Don’t Be Tricked by Katakana Words

Japanese borrows a lot of words from English. I have heard some Japanese learners lamenting the fact that new katakana versions of English words are replacing perfectly good pre-existing Japanese words.

The influx of too many new foreign words in Japanese makes the language more difficult to understand, less precise, and it may take away some of the charm of Japanese. This problem is acknowledged by the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology). They have a document on their website talking about the state of the Japanese language with respect to international society.

Here is my translation of a small portion of the document.

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Unofficial Translation of the First Few Pages of Hakugin Jack (白銀ジャック) by Higashino Keigo (東野圭吾)

The suspense novel, Hakugin Jack (白銀ジャック) by Higashino Keigo (東野圭吾), is set in a popular ski resort. The plot centers around how the employees, managers, and executives handle a threat to the safety of their guests.

Instead of writing a review, I’m going to translate the first few pages into English. If you are thinking about picking up this book in Japanese, then maybe it will give you an idea whether it seems like something you would like to keep reading.

My other reason for trying a translation instead of a review is that, since this blog is written in English, I would like to do something that is more valuable to the reader than writing reviews for books in a different language. If it goes well, I may seek out other things to translate.

I’m going to keep reading and writing about Japanese books, so if you have an idea for how I could approach this that would be most helpful to you, then feel free to send me a comment.

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Japanese Novel Review: 夢幻花 – 東野 圭吾

(mugenbana – Higashino Keigo)

Someone murders a retired man, living alone, who spends his time with his flowers. His granddaughter knows that he had a particular flower that he was especially excited, nervous, and not very forthcoming about, which had disappeared after his murder. She and the brother of a government official who seems very interested in the flower, go on a search to put all the pieces together concerning the murder and the flower as well as how they may be connected.

Higashino’s writing style is very smooth and pulls you right through the plot in a book that’s hard to put down. I find that he reminds me what is going on and who is who at just the right moments to jog my memory. I think his storytelling skills are very well developed through his many many novels. I have read one of his books before, and I would have read and reviewed something by him earlier, except that Higashino’s books are not available on Kindle for some reason, so it’s a bit harder to get my hands on one.

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Akutagawa Prize Winner Review: コンビニ人間 – 村田 沙耶香

(konbini ningen – Murata Sayaka) 

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the inside of a Japanese convenience store, but according to this novel I could count on it being just the same if I ever visit one again. This book is about the unchanging convenience store and a person who is also happy staying the same.

Furukura is a 36 year old, single woman who has been working part-time in a convenience store since college. Her peers have all moved on with their lives, getting full-time jobs, getting married, and having kids, but Furukura doesn’t understand the appeal in the normal progression of life.

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Light Novel Review: 魔法の色を知っているか? What Color is the Magic? – 森博嗣

what_color_is_the_magic(mahou no iro wo shitteiruka? – Mori Hiroshi)

This is the second book in the W series. If you haven’t read Does She Walk Alone you’ll probably want to start there. The back story is rehashed a bit, but I don’t think it’s quite enough for you to want to start from the second book. The books in this series are coming out every few months lately, and these are not the only novels Mori has been releasing during this time. I can’t even imagine how he is able to write so quickly!

One neat thing about this book is that it brings in Magata Shiki from Subete ga F ni Naru, which I think may be a common occurrence in Mori’s books. It’s interesting that many of his stories are loosely connected, and it’s nice to know that there are years worth of books available, so I won’t be running out anytime soon.

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Japanese Book Review: 有頂天家族 – 森見登美彦

uchouten-kazoku(uchoten kazoku – Morimi Tomihiko)

Most of the characters in this book are tanukis, of which the standard English translation seems to be “Japanese racoon dogs.” Tanukis can shape shift into quite a range of things, people, or even places in this book. The story is about the interaction between humans, tanukis, and tengus, who can fly and create massive winds.  The story is told by Yasaburo, the 3rd son in a family of tanukis made up of a mother and 4 sons who are struggling to fill the shoes of their late father, who was the leader of the Tanuki world.

