Literal vs. Liberal
Pt. 1 - Context
DzyDzyDino here again! Back with another little blog entry about translation, localization, and Japanese.
The purpose of these blog entries, apart from sharing with you a little behind-the-scenes glimpse, is to hopefully also show you what goes into localization and a bit of how the Japanese language works.
Because no translation is ever perfect, especially for a language so fundamentally different even in syntax from our own, we're always left choosing between something more direct and literal that reads awkwardly or something that reads and feels smooth and native in English but takes some liberty with the Japanese.
Either way, I think knowing a little about the source material helps to enjoy both methods of translation a bit more, and that's what these blog posts hopefully help to do!
The Literal vs. Liberal translation / localization is one that usually divides fans and translators alike. Sometimes there are more direct cases, like... do you want honorifics like -san, -kun, -chan, -sama, do you want them localized on a one-for-one basis to things like Mr. and Sir, or do you want it omitted based on context as to whether or not it's even important to the story?
I think most of us here at mangastream prefer a context-heavy localization (at least I do!). In other words, one which prioritizes getting the "meaning" and "feel" of what the original Japanese is across into a way that feels and means the same thing in English. Oftentimes choosing a meaningful translation over one that might be "by-the-book" or correct on a "word-for-word" basis with the Japanese.
There's a Japanese saying that gets used in a lot of manga: "百年早い"(hyakunen hayai) which literally translates to "100 years too early." - meaning "you're way too inexperienced/amateur for this, try again in 100 years." But unless there's like some specific plot device circling around 100 years or time-power or something like that... (lol), nothing is meant by the 100 years. It's simply a saying, and one that does not exist in English. So every single time someone says that, regardless of context, should it really be translated as "You're 100 years too early!"?
Many would argue, "Yes!" and when I first started translating 10-ish years ago, I'm sure I felt the same as well. But over time, I began to value really getting into the character and thinking about how that character would talk, what he would say and how it would come across in English.
Idiomatic Expressions (or "sayings") are one thing, and some people can draw a line in the sand with those. But what about everything else?
Here's a good example of over-literal vs. context. A line that happens nearly every week in every series we do, "来るな～！” (kuruna~) If we were to translate this absolutely literally, it'd be "Don't come!". Sometimes I see other groups decide to blur it just a tiny bit and go "Don't come here!" but Japanese is a context-based language.
This line, when it appears, appears by itself in a bubble with nothing else around it - so no pronouns, etc. A literal translation would be "Don't come!" 100% of the time, but that phrase can be interpreted differently based on the setting and whoever's saying it... and it should be! "Stay back!" "Don't come any closer!" "Get away from me!" "Stay where you are!" all the way to "Look out!!" and "Don't touch that!!"
This line could be someone running away from a killer, it could be someone holding off a horde of beasts, telling their comrades to stay away and save themselves, it could be someone warning his friends that a trap is right in front of them, it could be someone that just doesn't want to be followed. With all those possible situations and all the different characters that could be in them, is "Don't come!" really the right translation in each and every case?
Our hero's sister has been kidnapped as bait in a warehouse. The villains have set a trap right next to the door. The sister sees the hero running up to the building and shouts "来るな！" - This is a total classic movie trope, and if you imagine any western movie, the line here would be "It's a traaaaap!!!" and that's precisely what would be meant contextually there.
This is a topic that sparks a really long debate, and to be honest, what I really wanted to talk about this week (profanity in Japanese and translations) I could hardly start without laying some groundwork down first.
In the end, there is no completely right choice, and any choice you make ends up leaving something out. Something invariably becomes "lost in translation." We do our best to mitigate what gets lost and look at every series and every instance on a case-by-case basis and often have team discussions on how to handle certain ones.
The most important thing is to have intent behind what you choose, and at least here at mangastream, we really care about what we're doing, we love these series, and we've put a lot of thought behind all of our decisions in order to try to bring you something we're proud of releasing and that we'd be happy to read.
We can't always please everyone and we're also not perfect either, but we're always open for discussion and always listen to your feedback!
After all that, if you're still dedicated to not missing a single thing out of the original Japanese... well... there's a lot of resources out there nowadays to learn the language on your own!
Anyways, I did want to get into profanity this time, but with how long just talking about the basics of context and liberal/literal got, it looks like it'll have to wait till next time, so until then, thanks for supporting us!
DzyDzyDino here again.
Hope all your holidays were well, whichever ones you happened to celebrate! And Happy New Year to everyone as well! 2016 is upon us!
