Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Do You Like Nicolas Cage?"


Question 94
Do you like Nicolas Cage?
At 10:35 AM 1998.08.31


   My husband is starting to go bald a bit, so I suggested that he follow the example of the bald but cool Nicolas Cage. However, my husband really hates that he's balding, so he won't listen to me. According to him, "The dude IS bald!!" So all of our arguments end on an unpleasant note.

   But I digress. What I mean to ask is, is there anybody out there that thinks Nicolas Cage is cool? I decided to try asking around.

   If you're not busy, please tell me what you think. Also, does your wife like Nicolas Cage? I'd be so happy if you took the time to answer. (29 years old, Gemini, Blood Type A)

___

   Hello. It seems my wife does not like Nicolas Cage. When I asked what about him, it seems that she doesn't like:

1) the way he talks
2) the shape of his nose
3) the look in his eyes (when he's looking down).

She's a rather prejudiced person. But when I asked her what she thinks about baldness, she said, "That sort of thing doesn't really matter." Please tell that to your husband.

   I personally neither like nor dislike Mr. Cage. He was good as the one-handed baker in Moonstruck, but I guess it must be sweltering, since he only wears tank-tops and is always sweaty.

[From the book 「そうだ、村上さんに聞いてみよう」と世間の人々が村上春樹にとりあえずぶっつける282の大疑問に果たして村上さんはちゃんと答えられるのか?,  2000, The Asahi Newspaper Company.]

Do YOU like Nicolas Cage?

First of all, my apologies for the long lack of posts. It started with the end of a very intense and busy semester, and then my computer went kaput! I hate it when I go so long without a post, but there wasn't much I could do until now.

Anyway, I've been looking for a fun thing to start off my return, and I was flipping through some of my books and I found the following little selection. It comes from a neat book called "Ah Yes, Let's Ask Mr. Murakami!" which is a collection of questions and answers posed on Haruki Murakami's website in the late nineties. It even has illustrations by longtime collaborator Anzai Mizumaru. Some of the questions that Murakami was asked are pretty random (and consequently hilarious) and Murakami answers them in a most Murakami way (my favorite question, and how I discovered this book, can be found here at How to Japonese). And then I found this:
-----

Question 94
Do you like Nicolas Cage?
At 10:35 AM 1998.08.31


   My husband is starting to go bald a bit, so I suggested that he follow the example of the bald but cool Nicolas Cage. However, my husband really hates that he's balding, so he won't listen to me. According to him, "The dude IS bald!!" So all of our arguments end on an unpleasant note.
   But I digress. What I mean to ask is, is there anybody out there that thinks Nicolas Cage is cool? I decided to try asking around.
   If you're not busy, please tell me what you think. Also, does your wife like Nicolas Cage? I'd be so happy if you took the time to answer. (29 years old, Gemini, Blood Type A)

   Hello. It seems my wife does not like Nicolas Cage. When I asked what about him, it seems that she doesn't like:
1) the way he talks
2) the shape of his nose
3) the look in his eyes (when he's looking down).
She's a rather prejudiced person. But when I asked her what she thinks about baldness, she said, "That sort of thing doesn't really matter." Please tell that to your husband.
   I personally neither like nor dislike Mr. Cage. He was good as the one-handed baker in Moonstruck, but I guess it must be sweltering, since he only wears tank-tops and is always sweaty.
--------

YES.

Bonus bonus bonus! The question gets a comic to go along with it! Start with the guy on the right in each panel (click on the image to make it big enough to be legible. Also, pardon the poor image editing skills. I sort of rushed through it to get it up):


[For those curious, Lou Oshiba is an actor/comedian. He looks like this:

Well, it's true. He's no Cage.]


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interesting Link Round-up

Many months ago I wrote a post on the JLPP, and how they're an NPO that promotes Japanese literature in translation through myriad means (you can see what I wrote for yourself here).

The other day, I saw at the Literary Saloon that a new like-minded project called "Read Japan" has been established. The article at the Literary Saloon is quite interesting, and I suggest you read it. 

But it turns out it was just a good day for Japanese literature news the other day at the Literary Saloon, so I link you to a book review that also talks a bit about the JLPP (and their problems...) and a Q&A with Haruki Murakami translator Jay Rubin.

Basically, this is a post that is telling you to start following the Literary Saloon if you haven't already, especially if you have an interest in international literature even beyond that of Japan.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Excerpt from "The Illusions of Love and Marriage"

Although this isn't exactly what I had in mind originally, I'd like to share with you a piece of work by Genichiro Takahashi, author of of one of my favorite novels, Sayonara, Gangsters

I bring him up a lot and it's kind of funny when I think about it. I've only read a small fraction of his work, in English - only a novel, and in the original Japanese, maybe a combined total of seventy-five to a hundred pages from about a dozen short stories, beginnings of novels, and literary essays. And yet I'm obsessed. I believe in him as a writer almost entirely on faith. Yes, I loved his one novel, but does that prove his entire body of work to be of literary worth? I mean, yes, I do think so, but if you were to ask me why I believed so much in what I only know so little of, I couldn't give you a good answer. I can point out what I like about his work only so much. Maybe I should have a little more confidence in my taste/sense of "good" literature, but I can't let go of this idea that Takahashi is or should be the next big thing, but nobody knows it outside of Japan yet (and even there I don't think he has the largest following).

The following bit is from a short story of what I'm translating as "The Illusions of Love and Marriage", from his short story collection 君が代は千代に八千代に. I'm satisfied with just presenting this beginning bit because although the story itself is interesting, it's too long to translate here (at least for now). And what I want to focus on translating is the poem.
---
He met her at a party. She was a poet. She was reading poetry in the middle of the party. A real beauty. Narrow hips, a big butt. And big eyes. In other words, she was just his type. She wore a white t-shirt over jeans, and with a spellbound expression she read her poetry. 

 "Einstein rode the Galaxy Express
Einsten, with the Fuji Evening News and Shonen Jump in his lap
And by the window a plastic bottle filled with oolong tea
His travel arrangements are complete
The conductor came
And Einstein took out his ticket and said
'Standard class, Shinagawa to Kamakura'
The conductor took off his cap
'Does light appear to stop to people running at the speed of light?
Is the medium that transmits his light ether?
Is the object's matter inherent in that object?
What is the ultimate matter?
What will happen when matter and anti-matter collide?
The price of the standard class ticket is 750 yen, thank you for riding with us'
After a while the conductor came back
'Sir, we've already passed Kamakura'
Einstein was surprised
'Huh? Where are we now?'
'Well we've passed Kamakura, and Muromachi as well, and in 15 minutes is Heian'
'Oh darn, I've mistaken this for the Yokosuka line'
The Galaxy Express will go
Anywhere, you know
E=MC²"


----
Poetry is super hard to translate. In the original Japanese, it's pretty loosey-goosey in terms of form, but since many of the phrases end with the simple desu ka or verb past tense -ta, there is definitely some sense of rhyme in many phrases, but it's just so easy to construct in the Japanese, and totally weird in the English. Maybe with some time I could come up with a substitution or solution, but I just wanted to share this crazy little poem. The Galaxy Express is quite a fixture in the Japanese pop culture consciousness (think of all the anime alone). And I would also like to point out that Kamakura, while also a famous city outside of Tokyo, is also the name of a time period in Japanese history, as are the Muromachi and the Heian eras.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review: Ryu Murakami's Popular Hits of the Showa Era (and bonus!)

I redirect you once again to the wonderful Three Percent blog for my latest review on Ryu Murakami's forthcoming in English Popular Hits of the Showa Era.

 Every book I read by Ryu has to live up to Coin Locker Babies, which is one of my favorite books of all time, which means Popular Hits has a lot to live up to. I liked the book enough as I read it (most of it not under ideal conditions either - waiting around in the ER), but now that some time has past I realize it's grown on me quite a bit. It's just so absurd. Even though all the characters are pretty much inherently unlikable, what happens is just so whacked out it's hard to not read it with a smile (of course be prepared for grimaces too, I think).

One of the fun things about the book that didn't make it into my review is how all the chapter titles are actual popular songs from the Showa Era, aka, 1940s through 70s, which are now considered enka, I guess. Although these songs were originally all sorts of kinds of pop, rock, and jazz, performances of them now are actually kind of enka-ized - compare this original performance to this more modern one as performed by the same group - guitars become strings and horns. Admittedly, some of them were basically enka to begin with.

