Translation is magic

It is no secret I love translated fiction, without it I do not know where I would be. While I did pursue learning Japanese as a means of reading the novels I loved in their original language, I seem to be unable to reread them in Japanese and feel the same joy.

For example; Haruki Murakami. I read every book of his I could get my hands on, in English. I loved them. Whenever someone asked me why I was studying Japanese I would say because of Haruki Murakami and wanting to read his books in Japanese.

Now, was the first novel I read in Japanese by him?

No.

It was actually «If cats disappeared from the world» by Genki Kawamura.

I have, however, read some Murakami now. I read Norwegian Wood, a given, and I have read his essay collections, which are very enjoyable. But, while I have purchased and tried to read some of his short story collections and novels that have come out while I have been living here, I haven’t been able to enjoy them as I did with the English translations. They are different, as if I am looking at a completely different work. When Japanese people tell me «oh I can’t read him, his works are difficult to read», I cannot but agree. Like in 1Q84, there are two Murakamis (for me at least with English and Japanese, for Spanish speakers their Murakami will be different from the Murakami of a Chinese speaker and so on. I wonder if I meet a third Murakami if I pick up his books in Norwegian?).

While it was a bit of a letdown to have the purpose of my language learning become so estranged to me, I have been able to soothe my sorrow in new, yet to be translated works.

Not all have been in my top ten, but I have found some diamonds indeed, that I wish to be translated and shared with the world. Anyone know who to contact about this?

I know two of my favorites have been translated so far, the aforementioned «If cats disappeared from the world» and Shion Miura’s «The Great Passage», but I haven’t seen the below translated as of yet.

ののはな通信 by Shion Miura (currently reading it, but so in love already)

麦本三歩の好きなもの by Sumino Yoru (I remember loving reading this years ago, but couldn’t get into the second volume last year and so gave it away unread)

店長がバカすぎて by Hayami Kazumasa (So relatable and interesting turns)

52ヘルツのクジラたち by Sonoko Machida (All the tears)

Last, but not least, 木曜日にはココアを by Michiko Aoyama (currently reading the follow-up to this, 月曜日の抹茶カフェ)

Anyone who have read any of these books?

Epistolary

Adjective; of, relating to, or suitable to a letter; contained in or carried on by letters; written in the form of a series of letters

As an avid letter writer myself, I was drawn to this novel, adorned with stamps, and seeming to be a collection of letters between two people. A mutual on twitter taught me it is called an epistolary novel and it is my new favorite term. Finally a term to describe that which I love to read.

I am 39 pages in (out of 517) and I have already ordered the hardcover version for my bookshelf.

I know The Great Passage by Shion Miura has been translated so I hope this one will be too.

Saturday bookstore browsing

I went to the bookstore to get a housewife magazine today, and while I was browsing I first saw that there is now a fourth book out in the «Before the coffee gets cold» series by Toshikazu Kawaguchi.

As I looked to the right I saw a very familiar design, namely that of Michiko Aoyama’s books! I didn’t know she had a new book out, nor that it seems to be a continuation of my favorite book of hers; 「木曜日にはココアを」(Cocoa on Thursday)!!

This time it is «Matcha cafe on Monday» or 「月曜日の抹茶カフェ」.

I can’t wait to read this!

Potato donuts and a chic day off

Today it is a public holiday here in Japan, don’t know which one, what matters most to me is that I have a day off.

I have seen online that they have different potato donuts at mister donuts here so I decided to try them out. I can’t remember the last time I went to a donut shop, nor when I last ate a donut, so it must be a while since it happened. Anyways.

We have mitsuimo (honey potato), mitsuimo and butter, daigakuimo (candied sweet potato, literally university potato though haha), sweet potato, and murasakiimo (purple fleshed sweet potatao, very appetizing name).

Mitsuimo was ok, mitsuimo and butter not to my taste (not a fan of butter taste?), daigakuimo was ok, sweet, sweet potato was good, and murasakiimo was the best I think. I wanted to like the sweet potato one more, but it didn’t have as much sweet potato taste as other sweet potato sweets, like wagashi, usually have so.

