Murakami Haruki’s Translation Style and the Visibility Paradigm in the Japanese Context.

Matthew Guay, Ryutsu Keizai University [About | Email]

Volume 20, Issue 2 (Article 4 in 2020). First published in ejcjs on 14 August 2020; revised on November 20, 2020.

Editor's note: This article has been revised to include greater engagement with existing work.


Venuti's concept of translator invisibility differs from the Japanese context where a broad spectrum of translators exists. Most professional translators work transparently, but they are still visible, and the reader is aware that what they are reading is a translation. Awareness and appreciation for translation create an environment where some translators become celebrities. Translator appreciation also inspires talented literary figures to devote themselves to translation work such as Murakami Haruki. This hearkens back from the Meiji Restoration when translation was performed by literary figures whose translations added source text structures to the target text to help to create new literary styles in Japan.  Building on work by Akashi and Hadley, an analysis of Murakami’s translation of The Catcher in the Rye reveals both domesticating and foreignising translation strategies. His status allows Murakami to apply his literary talent to bring out the music of the source text in ways that may lead to new literary styles, but he is still careful to domesticate his translation to adhere to social conventions such as with regards to profanity and gender normative expressions.

Keywords: Domesticating strategies, Foreignisation, Translator visibility, Translation in the Japanese context, Translation between unrelated languages and cultures

1. Introduction


The evolution over time of Japanese translation practices involved a unique relationship with Venuti’s concepts of domestication and foreignisation quite different from the situation into English. In addition, the celebrity status of some translators in Japan varies to the situation in the western English-speaking world or what Venuti refers to as ‘contemporary Anglo-American culture’ (Venuti 2012b: 14). Celebrity status, interest, and respect among the public for translation attract successful authors to work as translators despite having every freedom to focus solely on their own writings (Akashi 2018:272). This is in great contrast to those doing literary translation into English who are mostly amateurs translating for piece rates (Bellos 2011:302).

This dire situation for literary translators working from peripheral languages into English is partly what inspired Venuti’s theory, which built on previous binary dichotomies (see below) and lifted the eyes of translation studies researchers up from the words on the page to examine the translators themselves. Venuti describes a situation in which translators practice domestication to achieve ‘smooth’ reading texts that conceal their foreign origins including changes to names of people and places to produce work easily digested by the target audience such that they are unaware that what they are reading is a translation and rendering the translator invisible. Domestication and Venuti’s prescription to fight back by including source text cultural linguistic characteristics into the translation, called foreignisation, make up most of his theory of invisibility. In taking a stance (towards foreignisation) and more soundly building his theoretical dichotomy of foreignisation/domestication within the plight of what current translators are dealing with, the theory of invisibility became the start of the art theory for analysing translation world-wide. Though this is the case, many of the differences in his dichotomy share similarities with previous binary theories, such as Schleiermacher’s (1813) alienating translation and naturalising translation; Newmark’s (1988) semantic translation and communicative translation; Nord’s (1995) documentary translation and instrumental translation; House’s (1997) overt translation and covert translation; and Toury’s ([1995] 2012) adequate and acceptable translation, to name but a few.

In contrast to the plight of the translator working from peripheral languages into English, the awareness of translation, interest in translation, and the appreciation for translational language (known as yakuwarigo and honyakugo) among the Japanese public create an environment that liberates authors such as Murakami Haruki to produce self-domesticated translations full of characteristics of their own writing style. Furthermore, the Japanese language’s status as a non-dominant language frees those translators who willingly domesticate texts from the condemnation for cultural imperialism (Nihei 2016:395). To set up the analysis of Murakami’s translation of Catcher in the Rye and some comparison with Nozaki’s translation in this paper, some key concepts of Venuti’s theory and their reality in the Japanese context will be highlighted. These concepts include celebrity, public attitudes and awareness of translation, and Japan’s historical relationship with foreignisation and yakuwarigo or honyakugo (translationese).

2. Celebrity and public awareness of translation

The celebrity of the translators draws many fans to reread books and delivers large financial reward to the translator and their publishers. Murakami’s translations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (1896- 1940) The Great Gatsby (2006b) and J.D. Salinger’s (1919- 2010) The Cather in the Rye (2006a) have been highly acclaimed best sellers despite well-loved translations already existing. As mentioned in Hadley and Akashi (2015) and expanded upon in Akashi (2018), further evidence of his celebrity as well as his fans’ interest and awareness of translation can be seen looking at the jacket sleeve covers, called obi. In Murakami’s case, his celebrity is so great that he was contractually obliged to release his translations with his name larger than the author’s on the obi (Hadley & Akashi 2015) (Meldrum 2009). The obi of Murakami’s translation of the Catcher in the Rye reads:


Murakami Haruki’s new translation transports Catcher in the Rye to a new era. Now, let Holden’s voice echo in your ears.

