more example, imagine that you made a mistake and someone is really disappointed in you. As part of that conversation you could say:

  • 僕、もっと頑張るから。。。
  • I’ll try harder, so…

Here the implication is “I’ll try harder, so don’t give up on me.”

This pattern applies equally to explaining reasons with “ので” . For example, let’s say you try to light up a cigarette inside a restaurant. The waitress comes up to you and says:

  • すみません。こちらは禁煙なので。。。  [or 〜禁煙ですので。。]
  • I’m sorry. This is a non-smoing area therefore…

As a side note, the な the above sentence (as part of ので)has the meaning of だ. Also, often the phrase なので can be abbreviated as なんで, for example:

  • すみません。こちらは禁煙なんで。。。

I think this sort of omission can generally be understood pretty easily in context, but it might help you listen for it more now that you are aware of the pattern.

One final meaning of “だから。。。” I wanted to mention is when someone has said something but you respond in a way to make it sound like you haven’t heard or understood what they said. Depending on the context, it can have the (annoyed) feeling of “Like I just said…”.

Looking at these examples, I think there are many cases where a similar phrase could be said naturally in English, but the main difference is that often “because” is not explicitly said in English while (だ) から or(な)ので is more likely to be in Japanese.

Japanese fiction translation: “Final Days of Summer” by “Masaki Hashiba” [Story 1 / Part 1]

After doing a great deal of searching through a few sites including カクヨム (review) and 小説家になろう (review) I found a great series of short stories called “Final Days of Summer” (残夏)  by Masaki Hashiba (ハシバ柾). While it is still a work in progress, I feel that the stories that have been finished are great enough on their own to be translated regardless of when the author writes the remainder of the stories.

I’ve gotten permission from the author to translate and put these on my blog, and he was very excited about the possibility of his work being translated to English.

As for the genre of this work, I’ll just say it seems to be set in the real world, but fantasy elements gradually creep in and eventually things get a little out-there. I have written a synopsis which gives away a little bit of the beginning of the story and talks about the series in a general sense. I highly recommend reading it after you read the translation of the first part, so I have put the synopsis at the very bottom. But feel free to check it out first if you want to get a taste of what is ahead.

I have a few other older stories I am still considering going back to do more chapters, and a few new ones as well, so any feedback on this story will help me decide where to focus my energies. You can vote for this story on my survey here, or even better you can leave a comment on this post, or like it.

Thanks to Nijima Melodiam for proofreading this chapter.

As each of the short stories are a bit lengthy, I’ll be breaking them into sizeable chunks. You can see the entire first short story in its original Japanese here.   This page will eventually contain other translated portions.

 

Story 1: Stargazer (Part 1)

It’s been quite a long time–nearly 10 years–since I last set foot on this beach.

I’ve been in the same company for 8 years now. Ecstatic that they finally let me have my own project, I failed to pay attention to the heavy responsibilities that go hand in hand with being a project manager. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. Too many days and nights of grueling overtime took its toll, and I ended up collapsing in a conference room, unconscious. Hence, this impromptu summer sabbatical.

I’m sure everyone has lost faith in me. I’ll even be taken off the project–when I thought about this, my life and everything in it began to lose its meaning. Even worse than the frustration was a terrible sense of futility, permeating every cell of my body.

Ever since I had begun this little vacation, it was painful each time I came across a suit-wearing businessman when I was out somewhere. At this rate, it didn’t seem like I would ever get any rest for my mind or body. So I took a short flight and returned to the village where I was born. I guess you could say I had simply wanted to get as far away from that company as possible.

I could describe my hometown as “a village by the sea abundant with beautiful nature.” But you could just as easily call it “a godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere.”

Of course, there were no supermarkets around, and the convenience store 15 minutes away by car was a luxury that nearly brought tears to my eyes. The house lights all go out in early evening, leaving only the sound of leaves rustling and birds chirping. Then, in early morning the senior citizens awake to start their gossiping and farm work…It was a typical country town like you would find anywhere.

Accustomed to the hectic city life, I began to get restless soon after arriving. Around that time I remembered a place I used to visit frequently when I was young. If I remember correctly, there was a small white, sandy beach surrounded by rugged stones…Oh, and there were many shells strewn about. Back then I used to walk around and collect them.