In the spirit of the Holidays, I thought I'd share this approrpiate little story from a recent Bleach chapter we worked on.
So when we work on chapters, usually we're all on Skype or some kind of chat together with eachother. This way we're all in touch through every step of the process, and the translation goes through a few sets of eyes which are all familiar with the series in the hopes of catching anything that might be off. We can also discuss what might be more appropriate for certain translations and what sounds off for what character and so on. Everyone here also has pretty strong English skills so we usually catch any spelling or grammatical mistakes too (but sometimes they still slip through! You guys are always great at catching them when that happens, and our team fixes it as fast as we can!)
So something else that's neat about us here at mangastream is that we have staff located all over the world from all different walks of life. This is awesome for lots of reasons but one that comes up a lot is cultural and language references. Bleach, for instance, looooves to throw in Spanish and German and whatever else they feel like.
In the past I've talked about "creative furigana" or using readings for implications before. Normally on the side of kanji in shonen manga, they'll have the reading for the kanji to help younger readers learn them, but they also get used for creative purposes or implications. A really simple example would be someone saying "That Jerk" but the reading for it is like "Naruto", so it works as a kind of subtext sometimes.
Furigana gets used in different ways for the ever creative names of attacks too. In this particular issue of Bleach, we had an attack that was written in Japanese as 「毒いりプール」 (A pool with poison in it, or a 'poison pool'). The reading for this however, plain as day, was "Gift Bad."
I did a double take, a triple take, stood up and got a drink, came back and checked again. Yup. Still looking me right in the face "Gift Bad."
What do I do? Do I change it so it makes more sense and make it "Bad Gift"? Maybe a Poison Pool is a bad gift? A guy charging up for a big attack, "rrrrraaaaaaaaaaarghhhhh!! BAD GIFT!!!" It's not inconceivable in the world of manga, right? Doubled by the fact that Xmas at the time was right around the corner, I go and pull up the Bleach wikia to make sure there's no associations with this character and Santa Claus, or he doesn't have some present gimmick.
I imagine a Santa Claus character reaching into a bag, "You've been bad this year! Lump of coal! BAD GIFT!!!!" or "You've behaved this year!! PONY 4 U!! GOOD GIFT!!!"
Still. Something's not right.
I run it by a staffer who happens to speak German and he clarifies. "Gift means Poison. Bad means Bath."
Wow. Many wtfs were had. Since I saw words I recognized in English, I immediately assumed they were English words and probably would have gone done some terribly wrong translation route. But thanks to our awesome team here at mangastream, a disaster was avoided and we got out the right translation.
tl;dr Strange translation. Teamwork wins out. Disaster averted.
Anyways, just thought I'd share this fun little Holiday-themed story with you for today and wish you all a Happy New Year from the staff here at Mangastream.
Hopefully you didn't get any Gift Bads this year. (ノ*゜▽゜*)
It's been a little while, been a bit busy with some new projects and also took over translating on a few more of our series.
As usual, I'll just be picking out and addressing little things that can't quite get conveyed properly in the translations of our chapters, or things I find neat and I hope you might find neat as well. Onwards!
Most recently, Akame Ga Kill had a kind of epic moment for me... like one of those moments where someone in the movie says the title of the movie. Like at the end of Chinatown, "Forget it, Jake... it's Chinatown." Or "Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club". "7.62mm Full Metal Jacket" etc. etc. Sometimes it's gimmicky, other times it sheds new light on the title and is really cool.
Akame Ga Kill (アカメが斬る) had that moment for me, and the translation of the title had a lot to do with it and why it doesn't quite come across. First of all, there's the "Kill" part of the title, which is written as 斬る(KIRU) for to cut/slice or kill by slicing/slashing. This is played on further because of Akame's Teigu, Murasame, which kills anyone it cuts or slashes, means cutting and killing are one and the same. And since they are pronounced the same, they decided to stylize the actual spelling of the title, calling it Akame Ga Kill instead of Akame Ga Kiru. This may be common knowledge already, I'm not sure.
The title usually gets translated to something like "Akame Kills" or something like that, but this is where the vagueness of Japanese also steps in a bit. The title is open to so much interpretation, and you're left wondering a bit of Akame Kills What? Without anything else attached, there's also some other further out interpretations and connotations attached, but I'm starting to get off topic here.
Japanese is often very context-specific, with sentences leaving out many important parts and having you interpret it via context instead. So this title is vague and we just go along assuming it to mean Kill Akame. But then in the most recent chapter, Akame tells Tatsumi that if she should become possessed by Murasame, that she wants Tatsumi to kill her. Tatsumi then responds by saying, "Fine, but then if Incursio takes me over and I go out of control, I want you, Akame, to be the one to kill me."