Darjeeling was also interested, but not enough to have a bite haha

Today I felt very french, with my parisienne favourite perfume from SHIRO, and a dress and belt from the collaboration between uniqlo and Ines de la Fressange.

I have been reading another book by Dora Tauzin lately namely; «パリジェンヌはいくつになっても人生を楽しむ» or “A parisienne enjoys her life no matter how old” (loosely translated).

Anyone tried the donuts from mister donuts lately? Or any other good donuts out there?

Reading so far in 2021

A lot of Japanese novels or books in Japanese so far this year. The only non-Japanese novel was a recommendation by a penpal and I loved it.

持たない暮らし is one of those organizing/decluttering books that I read mostly over the break. Sadly have not been able to organize my life yet, nor throw all my things away. And so the journey continues.

Read the second book of “Before the coffee gets cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, and I might have liked this better than the first. Can’t wait for the third one to be translated. I could read it in Japanese of course, but since I started it in English I’d like to continue it in English.

The Great Passage was great as per my post. Circe was amazing, I couldn’t put it down.

お探し物は図書室まで is the newest book by Michiko Aoyama, who wrote 木曜日にはココアを and it was in a similar vein with different stories beng slowly connected together. I loved it. While the former book was set in both Japan and Australia, a very ambitious undertaking, this one was all in Japan, very cozy and near.

I finally finished サキの忘れ物. I love the cover and I love the title story, but the other stories were just…not to my taste. I finished about half of the stories, the other half I left halfway through. I kept putting it down and not picking it back up because I was dreading the stories that didn’t catch my attention, feeling guilty wanting to skip the stories (though I had to in order to get through).

I’m reading (though I keep forgetting that I am) both Sense and Sensibility and Anne Karenina. I also started the second volume of 麦本三歩の好きな物 yesterday.

I don’t have any specific reading plans nor goals, I like browsing the bookstores and have the books come to me. And recommendations from friends and penpals and whoever is around is also good, gets me out of my comfort reading zone.

How is everyone’s reading coming along so far this year? Any plans/goals?

麦本三歩の好きなもの, a series??

Have I talked about this book before? I feel like I should have, seeing as I loved it. But I did read it a long time before even starting this blog so I might have forgotten to write about it.

It’s “Sanpo Mugimoto’s favorite things” or “The things Sanpo Mugimoto likes” or something in that vein. About Sanpo, a librarian in her twenties, and her every day life. Every chapter is about something she likes, for example; “Sanpo Mugimoto likes walking”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes libraries”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes today”, etc.

It’s a very cozy book, slow paced, every day life, (aka easy vocabulary) just what I like.

So today I dragged Teddy out of the house and to the bookstore/starbucks. I just finished Michiko Aoyama’s 「お探し物は図書室まで」this morning (a post will come later), and so I felt like I could allow myself to look at and even buy a new book having finished reading one.

On the new books’ shelf I saw 麦本三歩の好きなもの, it had a different cover, but I didn’t think that would justify calling it new. But, when I looked closely I saw “第二集” (vol.2)!

It has around 100 more pages and I am very excited. Of course I had to have it right away. I love how they have kept the same style both with cover and the inside in both, both yellow as well. Yellow just kind of gets you excited doesn’t it? Such a happy colour, perfect for the coming season.

It has chapters like “Sanpo Mugimoto likes sleeping”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes pudding hair” (what プリンヘア is I do not know but I hope to find out by reading), “Sanpo Mugimoto likes girls”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes corners”, etc.

So if you like slow everyday life kind of novels this is for you, funny, charming, relaxing.

I want to work in a library.

木曜日にはココアを by 青山美智子 

As I said in my previous post, I loved the first of the 12 stories and was relieved to find that they were not complete stand-alones.

The beauty of these stories are how they are stories in their own right, but they are also part of a bigger story.

Reading this book felt like a puzzle (and I love puzzles). At first you have a heap of pieces, that you connect together piece by piece until you have a complete picture. Every piece, while small and seemingly insignificant by itself, are connected to each other in some way and you wouldn’t get the full picture without them. And the feeling when you put in that final piece, having it all come together to form something greater, seeing how that one piece connected to this other piece, that feeling is so precious.

