One Passage, Nine Translations—Mieko Kawakami

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

At SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2018 on October 20, Louise Heal Kawai critiqued participants’ translations of a passage in Ichigo jamu kara ichigo kara hikeba (Strawberry Jam Without the Strawberries) by Mieko Kawakami, from the volume Akogare (Longing). As yet unpublished in English, Ichigo jamu features the same characters as Ms. Ice Sandwich, translated by Kawai. It takes place two years later, when the main characters are in sixth grade. It unfolds from the perspective of Tutti, the narrator’s female classmate in Ms. Ice Sandwich.

In one part of the workshop passage, Tutti expresses disgust with adults who make silly YouTube videos, which are the obsession of another classmate in the stories, nicknamed Doo-Wop.

Below are the original passage by Kawakami; eight blinded translations by participants in Translation Day; and a translation and commentary by Louise Heal Kawai.

For reference, Tutti is Kawai’s localization of a punny nickname, Hegatī, based on an incident in which the character’s fart smelled like tea.

 

Original Passage

大人にもいろいろな人がいるんだろうけれど、そんな大人ってちょっと、いや、だいぶいやじゃない? そう話したら、ヘガティーはわかってないね、今この人たちがいちばんすごいんだよ、とドゥワップは鼻をふくらませて言うのだった。

いちばんっていったいどこのいちばんなの、何のいちばんなの、すごいっていったいどういう意味で、というわたしの質問には答えずに、ドゥワップはすごくうれしそうに話をつづけた。僕らみたいな小学生とか子どもとかが毎日毎日こうやってみてるじゃん、すっごいみるじゃん、で、僕らがみればみるだけ、この人たちにいっぱいお金がいく仕組みになってるの。それは本当なの? 本当だよ。その大人にどれくらいお金が入るの。そりゃもう、すごいお金だよ、やばい感じだよ。うそ。本当だよ。じゃあコーラ風呂とかそういうのみるたびにドゥワップはお金払ってるの? 僕はべつに払ってないよ。じゃあ誰がそのやばいくらいのお金払うの。それは、その、わからないけど、誰かだよ。

[Source: Akogare by Mieko Kawakami (Shinchosha, 2015). ISBN-13: 978-4103256243]

 

Translation A

I’m sure there are all kinds of grownups, but don’t you kinda—no, don’t you really hate that kind? When I said that to Doo-Wop he got all snooty and said, You just don’t get it, huh, Hegarty? These guys are the absolute coolest right now.

“Absolute”? Of what? What kind of absolute? And what does “coolest” mean? But Doo-Wop didn’t answer my questions; he just happily chattered on. Elementary-schoolers like us—kids, I mean—are watching every day—like a ton! And just by us watching, these guys make loads of money. Is that true? Yeah. How much money do they make? Oh man, so much. It’s crazy. No way. It’s true. So do you pay every time you watch that soda bath video or whatever? Nope, I don’t pay. So who pays that crazy amount of money? Well, I’m not sure, but someone.

Then computer time started as usual.

 

Translation B

I mean, I know there are various grownups in the world, but aren’t these people a little (actually, extremely) awful? When I suggested this to Doowop, his nostrils flared as he said, “Hegarty, you just don’t get it. These grownups are the most amazing ones.”

The most amazing? In what world are they the most amazing?! Amazing at what? What do you mean by “amazing?” Ignoring my barrage of questions, Doowop happily continued on. “So elementary school students like us, and other kids everywhere, are watching this stuff every day. I mean, we watch it a lot. And the more we watch, the more money these people make. That’s how the system works.” Really? “Yep, really.” Exactly how much do these grownups make? “They make tons of money. It’s almost scary!” No way. “Yep, it’s true.” So, you pay money each time you watch a cola-filled bathtub? “No, I’m not paying any money.” Then who is paying these scary amounts of money? “Well, that’s, um, I’m not sure. But somebody is paying.”

And so, computer class began again, as it always does.

 

Translation C

Adults come in all sorts too, but isn’t that kind of adult a bit, no, a lot, weird? But when I say that, Doo-wop flares his nostrils in disgust and retorts ‘Tutti, you don’t get it, these people are so great, they’re the best’.

Doo-wop ignored me asking about them being the best of what and of where, and what makes them so great, and just kept talking excitedly.

Loads of primary school kids like us watch them every day, you know, we watch them a lot, and the more we watch, the more money these people get.

Is that true?

Yeah, it’s true.

How much do those adults get?

It’s, you know, a lot. Like a serious amount.

No way.

Yes way.

So like every time you watch that bath full of cola, you pay money?

I don’t pay anything.

So who is paying all that money?

It’s, that’s, I don’t know, but someone does.

 

And with that, computer class starts the same way as always.

 

Translation D

There are probably some strange adults, but these ones are not just strange – they are way too weird. When I said that, Duwap snorted, “You don’t know anything do you, Hegaty. These people are the tops today. They’re amazing!”

What do you mean by tops? What are these people tops at? What’s so amazing?

Duwap didn’t answer my questions. He just kept on talking, excited.

We primary schoolers and other kids watch these videos every day, right? We just watch so much, right? Now here’s how it works – the more we watch, the more money these people get! Really? Yeah! How much do these adults get? Huge, huge amounts! It’s crazy! No way. It’s true! Do you pay when you watch coke bath videos? No, not me. I don’t pay. So, who’s paying this crazy amount of money? Well, I don’t know, but it’s gotta be someone.

