April 27, 2007

O mi casa


I started encountering the word "omikase" here and there (such as on the Althouse blog) in connection with Japanese restaurants. The meaning was obvious from context and it certainly looked like a Japanese word. My brain was immediately convinced it was legit. Except that it's not Japanese.

The "o" is obviously an honorific, but then what the heck is "mikase"? Okay, "mi" is an honorific too, so it could mean the really, really honorable "kase" (shackles).

I asked a Japanese friend and she pointed out that the intended word was "omakase" (お任せ), meaning "leave it to me" or "surprise me." Doh! Of course! This was, she added, another case of a Japanese word--like karaoke or harakiri--getting mangled in English.

These two examples additionally point to an interesting phonological phenomenon. We see that in each of these four-syllable words, in the second syllable the consonant + /ah/ has shifted to consonant + /i/ (and the first syllable from consonant + /ah/ to consonant + /eh/).

omakase (o-mah-kah-seh)    omikase
harakiri (harah kiri)heri keri
karaoke (karah okay)keri oki

My theory is that Standard American English always wants to push back vowels forward, palatalizing and nasalizing them, especially when followed by labial consonants such as /r/ or /m/. Pronouncing "hara" or "kara" with an American /r/ is actually quite difficult. (The Japanese /r/ is closer to an /l/.)

But this also explains why Midland American English dialects dropped the quintessential /ah/ inherited from British English. (Southern dialects are another question.)

But why "omikase" did sound so natural to me? Then it struck me: it's the honorific "o" with "mi casa" (御ミカサ). Or "my honorable home." Perfect Japanese! Except it's Spanish! Well, one of the most common foreign words in Japanese is "pan," which was imported from Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. So here's a new one.

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April 22, 2007

"Shadow of the Moon" revisions


A loyal reader has been reviewing the TokyoPop edition of Shadow of the Moon and had a few questions about differences in the translations. I haven't read the book myself, so I only address myself to these specific concerns.

Not surprisingly, most of the problems are in Part 1, Chapter 4. Looking back through my notes, I see that I started Shadow of the Moon over three years ago. I translated part 1 and then put it aside for several months before resuming where I left off. So this is the first time I've reviewed it carefully.

I did make some awfully silly mistakes. On the other hand, the middle-aged brain is apparently capable of learning something in three years.

Chapter 1/4

Before she could react, he reached out and grabbed Yoko's feet--not aggressively, but submissively, as if in some foreign gesture of respect.

1) "Feet" is preferred to "legs." But the parenthetical, "as if in some foreign gesture of respect," is not in the original. And it's a strange parenthetical, as the gesture would not be all that "foreign" to Youko. What's surprising to her is that it's being done by someone who appears to be her social superior.

An example can be found in the action movie Boukoku no Aegis (pretty much a clone of Under Siege and The Rock), in which a navy commander does almost the same thing, debasing himself before a police officer to keep his shipmates from getting locked up for causing a brawl.

The man took her foot and placed it squarely on his lowered forehead.

2) Here I think the TokyoPop translator has mistaken the arch of the foot for the instep. The important clause is 「足の甲に額を当てる」lit.: "touch forehead to instep of foot." 「足の甲」 is defined as the "arched upper surface of the human foot between the toes and the ankle."

From Yoshie Omura's invaluable Twelve Kingdoms glossary, he describes the rite as follows: 王が「許す」と言うと、麒麟は王の足の甲に額(角)を当てる。すると王は神となる。[When the empress says "I accede," the Kirin touches the instep of the empress's foot with his forehead (horn). Upon doing so, the empress becomes a god.]

Yoko felt her mouth form the words.

3) The literal translation is: "The amazed Youko nodded despite herself."

4) I remember debating the verb "allow" (許す). True, it doesn't really work, but I don't like "accept" (which TokyoPop uses) either. I think "accede" is better, since Keiki is really asking Youko to "accede (or yield) to his demands" rather than to "accept" them.

