Learning Japanese with TokyoTreat!

こんにちは!Konnichiwa! What’s up, my 友達 (tomodachi — friends)? I’ve been meaning to start posts like today’s for a long time, but life has been quite busy. I’m getting it done today, though!

I wanted to share a method I’ve used for a long time to study languages: reading product packaging! I’m sure that doesn’t sound exciting, but especially once you get beyond the very beginning stages of language learning, deciphering packaging can be a very useful way to learn common vocabulary and grammar.

Before we go any further, if you’re studying Japanese, you really have to learn the two phonetic syllabaries — ひらがな hiragana and カタカナkatakana. There’s just no getting around it. Learning how Japanese is written is by far the best way to get your pronunciation and listening comprehension on point, in addition to the obvious reading and writing skills.

Japanese is not that hard to pronounce most of the time, but if you’re trying to use ローマ字 roomaji (“Roman characters” — or good ol’ English letters) to learn Japanese pronunciation, you’ll likely end up with a very strong accent at best, or at worst, you’ll be incomprehensible to native speakers. Learning the kana (the collective term for hiragana and katakana) will go a long way in keeping your pronunciation on track.

Chinese characters used in Japanese — 漢字 kanji — are also extremely important, but they can be learned over a much longer period of time, and as needed. Kana, however, should be learned as soon as possible once you’ve decided to study Japanese. It will take a few hours, probably, but they’re hours well spent.

When I was learning kana I used old-school flashcards made of paper! Nowadays, of course, there are tons of apps, computer programs, books, whatever you prefer. My co-contributor here, Thomas Typo, will likely make a post about the methods he’s currently using to study beginner-level Japanese, but I know you can easily find support for your preferred method.

I’m going into all this because if you want to study Japanese with product packaging, you really need to know kana at a minimum. Of course, being able to look up kanji you don’t know is also necessary, but if you don’t know kana, even a lot of Japanese dictionaries will be far less useful to you. Just learn ’em!

Now, I currently live in the Bay Area of California where we are blessed with several Japanese grocery stores and even two Japantowns! I’ve been loving that aspect of living here! But what if you don’t have easy access to Japanese products? Well, that’s where TokyoTreat can help. There are other similar subscription crates out there but this is the one I’ve tried and I’m happy with it so far. I wrote an introductory post about it here. I admit that I’m behind in even opening the boxes beyond January because I want to review each one at least a little bit in order and give each one the attention it deserves. That’s obsessive of me, I know. I’ll get to the new ones!

I wanted to share some bits I noticed from the January box.

The main words on the above package are chenjikoora shuwaboo sofutokyandi. The first and third words are very easy to understand — “change cola” and “soft candy,” very simple if you know English and can read katakana. The biggest word, written in big rainbow katakana, was one I didn’t know. I know that bou (pronounced with a long “o” sound — reminder that you need to learn kana so you won’t pronounce things as in English!) means “stick” and that part is self-explanatory since it’s a stick of candy. But what about shuwa?

The little blue dialog bubble next to the blue squid gives a clue. It says shuwashuwa paudaa. All right, some kind of powder. But I didn’t know what shuwashuwa meant. I went to one of my favorite Japanese dictionaries, Jisho.org, and looked it up. Success! It means “bubbliness (of a carbonated drink); sound of bubbles (of a carbonated drink); fluffiness (of a cake, souffle or whipped cream).

This candy is basically a stick of taffy (orange flavor and lemon flavor, as the red and orange bubbles say) with powder inside. The idea is that when you chew the taffy and it mixes with the powder, the whole shebang turns into cola flavor in your mouth! Personally, I’m not a fan of cola flavor in general — I’m a rare American who never drinks pop — and I’m not the biggest fan of lemon or orange flavors, either. So while I agree that the taste does change to resemble cola, I wasn’t a fan of this particular candy, just because of the flavors.

But even though I didn’t love this candy, I learned a new word! Japanese has tons of onomatopoeic words, and I know very few of them. This candy was not bubbly or fluffy as shuwashuwa would suggest, but I think they gave it that description because it’s supposed to remind you of the bubbly taste of cola.