This whole "Akame, you will be the one to kill (me)" is conveyed with the line "Akame Ga Kill" and suddenly brings a whole bunch of different connotations to the title. Instead of seeing the title as "Akame Kills", I started to see it as "Akame Is/Will Be the One Who Kills" and if this current arc is the climax, then maybe the title is coming from a wish by her sister for Akame to be the one to kill her? Starting to read into it now, but that's the cool part and totally what the whole point is. By leaving things vague like that, any time any new bits of context come in, suddenly new possible interpretations spring up.
This is probably one of the hardest and also most fun parts of translating. Often the author will write some super vague line of dialog on one page. You read it, you don't really fully understand what it means or what it pertains to, but as you read on and context fills in, it clicks in and makes sense.
It's kind of like watching a movie where you see a clip of the conclusion first. You've seen events. You don't know their context, why people are doing what they're doing, but you have some vague ideas that are floating in your head. As you watch the movie, the blanks fill in and then it all makes sense.
Wow. I kind of went on for a while there. I had a bunch more examples and things I wanted to bring up, but I'll save them for next time! I guess that means you'll be hearing a bit more from me over the next few weeks!
Until then, thanks as always for following us and reading our scanlations! Till next time, byebye!!
So the current Naruto Gaiden series is about to come to an end. Whether in the next chapter or within the next 11 or so, it definitely has an expiration date on it, which was really already announced before it even began, so it's not much of a surprise.
Rumor has it that Kishimoto's going to start working on a new series in August, or early fall. The big question is - what's he gonna work on? Many speculate it's gonna be something related to his one-shot Mario, but honestly, I don't think so. That short was a really old idea of his that he decided to polish and publish, and that was that.
Personally, I really hope he doesn't steer in the direction of any kind of realism. His work, whether Mario or that Baseball one-shot he did, didn't impress me, and I will always connect his style with fantasy, with feudal Japan and with some kind of adventure plot - so I really hope he goes for something like that in his next series as well. Be it about Samurai, some adventure/discoverer theme (without them being pirates, or else xD) or something else I didn't think of.
The other option is, and I think it's not that unlikely at all, is that he's using this Gaiden interlude as a sort of introduction to Naruto Part III. Honestly, I struggled quite a bit to see how he'd do it, and I still do. I mean with existing power levels being a big hindrance since it feels like those were already maxed out with Kaguya/Madara/Sasuke/Naruto.
I would love to see him doing something like a 10 year time skip though, and only few of the kids still around, with Sarada and Boruto as the protagonists in a crazy, post-apocalyptic world where all the adults were slayed by some uber-powerful enemy - think of Future Trunks' in DBZ, that sorta thing. But really, I don't think Kishimoto would ever go there... unfortunately.
Anyway, you all have any ideas on how he could spin Naruto further? Do you even want him to? And if your answer's a stern 'no', then what kinda series would you like him to create next? Describe it in detail, I love reading everyone ideas.
Hello people! GTY_Ponzorz here. This is the final part of the blog post series about Honne/Tatemae. Thank you for sticking with me all the way and reading up to the 5th blog post. This post is just me prattling on about why it might be important to understand the whole honne/tatemae thing and to know a bit about social issues in Japan. Here we go.
Last few words from me
I apologise if this entire thing has been incredibly long and boring. If you read up to here anyway, you have my deepest gratitude, and I really hope you at least learnt something or had a laugh. :9
To reiterate though, I cannot stress how prevalent, important, and serious the whole concept of Honne/Tatemae is in Japan. It’s as important as Ichigo getting his next power up and a new costume to go with it, and almost as important as having nice pristine weekly manga scans. :9
As a second point though, again, it is not to say that such a concept of preserving honor and what not exists solely in Japanese society. We are largely all the same human beings on this planet (some differences aside :9 ), and value a lot of the same things - love, loyalty, bravery, courage, friendship - and are faced with the similar conflicts and issues in our respective societies. I am discussing honne/tatemae with you though, because it really is a big deal in Japan. Everything I have written is definitely not the only way to go about understanding this topic, and it definitely may not even be the most correct in the eyes of many - it is perfectly fine and normal if you have differing views, or feel that I have over-analysed some parts.
It might sound strange, and even asinine - to explicitly discuss and read about this aspect of Japanese society, but it’s something you’re better off being aware of if you have an interest in Japanese culture because it really is a thing that legitimately exists.