As a bonus to my handful of readers who I assume exist somewhere out there, here's a complete list of the songs used as chapter titles:

Chapter 1: Season of Love - Pinky and Killers: Koi no Kisetsu
Chapter 2: Stardust Trails - Akiko Kikuchi - Hoshi no Nagare ni
Chapter 3: Chanchiki Okesa - Minami Haruo - Chanchiki Okesa
Chapter 4: Meet me in Yurakucho - Frank Nagai - Yuurakuchou de Aimashou
Chapter 5: A Hill Overlooking the Harbor - Hirano Aiko - Minato ga Mieru Oka
Chapter 6: Rusty Knife - Yujiro Ishihara - Sabita Knife
Chapter 7: After the Acacia Rain - Sachiko Nishida - Acacia no Ame ga Yamu Toki
Chapter 8: Love Me to the Bone - Takaya Jou - Hone made Aishite
Chapter 9: Dreams Anytime - Sayuri Yoshinaga & Yukio Hoshi - Itsudemo Yume wo
Chapter 10: Until We Meet Again - Kiyohiko Ozaki - Mata Au Hi Made

Feel free to use this guide as your reading soundtrack when you pick up your own copy January 2011.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kaori Ekuni - "The Night, My Wife, and the Detergent"

“The Night, My Wife, and the Detergent"
by Kaori Ekuni, from the collection Somber Slumbers (Nurui Nemuri)

--

I want to get separated, my wife said. We gotta talk.

It was already 10 PM. I was tired. My wife and I are in the fifth year of our marriage, no kids.

You can pretend you don't see it, she said. But even if you pretend, this isn't going to go away.

Without responding, I continued to watch TV, but she turned the damn thing off. What I was pretending not to see, what wasn't going to disappear, I hadn't the faintest. Same as always.

I saw, as my wife stood blocking my way and glaring down at me, that her pedicure was chipping off.

“Oh, nail polish remover!”

I said. You don't have nail polish remover, so you can't take your pedicure off. That's why you're all upset, right?

My voice was half full of hope and half full of relief. My wife shook her head.

“So then it's those cotton balls. Even if I told you to use tissues instead, you're saying you definitely could not use them, so it's 'cause you don't have any of those cotton balls.”

She sighed - no, she said. That's not what I'm saying at all. I have nail polish remover and cotton balls. I haven't taken my pedicure off because I'm too busy. I just don't have the time to take care of my nails.

Time. I give up.

I love my wife, and I wish I had her strength. But I don't know what to do when she asks for things you can't get at convenience stores.

“Hey, listen to me. I really think we should live separately. I'm sure we could become really good friends.”

I was getting real sick of this. Can't she just leave it alone for tonight?

“About how many trash bags do we have left?”

As a husband, I decided to give my best to her. But the thing you need to know about my wife is that she answers questions. Even when she's angry, even when she's crying, if you ask her a question, she always answers.

“How about detergent? Milk? Diet Pepsi?”

I listed off the things my wife needed in her daily life.

“Well, we have a lot of trash bags. As far as detergent goes, we only have the bottle we're using now, but we have milk and diet Pepsi too. But that has nothing to do with what I'm trying to say to you right now. Please, listen seriously.”

I wasn't listening. I already had my shoes on and was at the door. Stop, or, listen, or whatever my wife was saying at my back, I went outside and headed to the convenience store. The windows in all the houses along the way were lit.

The detergent my wife likes is in a pink bottle. There are several brands with pink bottles, but it's the one with the pink cap as well that's the lucky guy. I bought five of them. I bought diet Pepsi and milk too. And trash bags and nail polish remover. And cotton balls. And while I was at it, an onigiri.

The bag was real heavy. The white plastic bag rustled and crinkled in such a way that I thought it was going to tear apart on the way home.

My wife looked miserable standing at the front door.

“Why would you buy so much?

The amount is crucial.

She sighs again as I pull out the contents of the bag one at a time. You really don't listen when people talk to you, huh. Didn't I tell you we already had diet Pepsi? And milk. And trash bags.

Then, she bursts out laughing.

“Why are you like this, honey? You don't listen to anything do you?"

She's holding the nail polish remover in her hands.

I win.


------------------

Kaori Ekuni is another famous contemporary author. She's won, among others, the Murasaki Shikibu Prize 1992 and the Naoki Prize in 2004. Not only a literary fiction writer, she is famous for her young adult fiction, poetry, and translations (including poetry by e. e. cummings. and my favorite children's book, The Runaway Bunny. Aw...) Her works have been made into films and she's celebrated for her depictions of modern relationships.

I've been looking through nice short pieces to add to this site, and this Ekuni collection was one of the many that I came across at Book-Off, and now one of the fraction of books that survived the transatlantic voyage to my house (I don't know what happened, but somehow when the package got to my door, it was badly damaged and missing over 30 books. Including some of the Genichiro Takahashi novels I spent weeks trying to find... very upsetting). Anyhow, I was just rifling through the book and this one stood out for it's length. Now that school is upon me I can't devote the time I'd like to long form translations except the ones I'm doing to graduate, so my apologies that the works I put up here are selected for their overall shortness, and not for their literary value. Still, despite its brevity, the story condenses nicely the problems of many Japanese (and others) failed relationships.

If you liked this short story, then you should check out Ekuni's only published work in English, Twinkle Twinkle, which was put out a few years ago by Vertical.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Accuracy of Death by Isaka Kotaro

Once, a long time ago, a barber told me that he didn't care one bit about hair. "So I'll cut the customer's hair with the scissors probably. Morning 'til night, from when I open the store 'til I close with no break, we know I'm just gonna be snip snip snipping. Having the customer's hair be all neat and trimmed is fine, you know, but, it doesn't mean I particularly like hair."

He died five days later, stabbed in the stomach during a killing spree, but at that time he wasn't expecting to die, of course, so his voice was full and lively.

So when asked, "Then why do you work at a barbershop?", he replied, mingled with a strained laugh, "'Cause it's my job."

This coincides neatly with my thoughts and, if I were to speak somewhat grandiosely, my philosophy.

I have no particular interest in the deaths of humans. If a young president is going to be shot from above, in a parade of private cars going ten miles an hour, if somewhere a boy is going to freeze to death with his beloved dog in front of a Rubens painting, it is of no concern to me.

Speaking of which, the barber in question even revealed to me: "Dying is scary."

To counter this, I asked him, "Do you remember the time before you were born? Before you were born, was it scary? Did it hurt?"

"Nope."

"Death is pretty much like that. It's just a return to the state before you were born. Not scary, not painful."

The deaths of humans have neither interest nor value to me. Or, conversely, everyone's death ends up having the same value. So for me, it has nothing to do with who will die when. Even so, I will go out this very day in order to confirm these deaths.

Why? Because it's my job. Just like the barber said.


ーーーーーー

This is the opening to Koutaro Isaka's episodic novel The Accuracy of Death, 死神の制度 (shinigami no seido). Koutaro Isaka (伊坂幸太郎)is one of the big contemporary authors right now. Go to any bookstore in Japan and he's got tons of paperbacks on display.

I heard about this book from the Japanese Book News magazine, put out by the Japan Foundation. It's a great way to read about notable books and book news, but it only comes out quarterly. Still, a useful way to wade through contemporary fiction and non-fiction releases.

I'll be honest, I haven't gotten much further than this bit that I've translated (a bit further, but not enough to really say if the book as a whole is any good), but its so sad to see my blog so empty. So I was looking through my computer bits and bobbles and saw a rough translation of this little bit and decided to clean it up and post it. Intriguing, yes? I think this is the kind of book that would do well in the States. This gothic-lite stuff is where the money's at. (Better if it were zombies or vampires, but...)

Like I said, Isaka is pretty hot right now, and famous enough (or maybe this is a chicken and egg situation) that he's had a lot of movies and TV dramas based around his stuff, including "The Accuracy of Death". In fact, here's the trailer (looks like it's actually called "Sweet Rain: The Accuracy of Death":

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Night, My Wife, and the Detergent

"The Night, My Wife, and the Detergent" by Kaori Ekuni




I want to get separated, my wife said. We gotta talk.