Obi are standard on all books and CDs in Japan, but it is unusual for the translator and not the author to be mentioned. Additionally, Murakami’s name is the same size font as Salinger’s on the front cover and spine. This clearly advertises to consumers that this book is not just Catcher in the Rye, or even just a translation of it, but something Murakami-esque. Akashi (2018:274) found that Murakami’s name was printed in font twice the size of the author’s in all of his translated works published before the late 1980s. For contrast, the obi around Echizen’s (2000) translation of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons (2000) features a photo of Tom Hanks with a promotion campaign for the movie with only the author’s name mentioned. The translator, relatively unknown outside of industry circles, is only mentioned in small print under the author on the front cover, though his name is clearly stated in Japanese and English on the third page of the book.

Published by the same company as a promotion for Murakami’s translation, Hakusuisha, the obi (see Image 1) around the 2004 publication of Nozaki’s reworked translation reveals even more about translation interest in Japan. On the front cover it reveres the superlative translation of Catcher in the Rye by Nozaki, which was the standard translation since its first release in 1957 (Angles, J. 2015). On the back is the advertisement for Murakami’s translation reading:

新訳登場  読み比べれば、さらに面白い
J.D. サリンジャー村上翻訳 キャッチャー・イン・ザ・ライ 発売中
A new translation has been released. If you compare (the translations), it will be even more interesting. Murakami Haruki translates J.D. Salinger in Catcher in the Rye. Out now

It is difficult to imagine many consumers in the Anglo-American sphere rereading classics to compare translations. Typically, in English speaking countries the decision to retranslate a book is a well calculated financial decision involving careful consideration of international copyright law made by publishing companies (Bellios 2012:305).

Image 1:

There are certainly many translators into Japanese who suffer the same invisibility pitfalls that exist in contemporary Anglo-American culture. There are many novels published each year by translators who remain relatively unknown despite a healthy portfolio of work and great respect within the industry such as the translator of Dan Brown’s works, Echizen Toshiya. Nevertheless, a significant number of celebrity translators have emerged in Japan. Murakami, the main focus of this paper, gained his fame as an author first in Japan and then worldwide for his creative writing style far different from the ‘languishingly melancholy’ trope of Japanese writers translated after World War II (Fowler 1992:9) (Rubin 1992). His works, including Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997), and Norwegian Wood (2000), have been translated into 42 languages and have appeared in best-selling lists around the world. His books have sold more than 2.5 million copies in the U.S. alone (Hegarty 2011). In his original writing he is known for page turning story lines that lack explanations, and endings without any real resolution, leaving you wanting more (Ibid 2011).

Another celebrity author turned translator is Tanizaki Jun’ichirō who, despite a brilliant literary career considered as one of Japan’s greatest contemporary authors, took time away to translate into modern Japanese Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. His first translation, released serially between 1939-1941, largely achieved his goal of taking what Whaley had created in English, an easily understood novelistic version, domesticated for the modern reader. This was remarkable considering his renown for writing his own work in a foreignised way (Chozick 2016:268-270). Shibusawa Tatsuhiko is another example of a translator who become known initially as a novelist but gained considerable national attention for his translation of Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), which was ruled obscene by the courts. Other successful authors turned translators include Yokomizo Seishi, Kido, Okamoto, and Kurahashi Yumiko. There are also translators of popular classics who remain in the hearts of many readers such as Muraoka Hanako and Nozaki Takashi.

This is in contrast to the plight of translators into English who remain mostly anonymous, usually barred from owning the rights to their work or receiving royalties, and with their name poorly advertised on their work. This suggests that the Japanese readership ‘acknowledge that the purpose of translating is something other than to reflect a source text completely, or reproduce it perfectly’ (Hadley & Akashi 2015:15). Proof of this can been seen in  Murakami’s reasons for translating Salinger. In an interview with friend and well-known translator Shibata Motoyuki, Murakami explains how he had no interest in translating Catcher in the Rye, a story he enjoyed reading, but didn’t remember much about after he had finished Nozaki’s translation in high school. As friends, editors, and readers all began requesting he make a modern translation, he started thinking about the approach he would take and became interested in the project (Murakami & Shibata 2006). This suggests his audience wants a Murakami-esque translation rather than a ‘perfect’ translation. Additionally, Akashi (2018:275) demonstrates through her analysis of reviews of his translations that his originality including regular use of his own literary style in his translations ‘draws the attention of the media and adds to the author’s fame.’

