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English translation and analysis of interesting Japanese materials like song lyrics or Japanese forum posts.

Chage & Aska – Love Song (English translation)

Chage & Aska – Love Song (English translation)

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.

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.

Chage & Asuka - Love Song (English Translation)

Translation notes:

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.

  1. 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」
    1. “It’s a harsh state, my way of life’s been beaten. The half-ounce fist is hitting back”
    2. “It’s a harsh thing, my life’s taking a beating.  I’m hitting back with a half-ounce fist”
    3. “life’s beaten me down, I’m only hitting back with a half-ounce fist”
  2. Line 6 「僕はそれを見ていたよ 横になって」
    1. “I was seeing it laying down”
    2. “I saw it happening, while laying down”
    3. “I saw all this happening, while just laying there”
  3. Line 12 「君が想うよりも 僕は君が好き」
    1. “More than you think, I like you”
    2. “More than you believe, I love you”
    3. “More than you can imagine, I love you”
  4. Lines 21-22 「抱き合う度にほら。 また君増えて行く」
    1. “Each time we embrace take a look, again you come to increase” (a pure literal translation)
    2. “Each time we embrace take a look, again you become more”
    3. “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.

Hikaru Utada – Making Love (English translation)

Hikaru Utada – Making Love (English translation)

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.


(Chrome or Firefox recommended for proper playback. Move your cursor off of the above video so the controls don’t appear and cover the subtitles)

Utada "Making Love" English translation

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 single flower 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.

(NSFW) – Japanese sex vocabulary

(NSFW) – Japanese sex vocabulary

外国語を勉強する時に、先生や教科書は生きていく中で、自然に使用する重要な言葉は教えられていません。以下はセックスに関する内容です。Image from Japanese sex-ed material

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。

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Japanese haiku poetry isn’t quite 5-7-5 like you think

Japanese haiku poetry isn’t quite 5-7-5 like you think

Haiku (俳句) is a well known style of short Japanese poem that has become popular among English and other speakers.  We’re taught that haiku has three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.  An argument can be made that 5-7-5 isn’t exactly correct and that haiku can’t be the same in English as it is in the original Japanese.

古池や      furui ike ya       At an ancient pond
蛙飛び込む   kawazu tobikomu   the frogs go bounding into
水の音      mizu no oto       the sound of water

by Matsuo Bashou, 1686, translation W. Milberry*

Haiku was originally first stanza of a style of old Japanese collaborative poetry called renga (連歌).  These short first stanza’s became popular themselves and became their own short poems, haiku was born from them.  They were written in the specific style of 5-7-5.  However, ‘syllable’ means something a little different in English than it does in Japanese which throws the necessity of the 5-7-5 pattern into question when haiku are written in English.

The entirety of the Japanese language consists of a finite set of vowel or consonant-vowel combination sounds.  There is a total of only 139 sounds in the enirety of the Japanese language and they can all be spelled out using the Japanese Hiragana alphabet seen below.

Japanese Hiragana table

(Click here for a high resolution version of the Hiragana table for printing or classroom use.)

All Japanese words, including those which are written with complex Chinese kanji characters (漢字), can be spelled out with the Hiragana alphabet characters above.  Haiku’s 5-7-5 pattern derives from how many Hiragana sounds are needed to write out each line.

Where Japanese phonetics differ from English is that adjacent sounds never combine and each Hiragana is pronounced with the same time duration making it not quite line up with the way English speakers see syllables in words.  For example, the word ‘haiku’ is spelled out with three Hiragana sounds:  ha-i-ku (はいく) but only two syllables (hai-ku), to English ears.  Other well known Japanese words that we miscount syllables on are the city names of Tokyo and Sapporo.  We hear these as three syllables (To-ky-o and Sap-po-ro) but they are both actually four Hiragana sounds (とうきょう  or To-u-kyo-u and さっぽろ or Sa-p-po-ro.)  In Sapporo you can see the effect of the small ‘tsu’ (っ), which doubles the following ‘p’.  This is a distinct sound to the Japanese but one that English ears are blind to.

Because of this difference in the way the two languages interpret their basic units of sound (Hiragana for Japanese and syllables for English), you can ask if it is really meaningful to adhere to a strict 5-7-5 syllable pattern when writing haiku poems in English?  Perhaps it’s better to focus on the other distinguishing characteristics, namely their invocation of natural imagery and simplicity which invites the listener to imagine.

Final rays …
still reason
to hum

Marion Clarke/UK, NHK Haiku Masters

Japan’s national broadcast station NHK has a series called Haiku Masters where they invite people to submit haiku in English.  Above is the haiku of the month for 12/2016.  It, like many others, doesn’t follow the 5-7-5 format but instead focuses on the more meaningful aspects of haiku.  Phonetic pattern, rhythm, and rhyme in poetry is something the English world focuses on somewhat more than other languages.  The frequent explanation of haiku being 5-7-5 syllable poems above being described as the invocation of natural imagery and the reader’s imagination speaks to this.

If you’ve ever wanted to write haiku but have difficulty adhering to 5-7-5 give it a try without being so strict about the form and you might create something small but full of beauty like the haiku by Marion Clarke above which makes us think about bees and how they live their short lives to fullest.

* The haku by Matsuo Bashou at the very top of this post is a well known haiku and has been translated hundreds of times.  The Japanese language doesn’t apply a plural form to nouns so it’s linguistically not specified if the author was thinking of one frog or many.  Haiku is meant to invoke images of nature and is intentionally simple to invite the reader to use their imagination.  Only about one out of every two dozen or so translations of this haiku uses plural “frogs.”  To me plural “frogs” invokes a stronger feeling of being in a place full of nature.  It reminds me of a frog filled lake outside of my hometown that my departed grandmother and I used to visit during summers when I was young.  Since I placed this haiku early in the article prior to any explanation I did stick to 5-7-5 syllables but would have preferred to have written the second line “a frog goes bounding in” rather than “into” if I wasn’t adhering to 5-7-5.

 

Hikaru Utada – Keep Tryin’ translation

Hikaru Utada – Keep Tryin’ translation

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Hikaru Utada has long been one of my favorite JPOP artists.  Her voice is more dynamic than many other Japanese female signers and her lyrics are a little more metaphoric and deep than typical JPOP.  She has a history of making very unique and creative music videos as well, and this one is no exception.

Translations are provided for educational purposes only and to provide analysis and deeper understanding of the artists work.  If you are interested in Hikaru Utada at all please purchase her work.

If video stutters or stops, pause it for a minute until it has a chance to buffer.

(Japanese/English lyrics via Google Docs embedded PDF)
http://www.aluminumstudios.com/media/articles/translation/Hikaru_Utada-Keep_Trying.pdf