I think I’ll go and visit that beach once more.

Before I knew it, I already was on the way there.

A distance close enough to reach with a child’s legs would be even easier for an adult’s. I sifted through my childhood memories while wandering in search of that beach. As I traversed the twilit roads, my feelings of despondency strangely faded and were replaced by feelings of elation.

There was the beach, exactly as I remembered it. Its pure white sand stood out in stark contrast to the surrounding jagged mountains, with numerous colorful shells strewn about…Nothing had changed–except that it all looked smaller than I pictured, probably due to me having grown in these years.

On the way to becoming an adult, the familiar sights and sounds of my surroundings had gradually vanished. Actually, I had only thought they all vanished–that is, until I returned here. Even though I had changed so much, this place was exactly the same. It was as if this beach had somehow waited patiently for me all these years, and thinking about that made me extremely happy.

Unable to contain my excitement, I took off my sneakers and socks right there and dipped my feet into the chilly ocean water. As if in response to my steps, ripples expanded on the surface of the water around my feet and the bottom of my pants got soaked from the water spray. Pure joy bubbled up from somewhere deep in my chest and overflowed in the form of a laugh.

This felt wonderful. Listening to the sound of water splashing was really soothing.

“Achoo!”

A sneeze?

I immediately stopped splashing wildly around in the water and looked around. It was then that I realized there was a man sitting in the shade of one of the large rocks, and I felt my face burn with embarrassment. I was horrified that I’d been seen–by a grown man nonetheless–laughing at the top of my lungs and thrashing around on the beach at night. I rushed out of the water and recovered my socks and sneakers.

In any case, I had to get out of here quickly. But if this guy told anyone else about what he just saw…That fear stopped me in my tracks. After thinking things through, I quickly approached the man and sat down next to him.

“If you’ll excuse me…”

“Go ahead.”

He answered in a soft voice, without so much as even a glance in my direction. After that, he simply stared intently into the star-strewn sky in silence. The man neither smiled nor backed off; I guess it was because of the shock of seeing me like that.

Beginning to grow suspicious, I gawked openly at him, knowing full well how rude it was. It was then that I finally realized how strange his appearance was.

His grayish blonde hair extended to his shoulders, and his overcoat sported baggy, thick sleeves that loosely wrapped a slender figure. Bare legs protruding from it were covered in a thin layer of sand. Everything about this guy screamed being out of touch with the seasons–or with reality itself–and this somehow piqued my curiosity.

“Hey……why are you here?”

“I’m waiting for the stars.”

Stars? It took me quite some time to realize he was talking about the meteor shower that was supposed to happen in six days. Now that I think about it, I remember some of the old folks in my neighborhood talking about it this morning. Until this moment it had completely slipped my mind.

Around these parts you can get a great view of an annual meteor shower. In the village where I was born, they held a star festival right around this time each year. Of course, back in my youth I used to attend. But why had I stopped going? Oh right, it was probably because I had gotten sick of the traditional dishes they only served at the festival.

Regardless, there was no doubt in my mind the meteor shower was six days from now.

“Sorry to let you down, but the meteor shower doesn’t start for six more days.”

“I know that. The dolphins begin waiting for it seven days early.”

The man answered matter-of-factly, without even so much as a glance at me. The dolphins? What was he talking about?

I wanted to ask him to explain, but when I saw his face beaming with confidence I just couldn’t bring myself to. Instead, I tried to follow his gaze, but it only led me to the expansive star-filled sky. Many of these stars were usually invisible, the faint light they emitted easily overtaken by the human-made glow of the city.

The man suddenly spoke.

“A few minutes ago, you were shining so brightly, just like a child. It was truly a joy to watch you. Would you mind sharing your name with me?”

Did he just say shining? At first I thought he was being sarcastic, but when I saw his innocent smile, I felt my tension loosen up a little.

Yeah, there was definitely something weird about this guy. And yet I felt strangely comfortable sitting here beside him.

“It’s ‘Naoyuki,’ written with the second character of ‘obedient’ and the character for ‘to go.’ “

“‘Naoyuki’…Wait, did you say ‘Naoyuki’?”

