Promising Translators 2018 Entry Feedback: Kisetsu’s translation of “Morning” (by Osamu Dazai)

By | April 23, 2018

As a bonus to those who have participated in STJ’s first translation contest, Promising Translators 2018, I have offered to give feedback on the entries. This is the third post where I will give such feedback (this is the first, this the second). Please be aware that much of what I will say in these posts has a subjective element, and of course there is no such thing as a “best” translation. Rather than giving the “right” way, I am just trying to give suggestions for things to consider, different options, or ways to approach the translation of a word or passage.

(Note: I have gotten advance permission from the translator to publicly post their translation as well as comments regarding it.)

In this post, I will be discussing the entry translated by Kisetsu, who submitted a translation of the short story “Morning” (朝) by Osamu Dazai (太宰治), one of the foremost fiction authors of 20th century Japan. You can see the original Japanese text for this story here on Aozora Bunko, first published in 1947. (By the way, if you want to read a great work by Dazai, I recommend 人間失格)

The translation was a good attempt, though I had several issues with the naturalness of the English, as well as inconsistencies with the OT (original text). To help with the former issue, I suggest having one or two more experienced writers help proofread in the future. They don’t have to know a single word of Japanese, in fact it might be better if they dont.

 

I like having fun over everything else so even while working at home, I am filled with secret anticipation when long distance friends visit me. Although when they burst open the door and enter the foyer, I greet them with frowns and scrunched eyebrows, inside I am filled with joy. Hence, I greet them while quickly closing my unwritten manuscripts.

私は遊ぶ事が何よりも好きなので、家で仕事をしていながらも、友あり遠方より来るのをいつもひそかに心待ちにしている状態で、玄関が、がらっとあくと眉(まゆ)をひそめ、口をゆがめて、けれども実は胸をおどらせ、書きかけの原稿用紙をさっそく取りかたづけて、その客を迎える。

 

First, just looking at the English text, a few things jump out:

  • “over everything else” sounds to me like an uncommon expression and feels awkward. Consider “more than anything else”
  • “secret anticipation” should probably be preceded by the article “a”
  • “unwritten manuscripts” sounds a little strange, “unfinished manuscripts” is more natural
  • The first comma in the “Although then they burst…” sentence should probably be removed (otherwise the last clause in the sentence feels somehow out of place). However, changing the order to “Although I greet them with…” is more natural still.

Comparing against the OT, a few inconsistencies come to mind:

  • “long distance friends visit me” is closer to “friends who visit from far away” in the OT (this is pretty minor though)
  • 心待ちにしている indicates more like “looking forward to (friends visiting)”, whereas in the ET it is rendered as “filled with anticipation whenfriends visit”. Generally, you would anticipate something before it occurs, not when it occurs.
  • The “Hence” in the last sentence is not anywhere in the OT.
  • “when they burst open the door and enter the foyer” would be more accurately rendered as “when the front door bursts open”. (OT: 玄関、がらっとあくと)
  • “実は” is not directly rendered in the ET, though I guess you could say it is implied by the “although…” structure.
  • The ”いつも” is not reflected in the ET.

Looking deeper, there are a few stylistic/flow differences as well:

  • The OT is a single paragraph is a single long sentence, whereas the ET has broken up things into three sentences. Sometimes this may be acceptable, but I generally recommend trying to translate first without breaking the sentence boundaries, and only adjusting when absolutely necessary.
  • The parallel structure of the following phrase is not reflected in the ET: 眉をひそめ、口をゆがめて

Taking some of these into consideration, I’ll attempt a rewrite of this paragraph:

 

Because there’s nothing I like more than having fun, even when I’m working at home I’m always in eager anticipation of the arrival of a friend from afar, so when the front door bursts open I curl my lip and furrow my brow–but deep down I’m filled with excitement as I hurry to put away my unfinished manuscript and welcome the new guest. 