There are many other social issues / deep cultural traditions and concepts that exist in Japan - and for those who are interested, it is highly enlightening to read more in to it and gain a better understanding about the nation that so many of you respect and appreciate for their manga/anime.
Funnily enough, Japan is not actually a perfect utopia full of sexy ninja, swashbuckling (stretchy) pirates and full-time shinigami (I don’t think most people can have such a vocation there) who run off to summer festivals every two episodes, watch some fireworks and then assemble the seven dragon balls to summon Shenron to grant them their heart’s deepest desires.
While the biggest problem some of us may have in regards to Japan may be “OMG why is it Golden Week, where is the next issue of WSJ??” The people living there actually have plenty of unique social issues quite irrelevant to a late manga chapter - just to list a few for starters:
They have an aging society, their birth rate is lower than Yasutora Chad when he’s lying on the ground, and they have heaps of problems with how underpaid and how bad the welfare is for their temporary workers, some sexism, the marginalisation and lack of government support for the Japanenese diaspora that return to Japan from South America (Bolivia and such), a bit of racism in the monocultural society, their nuclear problem, Abenomics... complications of honne/tatemae … oh have I said Abenomics yet? The list can go on for a little bit longer I daresay.
: ) Of course, every country has their own set of issues, right? But knowing about these issues might help you understand and appreciate the aspects of Japanese culture we all enjoy - Sakura flowers, gari gari ice-cream, weekly WSJ - that little bit more.
Thanks again for reading, hope it was still somewhat more interesting than your homework. ; )
Sources: Btw. don't reference/quote what I wrote up there in an academic essay pls. I wrote it for fun , it's not really a stellar example of writing and to use it academically in any sense is about as advisable as slapping Kenpachi in the face with a floppy gigai.
Sup guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. This is part four of the blog post series discussing Honne/Tatemae in Japan. This post is rather long, so apologies in advance.
How does all this help me understand Anime / Manga better?
This is a difficult question to answer, but I’ll have a go at it anyway. : )
This is my personal opinion, and I am sure many of you may have even more insightful, profound opinions - which would be awesome if you could share it, I am interested in everyone’s views! I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this, it’s a subjective thing in the first place - just connect with the stories you read/watch in the way that is most meaningful to you personally, and take what you learn from it and strive to become a better person, to better guide those around you. : )
To set the scene, which may be a very obvious one (forgive me), the origins of Manga and Anime as we define it today is, well, Japan. This means that the writers who no doubt put their lifeblood and soul, and all their experiences of their life, in to writing a given story, will have been influenced by the culture and societal standards of the society from which they were born/grew up/live in, in one way or another. (Let’s keep the flaming of any particular series that is not advancing to your taste, and editors (who are not soul-less either btw), and “they’re milking it for money” and blah blah out of this and assume for now my comment about the mangaka is a general truth ;9.) This means that the stories they write, and the characters they bring to life for us, will reflect those nuances too. Some particular nuances may not be very familiar or recognisable to an audience who has never experienced watching anime or reading manga before - but the more you watch it, the more cultural aspects you learn, right? (Or at least, I think you’re supposed to.)
The most obvious examples everyone picks up on would be the typical traditional stuff like how there are summer festivals in Japan, people wear Yukata, watch fireworks together, go to the shrine together on New years eve (insert falling snow scene), smash watermelons at the beach, obligatory school festival episode in anime etcetcetc - that sort of thing.
However, there are many deeper nuances that can be picked up on. Of course, everyone - even people who grew up native to Japanese culture - will perceive certain events or themes differently.
When one character shows their fragile weaker side to another character they have developed a trust bond with, that is not the tatemae. It’s a bigger, more significant ordeal than you think it is, when you reflect on the whole tatemae culture - even if the event in question is something very trivial, or very stupid.
“Hey, Soma-kun, I really don’t want to go to the study group today. I’m kind of uncomfortable around that group of people.”
That simple statement can be a biiiig deal. :x People usually don’t say that sort of thing to just anyone.
“I really dislike the beach, so I’m gonna pass this time round.”
“Okay, I get it.”
This sounds kind of … really super duper lame right? But even small things like this - if someone says this kind of thing to you, you ought to treasure their confidence in you. : )
In terms of Bleach, and where the values honne and tatemae (and giri) come in, I can think of a few examples. Of course, you can disagree - and tell me I’m thinking too much into it. But this is all in good fun, and looking at a story from this kind of a perspective can be interesting!
