Japanese Language In REMOVED

S. J. Pajonas September 19, 2013
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Learn more about how Japanese language is used in REMOVED.

When I decided to write REMOVED as a hybrid Japanese/Western future culture, I knew I would have to include more than just the food, clothing, cultures, and traditions. I’d also have to include the language. But I’m writing for Western audiences who speak English, so I knew it would be tricky. The trick to including foreign language (even slang) into a novel written in your own native language is to give enough clues to the reader about what is being said so they don’t feel lost. Here’s an example:

Walking by the local Japanese restaurant the last two mornings on my way to work, I could hear the old men and women chattering away while pounding and making mochi. My aunts buy mochi from them and eat it on New Year’s Day after going to the temple for hatsumōde, our first temple visit of the year.

Now you may not know what mochi is, but I’ve given you a clue that it’s food, something you eat. And I use the term hatsumōde here but then explain that it’s the “first temple visit of the year.”

Here’s example that’s not as clear, but you can probably guess.

Irrashiamase!” All the staff shout welcoming me as I walk through the door.
Konbanwa!” I say back as Helena jumps at me with a forceful hug.

Irrashiamase is a greeting used in restaurants or stores in Japan to welcome patrons when they walk through the door. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve heard this phrase a lot, and it’s usually cheerfully said in unison by the staff as you walk in. It always makes me smile. Konbanwa means “good evening” and Sanaa responds with it as she enters Izakaya Tanaka. I don’t explain its meaning explicitly, but you get the idea that it’s something said in response to a welcome.

The Japanese language is complex. It’s built upon an understanding of social heirarchy, where you fit in the puzzle with your family, friends, coworkers, boss/employee, and complete strangers. Levels of politeness exist for all of these social situations. There’s even an extreme level of politeness used for addressing royalty which I once heard a 7-11 employee using  to address a customer. Totally silly.

When Sanaa is with her friends and they speak Japanese, they’re informal with each other. When she’s at work, she knows to address her boss politely. When she meets Jiro for the second time, she’s confused as to whether or not to use the -kun addition to his name which adds formality as well. They joke about this later in the book, and the moment they both decide to address each other without formality is a big step. It indicates a level of familiarity that is used amongst the closest of friends or lovers.

Let’s take a look at levels of politeness with the phrase “I’m sorry” which is Gomen nasai in Japanese.

Gomen nasai – “I’m sorry.” Used in situations with friends or strangers or people in the same social circle as yourself.

Gomen – “Sorry.” A much more abbreviated version used with people you are quite familiar with. You would not say gomen to your boss or if you bumped into someone on the street, but you would say it to your best friend.

Mōshiwake gozaimasen (Mōshiwake nai) – This is a very formal version of “I’m sorry” and it translates more to “I beg your forgiveness.” The second version I have included in parentheses is a more masculine version and the one Mark Sakai uses to apologize to Sanaa. If you don’t speak Japanese, you probably will not understand the significance of this apology. Mark goes way overboard in politeness for a damned good reason, but Sanaa is too pissed off to notice. I’m sure those that speak Japanese will realize that something is amiss here :) I liked leaving these little clues!

There were lots of issues to think about while writing this series and formatting weighed heavily on my mind. I didn’t want to italicize every foreign word in the book over and over, especially since I wanted to use italics for emphasis on English words and in conversations over the internet. So, I googled, of course, and found that it’s acceptable to italicize first-use foreign words in a manuscript and leave the rest alone. Problem solved! If you’ve read REMOVED and wondered why I didn’t italicize a word, this is why. I only italicized first-usage. And, I’m only italicizing first-use for the entire series. If I used a Japanese word in Book 1, I will not italicize it in Book 2 and onward.

The inclusion of the glossary was one of my favorite parts! If you’ve read through it, though, you’ll notice there are plenty of words and phrases I included that I didn’t employ in the actual manuscript. This is a glimpse into the revision process. At one point in time, in one draft or another, those words were used, and I most likely cut them or the scene in which they were involved. I thought about editing them out of the glossary, but eventually I decided to leave them. Many readers will find them interesting.

Now I leave you with a little taste of Jiro and Sanaa, my hero and heroine. They will both continue to grow in complexity as the series continues. We have a broad outline of them both REMOVED. Hopefully you’ll come back to read more about them!

Jiro, Jiro, Jiro, Jiro

Jiro, Jiro, Jiro, Jiro

Sanaa, Sanaa, Sanaa

Sanaa, Sanaa, Sanaa


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