It was already 10 PM. I was tired. My wife and I are in the fifth year of our marriage, no kids.

You can pretend you don't see it, she said. But even if you pretend, this isn't going to go away.

Without responding, I continued to watch TV, but she turned the damn thing off. What I was pretending not to see, what wasn't going to disappear, I hadn't the faintest. Same as always.

I saw, as my wife stood blocking my way and glaring down at me, that her pedicure was chipping off.

“Oh, nail polish remover!”

I said. You don't have nail polish remover, so you can't take your pedicure off. That's why you're all upset, right?

My voice was half full of hope and half full of relief. My wife shook her head.

“So then it's those cotton balls. Even if I told you to use tissues instead, you're saying you definitely could not use them, so it's 'cause you don't have any of those cotton balls.”

She sighed - no, she said. That's not what I'm saying at all. I have nail polish remover and cotton balls. I haven't taken my pedicure off because I'm too busy. I just don't have the time to take care of my nails.

Time. I give up.

I love my wife, and I wish I had her strength. But I don't know what to do when she asks for things you can't get at convenience stores.

“Hey, listen to me. I really think we should live separately. I'm sure we could become really good friends.”

I was getting real sick of this. Can't she just leave it alone for tonight?

“About how many trash bags do we have left?”

As a husband, I decided to give my best to her. But the thing you need to know about my wife is that she answers questions. Even when she's angry, even when she's crying, if you ask her a question, she always answers.

“How about detergent? Milk? Diet Pepsi?”

I listed off the things my wife needed in her daily life.

“Well, we have a lot of trash bags. As far as detergent goes, we only have the bottle we're using now, but we have milk and diet Pepsi too. But that has nothing to do with what I'm trying to say to you right now. Please, listen seriously.”

I wasn't listening. I already had my shoes on and was at the door. Stop, or, listen, or whatever my wife was saying at my back, I went outside and headed to the convenience store. The windows in all the houses along the way were lit.

The detergent my wife likes is in a pink bottle. There are several brands with pink bottles, but it's the one with the pink cap as well that's the lucky guy. I bought five of them. I bought diet Pepsi and milk too. And trash bags and nail polish remover. And cotton balls. And while I was at it, an onigiri.

The bag was real heavy. The white plastic bag rustled and crinkled in such a way that I thought it was going to tear apart on the way home.

My wife looked miserable standing at the front door.

“Why would you buy so much?

The amount is crucial.

She sighs again as I pull out the contents of the bag one at a time. You really don't listen when people talk to you, huh. Didn't I tell you we already had diet Pepsi? And milk. And trash bags.

Then, she bursts out laughing.

“Why are you like this, honey? You don't listen to anything do you?"

She's holding the nail polish remover in her hands.

I win.

[From the collection ぬるい眠り, 2007, Shinchousha.]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Suburbanization (The Doughnut Effect)" & "Donuts, Once Again"

"Suburbanization (The Doughnut Effect)" by Haruki Murakami

I'd been dating my fiance for three years, but it was when she suburbanized that our relationship went sour — how the hell can anyone get along with a lover who leaves the city for the suburbs? — and I was getting wasted in bars almost every night, washed out and losing weight like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

"Brother, I'm begging you, you've got to get over her. As it stands now, your body is broken," my little sister urged me. "I know how you're feeling, but those who suburbanize can't be un-suburbanized. You've got to end it! Don't you think so?"

Of course she was right. It was like my sister said, once you've gone suburban, you're suburban for eternity.

I called my fiance to tell her goodbye. "It's heartbreaking to be separated from you, but in the end, it's only fate that this is happening, right? I'll never forget you, not for one second in my whole life..........and so on."

"You still don't get it, do you?" my suburbanized lover said. "At the center of human existence is naught. Nothing, zero. Why aren't you trying to focus on this vacuum? Why do your eyes only go to the parts around it?"

Why? That's what I wanted to ask her. Why suburbanites can only have such a narrow-minded worldview.

But at any rate, that's how I broke up with my fiance. That was two years ago now. Then, last spring, without any warning, my sister suburbanized. Immediately after she left Sophia University and started working at Japan Airlines,  in a hotel lobby in Sapporo after a business trip, she suddenly just up and suburbanized. My mom locked herself in her home and spent day after day in tears and sorrow.

Every now and then I try to call my sister and ask, "How are ya'?"

"You still don't get it, do you?" my suburbanized sister says. "At the center of human existence...."

_______

"Donuts, Once Again" by Haruki Murakami

It was because of an event called the Sophia University Seminar for the Study of Doughnuts - boy, college students these days sure come up with all sorts of things - that I got a call asking whether I'd like to participate in a symposium to discuss the current state of doughnuts. Sounds good, I replied. I too have a personal opinion regarding doughnuts. Knowledge, opinion, a sense of appreciation - no matter how you slice it, it will be a long time before I lose to these strange college kids.

The Sophia University Seminar for the Study of Doughnuts, Fall Event was held in a rented hall at the Hotel New Otani. There was a band and a doughnut matching game, and after a dinner mixed with snacks, the symposium was held in a neighboring room. Besides myself, famous cultural anthropologists and food critics, among others, were in attendance.

"Doughnuts are a part of contemporary literature, and if we decide we can have the power, that is, the indispensable factor to commit directly a certain kind of coming together individually to identify the areas of our subconsciousness... " I recited. My compensation was 50,000 yen.

I thrust the 50,000 yen into my pocket, headed to the bar, and drank vodka tonics with a girl from the French Literature department who I met at the doughnut matching game.

"In the end, for better or worse, your novels are kinda doughnut-y. I bet Flaubert didn't even think of something like a doughnut even once."

That's right, Flaubert probably did not think about doughnuts. But it's the 20th century now, and pretty soon it's going to be the 21st. You don't just bring up Flaubert in this day and age.

"The doughnut, c'est moi," I said, mimicking Flaubert.

"You're an interesting person, aren't you," she said, giggling. I'm not trying to brag here but, making girls from the French Lit department laugh is kind of my specialty.

[From the flash fiction collection 夜のくもざる, 1998, Shinchosha.]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Donuts Make Me Go Nuts

Because A) I have a feeling no one cares about my thoughts on The Great Gatsby and therefore I don't have the energy to write anything about it, and B) I've been dying to put a translation up here for a long time but the one I'm working on is kind of a beast, I present to you some new (and old) Haruki Murakami translations.

In Yoru No Kumozaru, Murakami's nifty little flash fiction collection, Murakami has two stories based (sort of) around donuts. The first story about donuts (sort of) is one that I translated and put up many moons ago, back in the good ol' days of the now thoroughly defunct Kumozaru Project. I went on vacation with my family this past weekend, and what better way to relax than a nice, quick little translation work for fun. Besides the relationship between the word "donut," I like the little call back to Sophia University. And without further introduction...:


"Suburbanization (The Doughnut Effect)"

I'd been dating my fiance for three years, but it was when she suburbanized that our relationship went sour ---- how the hell can anyone get along with a lover who leaves the city for the suburbs? ----  and I was getting wasted in bars almost every night, washed out and losing weight like Humphrey Bogart in
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

"Brother, I'm begging you, you've got to get over her. As it stands now, your body is broken," my little sister urged me. "I know how you're feeling, but those who suburbanize can't be un-suburbanized. You've got to end it! Don't you think so?"

Of course she was right. It was like my sister said, once you've gone suburban, you're suburban for eternity.

I called my fiance to tell her goodbye. "It's heartbreaking to be separated from you, but in the end, it's only fate that this is happening, right? I'll never forget you, not for one second in my whole life..........and so on."

"You still don't get it, do you?" my suburbanized lover said. "At the center of human existence is naught. Nothing, zero. Why aren't you trying to focus on this vacuum? Why do your eyes only go to the parts around it?"

Why? That's what I wanted to ask her. Why suburbanites can only have such a narrow-minded worldview.

But at any rate, that's how I broke up with my fiance. That was two years ago now. Then, last spring, without any warning, my sister suburbanized. Immediately after she left Sophia University and started working at Japan Airlines,  in a hotel lobby in Sapporo after a business trip, she suddenly just up and suburbanized. My mom locked herself in her home and spent day after day in tears and sorrow.