We have a cafe owner, a waiter, a girl writing letters in English, a mom that can’t make an omelet, a kindergarten teacher who forgot to take off her nailpolish, a lingerie designer, an old married couple, a newly married couple, a former banker, a witch, an artist, a translator, a sick girl.

We are in Tokyo, and we are in Sydney.

I sped through this novel faster than I have ever read a Japanese novel before. And yet I felt dissatisfied. I felt annoyance towards my eyeballs that they could not move faster. I started following the text with my finger in an attempt to increase my reading speed. I had a need to race through and find the connecting pieces.

And it was beautiful. I laughed. I cried. I was moved. I felt inspired.

I want to have everyone read this book. I want to talk about it, but I do not wish to spoil.

I have decided to try my hand at translating, at least the first chapter. Not that I am a great translator or anything, but it will be both good practice for me and count as studying which I have sorely neglected to do this year.

I do hope for a professional translation of this to come out one day, maybe there is somewhere one can send in requests for works to be considered for translation? If so, do tell me, I have a list of books that I’d like to see translated.

Book buying blunder and can you skip short stories?

Long time no post. I either feel the need to write three times a day or once every three months.

Today a copy of Kawakami’s People From My Neighbourhood arrived in my mailbox, a book I had forgotten I had ordered in September. The delivery date had apparently been by October the 13th, but as I had completely forgotten about it, I bought it as an ebook on the 15th and finished reading it yesterday.

I didn’t love it. I think it was good and an entertaining read, but not on the level of Strange Weather in Tokyo or The Nakano Thriftshop in my opinion.

At first I thought it would be many weird little stories that weren’t particularily connected to each other but as I read on I found out that they were. They were all little snippets of a frankly absurd neighbourhood (absurd in a good way) and the same characters kept popping up here and there. Incredibly short with only 89 pages in the kindle edition (121 in paper edition) and at the same price as a full-length novel, which is a bit… absurd (to me). Then again, I did purchase it twice, thanks to my non-existent memory.

I am still reading サキの忘れ物, another short-story collection but without the connection between the stories as with Kawakami’s. I loved the title story. I wish it would have been a novel by itself. The second story was okay. The third story is where I have a problem. I didn’t enjoy it so I skipped halfway through and went on to the next story.

So my problem is; can you skip some stories in a short-story collection and still say you read the book?

The Makioka Sisters and how soon is too soon?

I am always hesitant to write too much about the plot of the books I read, it always ends up very vague and not very interesting which makes me a very unsuitable to write book reviews. Even when I want to gush about my favorite parts I feel like I need to hold back, just in case there is someone out there who hasn’t read it yet, be it a month after publication or a hundred years.

How long after publication does one wait until spilling the beans so to speak? how soon is too soon? Do we have to use spoiler alerts forever?

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. I always assumed the title was the same in Japanese, so something like まきおか姉妹 or まきおか物語 (like Little Women) but I found out after trying to talk about it with other Japanese people that the title is 細雪 (sasameyuki, or light snow fall), so, completely different.

Even though I’ve know about this book ever since I got into Japanese literature and it is one of the greats, THE classic basically, it has even been translated into Norwegian (in 2015), I didn’t know anything about it, except for it being about the Makioka sisters obviously.

Reading the synopsis on the back I felt a trifle annoyed, thinking that perhaps they would like to just write out the whole ending and spare me 530 pages? (I can be a very sarcastic person and I apologize in advance, it is one of my character flaws and a great burden). Going from knowing nothing about the plot I felt like I had been spoiled it all as they wrote as far as “She has a series of love affairs, bears a child, and ends up as the wife of a bartender”. But I was determined to enjoy the book anyway and delved into the story. (Spoiler alert: it does not spoil the book)

I was able to overcome my prior prejudice and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am always a bit apprehensive about classics as they can sometimes be hard to get into, but I found the Makioka sisters to not belong in this category.

