April 16, 2008

Empresses and kings

I've previously referred to this topic in addenda, but I thought I'd explain my word choices in translating "empress" and "king" a bit further. Fuyumi Ono generally uses the word ou (王) only. The "Royal Kei" is Kei-ou (景王). This is a gender-neutral term.

Adding the character for "woman" (女王) specifically makes it "queen" or "empress." When the En refers to Empress Yo, he uses "Jo-ou" (女王) several times. When he introduces Youko to Rokuta, he says "Empress of Kei" (景女王).

But when Rakushun first tells Youko, "You are the Royal Kei," he says "Kei-ou," as does most everybody else, including Youko.

I use "queen" to refer to the wife of a king (as in "Shoukei was the daughter of Queen Kaka, Chuutatsu's wife") and to Seioubo, "Queen Mother of the West," which translates literally as "west + king + mother" (西王母).

When speaking generically, I translate it as "king." When referring to Youko, I use "empress." To be more linguistically consistent, I should perhaps use "emperor" and "empress." But I prefer "king" to "emperor" and "empress" to "queen."

Throughout Japan's history, "emperor" has been a mostly titular role, with the political and military power residing in the hands of the shogun. "Empress" and "king" have more muscular, hands-on connotations to me.

Even in a Chinese context, the late dynasty emperors who spent their lives holed up in the Forbidden City seem pretty close to their Japanese counterparts. The early dynasty emperors like Ying Zheng remind me more of European kings in the Henry V mode.

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# posted by Anonymous wombat1138
I feel remiss about not having commented until now-- I've been enjoying your translations very much, and the head-to-head comparisons w/ TokyoPop are especially enlightening.

...I'd been wondering about that sort of terminology, esp. TP's quirky choice of "lady-king". While refining the titles to "queen-regnant" (or "ruling queen" or "sovereign queen" etc.) vs. "queen-consort" might be clearer, it might not be worth the extra awkwardness, as well as the obvious inequity wrt the male equivalent(s)... though come to think of it, are any of the ruling queens ever described as having official male consorts?

Also, what is your translation process like (if that's not an overly vague question)?
4/17/2008 1:53 AM

# posted by Blogger Eugene
Youko is a teenager, the Royal Kyou is a child, and the Royal Sai is described as matronly. I imagine that a kirin has a vested interest (perhaps an inherent disposition) in not having a (male) consort to deal with (excepting somebody like Prince Philip, who'd fade into the background).

It would have done Empress Yo a world of good to have somebody other than Keiki on which to focus her affections. On the other hand, Queen Kaka possessed some rather Lady Macbethian qualities. The kirin/king relationship—especially in Renrin's case—seems almost spousal at times.
4/19/2008 8:00 AM