Every now and then I try to call my sister and ask, "How are ya'?"

"You still don't get it, do you?" my suburbanized sister says. "At the center of human existence...."


_______

Donuts, Once Again

It was because of an event called the Sophia University Seminar for the Study of Doughnuts - boy, college students these days sure come up with all sorts of things - that I got a call asking whether I'd like to participate in a symposium to discuss the current state of doughnuts. Sounds good, I replied. I too have a personal opinion regarding doughnuts. Knowledge, opinion, a sense of appreciation - no matter how you slice it, it will be a long time before I lose to these strange college kids.

The Sophia University Seminar for the Study of Doughnuts, Fall Event was held in a rented hall at the Hotel New Otani. There was a band and a doughnut matching game, and after a dinner mixed with snacks, the symposium was held in a neighboring room. Besides myself, famous cultural anthropologists and food critics, among others, were in attendance.

"Doughnuts are a part of contemporary literature, and if we decide we can have the power, that is, the indispensable factor to commit directly a certain kind of coming together individually to identify the areas of our subconsciousness... " I recited. My compensation was 50,000 yen.

I thrust the 50,000 yen into my pocket, headed to the bar, and drank vodka tonics with a girl from the French Literature department who I met at the doughnut matching game.

"In the end, for better or worse, your novels are kinda doughnut-y. I bet Flaubert didn't even think of something like a doughnut even once."

That's right, Flaubert probably did not think about doughnuts. But it's the 20th century now, and pretty soon it's going to be the 21st. You don't just bring up Flaubert in this day and age.

"The doughnut, c'est moi," I said, mimicking Flaubert.

"You're an interesting person, aren't you," she said, giggling. I'm not trying to brag here but, making girls from the French Lit department laugh is kind of my specialty.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer of the Re-Read #2: The Catcher in the Rye



The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger

You may be wondering (and I say this because I'm sort of wondering the same thing myself) why I would bother writing about a novel that most likely you have read. And honestly, I don't know. You think I plan these things as I go along? 

Enter Holden Caufield, our hapless, teenage narrator who does everything as he goes along ("What I thought I'd do was..."). Never thinking anything through, always shooting off his mouth: you know, your average, self-centered yet self-clueless teenager.

Maybe reading The Catcher in the Rye at the same age as the narrator is necessary to fully appreciate the book. At the time, although I loved the book and thought that Salinger "got it" (to my memory, at least) I didn't fully embrace Holden as an extension of me, nor did I fully relate: even I didn't want to associate myself with someone so annoying (of course, I probably was just as annoying too, and didn't realize). But still, I would be hard pressed to find anyone who read it as a teenager, like actually read it, and not skimmed through the important parts in class for major plot points (hey, I was a high school student too), and couldn't relate.

The most obvious example of Salinger's perfect distillation of teenage-ism is Caufield's inherently contradictory nature. Everything he says is taken back, or qualified, or qualified in a way that basically is a negation. The only exception, of course, being his dead brother Allie. 

Granted, death in the immediate family will fuck anyone up. So it's easy to see why Holden's behavior is a sort of worse-case scenario of a moody teenager, which I think is why even at the time I thought Holden really acted more like a little kid than a theoretical peer of mine. But looking back on him now, I can see maybe with clearer eyes that in essence, I really was a Holden, because I was a teenager too. 

So why did I want to read The Catcher in the Rye now? Well, for one, I saw an English copy at a Book Off while in Japan and I think it made me nostalgic and a little homesick. I also think it's interesting that it's one of the books Haruki Murakami (boy, it always comes back to him, doesn't it? I gotta institute a No-Murakami month or something) decided to re-translate it into the Japanese. But I've known that for a long time, and it wasn't until about a month ago that I knew I wanted to re-read it. Maybe I had a conversation with a friend about it. Hah, hope you enjoy my non-answer, hapless reader. I really should just delete this whole paragraph. 

Things that surprised me about the novel: The similarities between now and 1950s-America. Somewhere in our American tapestry of culture or education is this brainwashed notion that 1950s-era America was somehow more wholesome than any other era. Something about that post-war era (and the now-we-Americans-try to-ignore-it start of the Cold War) keeps propagating this notion and manifests itself in our movies and TV shows (whether as pastiche or cliche) as the squeaky-clean America. I don't know why we Americans see the 1950s as the purest slice of Americana in our history, but there it is.

And obviously this is not the case, but it was still surprising to see that even kids in the 1950s were scratching "Fuck You" in the walls of their schools or to read about the high school kids having sex (or lying about doing it) or that a 1950s 16-year old would be trying to get away with underage drinking at bars and paying for a prostitute. Obviously it's all the same and always will be, but it was weird how I too unconsciously bought this weird stereotype that pervades our national conscious.

My question to you, readers, especially the non-Americans, is your relationship to The Catcher in the Rye, if you've read it, and how relatable it is to your own teenage experience. We consider it now (despite the protests that continue even today by weirdo parents who can't honestly communicate to their kids about sex and swear words) to be a paragon of American literature, a solid member of the literary canon, so I'm curious to see what non-Americans think. 

Anyway, that's about all I have to say on the matter. It was definitely worth the re-read, and I think in another 10 or 20 years it'll be worth another re-read. And then forcing my teenage kids to read it, if the novel has somehow fallen out of favor when my kids are in high school. I wonder how relatable it will be to my kids then, considering how different we can assume our culture will be in another 25 years.

[Next up on Summer of the Re-Read: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Another indisputable (and deservedly so) member of the American literary canon.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Kurodahan Press Translation Prize

Fellow translators,

I direct you here, information on the Kurodahan Press Translation Prize.

I was interested in doing it last year, but I was too lazy. This year I'm definitely giving it a go. It's only 1700 characters (which, in an average paperback, assuming the page was a solid block of text, would be less than 3 pages, so probably like 6 or 7 more realistic pages, tops?), which is quite short, honestly.

The winner gets 30000 yen, publication, and something like an additional 15000 upon publication.

Kurodahan Press seems to specialize in science fiction, as this piece (and the last two year's pieces) comes from a SF anthology, best of 2007 collection. The piece is called 忠告 by 恩田陸 (Onda Riku), who according to Wikipedia, is the pen name of women's lit writer Kumagai Nanae, which is most definitely a name I've seen/read about before.

Deadline is September 30, which seems to me to be plenty of time, then again I haven't looked at the piece yet so maybe it's super hard.

Another (and to me, mindblowingly) interesting thing is who's judging: Meredith McKinney, who did the most recent translation of Natsume Soseki's Kokoro (and who also seems to be Penguin Classic's go-to translator of Japanese literature), Juliet Winters Carpenter, who has translated a couple books by Kobo Abe, the tanka poetry collection Salad Anniversary, and is a member of the JLPP, and ALFRED BIRNBAUM, translator of Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase and other works.

So I'm pretty much geekin' out right now, you guys.

On a side note, when I told my girlfriend I was going to write this post, she said, "Are you dumb? Stop making more competition!" To which I said, "...Oh well. I'm not going to win anyway."

But I swear to god if any of you guys win because I told you about it...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer of the Re-Read #1: Sayonara, Gangsters

Sayonara, Gangsters
by Genichiro Takahashi
Translated by Michael Emmerich

I wish I could remember how I discovered that this book existed. I know I first read it in the spring of my first year of college. I was so into it that I read it during my physics class in the very, very back of the lecture hall (although to be fair, I either slept or did other work during most of those physics lectures). I know I took it out of the school library. But did I discover it through aimless browsing? Or was it a title I was interested in after looking through Vertical Inc (the publisher)'s back catalog, who describes it as a "postmodern novel...from Haruki Murakami's way-more-out-there cousin"?

If the Murakami comparison really was the reason I picked up the novel, at least the description was somewhat apt. In many ways, Sayonara, Gangsters does seem like Murakami with the post-modern bizarreness cranked up to 11. But after re-reading Sayonara Gangsters and exploring more of Takahashi's work in the Japanese, the comparison (like all authorial comparisons, honestly) is somewhat diminishing.