“Yeah, is there something wrong?”

He seemed about to say something in response but kept quiet. After a few moments of silence, he started giggling.

“Hehe, is that so? So you’re ‘Naoyuki,’ huh? I’m nameless. You can call me whatever you like, but this name is my favorite.”

Nameless? Did that mean he didn’t have a real name? I was also curious why he seemed to like my name so much. But before I had a chance to ask him, he seemed to lose interest in the conversation.

There was something mysterious about this Nameless guy, but I didn’t sense any malice in him. As I watched him closely, I stopped caring about his identity or personal situation. Regardless of who he was, watching the stars by his side like this was actually kind of nice.

“So Nameless, you were saying that you’re waiting for the stars……Does that mean you’ll be here again tomorrow?”

“Sure will. Tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that…I’ll be here every day until I see the meteor shower.”

I smiled; he sounded as if he intended to stay here for the next six days straight. But surely he meant that he would be stopping by each night.

Tomorrow he would be here. And I’d be able to watch the stars with him again. For some reason this put my mind at ease. Perhaps because he had concealed his identity, I felt as if he might disappear into a puff of smoke at any moment. But I was happy just knowing I’d be able to bask a little longer in the comfort of this place I’d stumbled upon.

I let him know I’d be here again tomorrow and then sprinted all the way home in my bare feet, carrying my socks in one hand and shoes in the other. The thought that I might scratch up my feet never even crossed my mind–I was too busy imagining what tomorrow’s night sky would be like.

[End of Part 1]

Synopsis:

A man, burnt out from excessive overwork, returns to his hometown to get away from it all. He soon grows bored and decides to visit a beach he used to play at as a child.

There he stumbles upon a man on the sand wearing strange clothes who speaks of even stranger things: he is at the beach to see the upcoming meteor shower, even though it is supposed to occur almost a week later.

But he finds a strange comfort in watching the sky at the mysterious man’s side and decides to return the next day to ‘wait for the stars’ with him.

This is just the beginning of a series of interconnected tales that span across time and space, sharing a sense of quiet peacefulness like what you feel when gazing up into the starlit night sky. While reading these you may begin to feel there is more out there–and more inside yourself–than you ever imagined.

Japanese Site Review: カクヨム (kakuyomu) – a great place for free novels and short stories

Sometime last year I wrote a review of the site “syosetu.com” (小説家になろう) which is a nice place to get your fill of free (and legal) Japanese novels and short stories. Since then, I have been a pretty heavy user of the site, reading portions of a great many stories, and writing emails to handful of authors to get their permission to translate their story to English and post it on this blog. Some of these you can see on my translations page in various forms of completeness.

Recently, having gone through many of the highly rated stories on there and not having too much luck finding stories that I really think are enjoyable enough for me to read and worth of a translation, I decided to try the site カクヨム (kakuyomu) that I had heard about some time ago, but never really got around to checking out. The site’s name comes from the Japanese verbs  書く (kaku), which means “to write”, and 読む(yomu), which means “to read”.

After spending a few hours on there, I’ve already found a handful of stories that I like and have begun translation on one after getting the authors permission. But, ironically, I later discovered that same story was on syosetu.com. I just hadn’t managed to come across it because of the massive number of stories on the latter site. Syosetu.com has actually been around since 2004, which explains how they have nearly a million registered users as of the time of this article (951,965 to be exact!).

To be honest, I am not sure if the stories on kakuyomu, which was founded last year in 2016, are necessarily any better than on syosetu. But the one thing that blew me away about the site was it’s visual design.

To start off with, it’s got a clean, uncluttered design which adeptly utilizes whitespace along with simple visual elements. While there are (of course) ads, they are relatively unobtrusive compared to syosetu. There is also very skillful usage of font types, sizes, and colors. Content-wise, one great features of the site is that next to a story you can see a quote by someone who has reviewed it. This reminds me much of the news aggregation site Naver Matome which I reviewed some time ago. Actually, looking at these sites again I see other visual similarities between them, which I am guessing was purposeful based on the popularity and usability of Matome.

But most impressive is the actual experience when you are reading, with beautifully formatted tables of contents and professional-looking formatting and fonts used in the actual text. I seem to enjoy the stories more because of their excellent presentation, which somehow reminds of me how I seem to be able to improvise better on a high-quality piano.