I’ll mention one other small part of this package, the bit that is next to the brown squid. It says orenji + remon issho ni tabero to coora!? That explains the main draw of this candy, that if you add the orange and lemon flavors together with the powder, it makes cola. This little phrase reinforces that if you want to say something is together, you say issho ni — it reminds you that the particle ni is what goes with issho. It’s also an example of the construction of verb + to = result. If you eat the orange and lemon flavors, the result is a cola flavor.

Well, I’ll end here for this post, but I have lots of other TokyoTreat snacks to comment on! I want to make this a regular feature. Your Japanese level will determine how useful these posts are to you, but I hope that you can learn something from even the simplest package, as I did here. 読んでくれてありがとう!また今度いっしょに読んで勉強しましょうね。Thanks for reading! Next time let’s read and learn some more together, all right?

 

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Tomatazos Article Translation — Yukio Mishima and His Connection to Film

Hey, readers! I hope your day is going well when you read this. Today I’m going to translate an article written by a Mexican friend of mine, Ruben Martínez Pintos. As you can see by the link, he’s a writer for the Mexican branch of Rotten Tomatoes, which is called Tomatazos. Ruben is a serious cinephile and Japanophile, so I thought this article about Yukio Mishima would be a great one to translate. It combines two loves of mine: Japanese culture and Spanish language! I definitely learned some new info about Mishima that I hadn’t known before. Enjoy!


Yukio Mishima and His Connection to Film

The iconic author left his mark on cinema

On a day like today in 1925, Kimiate Hiraoka, better known as Yukio Mishima, was born. Writer, actor, director and political activist, he was a man of contrasts and contradictions. His life itself became part of his art and body of work. His coup d’état attempt — which culminated in his suicide by seppuku — was an act that in many ways marked his final artistic work.

Death and beauty combined in frenzied ways in all of Mishima’s work; he obsessed over both topics, as well as a tendency to challenge the conventional. Although a nationalist in favor of Japan’s militarization, he was unable to fight during the Second World War because of his health. He worked on his physique to modify his formerly weak constitution and when he rejected a promising professional career in favor of writing, his father gave only one instruction: become the best writer in Japan, or don’t try.

Artistic concerns brought Mishima to work in the Japanese film industry. He starred in director Yasuzo Masumura’s Afraid to Die, and also sang its main theme song. He also acted alongside Shintaro Katsu and Tatsuya Nakadai in Hitokiri, a tale about a samurai (played by Katsu) — uneducated but skilled with the sword — whose aptitude for killing turns him into a legendary as well as tragic figure.

Mishima directed only one film, Patriotism, shot in black and white and without dialog, where the author plays a soldier who decides to end his life after he is ordered to kill colleagues involved in a coup d’état. In spite of it being his only work behind the camera, the writer demonstrated a great eye for composition and great potential that was never exploited. All the copies of Patriotism were presumed lost after Mishima’s widow had them burned, but fortunately the original negatives were saved.

Both the left and the right in Japan repudiated Mishima, the former for his nationalist conservative ideas and the latter for his declarations against Emperor Hirohito, who Mishima said should have abdicated his position for failing in World War II. Even today he continues to be a controversial figure and it was a foreigner who first brought his work to the silver screen. Paul Schrader wrote and directed Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which alternated scenes from the author’s life with passages taken from his books. Philip Glass frames the tale with incredible compositions while acclaimed actor Ken Ogata pours his all into a fully committed leading role from beginning to end. Schrader initially had the support of Mishima’s widow, but when the producer insisted on including a scene that showed the author’s homosexuality, the widow completely withdrew from the project.

Mishima’s life and works, always intertwined, are still being unraveled today. His impact on the arts is undeniable and the movies connected to the star are highly intriguing. Artists like him don’t come along all the time and that’s why we still remember him today.