3. Foreignisation in the Japanese context

In the Anglo-American sphere where translator roles are often hidden and smooth translations are the ideal, Venuti prescribes foreignisation as a way to fight back. Foreignisation is translating more of the source text’s structures and syntax to bring the reader overseas and eliminate the invisibility of the translator (Munday 2016:226-227). As a way of protesting against the violence of domesticating smooth translations Venuti suggests going further and manipulating the target text to reach out to the reader and ‘allow the translation to be read as a translation’ (Venuti 1993:217).

In the Japanese context the foreignisation strategy of translation to source text structural norms was seminal in the development of Japanese literature long before Venuti. The opening of Japan triggered by the arrival of Commodore Perry’s (1794-1858) Black Ships spurred a great enlightenment as Japanese rushed to modernise in the 18th century. The dissolution of the feudal system and reinstatement of Emperor Meiji (1852 -1912), known as the Meiji Restoration, was characterised by prominent thinkers racing abroad to gather as much knowledge as they could to lift Japan up to compete with European and North American colonial powers. The influx of literature from these nations led to a quick transformation in translation and literary styles as the traditional Kanbun Kundoku style (literally, reading Chinese in Japanese) evolved into an ‘interfusional’ style involving more Japanese style and European-influenced styles (Mizuno 2012:114). The preeminent translator of this time, Morita Shiken (1861-1897), who translated Jules Verne (1828-1905), Victor Hugo (1802-1885), and Charles Dickens (1812-1870) in this approach, went so far as to assert that all idiomatic expressions, maxims, and proverbs should be translated literally into Japanese to ‘convey not only the meaning of the idiom but also how Westerners express the corresponding Japanese concept’ (Morita 1887/1991:284).

This same tradition of using the foreignising strategy of translating close to the source text to give rise to new literary styles in Japan continued until the 1940s. On Oda Ritsu’s translation of Ernest Hemingway’s (1899-1961) A farewell to Arms (1929), Inoue (2012:121) argues that literally translating Hemingway’s prose with lots of short sentences ending with ta verb endings ‘is kind of a mistranslation’, but helped form the hard-boiled literary style so influential to many post war novelists.

Currently a domesticating translation style has increasingly been seen as the example approach to translation in Japan (Inoue 2012). Since the 1970s, most translation work has shifted to professional translators focused on producing acceptable products and beholden to the publishing companies’ editors. Analysing the evolution in translation norms during the 1970s, Furano (2002:326) concluded that a shift had been made away from faithfully translating the ST (source text) to creating a TT (target text) more in touch with modern Japanese linguistics. Both Furukawa Hiroko (2015), in her examination of three translations of Anne of Green Gables for female gender normative translations, and Beverley Curran (2012), in her analysis of Canadian Nikkei Japanese expressions translated into Japanese, concluded that unnecessary transformative changes were made as a type of domestication. In our analysis of translation work in this paper, primarily focused on Murakami’s translation of Catcher in the Rye, there are many examples of strategies that can be seen as domesticating. This demonstrates that even celebrity translators remain hesitant to break social conventions that may offend their audience, such as with curse words. Curran critiqued the translator’s domestication of Canadian Nikkei expression sakanafish as a secret way of saying sunovabitch. We will explore domestications Murakami made with curse words in section 4. Conversely, there are strategies that can be seen as foreignising, though not in an attempt to sabotage the readers' domesticating expectations.

Therefore, while domesticating and foreignising strategies and the visibility paradigm exist in the Japanese context, the celebrity status of translators like Murakami and the historical evolution of literary styles through translation contrasts with aspects of Venuti’s concept of foreignisation, such as translating source text linguistic traits, use of neologisms or calques, or even altering the target text in order to stand out as a form of resistance. Many of these techniques were employed, but not as a form of protest and rebellion against the status quo of invisibility. By examining Murakami’s translation strategy for Catcher in the Rye along the domestication-foreignisation paradigm, this paper hopes to shed more light on both a better understanding of how translator visibility operates in the Japanese context, and how this insight could benefit the development of strategies to combat invisibility in contexts between unrelated languages. 

