Jay Rubin on Translation

Well, Jay Rubin has come and gone. The talk was about two hours long, and was extremely casual and interesting.

During the discussion I was able to ask both of the questions that Michael proposed, as well as others.

Does Jay Rubin plan to author any other books aimed at Japanese language learners, similar to “Making Sense of Japanese“?

Unfortunately the answer to this question was, “highly unlikely”. Making Sense of Japanese was excellent, and Rubin is also proud of it himself. However, he has retired as a full-time professor so is not regularly faced with questions about the Japanese language from students that were the impetus to create “Making Sense”. Now that he is finished with full time teaching, he is spending more time focusing on his own translation work. Specifically, Akutagawa stories.

Why did Jay Rubin pass up the chance to translate Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore?

Rubin had a very specific answer to this question. Apparently he is now in such a position that, though unofficial, he is pretty much the first choice for Murakami translations. However, he reserves the right to pick and choose which works he will translate, depending on whether he likes them or not.

It turns out that up until the beginning of chapter 17 Rubin loved “Kafka on the Shore”. In fact, chapter 16, where Johnny kills the cats, is one of his favorite moments in fiction. However after that, the book kind of went down hill for him. In the end, it just wasn’t something that he wanted to translate. Specifically, one of the things that turned him off were the preachy remarks regarding high culture by the character “Oshima”.

Some other interesting discussion was on the art of translation itself. One of the key points that Rubin shared regarding discussion was to translate at the paragraph level, as opposed to sentence by sentence. This allows the translator to put all of the Japanese into their head, let it be converted into thoughts, and then put it back on the page in good English. Going sentence by sentence and getting picky with grammar does not turn out a good literary translation.

Rubin also uses a dictionary extensively when working on translations. His dictionary of choice is Kenkyusha’s new dictionary. Apparently they have an electronic version available for Windows that is pretty slick.

He also mentioned a book he translated that I now want to read called “After the Quake“, which includes a short story called “Super Frog Saves Tokyo” which sounds like quite the trip.

All this book talk has made me want to start reading again!

Right now I am reading a book in Japanese called 「血と骨」”Blood and Bones” by Yan Sogiru which is a gritty life drama about Koreans living in Japan. Blood and Bones has also been made into a film by Beat Takeshi. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the book is intense.

Good stuff!

– Harvey