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.
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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.