4. Analysis of Murakami’s translation as domestication

In the Japanese context visibility is more of a band of colours from translators working invisibly up to those like Murakami who enjoy a following eager to read their translations. Murakami is free to translate in the way he sees fit, including a variety of domesticating strategies in his work, something Nihei (2016) labels as self-domestication. Three areas highlighted below are reducing and softening of profanity, inserting gender normative expressions, and reducing overall use of pronouns, especially between characters in dialogue, or by replacing the pronouns to supplement and add nuance to the conversations.

Curse words:

There is no denying the status of Catcher in the Rye as one of the most respected American novels of the 20th century. However, it is profuse with curse words that Murakami translated in a domesticating way so as to capture the feel and meaning of Holden’s character without truly offending the reader. The concept of offensive language is quite different in the Japanese context in that there are few expressions themselves that are considered so dirty as to be offensive. Some languages have an entire subsection of the language such as Mat in Russian that are so offensive as to have been banned by the government (Remnick 2014). Mentioning any word from the curse language will draw heads and garner looks of disapproval if the speaker is a woman. Strategies in Russian for lowering the tone of cursing are the same as in Englishh; for example, the use of ‘dang’ instead of ‘damn’ parallels that of ‘blinn’ instead of ‘blyat’.

While there are expressions that match and explain the meanings of words employed by Salinger, such as ‘phony bastard’, the Japanese translation is not offensive per se, and the common habit of slightly altering curse words is absent. Truly to be offensive in Japanese, it is required of one to begin with a condescending pronoun, and use a rather unsophisticated verb ending along with the offensive words themselves. Murakami attempts to relay the meaning of much of the cursing of the narrator and characters, but most of the offensive feeling is lost and there are many times when he chooses to simply leave out the curse word in the translation. Two words he translates, with back-translation, are:

Stinking bozo
Phony bastard
Fake bozo

‘Gaddam’ and ‘damn’ are the two most common curses in the book, occurring as much as 5 or 6 times per page. Murakami tries to capture the feeling of this curse most of the time. He often translates them by explanation such as ‘ludicrous’ あほらしい or slang vernacular endings like dazé だぜ, and most commonly with the condescending and uncouth verb ending -chimau ちまう. All of these strategies are used quite often, just as leaving them out is also practiced regularly. An example of the use of -chimau is:

I damn near fell down
(I) Nearly slipped (chimau form)

While not really swearing, inserting the -chimau form captures some of the effect of Holden’s constant ‘damns’ and ‘goddams’ but without offending the reader. In a language that requires five frequently occurring levels of politeness just to navigate daily life, increasing the level of profanity would have altered Holden’s character’s persona (Maynard 1997:60-97). By domesticating the profanity, Holden’s character is still well transmitted into Japanese, and remains believable as a foolish and spoiled rich kid. Contrary to this paper’s argument, Murakami claims that he makes decisions to leave out swear words not to avoid offending the reader but purely because they become outdated (Shibata and Murakami 2002). However, Murakami often makes claims that don’t accurately reflect his translation, such as claiming his primary focus is on word for word translation chokugoyaku (Murakami and Shibata 2000). Furthermore, if he was worried about expressions going out of fashion, why use already long-outdated katakana loan words, such as ‘necking’ for ‘making out’ or ‘I’m grand’ for gokigen, an expression used mostly up until the 1970s. A number of theorists are also quite dismissive of extratextual sources, perhaps most prominently Toury (2012; 65-66), who states these pronouncements by translators are often partial, biased, leaning towards propaganda, or sometimes intentionally misleading.
Examples of Japanese gender normative domestication:

There are many verbal and nonverbal ways women communicate differently than men in all languages (Tannen 1991). In the Japanese context there are many gender normative expressions set aside for men and women. Compared with most western nations, the position of Japanese women in society is still low, and they are expected to act with femininity, behaving modestly and humbly (Davies & Ikeno 2002:63). Using gender normative expressions is an important part of this behaviour, especially in literature. Women’s yakuwarigo was originally an example of foreignisation in the translation of novels from overseas during the Meiji Restoration (Furukawa 2015:309). However, over the last 100 years it has become standard for women to use this language in both literature and speech. Furukawa (2015:305) found that in recent times, while young women no longer use as many gender normative expressions in their daily speech, it is still a linguistic norm in Japanese literature and thus a domesticating approach.