First of all, there's no good way to even summarize Sayonara, Gangsters, which at least can be done for Murakami's work. To grossly simplify matters, Sayonara, Gangsters follows a poet who teaches at a poetry school in some sort of bizarro-world where people choose their own names, which in turn can take a life of their own, and where on the sixth floor of the building that the narrator works is a river of some unknowable length. Even "dream logic" doesn't quite convey the sense of un-reality that pervades the novel:




I think about many different kinds of death.
I'd seen something horribly sad at the amusement park. "The Giant Ferris Wheel" had on a big black ribbon, and it was folding itself up.
The owner of the amusement park must have decided it would cost too much to call in the workers whose job it was to dismantle the rides, and hit on the idea of ordering "the Giant Ferris Wheel" to dispose of itself.
I sat on a swing and watched "The Giant Ferris Wheel" commit suicide.
"The Giant Ferris Wheel" kept rotating its circular frame, yanking off the little carriages where its riders used to sit. It removed one, then another, then another. Every time it pulled off a carriage it bled and cried out in pain. "Oh, it hurts!" it yelled, "It hurts!" Once the circular frame had removed the last carriage, it set about cutting away the circular frames at the center; after that the concrete supports struggled to sever the axle.
Splattered with blood, "The Giant Ferris Wheel' continued to dismantle itself, and at every step along the way it screamed so awfully that the entire amusement park trembled.
"The Merry-Go-Round," which was just next door, sat there shaking with its eyes squeezed shut, covering its ears with its hands.
Finally only the concrete base remained. Its breath came in gasps. Nothing but this block of concrete indicated that "The Giant Ferris Wheel" had ever existed: the block was "The Giant Ferris Wheel"'s ego, its self.
I wondered how the base would finish the job.
There wasn't anything left to do.
"Eat shit and die!"
Leaving these bitter last words, the concrete base put an end to it all.
It did this in a way no human would ever think up. 



The novel is divided up into three parts, and each part has its own major plot and focus. Part 1 establishes the setting and the narrator's life. Part 2 describes the Poetry School and his work with the students. Part 3 is about the narrator's experience with the dangerous gangsters of the novel's world.

Reviews of Sayonara, Gangsters tend to praise Part 1 as the most compelling and well-written part of the novel (speaking of, our friend Nihon Distractions has a review here), but I find myself more drawn to Part 2. After reading more of Takahashi's other work, it is clear that Takahashi is a writer concerned about writing, and despite this bizarre, post-modernist world that Takahashi created, the novel itself, at its core, is really all about writing:




My teaching here isn't focused on knowledge.
If you want to know about poetry, read books. You'll find all that in books.
My knowledge of poetry is both fragmented and fuzzy. It can't be trusted.
I don't teach people how to interpret poetry or any of that stuff either.
I'm not so good at interpreting poetry.
When I read a poem, I respond to it in one of two ways: "Wow, this is great!" or "God, this is awful!" I have no other responses.
Having eliminated those possibilities, we are left with "How to create poetry." Surely that must be what the man teaches! That's what you're all thinking, right? Hell, that's what I'm thinking myself.
But the truth is that if there really were some technique that permitted everybody who knew it to write wonderful poems, I'd want to be the first to know.
If I had a a technique like that, I'd keep it all to myself and produce one masterpiece after another, setting my sights on the Nobel Prize for Poets.
I'm a poet, but even now I have no idea how to write my poems.
I really doubt there is a technique to writing poetry.
We poets spend the eyeblink of time granted us until we slip away forever into the eternal dark composing poems, never having the faintest idea how we out to go about writing them, or what we ought to be writing.
I do almost nothing at all here.
Pressed to explain, I might say that my job is CONDUCTING TRAFFIC.
The students who come here all want to write poems. But none of them have any idea what kind of poems they should be writing.
You mustn't tell them to "Write what you like."
I may be incompetent as a poet, but I don't shirk my responsibilities.
I talk with my students. Or, to make it sound hard, I counsel them.
Actually, for the most part all I do is listen.
Writing poetry is a fairly morbid thing to do. Of course, that doesn't mean all morbid people are poets. It is here, you see, that the difficulty lies.




All irony aside, and despite the fact that this really is more or less exactly how I feel about poetry (being absolutely terrible at it), in a true post-modernist fashion, Takahashi explores almost all aspects of the experience of the written word, including but not limited to the relationship between literature and the author, the relationship between literature and the reader, the act of reading/writing itself, literary criticism, and the power of words.

The first time I read Sayonara, Gangsters, I loved the bizarre world and imagery that Takahashi created. But the second time around, I found myself more drawn to the ideas about literature and the power of the written word that Takahashi has built the world around, a theme that Takahashi will continue to explore throughout his career.

As Takahashi's debut work, it really is amazing that he was able to produce something so original and compelling. Sayonara, Gangsters is still one of my favorite books, but the second time around, I can see some of its flaws. The prose is jarringly fragmented and vignette-y, similar to Murakami's Hear the Wind Sing. (I guess this is a problem that plagues many an author's debut/early works.) Translator Michael Emmerich had his work cut out for him, and though I'm so grateful that he was able to get a publisher to take a chance on this work, I occasionally find the translation a little awkward.

To which I mean no disrespect; I went to a translator's round-table about a year ago that Emmerich was a part of (as in, when I saw that he was a part of it, I immediately knew I was going), and he's pretty young, early 30s, if not late 20s, I'd say. This book was published in 2004, which means he was probably working on it around seven or eight years ago, when he was in his mid-twenties. So nothing but respect for him. I sincerely hope that I can achieve the same thing at that age. Also, he's got great taste in J-lit and was just a really interesting and funny guy to listen and talk to. So whenever I see he has a new translation out, I always pay attention.

At this translator's round-table I went to, I asked Emmerich if he would ever translate something by Takahashi again. He said he definitely would like to, but it's all about finding a publisher, and apparently this novel didn't make a real splash, which makes it a hard sell. But now that I've been able to explore more of his works, I really feel that Takahashi is a great author that deserves to be translated. And I hope to be the man to do it.

Expect many Takahashi-related posts in the future, including a forthcoming short story translation and a look at his (well, to me) fascinating Twitter account.

 [Next on "Summer of the Re-Read": The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Let's see how a novel about a teenager that one reads as a teenager holds up when one is no longer (quite) a teenager.]

Friday, July 16, 2010

Introducing: Summer of the Re-Read

Now that I'm back in the States again, I have a lot of free time until school starts back up. A LOT of free time. And besides the time I've wasted since discovering my family started using Netflix (instant streaming...fuck and yes), I've started really reading again.

This summer I have a massive reading list I want to but ultimately will fail miserably at completing, which can be divided up into three sections: (1) new, unread books, (2) unread "classics", and (3) stuff I want to read again.

The thing is, I don't often re-read books, besides Murakami (surprise, surprise). Some fun facts: Sputnik Sweetheart is probably the most read at 3, possibly 4 times, and Hardboiled Wonderland... is the one that I've started and put down the most times, though I have finished it once and thoroughly enjoyed it; for some reason, it's just the unluckiest book in that I just start it at bad times or get distracted by something newer and shinier. I have a pretty good memory, so I more or less remember what happened and how I particularly felt about any particular book, and there's just so much out there to read I usually give preference to something unknown (except in the cases where I find myself in an irrepressible Murakami mood). Contrast this to my TV habits, in which my favorite shows are constantly being cycled through and re-marathoned, though this is usually done in conjunction with something else, since I don't have to be focusing on it 100% to enjoy it. In fact, the only book in semi-recent memory that I recall re-reading is Koushun Takami's Battle Royale. (Oops, wait, that's a lie; the last Harry Potter was also re-read, though only just a month or two after I had initially read it in the first place.) And books have to be particularly crappy for me to give up on them before the end (i.e. Higashino Keigo's "Naoko". For such a fucked up concept, boooooooooring.)

But this summer, I really want to re-read a bunch of books. Maybe it was because I was in Japan and didn't have access to my collection, or maybe because I didn't have easy access to English-language books. Not really sure. And since I like doing book reviews on this blog anyway, I thought I'd chronicle my exploits.

