Japanese novel short excerpt translation: “Passaggio” (パッサジオ) by Hitonari Tsuji (辻仁成)

By | October 18, 2016

I recently reviewed Hitonari Tsuji’s Passaggio, and in this post I will be translating a small portion of it.

I usually like to translate the first chapter (or at least the first few pages) of novels that I enjoy, but in this case I found a certain passage that was written so beautifully I decided to translate just that portion instead. Since I don’t plan to translate the rest of the novel anyway, I think this passage will be more impactful than the first few pages, and will help you see the descriptive abilities of this author without giving away any of the story.

[taken from pages 30-31]

English translation

The sun had already began to dip down behind the woods, but the sky was still bright and stood out in stark contrast against the gloomy, ever-darkening trees. In the gentle evening sky, where a blue glow lingered that was neither navy nor indigo, a dazzling gradient boasted a range of colors from noon-sky hues to night-sky shades, all while an impatient Venus shined boldly as the center piece of the spectacle.

Just then, a wind passed through the trees and the sound of music appeared out of nowhere. It seemed to be coming from the other side of the now pitch-dark forest. The music sounded neither classical nor ambient, with a melody line falling and rising again and again, like the energetic dance of a bumblebee. It possessed a certain randomness to it, as if someone was fumbling at a keyboard instrument with their eyes closed. And yet, it would be wrong to say that the result was not a well-formed piece of music. There was a subtle internal structure, as if just enough randomness was added intentionally based on a well-defined calculation. The source of the sound seemed to be a synthesizer tracing the notes of a musical scale, triggering sampled sounds of water dripping.

Original Japanese text



Translation notes

Originally I was thinking of using this translation as a good case study to show the steps I go through during translation, but as I went through this I realized that a great deal of it goes on in my head before I actually put words to paper. So this time I’ve just given the translation with these notes, but in the future I may try to give a little more detail and show various versions up to the final.

I actually did the first rough draft of translation on a plane, so I looked up the meanings to some of the more advanced words first before I took off, even if I thought I probably knew their meanings already.

Because of the nature of this passage I went for a fairly non-literal translation, going more for a natural and expressive result than literal correctness. For example, rather than saying (somewhat) literally “remaining brightness that was neither blue, nor navy blue, nor indigo”, I said “blue glow lingered that was neither navy nor indigo”. This is partly because each of the colors in Japanese was written with a single word and in English I didn’t like the sound of just “navy” without classifying it as a shade of blue first, and also because the flow of two colors sounded better than three to me. I also changed the word “balance” in the second to last sentence to “subtle internal structure” since I felt it expressed what the author was trying to say better. Finally, I connected the last two Japanese sentences into one in order to improve the flow, and avoid translating the two words “よう” and “らしい” back to back which have similar meaning.

I also used some varied vocabulary to avoid repeating the same word several times, like in the first sentence I used “woods” and “trees” for the word 森 (mori) which is used twice.

I love how the author works to engage your visual sense, and then goes on to engage your audial sense, using the sense of touch (via the wind) to connect things together.

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