I went outside one morning after it had snowed overnight and noticed something truly fascinating about two nearby cars. The snow revealed the support frame under the metal sheets of their hoods. These cars had been parked for hours before the snow fell so it wasn’t direct melting from engine heat, but a very subtle temperature balance between the changing air temperature and the car which was visually magnified by snow accumulation differences.
This made me think about how cars aren’t the only things with unseen structure, everything in the universe has structure, laws, and order with much of it unseen until conditions occasionally reveal it or scientific investigation illuminates it.
It would be utterly insane to claim that these patterns are a cryptic message from god…
It would be utterly insane to claim that these patterns are a cryptic message from god, impressions left by an unseen angel’s wings, or a sign from the spirits of dead ancestors. This is because the most minimal investigation of opening the hood would reveal the metal frame as the source of the pattern and looking at the weather report would show how the changing air temperature was at the threshold of freezing – a condition that easily causes snow to accumulate differently based on the details of where it lands. Yet attributing such understandable phenomena to religious or mystical reasons is unfortunately something a vast number of people do.
…it’s unfortunately human nature to do convoluted mental acrobatics and make up explanations
Seeing the snow on these cars made me think about how when people don’t know something, it’s unfortunately human nature to do convoluted mental acrobatics and make up explanations that are often way more implausible than what they are witnessing. These explanations are also often more complex than the phenomena they are attempting to explain and raise two questions for every one they answer. Humanity has been doing this since ancient times with made up stories about gods and deities whose motivations for floods, volcanoes, creating mountains, illness, placing stars in the sky, etc., sound surprisingly human (or maybe that’s not a surprise.)
I know people who would unhesitatingly call the patterns in the snow “signs”, even though the only intelligence implicated is that of the automotive engineers who designed the cars. The fact is that the world and the universe is full of structure, laws, and order which either perfectly or at least plausibly explain most phenomena. We need look for this while avoiding the temptation to take the mentally easy path and put the explanation in the hands of an unseen supernatural force.
It might seem satisfying to believe that an angel or god left a sign for you in the snow. But knowing and understanding the intricate interactions that bring about phenomina in the real world brings an equal if not deeper sense of beauty, awe, and amazement. This is in part because knowing more about the true world allows you to better understand a little more about your own existence in the world, because we are not separate from it. It also comes without the nagging inconsistencies, guesswork, fallacies, and gaps that inevitably accompany the supernatural explanations.
If you think the world of science is not beautiful look at the beauty of a REAL snowflake through a macro lens (a product of science) and consider how the uneven electro-magnetic forces within water molecules are responsible for crafting its near infinite variety of always 6-sided shapes. Simple, explained, yet still stunningly beautiful.
Chage and Aska (aka Chageasu) were a powerful music duo through the 80’s and 90’s in Japan. My wife grew up listening to them and is very fond of their song “Love Song”, which is a simple, honest, and warm song very different in my mind from much of what’s produced today. To me it captures the optimism and remaining innocence of Japan’s prosperous 80’s and early 90’s.
Below you’ll find the song with timed subtitles so you can read along and understand the meaning as well as the full Japanese, romanized, and translated texts. At the end there are a few translations notes.
This post makes limited use of material for the clear and express purpose of analysis and education (in this case the translation, analysis of song lyrics, and the study of music from a past Japanese era.) I in good faith believe this falls squarely under the category of fair use. If you believe otherwise please click here to contact me directly to discuss your concerns.
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On the left you’ll find the original Japanese with romanji underneath and on the right is the translation. Due to Japanese sentence structure often being opposite of English it’s not uncommon for line 1 of the Japanese to correspond to line 2 or 3 of the English and vice-versa throughout the translation. Due to this song’s simple sentence structure though it has a mostly 1-1 correlation with each English line reflecting with the Japanese line to it’s left is saying.
Please do not take this material and post it directly to other sites or blogs. I put a lot of effort into these translations and post them here as part of the content of this site. Feel free to link to this page or share it via the social media buttons at the bottom of this post. Thank you.