Shunsui and Aizen
Honne and Tatemae doesn’t have to just be for politeness, or to maintain an image. It really takes a lot of searching and perception to be able to understand what the other party is getting at.
Their banter these recent few chapters are a good example of general vagueness, sarcasm, and underlying implications that exist for the reader to interpret. I think Urahara, Shunsui and Aizen are pretty pro at this whole Tatemae thing.
A friend pointed out his point of view on a specific scene in Bleach to me:
When Shunsui spoke to Stark about how Hitsugaya is apparently going to be stronger than he is 100 years later, he feels that Stark was really saying:
"Mmm yea he is strong, but I am stronger."
That’s the sort of subtle thing you’ll begin to pick up on for yourself the more you understand certain aspects of a country’s culture.
Da Central 46
What the actual flaming fudge are these guys even doing?
Has the C46 legit done anything useful in the history of Bleach?
They only tried to
- Kill Rukia - death by giant flaming bird / allegedly most dangerous weapon in SS -_-
- Banish Urahara
- Kill Shinji
- Kill every other vizard
- Obstruct CC Shunsui
- Condemn Aizen to Muken, and oh my, look at where he is now and what he is doing. (¬_¬)
One could say that their job is primarily to preserve the peace and good of Soul Society. Yet, they are often manipulated, and will make a ruling that may be unjust, but it is the direct way to preserve the peace (rather than investigate the truth.)
C46 is the tatemae of peace and harmony in a society that is supposed to have no conflict, and now who’s the shogun that puppets his shadow government? Aizen Sousuke.
The C46 makes the judiciary system look like absolute trash - in fact, a lot of stories do. But I suppose it exists for many purposes, one of them may be a sort of commentary on how power is manipulated, how a government can be run (puppeted), how fearsome a facade can really be - and perhaps show that the people who follow their instincts and their hearts, perhaps, are doing things in a better way.
There is not a lot to say on this except for the fact that most protagonists in Shonen manga are very straight forward, demonstrate qualities of courage and strength, and always do what their heart tells them is the right thing to do. It’s almost like it’s for the purpose of challenging the main tatemae culture of Japan.
Many shonen protagonists are brash, say what’s on their mind, total KYs .. and so forth. It’s quite a contrast to real life, and they challenge the way people are normally expected to behave. Perhaps that’s why shonen manga is so popular - it is really fresh, exhilarating - and the story will take you into a boundless world where speaking your mind and following your personal beliefs is the right way to go.
When a protagonist is at a low, afraid to reveal their true feelings for fear of bringing inconvenience and harm to those around him - he’s usually taught that he shouldn’t be afraid to take the risk to pursue his dreams and goals, that he should just get stronger, and that people accept him that way and they are there for him.
The Gotei 13 , and the quincy crew, and the espada
The Gotei 13 and the Sternritters are a collective group with a clearly defined leader (In the case of the Gotei, I will talk about Yamamoto Soutaichou as I feel Shunsui is a different kind of leader to Yama-jii)
Japan is a very hierarchical society - this is also a facet of their culture that is entrenched in deep cultural and historical roots. This is where “giri” (Obligations) arise from.
All members of the Gotei are bound by the decisions of the C46, and the individual squads have a captain, who in turn defers to the captain-commander.
It’s that self-sacrificing sense of duty to your leader, and your people.
In Bleach, there are times where obedience is paramount, and you put your life on the line to protect Soul Society. (Think TBTP, think quincy invasion). But there are also other cases from the very beginning (SS arc), where you can see characters challenge the thoughts and values of their superiors, and make a stand. Early on, there is Ukitake and Shunsui vs Yamajii. Even now, the quincies are staging an uprising against Yhwach. This portrays the conflict between what is a rigid duty/obligation (to your lord/people) and what is the “right thing” to do (for yourself and the people/values you care about) - and it directly challenges the norm of the existence of a “paramount” duty (giri) that is socially unacceptable to turn your back on in a collectivist society.
There can be a lot of symbolism to do with the double code of honne/tatemae, the mask, the truth, the lies.
Not just in Bleach - but if you think in terms of Bleach - you can find symbolism in Aizen’s Kyouka Suigetsu, the masks of the Vizards, the internal battle with the inner hollow (Specifically in terms of the hollowfication process, the more agitated you get - instead of trying to stay calm - the faster the hollowfication happens. Your true feelings are super bad for you D: ) and even within the characters themselves. Ishida pretty much never says what he thinks, but his friends get it and just let it go. So what is he doing by Yhwach’s side right now? Biggest facade ever, if I can hazard a guess.