Gender normative expressions for women in Japanese include different pronouns, word choices, and word ending tags. In Holden’s brief encounter with Mrs. Spencer, wa わ is added to the ending of two verbs; for example, iruwa いるわ instead of the usual form of the form ‘to be’, iru いる. The women’s expression for ‘maybe’, kashira かしら) is also added. Kashira and wa are used almost exclusively by women (Maynard 1997:73), though more recent corpus research has revealed that female use of these phrases has declined (Ono and Thompson 2003). The men’s form is shown afterwards.

I don’t know what…

This expression only contains the added meaning of femininity. Murakami makes similar changes for all of the women in the story to conform to these yakuwarigo norms producing a domesticated prose that doesn’t confuse or trouble the reader. Failure to do so could confuse confuse readers into thinking the woman is either a tomboy, previously a man, or lead them to wonder about other possible explanations such as the character being a delinquent (Maynard 1997:98). This is another example, like the use of boku (‘I’) instead of ore (‘I’) discussed below, in which Murakami’s hands are in a sense tied. While free in his approach, breaking certain rules of Japanese literary style would throw off his readers.
Examples of Japanese personal pronouns:
‘The use of personal pronouns in Japanese is deceptively complex and laden with cultural, hierarchical, and relational subtext’ (Hadley & Akashi 2015:10). Anyone translating into Japanese must therefore examine the situation closely when choosing pronouns as their use imports significant meaning. In particular the pronouns ‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘he’ are changed in a variety of ways to domesticate Salinger’s work for the Japanese pallet. These changes explain much of the relationship between two people, and their emotional involvement in the conversation at hand (Maynard 1997:105). Since such significant meanings are attached to different pronouns, they are not as often used in colloquial Japanese. The Japanese language prefers a lack of directness, which allows people to state their thoughts or opinions without a personal pronoun. Furthermore, it is a common strategy to reduce the number of pronouns when translating into Japanese (Yanabu 1982).

This is due to the fact that pronouns are much less frequent in Japanese. In particular, 3rd person pronouns were added to Japanese texts by translators of European languages, along with other aspects such as commas and periods (Suzuki 1973). Meldrum (2009:106) found 3rd person pronouns to be a key component of translationese. It could thus be construed that translating even only a third of all pronouns constitutes foreignisation under Venuti’s strict definition of adding ST linguistic traits to the TT. On the flipside, this kind of translationese is accepted and enjoyed by the Japanese. Given the perhaps impossible task of translating to the pronoun count found in Japanese literature and the unlikelihood that this would result in an engaging text for the reader, as found by Ohashi (1978:174) and Levy (2006;217), Murakami’s pronoun decisions should be seen as following a domesticating approach. The changes that Murakami chose to give each of the characters in these cases are as follows.
When Mr. Spencer speaks, he uses watashi 私 to refer to himself and kimi 君 to address Holden. Hadley suggests that the use of kimi implies condescension, but it is the natural pronoun to use when a professor addresses a student. Ackley refers to Holden as omae お前、which is slightly more aggressive than kimi, which Holden uses to address Ackley. However, omae can also show an intimate closeness which is implied when boys use it in their love confessions on TV dramas, and when Stradlater, Holden’s roommate, uses it when he talks to Holden.
The use of third person pronouns is where Murakami makes many changes to the original, often switching between 5 or 6 different ways the characters use to refer to each other. When Ackley’s character is first introduced, ‘he’ is translated as noyatsu のやつ, koitsu こいつ, kare 彼, then koitsu twice, then konootoko この男, then kare followed by koitsu again—all in one paragraph. This variation prevents from the text being boring and repetitive, a clear domesticating strategy. This variation is appreciated by the reader without being confusing, and gives the reader a better comprehension of the nuances of the conversation and the characters. While more respectful terms like kare are interchanged, once the more condescending koitsu is used, the effect sticks to the character.

In addition to pronoun use for the different characters, kimi is also used when Holden addresses the reader. This is one challenge of the translation for Murakami, and a way in which he feels his translation is different from Nozaki’s (Murakami & Shibata 2005). In addition to Murakami’s own self-assessment, Hadley and Akashi (2015) argue that Murakami breaks from the common strategy employed by Nozaki of omitting select pronouns. This allows Murakami to reflect the linguistic patterns or rhythm of the source text. Though less reduction is made, Murakami is still clearly guilty of reducing the number of pronouns, embracing translationese to create a fluid text that reflects Holden’s nonlinear speech patterns.