And so, the PC lesson would start as it always did.

 

Translation E

I know there are all kinds of adults but an adult like that is not okay, right?

When you say the best, what kind of best, what sort of best, what does amazing mean—Doo-wop didn’t answer my questions, but just kept talking on and on happily. So, there are lots of children, school kids like us, doing this every day, which is crazy, because just us watching means those people get lots of money, right? How much do they get? Well, a lot—a ton of money. You’re kidding, I said. It’s true, he said. So then, do you pay for your cola baths and video binges? I asked. I’m not the one paying. Then who’s paying for all that? I’m not sure, he said, but someone is.

And so our computer activity class begins again.

 

Translation F

Adults surely come in a wide array, but the ones who’d make these videos are sort of weird, don’t you think? No—really weird! When I said so to Doo-Wop, he just flared his nostrils and said, “Ah, Tutti, you don’t get it, do you? These days, they are the cool ones!”

“Cooler where? How? What does cool even mean?” I asked, but without answering, Doo-Wop kept chatting gaily. “See, children and students like us are watching these vids day in and day out, right? Isn’t that amazing, if you think about it? And, the more we watch, the more money the people who make the videos get. That’s how it works.” “Really?” “Really.” “How much do they get?” “A ton, more than you can imagine.” “No way.” “It’s true!” “So, every time you view the cola bathtub video, are you paying money?” “Nah, I’m not paying anything.” “So who’s paying the ton of money?” “I don’t know, but someone is.”

And thus, a typical computer class began.

 

Translation G

I get that there’s all kinds of grown-ups out there, but aren’t people like that kinda…lame? Kinda really lame?

But when I said that to Doowop, he just scrunched up his nose at me.

“You don’t get it, Hegarty,” he said. “These guys are geniuses.”

“Geniuses at what? What do they even do?”

Doowop didn’t answer my question. He just kept on talking with a huge smile on his face.

“See, loads of grade schoolers and kids like us watch their videos every day, right? And it’s set up so they get money from us watching them.”

“For real?”

“Yeah, for real.”

“How much money do they make?”

“They get rich. Like, CRAZY rich.”

“No way.”

“Way.”

“So does that mean you’re paying every time you see them take a bath in a tub full of soda or something?”

“Nah, I’m not paying them.”

“Then who is?”

“Beats me… But someone’s gotta be.”

And so started another average day of computer lab.

 

Translation H

Of course, there are all kinds of adults, but isn’t that type a bit – no, well-and-truly – off? When I said that to him, Doo-Wop just replied with, “you wouldn’t understand, Hegarty”, and infuriated me by saying these people are the best.

He just ignored all my questions – “What was so great about them? What did he mean by ‘great’ anyway?” – and happily kept rabbiting on about them.

“If primary school kids like us keep watching these things day after day, hour after hour, well, the more money these adults get from us.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“How much do they make?”

“Heaps. It’s outrageous.”

“No way.”

“True. So when you watch videos like the cola bath, aren’t you paying them, Doo-Wop?”

“I haven’t paid anything.”

“So, who pays them all that money then?”

“No idea, but someone must.”

Then computer time began as usual.

 

Translation by Louise Heal Kawai

I mean I guess there are all kinds of grown-ups in the world, but don’t you find these kind of people a bit gross, don’t they freak you out? When I said this to Doo-Wop, he snorted.

“You don’t understand anything, Tutti. These are the top people, the coolest.”

The top? Top of what? And how were they cool? But Doo-Wop didn’t bother answering my questions, just kept on talking, all excited.

“Every single day, kids like us watch their videos, and every time someone watches them, there’s like a thing set up that gives them loads of money.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“How much money do these grown-ups get?”

“Tons. Tons and tons of money. Like you wouldn’t believe.”

“No!”

“I swear.”

“So you – Doo-Wop – give them money every time they get in a cola bath or stuff like that?”

“Well, no, I’m not paying anything.”

“So who’s giving them this tons of money?”

“Well…. I dunno exactly, but someone is.”

And so computer class began the same way as usual.

 

Comments by Louise Heal Kawai

“I was rather freer with my translation of the first part of this section than any of the participants. Perhaps it was because I knew my translation wasn’t going to be analyzed in a workshop (!) but in general I feel taking a few liberties as long as the meaning is not lost is something to be encouraged rather than discouraged. And I do believe that ‘a bit gross’ moving on to ‘freak you out’ is very much in the spirit of the original. I also cut a bit of Doo-Wop’s exaggeration of how much kids watched the videos, as it sounded too repetitive and I felt took away from the ‘tons of money’ speech later.

“As for the second half dialogue, I think breaking it up line by line makes it clearer, but the use of italics versus regular font also works nicely and avoids the crowded look of quotation marks or he said/she said in the run-on text.

“Although at times the vocabulary and grammar choice seemed a little mature for a twelve-year-old, in general I loved the variety of phrases used by the participants to bring these kids’ speech to life.

“Thank you to the eight brave participants who took the time to submit a translation, and to everyone who attended the workshop.”

Louise Heal Kawai leads the workshop at SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2018.

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