MAGGIE’S MEOW: As a Matter of Translation

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Maggie-IshinoBy MAGGIE ISHINO

A lady in Japan working for a media company read the Japanese translation of the book “Dear Miss Breed,” authored by Joanne Oppenheim. She become intrigued with the book to the extent she wanted to interview some of those who were mentioned in the book.

She came to the United States on some business and contacted the San Diego Historical Society and obtained telephone numbers and addresses of some of those mentioned in the book. I was one of those whom she interviewed. The interview was for one hour on a Saturday and one hour on Sunday.

The lady did a fairly good job of speaking and asking some questions in English even though she was a native of Japan. However, most of the interview was in Japanese. I was glad I was able to speak moderate conversational Japanese so the time spent in interviewing was not difficult.

She asked many questions about my life in the Santa Anita Assembly Center and in the concentration camp in Poston, Arizona and life after “camp” days. The following question really puzzled her.

Question: “Why did you escape from class? It says in the book that you had ‘ditch day’ and you did not go to class.”

Answer: Laughingly, I explained to her that graduating seniors had a “ditch day” when they did not attend class for a day and enjoyed themselves having a fun day.

The interviewer told me when the Japanese book company translated “Dear Miss Breed” from English to Japanese, they interpreted “ditch” as escaping and technically that is what it means (getting rid of).

I informed her that it was a rather serious mistake and should be rectified as soon as possible, and she agreed.

So you see as a matter of translation, one can misquote or translate incorrectly, especially from English to Japanese and/or Japanese to English. The true meaning of translation is lost in some words such as “Gokuro-sama,” which translated in English would mean, “I caused you a lot of suffering and/or burdened you.” However, in Japanese, it is a beautiful word implying, “I appreciate so very much what you did for me.”

Sometimes, instead of “Do itashimashite” (You’re welcome) the Japanese will reply “Iie,” meaning in reality,  “Really, it was nothing.”

Even animals have a different way of expressing themselves, such as:
• Dogs: English — Bow wow / Japanese — Wan, wan
• Cats: English — Meow, meow / Japanese — Nyan, nyan
• Rooster: English — Cock a doodle do / Japanese — Kokekokko

Hand gestures can become a problem, too. When an American waves the hand, it means, “Goodbye.” If a Japanese waves the hand, it means, “Come here.”

I recall typing a laugher in the Horse’s Mouth column that may come under the heading of translation or whatever. Briefly, it went like this:

A Caucasian woman was driving along a desert road not too far from an Indian reservation. She spotted an elderly Indian woman walking and offered her a ride. The woman accepted and got into the car. Seeing a paper bag next to the driver, she asked, “What’s in the bag?” The driver said, “Oh, that’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.” The woman replied, “Good trade.”

In conclusion, in the matter of translation, words can lose their beauty since it is impossible to translate the word/words EXACTLY from one language to another.

Naruhodo and Amen.

Maggie Ishino is a Rafu typist. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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