The book opening is a good example of Salinger’s narrator style. Holden addresses the reader as ‘you’ five times. Murakami mentions a pronoun, kimi, three times, and Nozaki mentions kimi once. While Ackley and Holden’s conversation lasts for some nine pages, Ackley only uses ore four times, and Holden only uses a pronoun twice, the more modest boku 僕. Murakami’s choice of boku is quite common for the protagonist in Japanese novels, especially for boys, but contemporary boys speaking in Holden’s register would unequivocally use ore to refer to themselves. This suggests that in Japanese literature even Murakami is still beholden to the translation role language Yanabu (1982) describes, or what Furukawa (2015:309) mentions as yakuwarigo (role language), used to domesticate foreign texts.

5. Examples of foreignisation in Murakami’s translation

One additional factor that was important to Venuti in his 1995 explanation of the visibility paradigm is financial. He offers many examples of how low-paying translation work can be, often at a flat rate, excluding translators from any rights to their translation. This makes the plight of the translator in the postwar period a physically demanding job where the translator must either work other jobs or take on a variety of projects (Venuti 1995). Considering the success that Murakami has achieved, he is able to focus all of his energy on one translation project at a time. For the translation of Catcher in the Rye, he was able to negotiate working exclusively alone, able to overrule any suggestions brought up during the editing process (Hadley & Akashi 2015). Despite Murakami’s clear visibility and freedom from his contemporaries in the Anglo-American sphere, there is still a number of translation practices typified as foreignisation practices by Venuti that are employed by Murakami. Not in an attempt at resistance, nor arbitrarily, these techniques are carefully thought out attempts at deliberately innovative translation, similar to what Harker (1999) found of Megan Backus’s translation of Kitchen by Yoshimoto Banana.
Examples include use of loan words when a Japanese equivalent would have sufficed, such as rakki ラッキー instead of ungayokkata 運が良かった for ‘lucky’, and guddorakku グッドラック instead of gambatte 頑張って for ‘good luck’. An increased use of loan words compared to Nozaki’s translation is perhaps necessary in modernising the translation, as 80% of loan words in Japanese are from English with many words added each year (Maynard 1997:67-68).

Another foreignising strategy Murakami makes creative use of is 5.5 font rubi glosses next to Chinese characters that show the phonetic or intended pronunciation. Rubi are often used to help pronounce less common Chinese characters and are present on most pages of Nozaki’s translation in this way. Judy Wakayabashi (2006) illuminates the controversial nature creative rubi gloss use in Japanese literature can cause, highlighting the distaste some critics hold for the textual disruption wrought when used expressively. In her analysis of Nikkei Japanese writers’ translations, Curran (2012) found that rubi could have been used to take advantage of this to ‘perform as well as elaborate the uneasy relationship of the Nikkei in Canada’ (2012:158). Though they might offend some, additions of rubi gloss allow the translator two ways to play with the translation, and were used by popular authors in the 1920, in particular, Hasegawa Kaitarou writing under the pen name Tani Joji.

Murakami takes advantage of this benefit of rubi glosses to reveal the source text. Kusoyarou クソ野郎, for ‘sunofabitch’, is given the rubi san no ba bi chi サノバビッチ. Chidorigoushi 千鳥格子, is given the rubi ha un do too suハウンドトウース, when talking about Holden’s hound’s tooth jacket. Nozaki translates these simply using katakana script as chikishoume チキショウメand tweedonojyaketto ツイードのジャケット, respectively.

Adding the English words as rubi reminds the reader that what they are reading is a translation by giving them the source text words adjusted to the Japanese sound system. From an Anglo-American view this is a foreignisation strategy, but as Murakami is incandescently visible, he appears to harness the rubi as a back door for the reader into his translation work. Even if a reader happened upon a manuscript with only the story and no indications of the author or the translator, clues still abound that what they are reading is a translation due to the people and place names and all non-Japanese origin words written in katakana, the script used for foreign words and loan words. This brings us to what Hadley and Akashi refer to as a lack of an equating tendency, that what the Japanese reader is reading is the source text, among the Japanese. As the existence of celebrity translators suggests, the awareness of a non-Japanese world, that things need to be translated, that translation is not simple, is felt by most of the population.

Examples of creative foreignisation:
There are many examples of creative foreignisation made when Holden comes to visit Mr. Spencer before being expelled, in particular, the use of the word ‘boy’. When Holden says ‘boy’ it is almost always translated as yare yare やれやれ. However, ‘god’ is also translated as yare yare, another word very common in Murakami’s own literature (Nihei 2016:394). A further example of Murakami inserting his own literary style in his translations is his relatively heavy use of katakana loans words. Mysteriously, when Mr. Spencer addresses Holden as ‘boy’, it is always translated as a word that does not exist in any dictionary, a-mu あーむ.