 

I managed to fit things into a single sentence, and though it does feel a little long I think segmenting it into multiple sentences may not be needed. Having said that, this was just a quick draft and after going through the whole work a few times I might tweak it some more. But putting aside trying to match with the OT, it definitely takes much longer to craft and tweak a longer sentence like this.

As a side point, if you haven’t thought about sentence length much I would recommend picking some books you like and seeing where long sentences are employed and what effect they have. Then do the same thing with short sentences.

Now onto a few dialogue lines:

 

“Ah, are you in the middle of writing?”

「あ、これは、お仕事中ですね。」

 

This does a reasonable job of capturing the OT, but I think “ですね” is more of a light confirmation as opposed to a direct question. This could be rephrased as the following:

“Ah, I see you are in the middle of writing.”

Here, I’ve used “see” to reflect the “これは” part, since it indicates the speaker has seen the state of the main character’s house and made the inference they are writing.

On to the next dialog line:

 

“No. Not at all.”

「いや、なに。」

 

This is a pretty good rendering. Actually, when I first saw the OT here I was a little thrown off by the なに part. However, I checked with a native speaker and this is a colloquial expression that does in fact correspond with “not at all”.

 

Then I will go out with the guests (to play).

そうしてその客と一緒に遊びに出る。

 

Here, the word “will” gives a nuance like “well, in that case” that I am not sure fits with the OT. Also, I feel the word 遊ぶ has a little wider use than the English “play”. While this part was rendered in parenthesis, I feel that is a bit unnatural and recommend just removing it altogether. Finally, there is no indication there is more than one guest (though I guess there could be since Japanese doesn’t always specify plural in nouns). So a possible refinement can be as follows:

Then I go out and spend some time with that guest.

 

Now onto the next two paragraphs:

 

Nevertheless, this can’t be the state of things forever, so I turned a certain place into my secret workroom. Nobody knows about this place. Every morning, I will get lunch packed from home and take it to the workroom and work there.

As to be expected, since no one was aware of my secret hideout, my plans progressed smoothly. But as time passes and afternoon ends, I become tired and lonely and want to unwind myself. I then end the work at a suitable time and go back home. On my way back sometimes, I become late due to stopping at Oden stalls and likewise.

けれども、それではいつまでも何も仕事が出来ないので、某所に秘密の仕事部屋を設ける事にしたのである。それはどこにあるのか、家の者にも知らせていない。毎朝、九時頃(ごろ)、私は家の者に弁当を作らせ、それを持ってその仕事部屋に出勤する。さすがにその秘密の仕事部屋には訪れて来るひとも無いので、私の仕事もたいてい予定どおりに進行する。しかし、午後の三時頃になると、疲れても来るし、ひとが恋しくもなるし、遊びたくなって、頃合いのところで仕事を切り上げ、家へ帰る。帰る途中で、おでんやなどに引かかって、深夜の帰宅になる事もある。

 

While earlier in this translation a single sentence was broken into three, here a single paragraph is split into two paragraphs. The former might be OK, but I feel slicing at the paragraph level requires even more prudence and the necessity for that is rare. In fact, when I did some translation work on the website Gengo, they specifically said to try and retain the paragraph boundaries (to be fair, much of the work there is real-world text, like product descriptions, but still).

Here are a few other issues I had with this set of paragraphs:

  • 仕事が出来ない is translated as “can’t be the state of things forever”. I’d prefer a more literal “I will never get any work done”
  • 某所に秘密の仕事部屋を設ける事にした is rendered as “I turned a certain place into my secret workroom”. Literally, the OT is closer to “I decided to make a certain place my secret workroom.”
  • The 2nd sentence is literally “I haven’t notified anyone at my house about where it is,” but is rendered in the ET as “Nobody knows about this place”.
  • The 九時頃 part is missing from the ET.
  • 私の仕事もたいてい予定どおりに進行する is rendered as “my plans progressed smoothly”, whereas I would recommend something like “My work went, for the most part, according to plans” that is much closer to the OT.
  • 午後の三時頃になると is rendered as “as time passes and afternoon ends”. I prefer the more literal, “But as 3pm comes around…”
  • want to unwind myself” sounds unnatural. I would recommend removing the word “myself”
  • 帰る途中で、おでんやなどに引かかって、深夜の帰宅になる事もある is rendered as “On my way back sometimes, I become late due to stopping at Oden stalls and likewise.” This has a few problems:
    • The connotation of “Getting stuck at” or perhaps “ending up at” which ひっかかる has isn’t reflected in the ET.
    • The comma placement is a little unusual, moving the comma after “sometimes” to before it would be more natural.
    • “become late” sounds a bit awkward
    • “and likewise” sounds a little unnatural
    • I’m not sure if “おでんや” is necessarily a “stall”
    • Here is a possible retranslation of this part:
      • “On the way back, sometimes I end up at places like Oden shops and don’t reach home until the wee hours.”

Besides the prose itself, I had a few formatting issues with this submission. For example, the first two dialog lines and the one after that are grouped together without spaces, but many of the other paragraphs have spaces between them. There is similar inconsistent spacing throughout the translation in the dialogue areas. Since the OT has no spaces, I would recommend being consistent unless there is a really good reason.

Also, the 仕事部屋 part is translated on “WORKROOM”. While I understand where the translator was coming from since this is a single noun on a line, I don’t think this is a chapter title per se (the piece is too short and I don’t see other similar areas that look like chapter titles in it). I think it might be safer to just translate this as “Workroom.” Or perhaps “My Workroom.” is more natural in the flow.

There are a few other places I could probably give feedback on, but for now I’ll just mention one more thing. It’s about the last line in the story:

 

I rose, dressed myself and left for home.

私は起きて、帰る身支度をした。

 

While the English sounds somewhat natural here, it is a bit different than the OT. The following is closer to the literal meaning of the OT:

I got up and got dressed to go home.

 

The key difference here is that the main character didn’t actually go home yet. The verb 帰る is acting as an adjective for the noun 身支度.

 

Here is Kisetsu’s submission in full:

 

[“Asa” by Osamu Dazai, translation by Kisetsu]

I like having fun over everything else so even while working at home, I am filled with secret anticipation when long distance friends visit me. Although when they burst open the door and enter the foyer, I greet them with frowns and scrunched eyebrows, inside I am filled with joy. Hence, I greet them while quickly closing my unwritten manuscripts.

“Ah, are you in the middle of writing?”
“No. Not at all.”
Then I will go out with the guests (to play).

Nevertheless, this can’t be the state of things forever, so I turned a certain place into my secret workroom. Nobody knows about this place. Every morning, I will get lunch packed from home and take it to the workroom and work there.

As to be expected, since no one was aware of my secret hideout, my plans progressed smoothly. But as time passes and afternoon ends, I become tired and lonely and want to unwind myself. I then end the work at a suitable time and go back home. On my way back sometimes, I become late due to stopping at Oden stalls and likewise.

WORKROOM

However, the room belongs to a woman. That young woman worked in a bank at Nihonbashi and left early in the morning. After she leaves, I occupied the room to work for 4-5 hours till she returns.

It is not that she is my lover. I knew her mother’s circumstances who became estranged from her daughter and now resides in the Tohoku region. Once in a while she sends me letters asking my opinion about her daughter’s marriage. I even meet the young candidates and if the meeting goes well, I send approval messages with some suitable and wise words.

But at the present moment it seems to me that the daughter trusts me more than her mother.

“Kiku, I met your future husband the other day.”
“Is that so? How was it? Isn’t he a bit conceited?”
“Well, it was that kind of place. Still, if you compare them with me, all kinds of men will look foolish. Do not bear with them.”

It appears to me that Kiku will easily get married to that young guy.