Here's the list so far:

1) Genichiro Takahashi - Sayonara, Gangsters
2) J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye
3) F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
4) (tentative) Ryu Murakami - Coin Locker Babies
5) (tentative) George Orwell - 1984
6) (tentative) Haruki Murakami - South of the Border, West of the Sun
7) (tentative) Albert Camus - The Fall

I guess in general, I want to see if each of these books still "hold up" since the last time I read them, though the reasons for why I want to see depend on each book. For example, South of the Border, West of the Sun was by far and away my absolute least favorite Murakami book when I read it, but paradoxically, it also has one of my favorite quotes by any author ever. So on and so forth.

I'll talk about all this stuff more specifically for each book when I get to it. Anyway, that's something that you can look forward to (I originally wrote "one more thing" you can look forward to, but I haven't written anything in months, so you haven't been looking forward to anything for a while) very soon, since I've already finished reading Sayonara, Gangsters and am halfway through The Catcher in the Rye.

(P.S. New books will be reviewed either separately or, more likely, in a "Recently Read Round-up" column.)

(P.P.S. That translation I'm working on that's non-Murakami? Totally starting to work on that again. I spent most of my time in Japan just trying to read as much Japanese as possible, and practicing the art of getting as much out of a text as I can without checking the dictionary every 10 5 seconds, which was actually really awesome. Newest record: 40 consecutive pages that I can  thoroughly summarize to you, that I did with little dictionary-consultation. Very proud of this.)

(P.P.S. I'm now on The Twitter. There should now be a doohicky on the side of this here thing-ama-blog.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I live!

Tomorrow I return to America. The study abroad is over.

I wanted to keep up with regular posts over the last few months, but I decided (unconsciously really) that I wanted to use the time I would've spent organizing posts and writing them with going out and experiencing Japan as much as possible.

So, expect new content coming very soon and much more regularly. I have a few translations lined up, and I'll go back to explore my experience as well as other things about my time here that I enjoyed too.

よろしく!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Amazing Engrish Vol 2.

Been a little busy lately and haven't been able to focus on the blog. Please enjoy a few more Engrish-y things in the meantime. The first isn't really Engrish, but some excerpts from a strange, joke English language phrase learning book called warau eikaiwa. See for yourself.


I found all of the following on an ad outside a store on my way to taiko practice.
I didn't even know what "Sodality" was until I looked it up, basically a synonym for fraternity. It's not even in Firefox's dictionary files. And that second shirt is awfully aggressive/egotistical. UNFAILING SINCE BIRTH!!!!!GRAGHHGHG!

This may be my favorite. Amazing Time. Hopefulness.

And finally, I wanted to share this amazing advertisement that's everywhere in Tokyo right now.
(The answer, of course, is Emperor Palpatine. Silly Japanese people.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"A 32-Year Old Day Tripper"

"A 32-Year Old Day Tripper" by Haruki Murakami

    I'm thirty-two and she's eighteen, and... every time I say that to myself, it just always sounds so boring.

    I'm not yet thirty-three, and she's still eighteen... that'll do.

    The two of us are simply friends; nothing more, nothing less. I have a wife, and she has no less than six boyfriends. On weekdays she goes out with these six boyfriends, and one Sunday a month she goes out with me. The other Sundays she watches TV at home. She's as cute as a walrus when she's watching TV.

    She was born in 1963, the same year President Kennedy was shot and killed. And the first time I asked a girl out on a date. And the popular song at the time was... Cliff Richard's “Summer Holiday”?

    Well, whatever.

    At any rate, that's the sort of year she was born into.

    That I would be going on dates with a girl born that year would have been inconceivable then. Even now it feels impossible. Like going to the other side of the moon to have a smoke.

    The general consensus of our peers is that “Young girls are boring, man!” Nevertheless, these  very same guys date young girls too, all the time. So do you think they eventually discover young girls that aren't boring? Nah, it doesn't mean that at all. It's actually the boringness of the girls that attracts them.  They're just playing a complicated game, a game they honestly enjoy. A game where they wash their faces with buckets full of the young girls' boredom water, while they don't let their lady friends have a single drop.

    At least, that's how it seems to me.

    In truth, nine girls out of ten are boring things. However, girls don't realize that. Girls are young, beautiful, and full of curiosity.  The boringness of their own selves is completely unrelated to the things that young girls are thinking about.

    Yeesh.

    I have nothing to criticize them for, and again, no reason to dislike them. On the contrary, I like girls. Girls make me remember the times when I was a boring young man. That is, how should I put it, quite wonderful.

    “Hey, do you think you'd ever want to be eighteen again?” she asked me.

    “No way,” I replied. “I don't wanna go back.”

    It looked like she didn't quite get my answer.

    “Don't wanna go back... really?”

    “Of course.”

    “Why?”

    “Cause I'm fine the way I am now.”

    She thought about this for some time while resting her chin in her hands at the table, and while she pondered she spun a clinking spoon in her coffee cup.

    “I don't believe you.”

    “You better believe it.”

    “But isn't being young wonderful?”

    “Probably.”

    “So why is it better now?”

    “Because once is enough.”

    “It's not enough for me.”

    “But you're still eighteen.”

    “Hmm.”

    I caught the attention of the waiter and asked for a second beer. Outside it was raining, and from the window you could see Yokohama Port.

    “Hey, what did you think about when you were eighteen?”

    “Sleeping with girls.”

    “What else?”

    “That's it.”

    She giggled after taking a sip of coffee.

    “So, did it turn out well?”

    “There were things that turned out well and things that didn't turn out so well. Of course, there were more things that didn't turn out well, I guess.”

    “How many girls did you sleep with?”

    “I'm not counting.”

    “Really?”

    “I don't wanna count.”

    “If I were a guy I'd definitely count. Isn't it fun?”

    There are times when it seems to me that it might not be so bad to be eighteen again. However, when I try to think of what the first thing I'd do if I was eighteen again, I can't come up with a single idea.

    Or maybe I'll end up dating charming thirty-two year old women. That wouldn't be so bad.

    “Do you ever think you'd want to be eighteen again?” I'll ask.

    “Hmm, let me see.” She'll grin and pretend to think about it. “Nope. Doubt it.”

    “Really?”

    “Yup.”

    “I don't get it,” I'll say. “Everyone says that being young is a wonderful thing.”

    “Yeah, it is wonderful.”

    “Then why don't you want to?”

    “You'll understand when you're older.”

    Of course at thirty-two, if I skip even a week of running, my stomach flab starts getting conspicuous. I can't be eighteen again. That's obvious.

    After I finish my morning run, I always drink a can of vegetable juice, lie on my side and put on “Day Tripper” by the Beatles.

    “Dayyyy-ay-ay tripper!”

    When listening to that song, I start feeling like I'm sitting on a train. Telephone poles, train stations, tunnels, bridges, cows, horses, smoke stacks, garbage, steadily they all pass by, one after the other. Scenery that never changed, no matter where I was. Though in the old days, it seemed like the scenery was incredibly beautiful.

    Only the person sitting next to me would change. This time, the one sitting next to me is the eighteen year old girl. I'm in the window seat, she in the aisle seat.

    “Would you like to change seats?” I'll say.

    “Thanks,” she says. “You're too kind.”

    It's not a matter of kindness, I say with a bitter laugh. It's just that I'm much more used to boredom than you.

    A 32 year old
    Day tripper
    Sick of counting the telephone poles.

       1981/8/20

[From the collection カンガルー日和, 1986, Kodansha.]

Mistakes!! plus the text.

[For those of you confused, this post is a response to the post "A 32 Year-Old Day Tripper", which I posted a few hours right before this one. You might want to read that post first.]

Instead of fixing the last post, I'll just say what I need to say here. It's all part of the process (that's what I try to tell myself instead of being upset by my foolishness).

Well, I have to admit, I think I made some mistakes. If you Google "32 Year Old Day Tripper", there are two other translations available online. I of course read through both.

Two things struck me. One is the whole bucket of water thing. Still enough variety there for me to not throw away my own translation entirely.

However I do feel I made one big error. Right before my final long excerpt, the narrator says this:

There are times when it seems to me that it might not be so bad to be eighteen again. However, when I try to think of what the first thing I'd do if I was eighteen again, I can't come up with a single idea.
    Or maybe I'll end up dating charming thirty-two year old women. That wouldn't be so bad. 