But I did mis-attribute Youko's "I accede" to Keiki. Japanese can be frustrating in how dialogue attribution is marked, but this one wasn't confusing at all. (Like I said, three years ago . . . . )

5) Keiki refers to Youko as "Gozen" (ゴゼン), which can be translated as "Your Excellency," or "you," depending on context and time period. The consensus so far seems to be the former. During WWII, meetings with the emperor about critical matters of state were known as "gozen conferences" (御前会議).

Keiki's entourage consistently refers to Youko using honorific language, which makes it clear to the reader that they don't consider her an ordinary person.

6) I completed missed the "through" clause in this sentence:

Her senses reeled. She felt something coursing through her. Her vision momentarily went black. A low rumble like an earthquake shook the room. The courtyard outside the windows fell into muddy shadows.

Chapter 1/8

Referring to the jewel, I honestly have no idea where I got the plural from. All references (including accompanying pronouns and verbs) should be singular: chapters 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 43, 44, 46, 66 (sigh).

Chapter 4/9

Another dumb error. Should be:

"When's the last time you had anything to eat?"

Youko couldn't be bothered to come up with a number so she remained silent.

TokyoPop also makes the error I did of using the pronoun "she," which conflicts with the "sir" (or "mister") the child uses, believing she is a boy. Better: "It wouldn't stay down."

The online and offline browser versions have been updated.

A note about romanization: In Hepburn, Youko would be written Yōko (or Yôko) to indicate the long vowel. Except that the macron is not a standard character in English and most people don't know what it means anyway. Both long and double vowels are held two beats versus one for ordinary vowels.

More importantly, the macron doesn't discriminate between double vowels (/oo/) and long vowels (/ou/). Ask a native Japanese to slowly pronounce a long vowel, and they will articulate the /u/. So I prefer to write long vowels as "spelled" in hiragana (except for common place names; writing Tokyo as "Toukyou" would confuse people).

Discriminating between long and short vowels is probably the most difficult aspect of Japanese pronunciation. The example cited by Jack Seward is komon (顧問) and koumon (肛門). The former means "consultant," the latter means "rectum." I'll often resort to tapping out the syllables. "Yōko" is three beats: Yo-u-ko.

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April 20, 2007

Aurora Publishing


I complained a while back that U.S. yaoi's popularity was not being accompanied by equally growing sales of the more explicit romance manga-ka like Kayono. Well, a new manga publisher has stepped into the breach:

Teens Love is Aurora's attempt at attracting a female readership that isn't into yaoi, but is ready for more visually stimulating romance. "It's a little bit explicit," Ogata explained. "It's love stories and relationships, but sexy, a little bit erotic. Girls here don't have anything like that."

Though yaoi continues its inexplicable domination of the mid-list:

The only genre that Ogata sees doing consistently well is yaoi. "You can expect sales of 10,000 copies for each book, but that's the only genre [like that]," she said.

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April 17, 2007

Frankenstein and WXIII


Germaine Greer's trashing of the chic literary theory that Mary Shelley didn't write Frankenstein provides a perfect analysis of Patlabor: WXIII (W-13). Greer's argument is twofold: 1) Frankenstein is hardly a "masterpiece," and therefore by itself hardly a motivation for literary fraud; and 2) it could have been only be written by a woman.

Dr. Frankenstein, she observes, is more mother than mad scientist, and the

driving impulse of this incoherent tale is a nameless female dread, the dread of gestating a monster. Monsters are not simply grossly deformed foetuses. Every mass murderer, every serial killer, the most sadistic paedophile has a mother, who cannot disown him.

In W-13 a scientist creates the monster out of tissue cloned from her dead child, and then keeps it alive even as it launches on its murderous rampage. As Greer observes about Frankenstein, "the monster is made as human as any other character; his depravity is the consequence of his miserable existence and his existence is Frankenstein's fault."

