Thursday, May 23, 2013

I am finishing a new novel tentatively titled Mt. Koya. While the story is very different from Getting Oriented, Japan still plays a significant role in the lives of the characters. Because Japan plays such an important part, I wondered about a Japanese translation. My Japanese is nowhere good enough to translate it myself, so I wondered what would happen if I ran some of it through Google Translate. Here's the beginning of one of the chapters:

    I’m sitting quietly reading in a Tokyo coffee shop called L’Ambre and only vaguely conscious of the young Japanese woman at another table until she comes over to me and asks hesitantly, “Are you American?” It’s a raw early September Saturday and I’m off duty until eight o’clock tomorrow morning. I’ve taken the train up to Tokyo’s Shibuya station, a half-hour ride from Sagami-shi. I need to get away from the hospital and the Army for a while, if only to sit in a coffee shop and read a book or to walk around Shibuya, so different from Sagami. The big city versus a village.

Here's the result:


My Japanese is good enough to quibble with the translation. My biggest would be the woman's question, "Are you American?" That's what the translation says, but it seems too direct, almost impolite, for the situation. It really gets interesting, however,  when you ask Google to back-translate. To take the Japanese and turn it into English. Here's what I got:

     When sitting quietly reading a coffee shop in Tokyo called L'AMBRE, the conscious vaguely only of young Japanese woman in another table, to come on to me, until I request hesitantly she , "Are you? American?" It
      It's off duty until tomorrow morning at 8:00 I am that it is early Saturday September raw. I have taken the train to a half hour ride Shibuya Station in Tokyo, from Sagami city. In order to read a book while sitting in a coffee shop, to differ materially from the Sagami, only if you want to be walking Shibuya, I, for a while, you need to get away from the army and hospital. Village-to-large cities.

If there is ever going to be a translation, I think I'll need a human being to do it.

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