A few nights ago, I drank a lot of alcohol. Not really. Although, it is not a rare sight but a nightly activity for me to drink heavily, on that particular day I had met an old friend near the station while returning from work. Immediately I took him to visit my usual Oden shop to drink. We drank steadily till we were filled with bitterness and pain. While I said that I thought the editors from Magazine Company might be here, a bottle of whisky was brought in. Those editing department guys drank it all. Even if I drink a bottle of that whiskey and not vomit, I wonder what will happen. I will try to avoid this A friend told me that he would give me a seat again, so I took the train and we went to a small restaurant that my friend knew while drinking sake. Finally, when I left those editor friends, I was drunk to the point of oblivion and couldn’t even walk.

“Please stop it. It doesn’t seem like you can walk till your house. You are totally sleepy. I beg you.”

I pushed my legs into the kotatsu[1] and slept while wearing two coats.

In the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up. It was pitch black. After a few moments passed, I realised that I was sleeping in my workroom. When I moved my legs a little, I was surprised to note that I had slept with my socks on.

“Damn. That’s bad”
“Oh well, how many times have I done this kind of thing?” I groaned
.
“Are you feeling cold?” Kiku’s voice sounded from the dark.

Kiku seemed to be sleeping in the same kotatsu but at a right angle.

“No, I am not feeling cold.”

“Is it okay to urinate from the window?”, I asked Kiku while waking my upper body.

“No problem. It might even be easier that way”

“Does Kiku also often do this?”

I rose and tried to turn on the light switch. It did not work.

“It is a blackout.” said Kiku in a small voice.

I tripped on Kiku’s body while fumbling way towards the window. Kiku stayed still.

“This is not okay.” I muttered to myself. At last I moved the curtain, opened the window slightly and began producing sounds of a little stream.

“Don’t you have the book “The Princess of the Cleves” on your desk?” I said while lying back on the floor and facing the ceiling.

I continued, “The ladies of that time would naturally go to deal with the situation in dark places like palace gardens and undersides of staircases. In that case, doing it from the window is naturally a noble act.”

“You can do it because you are drunk right now. Do nobles drink while sleeping?”

I had already drunk enough but if I drank now then the situation would become dangerous.

“No thanks. Nobles disliked darkness due to their timid nature. When it is dark and they are scared, they can’t do anything. Don’t you have a candle? If there is some light, then it might be okay to drink?”

Kiku stood up silently. And a candle was lit. I was taken aback. I had thought that I had survived the night till then without making a mess.

“Where are you going?”
“It is written in the Bible that candles should be kept at higher places. How about placing it at the top of the bookshelf?”

“Would you like a drink? In a cup or…?”

“During deep night, alcohol should be poured in a cup. This is also written in the Bible.”
I told a lie.

Kiku poured the alcohol in a big cup while grinning widely.

“One more?”
“No, this is enough.”

I took the cup and gulped down the alcohol. Then I laid down on my back again.

Kiku too slept in the same position as before, at right angles from me. I couldn’t sleep a wink and only blinked my eyes frequently.

I stared at the flame of the candle above the bookshelf that danced around like a living spirit. It was then that I was hit with a scary realisation.

“This candle is short. It will burn out soon. Don’t you have a bigger candle?”
“Only this one is left.”

I was speechless. I felt like praying to the heavens. If I didn’t sleep before the candle burned out or if I became sober before then, it would be dangerous for Kiku.

The flame burned slowly, getting smaller little by little yet I didn’t sleep.
Suddenly, I sighed.

“Shouldn’t you take off your socks?”
“Why?”
“That way it would be warmer.”

I removed the socks as I was told. That was okay. Let the candle die down. That will be it. I prepared myself.

The flame dimmed, began moving sideways as if in pain. Suddenly it turned big and then with a crackling sound it shrunk and disappeared.

Slowly the night turned into dawn. The room was filled with pale sunlight and soon the darkness was no more.

I rose, dressed myself and left for home.

(Translation note:  1 – Japanese table with blanket on top.)

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