The Love of Translating

Today’s post isn’t necessarily Smash Brothers related. I needed a full day to recover, and I really wanted to discuss something less factual, and more feeling. This post is kind of personal for me, something that I usually try to avoid on this blog. However, given the occasion I figured this kind of post will really help me come to terms with what happened. Anyway, enough rambling.

I’m going to be completely honest. The news of Satoru Iwata’s sudden death caused me to completely break down, and cry. For the first part of the morning, I translated various tweets from friends and colleagues of Iwata, in order to provide the English speaking community with some insight. Translating these tweets was mentally exhausting, and it wasn’t because of any language barriers. While I was only initially shocked from the news, it wasn’t until I read Shigesato Itoi’s message to Iwata that I was overcome with intense sadness. It feels extremely personal, and it still reminds me of the first time I read my own father’s obituary. I broke down in the middle of translating it. I posted what I had to my friends on SmashBoards, and for my friends in the SmashGaf chat room and left for most of the day.

Since this piece had such a profound effect on not only me, but on the community as a whole I wanted to take a moment and break it down. I hope that this post will prove to be insightful for how translations are created, but how personal opinions can really affect the meaning of something and most importantly — to really highlight that with the exception of misunderstanding the text there are multiple ways to translate the text.

I would like to quickly point out something that I personally call the Bento – Lunchbox scale. I wrote an article about this when I first started blogging…but I feel that I’ve improved so much since then that it’d be a disservice to just link to that article. If you are truly interested then you can search for it. However, I’m going to briefly explain my thoughts.

In Japan, there are lunchboxes called bento. These have become somewhat famous in the West due to their extravagant designs. Now, bento does not line up exactly with what lunchboxes are. Lunchboxes are often thought to be medal cases where kids carry sandwiches, a juice box, a piece of fruit and possibly a Little Debbie brownie. Bento usually has rice, furikake, eggs, spaghetti some sort of meat (usually wieners or chicken) and chopsticks.

Therefore, if you have a passage where the person is eating from a bento, it might be a disservice to translate it as a lunchbox. However if the translator leaves the text as bento, then they risk alienating your less culturally sensitive readers. Therefore, it is best for the translator to have a knowledge of who their intended audience is. If their audiences is more likely to be familiar with Japanese culture, then it is safe to translate the passage as bento. If they go with lunchbox, then the translator does not risk alienating their readers, but instead giving them the wrong impression.

It’s not a direct choice either. Instead, a translator can lean towards the more literal (bento) side, or towards the more liberal side (lunchbox). I personally find myself fluctuating between the middle and the bento side. Again, it depends on the audience, the goals of your translation and the tone. For Itoi’s piece, I believe a more liberal translation would be more appropriate, as you want it to sound as natural and heart-warming as it does in Japanese.

I’ve collected a couple of different versions of the translation. I’m not saying that any are wrong, or that one is necessarily better than the other. I’m not calling any of the other translators bad (especially when I consider my own version the worse). I’m merely pointing out some differences and offering some suggestions, when appropriate. In the end, translation is subjective, and my goal is to have everyone understand that.

Translated by Jignx on Neogaf

Image by Nibel

The main thing I really like about this is that it really attempts to keep the same structure as the original. The original is definitely in prose format, and this style honors it. I also like the image that Nibel created, it really does adds to the translation.

My major suggestion would be to work on the second paragraph a bit more, make it less literal. It doesn’t sound bad and the meaning isn’t off…but I think it could be improved to fit the prose style better.

Of course, “there you are” and “letting me know” are not explicitly stated in Japanese. Instead, that context has to be created. Also, “us” could be replaced with “me” depending on how personal you want to create the translated text vis-à-vis Itoi and Iwata. Furthermore, I took out quote from Iwata, and made it more implied (“Sorry for it being so sudden” vs. that you were sorry for leaving us so suddenly). This is something I wouldn’t do in a column or an interview, but in keeping with the mood set by Itoi, I feel that these choices can be made.

Let’s look at some other versions:

The following comes from Lindsay Nelson of Yomuka!

When I’m parting with a friend, regardless of the circumstances, I find it best to just say, “See you later.” We’ll meet again. After all, we’re friends.

That’s right—nothing unusual about it. I’ll see you later.

You went on a trip far, far away, even though it was planned for many years from now. You wore your best outfit and said “Sorry for the short notice,” though you didn’t say it out loud.

You always put yourself last, after you’d finished helping everyone else. You were so generous as a friend that this trip might be your very first selfish act.

I still can’t grasp what’s happened. It feels like I could still get a light-hearted e-mail asking me out to lunch at any moment—after you’ve made sure lunch wouldn’t disrupt my schedule, of course.

You can invite me out whenever you want. I’ll invite you, too.

So for now, let’s plan on meeting again. You can call me up whenever you like, and I’ll give you a call, too. I still have a lot to talk to you about, and if I come up with any particularly good ideas, I’ll let you know.

So let’s meet again.

No–I suppose we’re already meeting. Right here, right now.

One major thing that you might notice is that “trip” and “journey” are different word choices between these two versions. I feel that “trip” makes it a bit less final than journey, so I enjoy Lindsay’s word choice. Also, this version opted to include each part as a paragraph. Jignx version was also more literal with the translation than Lindsay, especially noticeable in the part about Iwata leaving being selfish. Again neither is better than the other, but it’s something to note.

Also, keep the introduction in mind while reading this next version.