W-13 is ultimately a story of family annihilation, a cruelly ironic twist on the traditional fairy tale conceit wherein the childless couple is rewarded with a child, albeit with severe existential provisos. In the modern version the child represents the inheritance of two families, and the finality of the loss is almost mythically tragic in its implications.

The scene this trailer opens with (when the detective finally puts all of the pieces together) is one of the most haunting I've seen in a movie.

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April 11, 2007

Hikaru Sasahara interview


A long interview with Hikaru Sasahara, CEO of Digital Manga, Inc. Parts of the interview remind me of the infamous William Shatner "get a life" appearance on SNL, in that Mayerson (the interviewer) approaches the subject narrowly as a fan while Sasahara approaches the subject broadly as a businessman, which leads to a few unintentionally hilarious moments. Clearly what energizes Sasahara is growing the business and expanding into new markets, not the particularities of a specific genre.

The interview is also a great look at the classic "American dream": college student comes to the U.S. from Japan in 1973, overstays his student visa, and starts several successful businesses. Though as he points out, this was back when getting a legit green card was a lot easier.

Some exerpts:

Ginger Mayerson: [The books published by Digital Manga] are extremely well done, well made, and because some of them are yaoi, the reader can really obsess on them and read them over and over and over and certain parts over and over and over and you can't break the spine, ever. You can't destroy these books. And they've got the dust jackets, so your grubby little hands, well, anyway, for those of us who have grubby little hands while we're reading our yaoi books, these are the books to read.

HS: I don't read them.

. . . .

GM: You should try to read one. Next time you're on a plane, just try to read Cold Sleep. You can read it in three or four hours.

HS: Nah.

. . . .

GM: And do you know why [yaoi] is so popular?

HS: I have no idea. I'm a guy.

. . . .

GM: Yeah, projecting, sort of a boomerang projection, but yeah. So, yaoi has sort of taken over your business, yes?

HS: I would say almost seventy percent of the revenue is coming from yaoi, I must say.

GM: Wow. [Me: Wow.]

. . . .

HS: No, licensing and overseeing it for the U.S. Here's a film I licensed to DreamWorks, it's called Millennium Actress. You can take it home and watch it. You'll enjoy it.

[Me: I agree. Great film. (Not yaoi.)]

. . . .

HS: No, just manga in Japan. The whole revenue in America is only a little over two hundred million, compared to four billion in Japan. So it could grow that big in the future, I think, so I'm very excited. People are telling me that the market is being saturated here, and I have to tell them that they don't understand.

. . . .

GM: So, you're commissioning a Japanese creation, translating it into English, publishing it here, and if it's successful enough, you sell it back to Japan in English?

HS: Yes. There're so many kids in Japan that read English, these manga can be a language learning tool and entertainment.

I think this is a great idea. Using translated manga as the "textbook" would certainly be a lot more interesting than what passes for the typical English class in Japan. The same things applies when teaching Japanese. You can find manga in every possible subject and at every language level.

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April 03, 2007

What's your permanent age?


Scott Adams gives himself a "permanent age"--meaning the age that best suits one's permanent state of mind--of 42. "I was ill-suited for being a little kid," he says, "and didn’t enjoy most kid activities." I totally agree with that sentiment. Ditto high school and most of college.

However, as I've found growing prematurely gray suits me fine, I should probably add a decade to that. In a previous life I imagine myself an obscure British eccentric holed up in his library and growing battier by the day. So I'd place myself in my early 50s.

Which is why I chose as my website mascot Rumina's grouchy grandfather from Tokyo Underground. (My beard's a lot shorter.)

Adams also asks, "Do you live in the past, present or future?" Definitely not the past. I can't put the past behind me fast enough. It's a toss-up between the present and future (alternate futures included), depending on which one is faring better at the moment.

There's a great expression in Japanese that translates literally as "Facing the day after tomorrow." It refers to something that's a little off, a little bent. That's me: Boldly facing the day after tomorrow.

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