The rules for this fantastic world are a bit crazy and hard to understand, but it is grounded in the actual geography of Kyoto. It contains lots of detailed and excellent descriptions of real places, and almost acts like a travel book. You’ll find yourself wanting to walk around Kyoto and see the book’s setting in person.

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Japanese Book Review: アフターダーク- 村上 春樹

afterdark( afutadaku – Murakami Haruki)

Murakami Haruki may be the most popular Japanese author in English translation, so there is a lot of information in English on the internet about English translations of his works. This post is about the Japanese edition, but if you are interested in reading it in English, this review may still be partially relevant.

It really is a challenge finding English reviews of Japanese books in Japanese, because there aren’t any clear keywords to differentiate from reviews of translations when you’re searching in Google. Also, I guess it is a pretty small niche.

This is a short novel, so it may be a good one to read if you don’t want to commit to one of Murakami’s longer novels. It has a creepy atmosphere and takes place in some of the seedier areas of a large city. It’s told linearly from just before midnight to right after the sun comes up, with clock images showing the time at the beginning of each chapter. Some of the narrative is literal and some parts are surreal or dreamlike.

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Short Story Collection Review: ボッコちゃん – 星 新一

bokko-chan(bokko-chan – Hoshi Shinichi)

This is a collection of 50 very short stories. Many of them are Sci-Fi. Most of them are humorous with a handful that are just creepy. The stories are short and usually have a punch line, so it is kind of like reading jokes. Some are satire, cautionary tales, or something like fables.

Also, the humor doesn’t depend much on the details of Japanese language and culture. Some of the jokes may be a bit simple or crude, but you don’t have to worry that they will be lost on you if you don’t share the same lifetime of experiences as a typical person living in Japan.

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Light Novel Review: 彼女は一人で歩くのか? Does She Walk Alone? – 森博嗣

does-she-walk-alone(kanojo ha hitori de aruku no ka? – Mori Hiroshi)

This is the first light novel I have read. I’m not quite sure what makes it a light novel. Maybe the target audience is young adults, however I found it pretty engaging as an adult. It seems like light novels are a popular choice for beginners, but it didn’t seem any easier to read than other popular fiction I have read so far. It did have a bit more action.

Other books I have read by Mori have been mysteries, but this one is science fiction. I don’t read any science fiction in English, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. It’s definitely not because I wouldn’t like to read more science fiction. That’s one of the many many things I would like to do that won’t become high enough priority to put in the time.

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Thoughts on 雨ニモマケズ by 宮沢賢治

I read an article by Roger Pulvers on Nippon.com about Miyazawa Kenji, and became interested in reading ame ni mo makezu, which is available in public domain on Aozora Bunko. I included the original text here:

雨ニモマケズ – 宮沢賢治

雨ニモマケズ
風ニモマケズ
雪ニモ夏ノ暑サニモマケヌ
丈夫ナカラダヲモチ
慾ハナク
決シテ瞋ラズ
イツモシヅカニワラッテヰル
一日ニ玄米四合ト
味噌ト少シノ野菜ヲタベ
アラユルコトヲ
ジブンヲカンジョウニ入レズニ
ヨクミキキシワカリ
ソシテワスレズ
野原ノ松ノ林ノ蔭ノ
小サナ萓ブキノ小屋ニヰテ
東ニ病気ノコドモアレバ
行ッテ看病シテヤリ
西ニツカレタ母アレバ
行ッテソノ稲ノ朿ヲ負ヒ
南ニ死ニサウナ人アレバ
行ッテコハガラナクテモイヽトイヒ
北ニケンクヮヤソショウガアレバ
ツマラナイカラヤメロトイヒ
ヒドリノトキハナミダヲナガシ
サムサノナツハオロオロアルキ
ミンナニデクノボートヨバレ
ホメラレモセズ
クニモサレズ
サウイフモノニ
ワタシハナリタイ

According to the Wikipedia article about the poem, it was never published in Miyazawa’s lifetime, but was found after his death, as many of his works were, so I’m not sure if it was intended for an audience or not. I especially think it may not have been his intention to publish this because the poem is about his desire to be a humble servant. The desire to serve people without recognition seems to be more of a self reflection than something a poet would intend to publish.

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