A lot of this honne/tatemae stuff is related to why the term tsundere is even a thing. :x
Tousaka Rin!!!!! (Fate Unlimited Budget Works)
Who in Bleach are the manipulative shrewd ones, whom you really have to read between the lines to get at the heart of what they’re saying, and who are the ones who always speak their mind? Which characters have a relationship of trust in each other? Which characters put up a wall and speak in riddles? This kind of stuff can all be related back to Honne/tatemae, if you think about it. Might give you a new perspective on things. : )
That’s it for part four – thanks for reading, and part 5 will just be a final wrap-up/summary post. Hope you enjoyed reading.
Hi guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. This is part 3 of the series of blog posts talking about Honne/Tatemae in Japanese society. Since the concept is pretty confusing, I thought it’d give some real life examples so people can have a better idea.
Applications in real life of Honne and Tatemae
(Some silly examples)
Example 1: Urahara-san says to Isshin-san and Ryuuken-san very neutrally/casually, “Are you staying for dinner?”.
People fluent in Tatemae-speak (not an official word, I coined it just now please don’t quote it in official cases :9 ) will take this to mean that “You’ve been here long enough, we’re done for now, I have other business to attend to, pls leave.”
The proper response to this (understanding the hidden implication) would be to say “Oh you’re right, it is getting late! I shall trouble you no further and be on my merry way. Thank you very much for all your hard work today. Otsukare-sama deshita. *leaves*
People who don’t get it, will be like “Oh yar sure, I’ll stay for dinner. I have nothing to eat in my fridge at home anyway. Thanks man.”
( ;9 Which guy d’you think said what? )
Jokes aside though, in an actual situation if you don’t get the response right then that is your instant recipe to a very awkward situation right there. This is what we call “Kuuki yomenai” (lit. can’t read the air/atmosphere). I’ll talk about this later.
Example 2: As small kids, Sasuke would always be at Naruto’s house. When Sasuke’s mum comes to pick him up, she will say “Please, come to our house next time.” However, every time it is arranged for Naruto to go to Sasuke’s house, some inconvenience would always come up at the Uchiha residence and Sasuke winds up at Naruto’s house every damn time, all the time. In terms of Tatemae, this would mean that the mother doesn’t really mean to have the other kid over at their place. She is just saying “please. come over next time” to save face, to sound polite.
I will reiterate the above kind of examples are totally normal in Japanese society, and people who are used to this type of tatemae culture will just take it all in stride A-OK.
Example 3: This is not a direct example, but it’s something I’ve personally screwed up on in my noob days.
When someone asks you to do something/go somewhere, and your answer is going to be in the negative, don’t say it straight! You have to be vague. No joke. It’s considered very rude to give a flat out no.
Example: (Please keep in mind that GTY_Ponzorz doesn’t want to go to see Avengers in this HYPOTHETICAL scenario)
Voxanimus: Hey Ponzorz, are you going to watch Avengers with everyone this Friday?
Patapon: Nah, I’m not going. (iya, ikanai yo.)
^This does not fly. The asker will be pretty shocked you gave such an outright “no”. They might take it to mean that you have something against going, you are being condescending, you don’t like them, etc. Wrong impression.
Let’s try again.
Voxanimus: Hey Ponzorz, are you going to to watch Avengers with everyone this Friday?
Patapon: Ah… I want to go but… Friday is a bit… (Literally in Japanese, you will say, “kyou wa chotto”. Which translates literally to “today is a bit…”)
You want to go but Friday is a bit… what? Well, most people who get the implication will take it to mean, today is a bit NOPE NOPE NOOOPE / I don’t want to go / I’m not free, got my hands tied.
It basically means an instant “no, probably/definitely not going” without directly saying “i’m not going (ikanai yo)”. Even so, it’s a lot more acceptable, polite, and respectful.
Note that you said you wanted to go - most people who get this tatemae thing will just take that as fluff, the prelude. :9 But even so, most people say it.
Example four: This is another instance of an indirect vague-response to when someone asks you for a favour you don’t want to do.
DzyDzyDino: Hey can you please do this for me.
Ponzorz: No, I can’t do it / No, I don’t want to.
^ Yep you guessed it, wrong response. Rewind time.
DzyDzyDino: Hey can you please do this for me.
Ponzorz: It’s a little difficult… (chotto muzukashii ne…)
Muzukashii = Difficult , which is the key word.
