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Beyond words: ritual exchanges and codes of conduct.

By Yongfang Hu | What is prose fiction? | The nature of fiction translation | Lexical Barriers and Translation Strategies in English Translations of Modern Japanese Literature | Research procedures. | Sense-segments rooted in Japanese culture: three strategies for translation. | B) Borrowing plus footnote. | C) Definition within text. | I) Japanese term plus definition. | Puns and beyond: translating the untranslatable. |

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Like any culture, Japan has many customs and codes of conduct which involve ritual exchanges of formulaic expressions. These pose another obstacle for the translator. Literal translation may result in nonsense, but the expressions in the original often cannot be simply ignored:

Nobuo ga 'itadakimasu' to hashi o totta toki, Machiko ga bikkuri shita you ni itta.

" Ara, o-niisan. O-inori shinai no."

(Shiokari toge, p.47)

(lit: When Nobuo said 'itadakimasu' and picked up his chopsticks, Machiko

spoke, as if shocked: "Hey, (my) Brother! Don't you pray?")

A literal translation of "itadakimasu" would be "I will receive", but this would clearly not suffice to illustrate that this a fixed expression always said before eating. The closest Western cultural equivalent would be saying grace, but a translation that imposed a Christian interpretation on an action unconnected with religion would be patently wrong. Moreover, the point of this scene is the Christian Machiko's shock that her long-lost brother does not say grace, thus revealing to her that he is not a Christian. The translator appears to conclude that English simply does not a have an equivalent expression, and chooses to replace part of the dialogue with his own report of the dialogue:

Nobuo picked up his chopsticks, said the customary words of thanks and began to eat. Machiko looked thunderstruck. "Hey, Brother! Don't you pray before meals."

(Shiokari Pass, p.43)

A similar example appears on the very next page, and is dealt with in much the same way:

Nobuo wa, okaerinasai to aisatsu suru koto mo wasurete, bonyari to sore wo nagameteita. (Shiokari toge, p.48 )

(lit: Nobuo forgot to say the greeting ' okaerinasai,' stared numbly at that (scene).)

Forgetting his customary words of greeting, Nobuo looked on numbly.

(Shiokari Pass, p.44)

On another occasion, however, the same translators opt for a literal translation:

Kono Takashi-san ni wa, ie ga tonari na node yoku o sewa ni natte imasu.

(Shiokari toge, p. 164)

(lit:This Takashi, as his house is next door, I'm often indebted to him)

"I live next door to Takashi, and I'm indebted to him in many ways. "

(Shiokari Pass, p.120)

In purely semantic terms the translation is accurate, but what the translation perhaps fails to convey is that "O sewa ni natte imasu" is a fixed, ritual expression, variable only through the form of the verb naru, andthe use of which does not imply that the speaker is actually any more indebted to Takashi than he is to other neighbours. In short, this expression usually carries no greater illocutionary force than an expression such as "This is my good neighbour Takashi." Indeed, it is significant that the Japanese node ('as', 'because') is unaccounted for in the translation, removing the nuance that the speaker is indebted to Takashi because he lives next door, a nuance that could in itself have helped to signal that this is no more than a ritual exchange of pleasantries.

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Ii) Definition without Japanese term: "deculturalising" a cultural word.| Hidden culture: the translator as cultural guide.

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