Higurashi: Onikakushi Translator’s Corner

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Today we have a few words to share from our translator for Higurashi no Naku Ni Hou: Onikakushi available this Friday on our website and Steam!

Japanese, as with any living language, is constantly changing and evolving. One of the things that happens along the way is the inevitable borrowing of words. Some foreign loan words, specifically those that are taken from English, are known as wasei eigo (和製英語).  Since these words are one-to-one analogues to English words, it’s tempting as a translator to simply transliterate these phrases, but a variety of different things happen that make that an awkward choice.

Oftentimes, separate English words are combined into one phrase, mostly because they ‘sound nice’ to the Japanese ear. In Higurashi for example, the word 「キーホルダー/key holder」 pops up. Separately, the words make sense: ‘Key’ and ‘Holder’, and it gives you a good idea of what it is, but the phrase ‘key holder’ seems awkward to a native English speaker, who would know this item as a ‘key chain’. Similarly, the Japanese word for prime time television is 「ゴールデンタイム/Golden Time」.

Other times, while the word isn’t wrong per se, it can seem rather archaic or uncommon in English. For example, the car horn in chapter 14 of Onikakushi is referred to as a 「クラクション/klaxon」.

The Japanese also have a penchant for shortening words to the point that they become nearly unrecognizable from their English origins. Two of the most egregious examples of this are ‘sexual harassment’ → 「セクハラ/sekuhara」 which is used to describe Mion a lot, and ’platform’ (as in a train platform) → 「ホーム/hōmu」.

In general though, the most insidious cases for translators to deal with are when the respective words begin to diverge subtly in meaning in their respective languages. While not in Higurashi, a prime example is (and pardon my french): bitch (ビッチ). While the English word generally has the meaning of an unpleasant or rude woman, the Japanese word has a more sexualized meaning, used to indicate the person is a ‘slut’. While both words remain derogatory, the shift in meaning can make a translation slightly off from the intended meaning.

To finish things off on a lighter note, my personal favorite bit of convoluted wasei eigo trivia: the tale of the Japanese word for stapler.

Much like how many company names or trademarked products such as Q-tips, Kleenex, Popsicle 「アイスキャンデー/Ice Candy」, and Sharpies became generic words for similar products in English, the Japanese word for stapler took it’s name from the E. H. Hotchkiss Company, and became a Hotchkiss (ホチキス). However,  you’ll find that most English speakers have no idea what a Hotchkiss is despite it being an ‘English’ word, mostly because E.H. Hotchkiss went out of business in 1957!

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5 Comments

  1. I was wondering, why was chosen to not translate the names of the arcs/chapters? Someone who doesn’t understand Japanese won’t know what Onikakushi means for example and the official English translated Manga’s of Higurashi do use the translated titles.

  2. There are some console-only Japanese arcs with some wonderful content. If the series does well, would it be possible for Mangagamer to get the go-ahead to port them over so that they might get an English release?

    • I’ve already asked that a while ago wia e-mail. This is the response I got from MangaGamer staff: “At the moment we’re quite busy with the next 14 releases coming to Steam for Higurashi, but we’ll talk to 07th Expansion about the potential of it when the time is right!”

  3. And, saying that, you translate the ハンバーグ as “hamburger”, giving the readers an image of a sandwich. Meh.

    And maybe you’d have to translate the first lines of the prologue again, since they’d be barely making sense when used in Tsumihoroboshi-hen.

    Well, that said, i joyously look forward to comparing the translation to the ones i have.

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