万城目学著「偉大なる、しゅららぼん」英語版The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom!の翻訳者。
“I am a translator.”
How many of us have pronounced our profession in this way, only in the next moment to be asked “So, have you translated any books?” For people outside of the industry, the zenith of being a translator seems to be measured in published achievements, rather than the plethora of material that streams across our desks day in and day out. We could have translated a gazillion words, but their value is only recognizable to many if they are bound in tomes and found in bookshops, or these days, online as e-books. Some of you reading this may have already translated a book. Some of you may be considering translating one or have been asked if you could, while others of you would never dream of going down that path.
Last year I did go down that path. Along all its twists and turns, its ravines and pinnacles. I found myself in the unique world of Manabu Makime, accompanied by an array of comical characters who invited me to travel along reedy waterways, dine in high fashion at a palace, gallop headfirst to the bottom of a lake, before finally letting me rise up gasping for air at the end of it all. Even the title was unique – The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom! (偉大なる、しゅららぼん [ Idai naru, shurarabon ] in Japanese).
I set off with good intentions. I have my own style of translation, as I am sure you all do, and I am no stranger to large projects. I break the texts I am given into manageable sections and go through each part, flowing the sentences together and translating directly into the digital document to save time. So the first steps I took were wide and confident. I planned my schedule with the number of pages to be done each week, and the weekend set aside for revisions and redrafting. It was exhilarating to think that I was translating a book and I woke every day eager to keep up the pace.
Soon though I began to notice that I was falling into bed by 10 pm exhausted, and sometimes not even making it that far, waking later in the night to find myself face-down in my papers. I still got up early the next day, ready to push ahead, but a silent unease began to creep in. My excitement was being offset by the pressure that people, maybe, hopefully, a lot of people were going to be reading it once it was out in the world.
I suddenly felt that the way I translate was not right for this project. While my pace stayed the same, I was battling something completely unexpected – myself. This was no longer an exhilarating word hike, but a full out mental marathon.
It was time to change my approach even if it meant losing time. I took to writing out my first draft by hand, then typing it up and revising as I went along. In effect I was adding another draft stage. Doing it this way allowed me to take an extra step away from methodical translation and move down a more creative path, similar to the actual writing process.
There were of course a few obstacles along the way that I had to clamber over. The first was that there is a lot of water in the story. It is everywhere - in the lake, round the castle, in the magical powers of the main characters and even in their names. When the names Ryosuke and Tanjuro are written in Japanese, 涼介 and 淡十郎, it is easy for Japanese readers to see that the first Chinese character of each name uses the water radical. This is an important part of the plot as this radical signifies which characters have powers. But that cannot be conveyed to English readers just by writing their names, so explanations had to be added.
Historical and cultural research was important too. It is not possible to just translate what is written on the page, especially when the potential readers of the story may never have set foot in Japan or even know anything of Japanese culture. You have to ask yourself, if I was sitting in a little village in Yorkshire, would I understand this? For me, although I have been in Japan a long time, I have never been to Lake Biwa where The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom! is set. I would have loved to visit to really get a feel of what is being described in the book, but it was not possible. In addition, while I have visited many castles in Japan, it turns out all the ones I went to are flatland types. The structure of the one in the story is hilltop (the Hinode family castle is based on Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture), so I needed to research the correct terminology and how to describe it so that someone who has maybe never seen a castle can envisage it. This is where image search comes in very handy.
Finally, Manabu Makime’s world is very three-dimensional. As well as the strange colourful images and incredulous scenes, bizarre sounds leap from the page and characters let out strange yells and occasionally burst into song. Translating these sounds was sometimes both a challenge and an enjoyment as I said them out loud over and over to make sure they read so that they could be heard in the reader’s mind.
I submitted my draft and you would think, as with most translations we do, that would be it. Your client takes it and does whatever they want with it. With a book though, you have the nerve-wracking editing stage to undertake. The draft that I had labored over for so long and became the ‘final’ draft that I submitted now returns to the beginning to be treated as a first draft. This is the steep and treacherous part of the path where you need climbing partners, the editors, copy editors, and proofreaders, to rope the prose together and get it ready for the end goal - publication. There will be some parts that although you reworked them for days (or months) that are going to be cut in a no-nonsense edit. You have to learn to let go of them. This stage is an opportunity to vastly improve our translation and editing skills.
The day the book is released is the finish line. But as with everything, once you reach that goal, you realize it is merely the starting point of a more invigorating path.