Chotto = a little, which is a buffer in a bazillion cases. It’s so useful. -_-
What it DOES NOT mean: Yeah it’s difficult, but I’ll have a hack at it.
What it DOES mean: I don’t want to do it , I’m not inclined to perform this favour for you.
How do you reply to a “muzukashii ne…” ?
You would therefore have to follow on with a “Oh I see, don’t worry about it then” and drop it, or, find another way to persuade the person now that you understand they actually don’t want to perform your request. Don’t say “how is it hard? It should be easy for someone like you!”. They don’t want to do it. Either change tactic, or drop it altogether.
(Sorry Dino and Vox for randomly shoving your names in to the examples, yurushite kure ;-; I’m bad at making up names.)
As mentioned before, Kuuki Yomenai literally translates to “Can’t read the air/atmosphere”.
It’s for those people who are often saying / doing the wrong things, at the wrong time, and making a situation very awkward.
In colloquial japanese, this is abbreviated to the acronym “K.Y” which just stands for, Kuuki Yomenai.
You can upgrade this to SKY, which is “Super Kuuki Yomenai” .
It is generally not advisable to aspire to be a super KY, or an Ultra KY, or a super-ultra-mega KY. It’s perceived as a negative trait most people in Japanese society strive to avoid being labelled as.
To quote the Tofugu website,
"Basically, KY is used to describe people who have trouble getting a read on situations, or have trouble feeling the atmosphere of a situation. This is viewed as a bad thing, and most Japanese do what they can to avoid being labeled as KY.
In many ways, KY can be representative of Japanese culture in general. Japan is a group-oriented society that values harmony, rainbows, and cute animals. As such, Japanese people are well known for being indirect, ambiguous, and avoiding conflict.”
That said though, those KY people are often an archetypical character in many anime/drama/manga storylines. Those kind hearted, or maybe loud mouthed, silly, silly, people. How many can you think of?
Okay to be straightforward with you all I’m done with part three. Don’t be a KY and have a good week. :D Part four will be about how all of this can be related back to the Manga and Anime y’all so avidly follow. Sort of.
Thanks for reading! : )
What’s up guys, GTY_Ponzorz here. As promised, here is part two of the blog post series about the mysterious Japanese concept of Honne and Tatemae. This post is an overview of why such a thing even exists, and how it’s applied in Japanese society in the grand scheme of things. Might be a bit dry… but there is still part 3, 4, and 5, woo... *-_-*
History/Cultural Background as to why such an explicitly stated thing even exists and is so deeply entrenched in Japanese culture:
The Honne and Tatemae is often known as the double code of Japanese society. It basically originated from the Heian Period of Japan (794-1185) where this Minamoto dude became the first epic Shogun of Japan and established the Shogunate (bakufu). In this period, the shoguns were the de facto rulers of the country, though officially they were appointed by the emperor. Minamoto Shogun-san gave heaps of power to his shogunate in Kamakura, while the emperor and the imperial court situated back in Kyoto was still intact but held pretty much… zero power. ZERO ;9. This is the origin of the shadow government, where the government that was the Tatemae, and the Shogunate was thus the Honne, the true source of power.
Most of the cultural roots for Honne/Tatemae comes from the idea of collectivism, that Japan is a society built upon social harmony and peace. Tatemae is used to avoid conflict, lest you inflict your non-homogeneity (that is not a word imsosorry) and selfish desires on the rest of your people and shame yourself/bring inconvenience to people around you. D: (sarcasm)
Applications in Japanese society
Lowdown is politicians speak in fluent Tatemae and it is safe to say that is the only language they now converse in.
They often have broad statements of philosophies that can be interpreted in many ways, avoid use of vocabularies that implies judgement on any given topic, and they have a lot of token words that they just pull out of their .. basket of token words, and everything they say amounts to a load of nothing. An Asahi Editorial that came out in 1994 commented that “a prime minister’s speech must be a vague speech that ‘touches everything covers nothing’. Which further shows that Japanese are already fully aware that these speeches are only for show and do not in actuality address issues.
Examples of politician tatemae speak:
They say “jubun ni” which means adequately. This is a delaying tactic, and no one knows how “adequate” the word “adequately” means to be.
If colleague Gin-san does something wrong/scandalous (for example), colleague Aizen-san will say “I feel sorry” (Ikan ni omou) . This expresses neither accusation nor personal apology, but indicates that the speaker understands that he/she is supposed to “feel sorry” about a certain incident involving his colleague.