 “Do you blame me for flunking you, boy?” he said.
“No, sir! I certainly don’t,” I said. I wished to hell he’d stop calling me “boy” all the time. 「私が君を落第にしたことで、私をせめるかね、あーむ?」と彼は言った。「いいえ、先生!ぜんぜん責めたりはしません」と僕は言った。僕は向かってしょっちゅう「あーむ」と呼びかけるのはやめてくれないかなど真剣に思った。」
“Do you blame me for failing you, ‘a-mu’?” he said. “No sir! I don’t blame you at all.” I said. I started seriously wishing he would stop always calling me ‘a-mu’.

The hypothesis for this decision, as the word, a-mu, has no meaning in Japanese, was that Murakami felt he didn’t want to leave it out, or use another word for ‘boy’. Thus, and whether on purpose or coincidence, he borrowed the term from Kikuchi Shigesaburo (1901-1982), who first used it in his 1956 translation of the 1934 James Hinton (1900-1954) novel, Goodbye Mr. Chips.  

There are many other expressions translated by a more explanatory phrase or with a more common Japanese expression, such as ‘tickled the pants off’, translated as ‘made him laugh to no end’, and ‘phonies coming in the goddam windows’ as ‘a den of fakers’. Most expressions used by Salinger are repeated multiple times throughout the book, and tend to be translated a different way each time, to make it easy for the reader to understand. Examples include:

1. 田舎じみた
2. どんくさい
Slow witted
Phony smile:
1. とってつけにこにこ笑う
A forced unnatural smile
2. 嘘っぽい笑顔
A lying smile
Up a creek:
1. 絶体絶命になる
Driven into a corner
2. にっちもさっちもいかなくなっちまうんだ
To be in a fix
Shoot the bull is translated three different ways in one two-page section.
1. ひとしきりまくしたてた
Rattling on for a while
2. そういう実のないことを調子よく並べ立てている
Smooth talking a lot of meaningless nonsense
3. 歯の浮くようなことをべらべらしゃべる
Blabbing off enough flattery to set one’s teeth on edge

Using a nonexistent word like a-mu or retranslating the expressions in a variety of ways are creative foreignisation approaches employed by Murakami. This approach is referred to as ‘new translation style’ by Hayashi (2012). Hayashi argues that unlike Nozaki’s translation of Catcher in the Rye, Murakami’s style makes new words that provide freshness to the reading. By removing older sounding words and words that give a different impression depending on the age of the reader, Murakami’s translation fashions a text which reads easily whatever age the reader may be (Hayashi 2012:5). Though there is much truth to Hayashi’s analysis of Murakami’s translation as a modern version, both very palatable and full of creative deviations from the source text, there are some similarities between the translations that harken back to the foreignising approaches taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This supports Harker’s (1999) theory that a ‘middlebrow’ approach works well for drawing the balance between unrelated languages and cultures. There are many odd metaphors that Salinger produced that Murakami and Nozaki translate directly even though the expression doesn’t exist in Japanese. Some are almost exactly the same even though Murakami claimed he never looked at Nozaki’s translation after he read it in high school (Murakami & Shibata 2006). Examples include:

It was cold as a witch’s teat
It was getting cold like the nipples of a witch
It was cold like the nipples of a witch

Couldn’t tell his ass from his elbow
A senile old man who can’t tell between his butt and his elbow
A senile old man who can’t distinguish between his ass and his elbow

Hot as a firecracker
Became hot like a firecracker
Started burning hotly like a firecracker

Murakami’s Chikugoyaku (not really) approach:

Murakami described his own translation approach as Chikugoyaku. This translates as ‘word for word’ and ‘phrase by phrase’, although this definition is an incomplete translation (Wakabayashi 2012) and not an adequate explanation of his approach. Murakami describes his approach:


As for my own translation style, it’s Chikugoyaku. The way I do it is to go through just as the text one word, one phrase at a time (Murakami & Shibata 2000:20).