This next one comes from Daniel C. from Kamedani:

“No matter the farewell, I think the most appropriate thing to say is “we”ll meet again.”  We are friends so we”ll see each other again.  There is nothing strange about saying it.  Yeah.  We’ll meet again.

Even if you didn’t have the chance to put into words how sudden it was going to be, how far you’d be traveling, or how you went much earlier than expected, I know you went wearing your best.

You always put yourself second to others no matter what, helping anyone who needed it whenever they needed it.  You were that kind of friend.  Although you may have been a little selfish for the first time ever by taking this journey.

The truth is though that I still don’t believe any of it.  I feel like I am going to receive a message from you inviting me out to eat at any moment.  I wouldn’t mind if you were to ask me like always if I had some free time.  Even still, I’d ask you as well.

Still, “we’ll meet again.”  It would be great to hear from you whenever and wherever; I’ll being calling to you too.  I’ll call if I have something to discuss or I want to tell you a great new idea I’ve had.

We’ll meet again.

Then again, you’re here with me now.”

I feel like the last two lines of this translation are perfect. This takes into account the fact that 会ってる is constantly happening in a way that’s not as clunky. There are a lot of different choices in Daniel C.’s version. Daniel C. often merged multiple sentences together, which changes the meaning.

Again, none of these are wrong… they all generally captured the meaning, but all of these translators employed different tactics when translating. Especially since they were translating something so personal. Text is subjective. Everyone can read the same exact piece, and read it differently. It occurs all the time, even among speakers of the same language. Translation is partly taking your own response to the text, and making it available in a different language.

Part of the way translators can avoid personal bias is by working with multiple people on the same translation. This will lessen the impact that a single person has on the text. Of course, this isn’t very time efficient and can still lead to unintended biases being placed in the translated text.

Originally, I wasn’t going to provide my own version but in the end because the text had a big impact on me, I wanted to show everyone what I could come up with. This will further highlight more choices that could be made in translation (the lunchbox side), and how the author’s interpretation can affect the meaning.

Here is a version created by Soma and PushDustIn:

For any farewell,
I think it’s best to say “see you soon”.
Since we are friends, we will meet again.
There’s nothing odd about it.
I’m sure we’ll meet again.

I heard that you are going on a trip, far far away.
Even though it was supposed to be much later.
But, there you are, wearing your best clothes,
not saying it outloud,
but letting me know–
that you were sorry for leaving us so suddenly.

You constantly put yourself on the back burner,
and you were always trying to help somebody else.
Since you were that kind of friend,
maybe this trip is the first time you are being selfish.

I still can’t believe this is true at all.
I feel like I’ll suddenly receive a text,
asking if you’d like to grab a meal together.
And just as usual,
you’d always ask “If you have the time…”
I can even invite you next time.

Anyway, “see you soon.”
Whenever, wherever, you can call out to me,
and I will also reach out to you.
There are things I want to discuss with you,
and if I come up with a good idea, I want to tell you about it.

See you soon.
No, you are still here with me, right now.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

PushDustIn often thinks about the purpose of doing stuff, and how to achieve goals effectively. You can find him on Twitter at any time. Feel free to tweet any Iwata memories, pictures or other media that you may find.  

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  1. Even without considering a personal side to it, that was a pretty beautiful message. It would be something I could see others wanting to share on a farewell card. However, I feel like that would be Itoi for you.

    I admit, news on Iwata made me depressed. So you aren’t alone in feeling bad. For some reason, reading the story about your dad made me angry. I don’t know the circumstances of your life, and I know it probably is a fairly common practice, but it seems cruel. It seems cruel to ask the child to give a eulogy; to parade them up there to perform and make the audience feel better, see them break down, only to pat them on the back after as if they didn’t send you to the fire in the first place.

    I’m sorry if that offends you, but I don’t like it. I just feel like one of the worst things a person could ever do, is to ask the grieving to do you the favor, to make you feel good (is all).

  2. Itoi definitely has a way with expressing his thoughts and emotions. I really could see this on a farewell card.

    You have no reason to be angry, and I apologize if I left that impression. My father’s passing was the most difficult part of my life. Imagine being woken up at 3 A.M. by a phone calling saying that your parent suddenly passed away. Then, four hours later learning that your other parent had a stress-related heart attack and was being rushed to the hospital….also, you are over 10,000 miles away. By the time I landed in the States, my mom had just woken up from her medically induced coma. To be totally honest, I was in complete shock. Besides the initial breakdown that I had, I forced myself to “keep it together” as long as possible as I had to travel over 24 hours (includes trains, planes and automobiles) before I could even get to the same state as my family.

    By the time I had arrived in the States, it had been almost 36 hours since my father passed away and my mother was admitted to the hospital. Since my immediate family was so busy (to say the least), we asked my cousin to write the obituary for my dad. Furthermore, my mom wasn’t in a state to read, so she asked my sisters and me to read it for her. Reading that obituary was when “keeping it together” was no longer possible.

    Reading Itoi’s message to Iwata, made me feel extremely sympathetic to Itoi, as I could image him in a similar state while writing such a wonderful piece. Death of a loved one is extremely tragic, and only time heals. I’m at a point where I can begin to fully explain and share my experience now, thanks to the love and support of friends and family.

    So please don’t worry. Reading the obituary was something that was extremely private event that was shared with my sisters, my mom and myself. I decided to share a bit of the story to explain why the piece had a huge impact on me, and why I wanted to look at it again. I hope this comment will fully explain my intentions better, and I apologize for any misunderstanding.

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