Translating Popular Fiction

Embracing Otherness in Japanese Translations

by Kayoko Nohara (Author)
Monographs XII, 236 Pages


Translating from English to Japanese poses particular challenges for the translator, arising from the significant linguistic and cultural differences between the two languages. This book explores the various options and techniques available to and used by translators when translating from English to Japanese. The work is rich in both the theory and practice of translation and contains numerous examples from popular texts, ranging from classics to detective novels to science fiction. Drawing on these case studies, the author concludes that the translation of popular fiction has evolved in recent decades and developed as a new text type with its own textual and thematic characteristics. First among these is the preservation of cultural otherness and its representation in a way that is enriching to readers and translators alike.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: The Traditional Discussion of Equivalence and Its Relevance to the Japanese Context
  • 2.1 Defining Translation, Defining Equivalence
  • 2.2 Evaluating Translations
  • 2.3 The Formal-to-Dynamic Continuum
  • Chapter 3: Particular Challenges in Dealing with Translation between English and Japanese
  • 3.1 A Brief History of Translation and Thoughts on Translation in Japan
  • 3.1.1 Early Translations
  • 3.1.2 Encounters with the West
  • 3.1.3 The Meiji Period (1868–1912) and Afterwards
  • 3.1.4 Literary Waves from the West
  • 3.2 Some Contemporary Writings on Translation in Japan
  • 3.3 Significance of the Investigations: Japanese as a Target Language
  • Chapter 4: Methodology of the Investigation and the Importance of a Systematic Text Comparison in Popular Fiction
  • 4.1 Finding Japanese Norms for Text-Types
  • 4.2 Arguments on Style and Text-Types
  • 4.3 Methods of Text Comparison
  • 4.4 Domestication and Foreignisation as Analytical Tools
  • Chapter 5: Textual Analysis (I): Linguistic Domestication and Foreignisation
  • 5.1 Linguistic Domestication
  • 5.1.1 Linguistic-Oriented Japanisation
  • 5.1.2 Frequent Use of Attitude-Marking Adverbs (AMAs) in Non-Translational Japanese
  • 5.1.3 AMA as a Potential Japaniser in Translation
  • 5.1.4 Transforming the Speaker’s Attitude into an AMA
  • 5.2 Linguistic Foreignisation
  • 5.2.1 Traces of Englishness in the TT
  • 5.2.2 Frequently Observed Englishness
  • 5.3 Summary
  • Chapter 6: Textual Analysis (II): Cultural Domestication and Foreignisation
  • 6.1 Cultural Domestication
  • 6.1.1 Factors beyond Linguistic Phenomena
  • 6.1.2 From Neutral to TL Culture-Specific
  • 6.1.3 From TL Culture-Specific to Neutral
  • 6.2 Cultural Foreignisation
  • 6.2.1 Potential for Expansion of the TL Culture
  • 6.2.2 Loan Translation and Katakana-isation
  • 6.2.3 Dealing with Proper Names
  • 6.3 Summary
  • Chapter 7: Stylistic Features of the Texts
  • 7.1 A Translation-Specific Writing Discourse?
  • 7.1.1 Translated Popular Fiction as a Text-Type
  • 7.1.2 Generally Recognised Translationalness
  • 7.1.3 Greater Tolerance for Translationalness in Non-Literary Texts
  • 7.1.4 Distorting the Original Style
  • 7.2 Properties
  • 7.2.1 Situational Mismatch: A Tone Out of Character with the Scene
  • 7.2.2 Absence of Rhythm
  • 7.2.3 Extensive Use of Institutionalised Dialects
  • 7.2.4 Traces of Attempted Domestication
  • 7.2.5 Joint Appearance of Linguistic Domesticness and Foreignness
  • 7.2.6 Abrupt Appearance of Cultural Domestication
  • 7.2.7 The Frequent Use of Ruby and Notes as Compromise
  • 7.2.8 Summary and Further Analysis
  • Chapter 8: Cultural Implications
  • 8.1 Recipients’ Expectations of Translationalness
  • 8.2 Desired Oddity: Logic and Thought Patterns from the West
  • 8.3 The Substitution of Readability in Reality
  • 8.4 Translational Style as a Matrix for Otherness
  • 8.5 Quasi-Popular Fiction
  • 8.6 Summary
  • Chapter 9: Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Name Index
  • Subject Index
  • Series index

| vii →


Figure 1: Converting Chinese characters into Japanese: Tsukishima (1963: 43, my translation) version of the kundoku method.

Figure 2: Converting Chinese characters into Japanese: Tokieda (1941: 91, my translation) version of the kundoku method.

Figure 3: Properties samples from SamātaimuBurūsu.

Figure 4: Features of translational discourse used in different text-types.

Figure 5: Two options for dealing with popular fiction.

| ix →


Table 1: List of Japanese attitude-marking adverbs (AMAs)

Table 2: Frequency of use for Hermans’s six methods of dealing with proper names in literary translation

Table 3: Strategies for cultural domestication and cultural foreignisation

Table 4: Properties observed in popular fiction texts

| xi →


First of all my deepest gratitude goes to all the translators of the literary works I have quoted in this book. The literary attraction of their works to a large extent resides in the stylistic features I have tried to detect, and thus this book is a tribute to their ingenuity and creativity. The book initially contained a much larger variety of examples from many more translations but only a modest number could be displayed because of the limited space.