I originally posted a translation of Love Song back in 2013. I’ve done a number of freelance translation jobs since then and refined my approach so I wanted to revisit it to touch up some inaccuracies and improve it. Previously I took a stricter literal approach to translation which I’ve come to realize doesn’t work as well for music. When translating music it’s important to lean towards transmitting the intended feelings and ideas. Small differences in translation can make big differences in feeling.
As an example, all of the translation for the given line below could be considered valid based on the meanings of the words in the Japanese. (a) is very literal; (b) is literal but phrased more smoothly by inserting pronouns, using more natural verb tenses, or using alternate vocab of similar meaning; and C is slightly embellished to reflect what a native English speaker would say in the same context and spirit of the song lyric. Options a and b are accurate but awkward or emotionless but c is more reflective of the song.
Lines 4-5 「ひどいもんさ 生きざまぶった。半オンスの拳がうけてる」
“It’s a harsh state, my way of life’s been beaten. The half-ounce fist is hitting back”
“It’s a harsh thing, my life’s taking a beating. I’m hitting back with a half-ounce fist”
“life’s beaten me down, I’m only hitting back with a half-ounce fist”
Line 6 「僕はそれを見ていたよ 横になって」
“I was seeing it laying down”
“I saw it happening, while laying down”
“I saw all this happening, while just laying there”
Line 12 「君が想うよりも 僕は君が好き」
“More than you think, I like you”
“More than you believe, I love you”
“More than you can imagine, I love you”
Lines 21-22 「抱き合う度にほら。 また君増えて行く」
“Each time we embrace take a look, again you come to increase” (a pure literal translation)
“Each time we embrace take a look, again you become more”
“Each time we embrace take a look, you become more and more”
1.c. uses the English phrase “life’s beating me down” since it matches the meaning well (despite not literally matching the words.) The word ‘only’ was inserted too to create a contrast between what the world is giving him and what he’s fighting back with. This contrast isn’t clear in more literal translations.
2.c. While the Japanese is simple and not flowery, a direct translation of the words doesn’t convey the feelings of passiveness and helplessness that Aska is singing about. Seeing it ‘happening‘ while ‘just‘ laying ‘there‘ adds words that aren’t in the Japanese but preserves the meaning. Care needs to be taken though that adding words doesn’t add meaning or nuance not in the original material.
3.c. The Japanese word “想う” generally means think or believe, but once again the established English phrase “more than you can imagine” was very appropriate for the intended feeling. Also 好き ‘suki’ can be ‘like’ or ‘love’ depending on the context. In this context it is clearly referring to romantic love.
4.c. is not literally accurate to the words but it is accurate to the meaning. While it doesn’t incorporate the Japanese word また (again), directly the repetition of the word “more” incorporates the concept.
Discussing these details might seem to be overkill, but it highlights challenges in translation. Each line requires an active choice from a range of possibilities and just racing through doing a textbook translation of each sentence won’t really let the song be enjoyed in the translated language.
I’m a huge fan of Hikaru Utada and think her album Ultra Blue is phenomenal with it’s beautifully performed songs and poetic lyrics. Below you’ll find my English translation of the song Making Love from that album. You can listen to the song while reading timed subtitles of my English translation, view the full Japanese and English lyrics, and read some discussion about the meaning of the song and challenges in translation.
This post makes limited use of material for the clear and express purpose of analysis and education (in this case the translation and analysis of song lyrics.) I in good faith believe this falls squarely under the category of fair use. If you believe otherwise please click here to contact me directly to discuss your concerns.
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Hikaru Utada – Making Love song meaning: The most direct way to interpret the song is that it is about Utada’s close friend who is moving away to start a new life. Rather than being sad and thinking about how missing her friend will impact her, it becomes a turning point into maturity where Utada puts her feelings aside and truly (possibly for the first time), thinks about her friend’s happiness above her own. While wishing her friend the best she reflects on the positive impact her friend has had on her. Utada develops new resolve to do her best in her current place and looks into the future beyond this immediate moment of sadness with lyrics like line 17 – “I want to do my best in this town”, line 34 – “when the evening comes, the light remains”, and the final lines 41-43 – “No matter how much I cherish those piano notes of long gone summer days, it’s time for me to wake up.” The last line is a realization that like her friend, she too must move forward in life.