Tatemae is used for politicians to avoid a ‘loss of face’/public embarrassment. Tatemae is the safest way to be ambiguous about opinions, commitment, emotions, and thus the safest route to retain political hold.
As a result, the Japanese public does not trust the Japanese government. Tokyo Times (2011) reported that 8 out of ten Japanese felt that the leaders were not telling the truth, especially in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. D:
Note: Will provide a source for all of this at the bottom of the page + extra reading for those interested
Automatically assuming that the incumbent government have a strong influence over what is published in the mainstream newspapers, (as many other countries in the world also do) coupled with the fact that all the Japanese politicians speak in their facade-y vague Tatemae speech anyway, readers can just assume that most of the content in the Asahi, or Yomiuri newspapers (main national-level newspapers in Japan), is the prim-and-proper, pre-determined Tatemae side of a story. It’s like a kyouka suigetsu... of a kyouka suigetsu. (Yo dawg, I heard you like kyouka suigetsus… )
In contrast, the magazines, which have the image of being very trashy and gossipy, are surprisingly, said to show more of the true story behind the curtains, the honne.
Based on facts and figures, Japan provides a looooot of foreign aid. Japan is one of the biggest donors of Official Development Assistance (ODA) alongside France, Germany, UK and US. The MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) states that the Japanese ODA is extended to developing countries where people are facing various concrete problems. However, some scholars argue that even in Japan’s allocation of ODA, Honne and Tatemae is being practiced.
The real intention behind such foreign aid is to foster Japan’s own commercial interest. Put bluntly, altruism is the Tatemae that hides the real intention, and the honne, is their own agenda. While Japan truly did allocate more funds to poorer countries, trade partners of Japan in ASEAN countries received higher development funds from Japan. (ie. In the name of ODA , Japan has been giving funds to ODA eligible countries who are also big trade partners with Japan.)
Japanese workers are given annual leave, but that is a tatemae and it’s socially expected that you don’t use the annual leave you’re given . :x
The infamous drinking culture of Japan exists to bridge the gaping hole between honne and tatemae, so people can loosen up and say what they want. It’s also culture that what you say on a drinking session stays within the drinking session, it is forgive and forget the next day.
Okay, that’s all I have to say on the above four big aspects. Sorry that must have been quite dry, but I thought maybe a few of you might want to read it. Though… yeah it might have been really boring.
Extra on the side: Honne and Giri
There are a lot of other concepts that tie in with Honne/Tatemae. Giri is “duty” or “obligations” - in the sense of discharging your duty (or never discharging your duty) till the day you die - it’s a self-sacrificing sense of devotion to your superiors, your country, your people.
(If you ever watch Valentines episode anime, there is always “giri choco” - chocolate a girl gives you, not because she is romantically interested, but because you are her friend and she will give “giri choco” to everyone that is her friend. It sounds bad when you translate it and call it “giri choco” because I’m sure she’s giving her friends chocolate because she wants to and I would be happy to receive giri choco (Unless I was interested in her lol then woe me) but in the workplace, and perhaps other situations, you give dat giri choco to everyone - even people you don’t like - because it’s obligatory and it helps networking, maintaining interpersonal relations, etc) but I digress!)
There is a conflict between honne and giri - which is often examined in Japanese literature and drama, every time, all the time. A good example is for the protagonist to choose between carrying out obligations to his family/state/government/lord, or pursuing an epic (read; secret, clandestine) love affair. I am a real sucker for this kind of basic setting in a story but it usually ends in tragedy. *cry*
(On a side note, the recent generations of people in Japan pursue a more free and individualistic path which has clearly deviated from the path of their forefathers - but I suppose change comes slow, and the notion of giri is still very deeply entrenched in Japanese culture.)
Oke doke, this is the end of part 2 – part three will be some IRL applications of this concept. When does yes mean no, and when is it that someone is subtly trying to kick you out of their house? (x_x)
In the meantime, it would be interesting to hear from readers in this post and the next, what kind of norms are in your own cultures? (My German friend tells me it’s sometimes considered rude to be wishy-washy and indirect in the german mentality (More of which I will cover next week), my French friend tells me French politicians have a “langue de bois” (tongue of wood) for the tatemae speak of the politicians and my Serbian friend tells me that in some situations, a second cup of coffee served is a subtle queue to leave? In Chinese, there is an expression of having a “thick face” to express that someone is shameless, and so on… :9)
That’s it for now, sorry for the long post and thanks for reading.
I did some extra reading up to write this post – which is basically a summary of this link. If you want extra detailed reading, this is the source.
Thanks again for reading!