Functionally, the site is very similar to syosetu.com, with categories, the ability to follow authors, ratings, reviews, etc. One frustration is that, unlike syosetu, there doesn’t seem to be a way to directly contact an author, which is pretty important for me, though if they have listed their home page I can sometime find contact information there. Another minor annoyance is the lack of one of my favorite categories, 文学 (literature). Although to be fair, that is a vaguely-defined term, and many of the stories listed under 文学 on syosetu really don’t belong there, in my opinion.

Kakuyomu is actually made by the publisher Kadokawa, and one important part of this website is the list of titles that have gotten published and are available for sale (書籍化作品). Interestingly enough, the full text of these seems to still be available on the site, at least for the one I checked.

On a side note, I still haven’t found any English site that seems to pale in comparison to these sites. Actually, I guess Wattpad sort of does, but for some reason I feel these Japanese sites are more accessible. A third Japanese site that is somewhat similar is Alphapolis, which I may review in a future article.

 

 

Japanese vocabulary list: Math and number terms

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a Japanese vocabulary list, so I thought I would make one about mathematics and numbers (数学用語). I’ve purposefully left shapes out of this list and may make another list later just focusing on those.

(Interesting fact: In the 2015 PISA average scores, Japan scored #5 in math and #2 in science.)

If you have any ideas for a vocabulary list, let me know.

  • 数学 (suugaku): mathematics
  • 数学的 (suugakuteki): mathematical  (used as an adjective)
  • 数字 (suuji): number
  • 数 (kazu): number
  • 桁 (keta): digit
    • 3桁 (san keta): 3 digits
  • 算数 (sansuu): elementary mathematics  [covers things like basic counting, shapes, addition, etc.]
  • 足し算 (tashizan): addition
    • 1+2=3  (ichi tasu ni wa san)
  • 引き算 (hikizan): subtraction
    • 3−2=1 (san hiku ni wa ichi)
  • 掛け算 (kakezan): multiplication
    • 2x3=6 (ni kakeru san wa roku)
  • 割り算 (warizan): division
    • 8/4=2 (hachi waru yon wa ni)
  • 小数 (shousuu): decimal
    • 3.2 (ichi ten ni)
  • 分数  (bunsuu): fraction
    • 5/3(san bun no go)
    • 分母 (bunbo): divisor  (3 in this example)
    • 分子 (bunshi): numerator (5 in this example)   [Note: also means molecule in physics]
  • 約数 (yakusuu): divisor
    • 10の約数 (juu no yakusuu): divisor of 10
  • 倍数 (baisuu): multiple
    • 5の倍数 (baisuu): multiple of 5
  • 指数 (shisuu): exponent  [also index, as in ‘customer index’]
  • 偶数 (guusuu): even number
  • 奇数 (kisuu): odd number
  • 非数 (hisuu): not a number (NAN)
  • 無理数 (murisuu): irrational number
  • 有理数 (yuurisuu): rational number
  • 比 (hi): ratio
    • 2対3 (ni tai san):  2:3  (radio of 2 to 3)
  • 量 (ryou): amount
  • 体積 (taiseki): volume
  • 面積 (menseki): area
  • 角度 (kakudo): angle
    • 90度 (kyuu juu do): 90 degrees
  • 長さ (nagasa): length
  • 重さ (omosa): weight
  • 速さ (hayasa): speed
  • 素数 (sosuu): prime number
  • 整数 (seisuu): integer / whole number
  • 実数 (jissuu): real number
  • 虚数 (kyosuu): imaginary number
  • 自然数 (shizensuu): natural number  [1,2,3,4,5…]
  • 負の数 (fu no suu): negative number  [also 負数]
  • 正の数 (sei no suu): positive number [also 正数]
  • 多い (ooi): many / more than   [10より多い  = more than 10]
  • 少ない (sukunai): few / less than  [5より少ない = less than 5]
  • 等しい (hitoshii): equal   [also イコール]
  • 円周率 (enshuuritsu): PI (3.141592…)

Here is a site in Japanese with a few more: http://www.suriken.com/knowledge/glossary/grade01_06.html