I came across a second, very different possible interpretation when trying to understand lines 38-40, which in the context of expressing love and gratitude for a friend who is leaving just didn’t seem to fit in. That’s when I did some searching for those lyrics in Japanese and found a difficult to understand Japanese post (which I unfortunately didn’t bookmark), suggesting that Utada is not in fact only singing about a friend that is moving, but is also singing about her old self and her new maturing self who is ready to move forward in life. In our early adulthood we often make big leaps, moving far for school or work. In the process we leave a lot of our old self behind and discover a new self in a new environment. Lines 12-15 could be her coming to a point of maturity where she can be honest with herself. The lyrics “I’m so happy I met you” could possibly be interpreted as her self-realization that she had to go through her previous immature phase to arrive at the point of realization she’s at now. And the problematic lines 38-40 make a little sense if you interpret them as an ounce of regret that Utada didn’t mature earlier and spent too much time looking up to and relying on her best friend.
This isn’t meant to be a conclusive or exhaustive analysis. Utada may have written the song with a variety of meanings in mind and left it open for the listener to determine. Whichever way you interpret it, you can feel the emotion and a sincerity in her voice which is what I love about her.
Translation challenges & notes:
Translation is not as easy as knowing two languages and changing material from one to the other. Different languages (and the cultures attached to them), put the emphasis on different aspects of information. As a result you often find sentences which provide enough information to satisfy the mindset of native listeners, but leave things unclear when expressed in other languages. You also have to make the choice of translating the words or translating the meaning by using equivalent expressions that might use different meaning words.
One challenge in translating this (and many), songs is that Japanese sentences don’t explicitly have to state subjects and objects to the level that English does. As a result it’s very unclear in lines like 17 and 20 if it is I, you, or we that are “are in the middle of a long, long dream…” and “… need a best friend.” This is a major challenge of Japanese for translation software which often gets pronouns wrong or uses “it” when referring to people because who is often determined from context and not specified in the Japanese language as often.
Another translation challenge is that Japanese doesn’t have plural for nouns. The phrase 花が咲いた could equally be “a flower has bloomed” or “flowers have bloomed“. So when dealing with phrases similar to this you have to be alert to context and nuances being conveyed. Line 30 in the song actually does specify “a single flower” in the Japanese. But I’m still left with the decision of do I encoded that information as “a flower has bloomed” which sufficiently indicates 1 to an English speaker, or “a singleflower has bloomed”, which puts more emphasis on it’s solitary nature? If the meaning of the line is a metaphor for Utada’s friend or an intangible thing that Utada received, than using the word “single” might be more appropriate. If on the other hand the meaning of the line is that she’s going through a change represented by the first flower, than the word single becomes a bit of a distracting nuance.
Line 34 is literally “Even if it becomes night it is still bright.” Literal translations often don’t reflect the feeling or mood of the piece so phrases of equivalent meanings and matched feelings/artistry to the piece become more appropriate to use. The Japanese word “akarui” was used which can mean bright, but it could also be referring to “cheerful”. What is akarui isn’t specified either so possible alternative translations of line 34 could include “When the evening comes, you’ll still be cheerful” or “Even when nighttime comes, it’s still bright“. I chose “When the evening comes, the light remains” to reflect the symbolism and optimism I feel from the song. That also helped me to avoid repeating words too close to each other since the next line talks about light too.
When talking about the song’s meaning above, I mentioned lines 38-39 as a challenge. It’s one of those cases where the Japanese text itself is somewhat vague and a fully literal translation of “If I hadn’t met you I wouldn’t need a best friend” didn’t fit well enough for me to want to use it like that. I softened it a bit by phrasing it as “I wouldn’t be needing a best friend”, so that it would still be representative of the Japanese but not lean towards any one interpretation or another of the song. If you can think of a better translation or interpretation please let me know.
These may seem like a very minor things that I’m over analyzing, but these decisions flavor translations and take them closer to or further from the original meaning and nuances of works as written in their original native languages. It’s impossible in many cases for long or creative works to be translated with 100% accuracy to what the original author was saying so it’s important to take time and think about the material and reflect the nuance, feeling, and meaning as best you can.