I am especially indebted to Prof. Mike Norton for his support in improving the text throughout the finishing stages. Likewise, I am grateful to Ian Platt and to the Hon’yaku Plus editing team.

I would also like to thank Dr Phillip Harries for opening up the world of translation studies to me in Oxford, Prof. José Lambert for the opportunity to work as a post-doc in the irreplaceable Leuven environment, Prof. Lawrence Venuti for personal discussion at the early stages of the project, and Prof. Daniel Gile for his long-term encouragement to write this book. Speaking of encouragement, I must also mention Prof. Gideon Toury and Prof. Sándor Hervey. Nothing would have started without them. Prof. Tanaka Akio, Prof. Ōno Susumu and Prof. Naitō Yorihiro have taught me about both academic research and life more than I could ever give credit for.

My special thanks go to all my friends and colleagues who supported me, but especially to Katori Yayoi, Kawano Eriko, Tago Miyoko, Hiraki Megumi, Dr Amir Isamu and Dr Nakada Kazuyoshi who have been there for me, together with all the ex-research assistants and students for their devoted support. It has been great to run “Nohara Lab” for endless discussions with them all. Many thanks also to Prof. Tom Hope, Prof. Susa Masahiro, Prof. Yamaguchi Shinobu, Prof. Abe Naoya, Prof. Yanabu Akira, Prof. John Maher, Prof. Mizuno Akira, Prof. Ujiie Yōko, Prof. Nishina Kikuko, Prof. Kusakebe Osamu, Prof. Sanada Haruko, Tanaka Kukiko, Asaba Masaharu, Prof. Aizawa Masuo and of course Tsuda Hiroshi for their friendship and cooperation in this and other related projects. ← xi | xii →

This work would not have been possible without the financial support of the Shōyū Club and the JSPS. I am deeply grateful for that.

Special thanks also go to Prof. Jorge Díaz-Cintas for our extended talk in East Putney, for his precious suggestions and – together with the Advisory Board Members – for accepting my manuscript for his wonderful series. I am profoundly grateful to all the anonymous referees who worked on this book, not only by catching mistakes but also by suggesting important points that would have never occurred to me. Many thanks to Dr Laurel Plapp, Ben Goodwin and all the editors and technical staff members at Peter Lang for their patience and encouragement. I simply adore their office on St Giles in Oxford.

I give my heartfelt thanks to my mother, who I am sure is watching this and whose love and guidance are with me in whatever I pursue, and to my precious family members, especially Carola and Werner Ertl and Ella Donhauser.

Finally, I thank Prof. Wolfgang Ertl, for having patience with me and for taking on this challenge, providing support, excellent wine and philosophical quotations whenever difficulties arose.

Tokyo, January 2018

| 1 →



Imagine yourself on an evening commuter train in Tokyo, packed (as goes the Western cliché) but highly organised. Many of the passengers, men and women, sitting or standing, are holding a book, a smartphone or a tablet in their hands. Some are playing online games, some are glancing at a blog, some are reading a novel, and others are flicking through a weekly manga, that is, a graphic (often in both senses) Japanese comic book. All this is a common sight. You will be surprised, however, to discover that quite a few passengers are reading translated literature in the form of a tiny bunko or pocket-size paperback, or an e-book, which are easy to carry and take out in such crowded places.

Let’s take a closer look at them. A middle-aged businessman is reading a well-known mystery, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. A male college student is reading The Martian Chronicles, a classic science fiction novel by Ray Bradbury. A young female office worker is reading Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, which was a big Hollywood hit some years ago. A schoolgirl is reading Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery, the first volume of the popular Canadian Anne series, which most Japanese girls come across during their school years. A middle-aged female schoolteacher is reading Camilla, Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire novel. Finally, a young female musician is reading Whip Hand, a prize-winning novel from Dick Francis’s horse racing adventure series. These works were all originally written in English, but are from various countries, periods and genres. Think of what is happening to these people on the train. Clearly, they are all going through a literary experience, whether enjoying it or not. Would it not be odd, however, if the readers were receiving some common impressions from such disparate sources? The readers themselves probably do not suspect that these common impressions are providing them with a surprisingly uniform experience as a part – despite all the differences between the works. ← 1 | 2 →

This book suggests that this is indeed the case, and that the shared experience can be attributed to distinctive properties found in the language used. These texts belong to a category which exists only in the world of translated literature: in other words, the text-type is available as a strategic device to provide a norm in translating a certain kind of literature from English into Japanese. As Japanese has never been a language of international communications, Japanese readers only have two ways to access material written outside their own linguistic domain. They can experience the material in a foreign language or through translation. In practice, most readers rely on the latter option, so translation has become an integral part of everyday life. The commonly used phrase hon’yaku ōkoku Nippon [Japan, the translation kingdom] refers to the long tradition surrounding this activity and reflects the large number of translations that are regularly published in the community, although the quantity of translated publications does fluctuate. In Hon’yaku to Nihon Bunka [Translation and Japanese Culture], Haga (2000: 152–153, my translation) emphasises the significance of translation when seeking to understand the cultural development of the country:

Thus translation into its local language has been the key to Japan’s access to overseas culture and its assimilation. This is however hardly unique to Japan, so why should Japan be called “the translation kingdom” in particular? The index of foreign books translated into Japanese gives us a clue. On the UNESCO’s “Index Translationum – ‘TOP 50’ Target language” list (since the 1950s to 2017), Japanese usually ranks around fifth place, after German, French, Spanish and English. Western languages dominate the ranking from first place to twelfth place. Given that Japan is so geographically, linguistically, and culturally remote from the languages of Europe and ← 2 | 3 → America, it is surprising that it should rank so highly in the UNESCO list. Furthermore, while the overall number of publishers that have been actively involved in publishing translated books declined during the recession in the 1990s, there has been a steady flow of new publishers putting more focus on or even launching the publication of translations in Japanese (Shuppan Geppo [Publication Monthly Report], 2000: 6). It is these trends that make Japan stand out.

These statistical data indicate the stable, long-term popularity of published translations. In addition, these data hint at a deeper implication that Japanese people traditionally may even welcome the idea of importing foreign cultures via translation. Japan is a model case among Asian countries for the full-scale acceptance of Western culture (Kawakatsu 1991: 245). Witnessing the fusion of Western culture and more traditional Japanese elements in all fields, one cannot help but be bewildered by the endlessly open attitude (even if only on the surface) to different ideas and experiences from overseas – “otherness” from an out group or soto of uchi/soto, which literally corresponds to inside/outside, traditionally utilised to identify social distance between people. We should not forget the reality that such foreign influences are very often introduced to Japan through encounters with people and publications overseas, and hence via the medium of translation, which allows the Japanese to make adjustments to those elements of otherness to conform to expectations within their community. This seems to be an activity that they particularly relish, and they recast the source text information so that it can comfortably fit into some part of the existing Japanese world. When readers look for a certain established linguistic style, translation can assist by providing the desired flavour. Assigning a specific writing style to the translated text seems to be one way of providing such assistance. As translators have the power to incorporate foreign terms into their own culture, this gives them also power to control this particular cultural interaction.

A translated text and its original source are supposed to be equivalent in their meaning. Learnings from studies on translation made in recent years, however, have made it increasingly clear that static equivalence cannot be simply transferred from a source text to a target text (TT), as the target text needs to be attuned to the contextual requirement. For a translated text to ← 3 | 4 → fulfil the desired function – which is to communicate successfully in a given situation – it must be written in an appropriate text-type (Kußmaul 1997: 68). In conforming to text-type norms, a translation will often move away from the form and/or content of the source text. Equivalence between the two texts is constantly reshaped during the adaptation of the target text to the rules of the selected target type. Without question, text-typology is one of the central issues crucial to an understanding of the process and production of translations.

Among the several issues involved, a basic but intriguing question is: which text-types are available in the target language? When one writes, one usually gives an appropriate register or a language variation to the text according to the purpose. Many text-types are commonly found within various genres, such as business reports, academic papers, diaries, poetry and novels. The conventionalised formulations found in non-translational writing are often valid and can also be utilised in translation; the text-type resources available in the source language and target language do not always match, however. Sager (1997b: 39) claims that translation-specific text-types exist:

This book enquires into the way in which literary translation of certain genres is made from English into Japanese taking a norm-oriented point of view, in order to identify a translation-specific text-type, its properties, and its cultural implications. Here the term “cultural” is used to refer to any kind of knowledge or perception of the world which one is presupposed to have to understand people’s behaviour (including use of language) in their society or community. In other words, culture is a totality of elements which make language work in a particular social context. Hatim and Mason (1997: 216) define “cultural code” as “a system of ideas which conceptually enables denotative meanings to take on extra connotative meanings and thus become key terms in the thinking of a certain group of text users, ultimately contributing to the development of discourse”. ← 4 | 5 →

Chapters 2 and 3 provide background information on translations and research on translation in Japan. They look at some of the major theoretical issues in the field of translation studies and show how they have been treated in the Japanese environment. A brief history of translation, and selected discussions on translation in Japan, are provided. The issues relevant to the main arguments in this book are also presented here, including specific problems identified in contemporary translation between English and Japanese.


XII, 236
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (June)
Japanese contemporary translation studies text-type features of mass fiction in translation linguistic and cultural interaction of Japanese and the West
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. XII, 236 pp., 49 table/s, 5 fig.

Biographical notes

Kayoko Nohara (Author)

Kayoko Nohara is Professor of Translation Studies and Science Communication at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. She holds a DPhil in Translation Studies from Queen’s College, University of Oxford. She was previously a Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Junior Lecturer at the University of Oxford, Assistant Professor at Gakushuin University and International Researcher at the Catholic University of Leuven. Her publications, in Japanese, include Translation Studies in Discussions (2014) and, as co-author, Introduction to Science and Technology Communication (2009).


Title: Translating Popular Fiction
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