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

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.

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