While I intend to post a wide variety of things both old and new, NHK Blends has been catching my attention lately with some very beautiful and culturally inspiring renditions of pop classics using traditional Japanese instruments very masterfully performed.
I present Eric Clapton – Change the World played on the chuzao shamisen.
Fast forward to 0:46 if you want to skip the intro.
While browsing YouTube one day my wife discovered a young Korean man named Inhyeok Yeo who does very interesting one-man acapella covers of songs including the song above (Eric Clapton’s Change the World.) While I don’t know as much about Korea as Japan I do have a fondness for it as well and have been there several times, so I’ll occasionally feature Korean music and artists here as well.
When learning a foreign language your teachers and textbooks leave a huge gaping hole in your knowledge about words relating to an important, natural part of everyone’s life – sex.
I could speak Japanese functionally when I arrived in Japan and after a couple of months I was spending time with a Japanese girl who didn’t speak English. We started to become intimate and realized that I didn’t know any vocabulary related to such things, especially the casual slang that couples would use in the bedroom. She was amused by this and wanted to teach me. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination but I will say they were lessons that are hard to forget!
So I wanted to share some important but hard to come by vocabulary with you. This isn’t comprehensive and might even vary by region a bit.
Caution real-world but not safe for work (NSFW) material ahead! エッチに関する英単は先です。
The January 07, 2017 episode of NHK Blends featured Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off played on the Shamisen. Unlike my earlier post of Madonna’s Like a Prayer which was very recognizable, I like how this performance melds it into a more traditional Japanese sound. The performance begins after a 50 second introduction.
The Japanese company オーシャナイズ (Oceanize) has started a new business called タダコピ (Tadacopy – http://www.tadacopy.com/). They’re putting photocopiers on Japanese college campuses that the students can use to make copies for free. What’s the catch? There are ads printed on the back of the copies!
This screen shot from their web site shows their equation of copy + ad = ￥０. Above the ￥０ it says “you can also target segments”, and the picture at the bottom shows a woman with a smartphone. The scheme runs deeper than just ads. They have a smartphone app (shown here), which no doubt invasively tracks users, collects personal info, and requires a login. This type of tracking information is invaluable to ad based companies and no doubt provides more value to them than just the printed ads.
The sad thing is people everywhere are getting in line to hand over their personal information and privacy for free stuff which is only worth pennies, far less than what they are giving up.
Japanese umeshu (梅酒, pronounced u-may-shu) is a delicious, aromatic, wonderful alcohol drink from Japan that you have to try. It’s hands-down my favorite drink from Japan. Umeshu is often mischaracterized as “Japanese plum wine”, but is closer to a fruit cordial or fruit liqueur. It’s made from allowing green unripe Japanese ume plums and rock sugar steep in a clear distilled alcohol called shochu (焼酎) for several months. Shochu itself is an incredibly popular drink in Japan (and South Korea), which the Japanese drink WAY more than the traditional sake (pronounced sa-keh, not sa-ki).
Umeshu is typically 15%-20% alcohol and can be enjoyed straight, on the rocks, or mixed with carbonated water.
It is a common tradition for Japanese people to make their own umeshu during the summer and I did the same. I was thrilled when I was able to make it this past summer in the United States as well. I’ll explain how and tell you where to look for ingredients and what substitutes can work.
For those who have never tried it or don’t want to make it, Choya and other brands of umeshu (pictured to the right), can be found at good and larger alcohol retailers in the U.S. Especially look for alcohol retailers in areas with a high Asian populations. The picture to the right is a 750ml bottle of Choya that I used to buy at the local grocery store in Japan for 900 yen. It’s more than double that ($20) here in the U.S.
Individual Japanese are hesitant to share their own opinions or talk about personal issues. This is part of their group oriented culture. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions or think about these things however.
In this recurring segment we try to understand the Japanese better by looking at translations of Japanese forum posts. Behind the anonymity of on-line forums Japanese feel more free and safe to share their true feelings (called 本音 hon-ne) rather than putting up their stoic public face (called 建前 tatemae.)
This post is from a Japanese person who is worried about how foreigners flooding into Japan for the 2020 Olympics will perceive Japan if they see the women-only train cars that Japan has.