I hadn’t really thought about how old this particular translation/edition is, but it struck me as I came across a footnote explaining what sushi is. Nowadays it feels like that is common knowledge, with sushi places in just about every country, but back in 1958 when this was first translated and released, sushi must have been a lot less common or maybe even unknown outside of Japan.

It spans such a long time that I usually wasn’t sure what year we were in, but I felt it really wasn’t that important. I mean, yes, the time period is very important because of the historical side of it, but I, personally, was more drawn into the personal lives of the characters. I have never had much sense regarding the historical aspects of things, history class was very difficult for me because I couldn’t relate to the events nor remember the dates, but enough about that.

There were many characters and names, but as you were drawn into the story it wasn’t too hard to keep track of them all.

With Little Women, I think we all have a favorite sister, a sister that maybe we look up to or that resembles ourself the most. But with the Makioka Sisters I couldn’t find one like that. They all have their fine points and their flaws (as do we all), but I couldn’t root for one more of the other. I liked them all the same and was invested in their lives, but nothing outside of that. The one I liked the best was Teinosuke, I admired him for being such a great husband, and brother-in-law, and father. (Let’s not talk of Taeko).

I enjoyed the story greatly, seeing all the different paths human lives can take. However I am not sure if it will be a reread for me or not, and it is definitely not on the list of books to get hardcovers of yet, but, if in the future I find myself rereading it, it might get onto that list, we’ll see.

Studying by reading

I am not usually the kind of person to look up every unknown word as I read in Japanese, but as I am reading フランス人は10着しか服を持たない I have found myself looking up and jotting down words here and there, sometimes to get the correct reading so that I may remember it seeing as a word appears several times throughout a chapter, or to get the meaning. Maybe it’s easier to do this with this book precisely because it is not a novel, thus stopping to look up words doesn’t ruin the reading flow as much as it would have if it was.

Exposing my terrible handwriting, don’t judge me too harshly

I have not studied ‘properly’ this year at all. I took the JLPT in December of last year (feels like a century ago), and after failing the N1 for a second time I lost all motivation to sit down with textbooks. I didn’t much enjoy N1 materials anyway so I haven’t been able to force myself back into it.

But I have read several books, in Japanese, and while I might not have been studying the ‘traditional’ way of looking up words/grammar, writing them down, making flashcards, quizzing myself, etc., after years of making flashcards and never using them I believe I am better suited to remember these things by repeated exposure in more natural settings, i.e. by reading books. By seeing the kanjis for train stations everyday I am able to remember their reading. Same with people’s names, buttons on websites, tags on instagram, buzzwords in advertising, blog posts on topics I am interested in. By seeing the words over and over in their natural habitat so to speak, I can (hypothetically) recall their meaning or reading even if I were to be exposed to them in a new or different place.

The first two pages of the first novel I tried to read in Japanese (during my year abroad at the university) looked like this:

From 世界から猫が消えたなら by 川村元気

It was so full of words I didn’t know the meaning of, or reading of, or both. It was so disheartening and took out all the fun of reading, it wasn’t even reading anymore, just working. There was so much work trying to write the kanji correctly into the electronic dictionary so it would recognize it and give me the meaning. I stopped “reading” a couple of pages later and didn’t pick it up again until over a year later. And when I did pick it up again I swore to not suck all the fun out by relying on the dictionary and so I didn’t. I did my best to read and understand from context, and I enjoyed the story immensely.

This formed a habit of not using a dictionary when reading that still continues today. Rarely will I stop to look up words when reading novels. Does that mean I can now read and understand every kanji and every word and every grammar point? Not at all. But there is no pressure to either. I read for my own enjoyment. I know kind of what most means and if I don’t know the exact reading or meaning I don’t sweat it, I will just input the meaning or feeling of a word in whichever language I feel I understand it in.

I am hoping to one day take and pass the N1. I have no immediate use for it and so the need to study seriously is not there as of now. While I would want to believe that by reading and enjoying books as I am now, I will accumulate the knowledge required to pass, I know it is not so. But until the need arises for me to have the N1, I will continue my studying in the way I like; slowly and comfortably with my beloved books.

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