Well, that was an interesting translation! I didn’t know much about Mishima other than the fact that he was a nationalist author who committed seppuku. Thanks, Ruben, for the lesson on Mishima and for permission to translate the article! I’m definitely interested in watching these movies now, and also in reading his writings. How about you?

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Typo Tuesday, Week 5

Happy Tuesday evening! It’s time for another edition of Typo Tuesday. For this week’s entry, I’d like to present some screenshots from companies that offer proofreading and editing services. Yes, that’s correct.

I have well over a decade of experience copyediting and proofreading for two companies as well as even more experience helping out friends and family, but I haven’t done much freelance work for individuals I don’t know already. The freelance work I have done was paid hourly, but it seems that a lot of clients prefer to pay by the word or by the page. I wanted to do some research on what other freelance proofreaders charge when they charge by the unit rather than by the hour.

What I found was… interesting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that even proofreaders need proofreaders, and I’m sure there will eventually be errors on Lee the Linguist (if there aren’t already). However, I was rather shocked by how often I found errors on websites selling proofreading services, and even more surprisingly, on the pages where they stress the importance of having your work proofread!

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Domestication vs. Foreignization vs. Localization

It’s Thursday, which means that soon the weekend will be upon us!

Yesterday’s post brought up a point that I wanted to explore further. The article I translated from Spanish mentioned that in years past, dialog translators would often lean too far in the direction of “domestication.” An example they gave was that in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith’s character makes a reference to a Spanish celebrity named Ramoncín. Of course, Will Smith’s character in the show is an urban youth from Philadelphia and he would likely have never heard of Ramoncín, but the change was made to make the reference more comfortable for Spanish viewers. That’s domestication, making content more easily understood by the consumer by changing the content to what’s familiar.

Now, I took a couple of translation courses in college, but I had not heard this term brought up, though we were taught some of the thinking behind it. Since I hadn’t heard of it before in regards to translation (for my ESL friends, “domestication” is commonly used to refer to animal farming and breeding), at first I wondered whether I should translate it as “localization,” which I had heard of many times regarding video games. That’s what happens when your husband makes video games for a living!

I decided to do some more research and came across this blog post: https://intralingo.com/domestication-vs-foreignisation-via-red-rage/

In case you didn’t click on the link, the blogger discusses translating the same German novel twice, once using domestication and once preferring foreignization. In the foreignized version, the reader is expected to become comfortable with foreign names, places, and cultures. Conversely, in the domesticated version, the translator changed the names and places to those more familiar to a North American reader, which also required leaving out the part of the story where one character had escaped East Germany in his youth.

This is my problem with too much domestication: the writer had a purpose for choosing the names, setting, and culture of their writing (future post to come on the use of the singular “their”). When you change these things, truly a lot is lost in translation, to use that old cliché. Personally, if I choose to read something about someone from another culture, I usually want to learn about that culture in the process. I want to learn about the people and places, what makes them different from me, and what we share as fellow human beings. I want to learn some new names and customs I may have never heard of before.

On the other hand, too much foreignization may cause part of the target audience to be lost. For instance, a Spanish friend I met in Rome strongly recommended that I read Crime and Punishment. I was living in Japan at the time, so as soon as I returned to Japan I managed to find an English translation (yay, Kinokuniya’s English section!). Unfortunately, after fewer than a hundred pages I put it down and have never finished. I really should try it again, perhaps in a different translation, but at the time I was trying so hard to learn Japanese that I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to keep straight all the Russian names which were so unfamiliar to me. I’m not saying that the names should have been changed to John and Mary, but just that I wasn’t able to get into it at the time.

I mentioned video game localization above, which I think is a mix of domestication and foreignization, depending on the game. The Wikipedia article I linked to discusses varying philosophies on the topic and controversies that have arisen. Localization is a larger process than translation because it can involve hardware, software, and legal issues with shipping intellectual property to countries with different standards of what’s acceptable entertainment. But I think there’s an interesting cross-section there.

That’s what’s been rolling around in my head! I learned something new and I hope you did, too. If you found this topic interesting, go ahead and leave a comment. Where do you fall in the domestication vs. foreignization spectrum?