I hate how little context is needed for a Japanese sentence to work. It's so vague. The only outright mistake I made in my translation in the next line (“Will there ever be a time when you think you'll want to be eighteen again?” I asked.) is that past tense, "asked', when in the original it's "ask", present/future.

BUT THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!!!!

Basically, it implies the girl, only marked as 彼女, "her" is being asked this in the present and/or future. And by continuity of the conversation, it implies that the narrator is asking this 32 year old woman in his imagination, and not the eighteen year old girl he was talking to. Thus, I would probably be better suited to write: "Do you ever think you'll want to be eighteen again?" I'll ask her.

And of course, the line "Even if you're old, you know why." is just flat out wrong. It seems to be "You'll understand when you're older." Which makes sense, since in this scenario the narrator is eighteen and the woman is thirty two.

Bah. My future as a translator is compromised. I am clearly not to be trusted. This is upsetting to me. However, reading alternate translations is fun. There are things I like about theirs and things I like more in mine. The following is my revised, complete story. I might as well put it out there.

A 32-Year Old Day Tripper

Before the resolution I made to tackle Genichiro Takahashi as my next translation project, I had been 85% (made up number) done with a translation of a Murakami short-story from かンガルー日和, a simple but not easily translatable title, I think. 日和 simply means weather, usually implying "good" weather. It's the attachment to the noun that makes it a bit tricky. So I think Rubin/Birnbaum[?]'s "A Perfect Day for Kangaroo-ing" is a sweet and effective title. Whoops, getting off track already. Anyway, the story is called "32歳のデイトリッパ". It's quite short, one of the reasons I picked it, and I was also curious about the very obvious Beatles' reference in the title.

Since I always feel the icy specter of a certain creative rights management company looming over my shoulder whenever I post things Murakami-related (probably unnecessary) I won't post the story in it's entirety here. But I do want to talk about it some. So I will.

Like I said earlier, the story is short and sweet, with not a whole lot of meat on the bones. But it does start with a curious premise, as most Murakami stories do:

    I'm thirty-two and she's eighteen, and... every time I say that to myself, it just always sounds so boring.
    I'm not yet thirty-three, and she's still eighteen... that'll do.
    The two of us are simply friends; nothing more, nothing less. I have a wife, and she has no less than six boyfriends. On weekdays she goes out with these six boyfriends, and one Sunday a month she goes out with me. The other Sundays she watches TV at home. She's as cute as a walrus when she's watching TV.


I quadruple checked the word "walrus", せいうち, since that is an awfully strange animal association. Is this girl kind of fat? Masculine (obviously I know there are both female and male walruses but the word itself seems to be undeniable "male" to me)? Or does Murakami just have a soft spot for this particular sea creature? Mysteries upon mysteries.

The narrator spends some time thinking about how strange it is to be hanging out with a girl so much younger than him. Then he starts judging people:


    The general consensus of our peers is that “Young girls are boring, man!” Nevertheless, these  very same guys date young girls too, all the time. So do you think they eventually discover young girls that aren't boring? Nah, it doesn't mean that at all. It's actually the boringness of the girls that attracts them.  They're just playing a complicated game, a game they honestly enjoy. A game where they wash their faces with buckets full of the young girls' boredom water, while they don't let their lady friends have a single drop.
    At least, that's how it seems to me.
    In truth, nine girls out of ten are boring things. However, girls don't realize that. Girls are young, beautiful, and full of curiosity.  The boringness of their own selves is completely unrelated to the things that young girls are thinking about.
    Yeesh.


The last sentence of the first and third paragraph in that excerpt drove me nuts! In the first case I just had to divide up the sentence into those parts. I'm still not entirely convinced of the accuracy of the translation (actually, I'm pretty sure of it, but it was a pretty messed up sentence), and even now it doesn't sound great, but so it goes. (This ain't being published, and I just want to get this out there and start my new project. If I was in an alternate universe were I was being paid to publish Murakami, I'd still be working on it, だよ.) "Yeesh", of course, is what I decided to use for Murakami's quintessential "やれやれ”. Maybe it's too personal a choice. How would y'all handle it? Oops, derailing again.

So, anyway, the rest of the story is mostly a conversation between the narrator and his date about whether they'd like to be eighteen again. They have a fun little banter, ultimately deciding that neither particular would want to, though for no particular reasons why either.

Again, a simple little story, that based on the above contents, makes it not particularly memorable to me. A sweet little diversion, but not surprising that it's not in any English langauge short story collections yet. However, I really like the very end. And that is what salvages the story for me.  It needs a little context, so I'll start at the end of their conversation:


   “So will there ever be a time when you think you'll want to be eighteen again?” I asked.
    “Hmm, let me see.” She grinned and pretended to think about it. “Nope. Doubt it.”
    “Really?”
    “Yup.”
    “I don't get it,” I said. “Everyone says that being young is a wonderful thing.”
    “Yeah, it is wonderful.”
    “Then why don't you want to?”
    “Even if you're old, you know why.”
    Of course at thirty-two, if I skip even a week of running, my stomach flab starts getting conspicuous. I can't be eighteen again. That's obvious.
    After I finish my morning run, I always drink a can of vegetable juice, lie on my side and put on“Day Tripper” by the Beatles.
    “Dayyyy-ay-ay tripper!”
    When listening to that song, I start feeling like I'm sitting on a train. Telephone poles, train stations, tunnels, bridges, cows, horses, smoke stacks, garbage, steadily they all pass by, one after the other. Scenery that never changed, no matter where I was. Though in the old days, it seemed like the scenery was incredibly beautiful.
    Only the person sitting next to me would change. This time, the one sitting next to me is the eighteen year old girl. I'm in the window seat, she in the aisle seat.
    “Would you like to change seats?” I'll say.
    “Thanks,” she says. “You're too kind.”
    It's not a matter of kindness, I say with a bitter laugh. It's just that I'm much more used to boredom than you.

    A 32 year old
    Day tripper
    Sick of counting the telephone poles.

                        1981/8/20


A lot of interesting things in this last section. The first and most obvious is the inclusion of another poem. Looks like early Murakami had a thing for it in his early days of writing. There's no other way to see it. It was tricky because in the paperback edition, it's basically by itself on the page, due to the layout. But there's a very clear line break (it doesn't start where the first line normally starts on the margin), and for only a handful of words it is divided up in a very specific way. Of course, due to Japanese word order it comes out a bit difference. Literally, it should be more like:

Sick of counting telephones poles
A 32 year old
day tripper.


In a way it's nicer for the composition to end with the word "Day Tripper" since it's in the title. But the most poetic image is obviously the "sick of counting telephone poles" part. So I'm willing to make the trade.  The stilted clause order is too classical Japanese for me, too Basho.

 The next bit that's interesting to me is that it ends with the date. August 20, 1981. Five years before the book was published, well after A Slow Boat to China, his first collection of short stories, was released. It almost makes me wonder if it's somewhat based on a true story that he came back. Or maybe he wrote it at the time but didn't include it in that first collection for some reason? Who knows.

Finally, something about the line "It's just that I'm much more used to boredom than you" just stirs something in me. I think it's a powerful line with a lot of weight, even though there's not all that much to it. It ties the story together to me. Then again, maybe it's just me.

And one final aside. I don't see how the original Beatles song fits into this story thematically at all. It must be just the tune that he likes. The lyrics don't fit at all. But considering the amount of English Murakami may have known back then, maybe all he could understand was, "Day Tripper. One way ticket, yah." So maybe he just associated it with travel. Traveling far away with the intention to never go back.

EDIT: Check out why I'm wrong(!!) and the entire translation of the story here

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Addiction: A List

I think I've mentioned in the past that Book-Off is a pretty awesome place. It's a very popular used book store chain. They have a section of books that are all 105 yen, both paperbacks and hardcovers, and then a slightly more expensive section for either newer books, more popular books or books in better condition (I think). For these paperbacks, it's about 250 to 350 yen, hardcovers 600 to 900 yen. The paperbacks are only a slightly better deal; the original price is usually like 500 to 700 yen anyway. The hardcovers are an amazing deal though, since they're usually about the same price in the US, around 2000 yen. Still, you might as well search for the paperback since they're more likely to have it for cheaper.

I've been in Japan for a month now, and I have accumulated a lot of books. Books that I don't necessarily need. Books I might not like or ever finish reading. And yet I can't help myself. For if they're putting these books in my face and selling them for slightly more than a dollar, how can I say no?