There are 80-some train routes that feature these and they were started based on the idea of giving women a place where they don’t need to worry about misbehaving men groping them, getting too close, or harassing them.
There has been a little controversy over them however with some believing that the perception of the problem of harassment of women has been vastly exaggerated by media and TV shows and that the idea of train cars that exclude any class of people might not technically be legal (and isn’t practical in situations where there isn’t enough room on trains for all of the riders.)
You’ll note that the main concern of the author isn’t the practicality, need, or purpose of the women-only train cars but concern for how Japan will look in the eyes of foreigners and avoiding criticism. In the west we tend to focus more on the issue, but in Japan perceptions factor very highly into how people address issues. This is one of the things that can make living and working in Japan challenging for westerners who have trouble fully grasping and working with such a mentality.
Title: We should abolish women-only train cars until the Olympics
We should abolish women-only train cars until the Olympics!
Foreigners view discrimination as a number one problem. A lot of those foreigners will be coming to Japan from now until the Olympics. We should create men-only train cars or abolish the women-only cars because the chance of foreigners being critical of it is high, isn’t it?
Doesn’t the Japanese government make this a country that is concerned about saving face? Don’t the train companies want to avoid criticism?
Wouldn’t it be best to either end the women-only train cars or add men-only cars!?
On top of that women-only train cars don’t exist legally.
In the past if a train employee unjustifiably tried to force a man off of a women-only train car the employee was the one accused of wrongdoing by way of unjust coercion. Employees have been required to apologize to men a great number of times.
Furthermore the Transportation Minister and courts have said men getting on women-only train cars is an ambiguous gray area!
(The following translation of the the only reply to this post isn’t important to understanding it, but is included for completeness.)
Reply from keitokuroda23-san
Men-only cars would be empty with the exception of morning and evening rush hours so it’s fine not to make them.
If you look at it the only real option is to shut down the women-only cars. But if that is opposed then it would be OK to make men-only cars.
Either way there is a lack of appreciation from the people who ride the trains.
One area where Japan has embraced tech is in its toilets. Japanese washlets (or “robo-toilets” as I like to call them), have all kinds of things such as automated motorized lids, heated seats, self cleaning bidet sprays with adjustable temperature, angle, and strength, warm air dryers, automatic air fresheners, multi-strength flush, and remote controls. Taking a dump in Japan is a pleasure, as long as your not using a squatter toilet (see below).
This can be a bit mystifying to foreigners who aren’t used to it, so the Japan Restroom Industry Association (日本レストルーム工業会) has come up with a standardized set of icons for the functions of toilets. The association consists of major manufacturers such as Toto and Panasonic (yes, Panasonic – they make LOTS of things in Japan.)
… the Japan Restroom Industry Association has come up with a standardized set of icons for the functions of toilets.
The Association Chief Kitamura said “We want to make operation of the equipment easy to understand since it would be regrettable if a foreigner missed a chance to experience the washlet. Furthermore we want to promote our business around the world.”
Part of the push for this is Japan’s desire to become more friendly to foreign visitors ahead of the 2020 Olympics which are being held in Tokyo.
Below is a photo I took of a washlet that I used a number of times at work and its controls. The box with a speaker plays a recorded sound of water running when when you wave your hand in front of it so people can’t hear you doing your business. The controls to the right are for the toilet’s functions. You can set seat temperature, water temperature, water spray strength, angle, warm air, timer, and the red button on the top-left is stop. It’s also outfited with an infrared sensor and will flush itself when you move away from it. (Click for larger version)
In contrast to the very nice-to-use washlets, traditional Japanese squatter toilets are quite unpleasant to use, especially for full size westerners. Squatting for more than a minute makes the legs start to ache and keeping balance while you reach for toilet paper and wipe is an acquired skill. These also don’t keep a large quantity of water in the bottom so the warm smell of anything put into it quickly rises full force to your nose.
Homes and apartments for the most part have western style toilets with many people installing washlets. Newer stores and restaurants often have western style toilets with older stores, convenience stores, and schools having squatters with a western style toilet or a washlet in the “universal” (family or handicap accessible) restroom.
The photo to the right was taken in a convenience store’s restroom. I think it might have been a ローソン (Lawson).