Quite the contrary of a word for word translation, there are many examples in just the first chapter alone of the source text phrases and words being rearranged and expanded upon to capture most of the meaning while also creating a text easily digested by the reader, a domesticating strategy.
Hadley and Akashi (2015) believe another of Murakami’s strategies is a focus on the rhythm of the text, a strategy never mentioned by Venuti. Murakami reorganises sentences and phrases in ways that capture the rhythmic style of the speaker without disrupting the subject-object-verb grammar structure of Japanese (Hadley & Akashi 2015). We can see Murakami breaking up the text and adding explanations on nearly every page.

…, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me…
But to tell you the truth, I really can’t be bothered to tell that kind of story. If I started telling that whole story I’d end up constantly yawning and….

Murakami starts with a new sentence at ‘I don’t feel like going into it’, and adds additional explanation and colour about constantly yawning.

6. Conclusion

In the Japanese context with a translation tradition of creating a target text similar to the source text to develop new literary styles, Murakami can be seen as a throwback to an era when literary figures translated key works rather than professional translators. Inoue (2012:128) describes the shift of translation in the Japanese context from when translation was done by ‘literary figures to journalists, to scholars, to professional translators.’ This has led to most works now being translated by professional translators who seek invisibility (Ibid. 2012:128). With Murakami, Japan has a major literary figure who, free from the charges of cultural imperialism, self-domesticates his work in a way that combines both domesticating and foreignising approaches with his own writing style to create modern reader-friendly translations snapped up by his fans and the public.

This combination is similar to the recipe Harker finds in Backus’s translation of Kitchen, as he tries to explain the unprecedented success of Yoshimoto’s book where many others have fallen on deaf ears. While both use foreignising strategies in part, they were never simply to force the reader to be aware that what they are reading is a translation but occasionally to tease out some of the rhythm and word play of the ST. Murakami’s translation is ‘focused on exploring his personal reflections on the texts he translates’ (Hadley & Akashi 2015). His status and security enable him to focus on making the best translation he can make without the problems suffered by translators into English such as economic pressures, lack of control in editing and selection of works, and fear of having work rejected by the industry or by the public. When Venuti developed the invisibility paradigm to analyse the factors contributing to the plight of the translator into English, after laying out the problems, he suggests a strategy of resistance. Rather than a reactive strategy informed by resistance, Murakami’s style of capturing the meaning and rhythm of the source and presenting it in a way that is domesticated while also including norm-defying actions that reveal the translator’s own style, is essentially an extremely talented author using his literary skills to translate. Manipulating the target text to squeeze out the beauty of the source text has led to the development of new literary styles in the past. While it must remain to be seen, Murakami’s contribution may do so as well.

In relation to Venuti’s invisibility theory, as Hadley and Akashi (2015) have demonstrated, and with which I agree, the Japanese context shows that many authors are not invisible and that the audience is largely aware that what they are reading is a translation. Celebrity translators are free to play with the intertextuality of the source text to foreignise the translation, though not for any socio-political reasons such as to stand out or in resistance. Ostensibly this pertains to the specifics of the Japanese context including the pivotal role translation has played in the evolution of the Japanese language. From a wider perspective this is also due to the fact that translations are occurring in the opposite direction, away from the centre of English, and towards the periphery. Many conditions are different when translating out of English such as the value of rights to translations, market share, number of translations, translator supply, and breadth of cultural impact on a global scale.

Finally, there remains the question why celebrity translators like Murakami, considering all their autonomy and popularity, still domesticate their texts to a certain degree. As this paper has shown, a majority of Murakami’s domesticating strategies are concerned with maintaining Japanese social conventions such as with profanity and gender normative expressions. While he is relatively free to translate names of places or the rhythm of the source text as he sees fit, breaking with what is socially acceptable may offend his readership. The analysis in this paper indicates that even celebrity translators are not interested in dismissing socially rooted linguistic conventions. This is either because they do not wish to offend the reader, or because they find it unnatural or unbeneficial to the aims of their work. While even if celebrity translators are as privileged in their independence as Murakami, their end goal is highly likely to be to benefit their audience and culture.
Endnote: I have composed all back translations unless otherwise stated. The purpose of the back translations is not to critique the initial translation or offer a better translation, but merely to reflect more of the colour in the translations that Murakami has made.


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About the Author

Matthew Guay is an American national who speaks four languages and has spent the last 17 years residing in Japan. He received his MA in translation studies from the University of Birmingham in 2019 focusing on poetry translation between unrelated languages. His standout publication to date is a textbook he coauthored out now through Nation Geographic Learning/Cengage called Free Talking. He is a father of two and fronts the Oversleep Excuse on the Ricco label.

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