The point is, I think I have a slight addiction to Book-Off.

Here's what I've bought so far. In the Haruki Murakami section we have:
  1. 村上春樹、カンガルー日和
  2. 村上春樹、ふわふわ
  3. 村上春樹、羊男のクリスマス
  4. 村上春樹、村上朝日堂 
  5. 村上春樹、村上朝日堂はいほー!
  6. 村上春樹、村上朝日堂ジャーナルうずまき猫のみつけかた
  7. 村上春樹、 村上朝日堂はいかにして鍛えられたか
  8. 村上春樹、蛍・ 納屋を焼く、その他の短編
  9. 村上春樹、海辺のカフカ(上)
  10. 村上春樹、海辺のカフカ (下)
  11. 村上春樹、ノルウェイの森(上)
  12. 村上春樹、ノルウェイの森(下)
  13. 村上春樹+糸井重里、夢で合いましょう
In the authors/books suggested by others category:
  1. 雫井脩介、クローズド・ノート
  2. リリー・フランキー、東京トワー
  3. 伊坂幸太郎、グラスホッパ
In the because I wanted to category:
  1. 滝本竜彦、ネガティブハッピー・チェーンソーエッヂ
  2. 高橋源一郎、君が代は千代に八千代に
  3. 高橋源一郎、惑星P-13の秘密 
  4. 高橋源一郎、優雅で感傷的な日本野球
So yes. A lot of Murakami. I didn't even realize I had bought this much. It's kind of embarrassing... I don't really need a copy of Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore in Japanese, but again, when they come to a grand total of 420 yen, how do I say no...

Genichiro Takahashi is an author I'm currently fascinated with. The only novel he has in English is Sayonara Gangsters, but it was such a mind-blowingly cool read that I'm almost convinced he should be the next big Japanese author. I'm big into the post-modernism, but even by Murakami standards he's pretty f'ing out there. My next translation project for this site is one of his short stories, so be on the look out for that...

That first book in the others section with the long string of katakana is (for you non-speakers) comes out to "Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge". I picked it up because it's by the same author as the original Welcome to the NHK novel, which was quite an interesting read (and a lot darker than the anime adaptation, from what I recall). I once wrote a paper about hikikomori and other social issues in contemporary Japanese pop culture, and it was one of the books I referenced, so at one point in time I was quite familiar with it, but now I hardly remember much about it at all. Anyway, I'm pretty sure there's a movie version of this novel, and again, for a dollar, why not.

Kotaro Isaka is pretty huge right now. I've read a teeny tiny bit of 死神の制度, and I want to read more of it, but I picked this one up just because. My teacher actually recommended ゴールデン・スランバ, another book which was made into a movie recently, but I haven't found a copy at Book Off yet. The other two in the suggestions pile I don't know much about, except that they were also recommended by my Japanese teacher (who also recommended The Housekeeper of the Professor, which I am also a fan of). Would anyone out there recommend them?

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Bands You Should be Listening To" Volume 3: the telephones

Today's Subject: the telephones
Looking through the titles of all the songs that comprise the telephone's creative output, you may notice that the word "disco" comes up. A lot. I don't know if disco is quite the right word for describing the telephone's sound; you say disco and you think of that unique '70s sound, composed of not just a danceable beat and synthesizers, which the telephones admittedly have plenty of, but oftentimes brass and orchestral backings as well. There's no denying that the telephones make pop music, but it's pop music with a healthy dose of punk attitude, humor, and an overwhelming need to get your ass on the dance floor (another important phrase in the telephones vocabulary).


They also make amazing music videos.


Where to Start: See that Youtube video right above? I personally would recommend the EP from which that music video comes from, the Love&DISCO E.P. (you guessed it). I may just be an EP kind of guy; I think there is something in my pop-culture-lovin' nature that responds to shorter, tighter pieces of pure craft than something with more (in my mind, sometimes unnecessary) volume. For me, the perfect sized novel is roughly 200 to 250 pages (for example, Sputnik Sweetheart, my all-time favorite), and some of the best TV shows are the ones that get out (or are forced out) before the creative well runs dry (i.e. Freaks and Geeks). But I digress.

I think the other place to start is where I started, their first full-length Japan. "Sick Rocks" is what started it all for me anyway. Dance Floor Monsters, their second full length and their first on a major record label (to which I say "Sell-outs!", to which I actually I mean, "Good for you, the telephones; you deserve the resources to expand your audience. Just don't let The Man change you too much." Hmm, this might be my longest aside yet!), is a solid album, certainly not a bad one, but maybe not my favorite, besides the infectious singles. Speaking of which, here's their newest, which comes off the brand-new Oh my telephones!!! ep that just came out a not even a week ago. I literally can't stop playing this song.


How to Get A Hold of 'Em: It's your lucky day! The US iTunes Music Store has both Japan and the Love&DISCO EP for download. They also have an exclusive live bundle for sale, but I wouldn't recommend it at all. I'm not sure what live show they taped it from, but it has terrible sound quality and is generally just not worth the four bucks when you're otherwise not getting anything new.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

成田太鼓祭り (The Narita Drum Festival)

Last Saturday, I went to the Narita Drum Festival. It was awesome.

But, don't take my word for it. I have proof.

See? Dragons, drums, and (masked, shirtless) dudes. Awesome.

The Narita Taiko Masturi is one of (if not the) biggest Taiko events in all of Japan. It takes place in (duh) Narita, which you may recall is the city with the giant airport outside of Tokyo. It was about an hour, maybe forty-five minute trip from Nishi-funabashi Station. Basically it's just tons of performances all day by tons of different professional and amateur groups. Also, the temple(s) on Narita-san is (are) gorgeous.

True story: to preserve the history of the site, they keep all the old main-temple buildings when they decide that they need a new, bigger one. So to keep the structure in tact, they tie up the buildings with giant ropes and physically pull it (as in, with lots of human beings) to a new location. That's bad-ass.
 
Not only are the temple grounds huge (my pictures can't give a good depiction of the scale, unfortunately), it was the first time in the three weeks that I've been living in Japan that I had seen real nature. Look, a waterfall! 


Again, awesome.

Also, if you ever find yourself in Narita, be sure to get some eel. Narita is famous for it. And it is oh so delicious.
Anyway, taiko is the Japanese word for drums in general, so technically this might be better described as the 和太鼓 festival, the Japanese Drum festival. Taiko drums range in size, but they're most famous for the big-ass ones, like in the arcade game. Like this one:
(I wish I could get a closer shot, but I was far away and don't have the best camera. Still, you can see that this drum is MUCH larger than that guy.)

Taiko drum performances are really amazing to experience. It's not just about the music; it's about the performance: the bombast, the power, the choreography (yes, choreography). Even this amateur group, on one of the many smaller stages at two in the afternoon, blew my mind. Thank God I had the foresight to actually tape these performances and not just take pictures. Quality's not the best, unfortunately, I could only take it on my little digital camera:

Narita Drum Festival from wednesdayafternoonpicnic on Vimeo.

I enjoyed this festival so much that I decided to try and join a local taiko group. Apparently beginners (and foreigners) are welcome. My first practice is a three-hour session Saturday afternoon. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sardines

"Sardines" by Haruki Murakami

オイル・サーディン

おい審判
お前の目はどこについてるんだ、
俺は、昨日いわしの缶詰を食ったけど、
お前よりはずっとマシだったぞ。

Sardines

Hey ump!
What game are you even watching?
For chrissakes, I ate a can of sardines yesterday, 
and even I could do better than you!

[From the collaborative collection 夢で会いましょう、1986, Kodansha.]

Review: Yoko Ogawa's Hotel Iris

I redirect you to Three Percent, which is hosting my formal review of Hotel Iris, the latest novel by Yoko Ogawa to be published by Picador and translated by Stephen Snyder, which I promised a while ago in my Recently Read Round-up post.

I didn't like the book all that much, but I will definitely continue to be on the look-out for anything Yoko Ogawa can get published state-side.

For those of you who just can't get enough of my stylish wit and elegant prose, you can see all my other contributions to Three Percent (various book reviews mostly) here and here (one of my reviews is tagged under a slightly different version of my name).