Analysis of the Translation of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

June 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Haruki Murakami is an acclaimed writer from Japan and his books are perhaps the most translated from Japanese to English. Loved by everyone around the globe, his book releases are met with crowds of people waiting in line to get a hold of his latest work. Growing up, Murakami identified closely with the works outside of Japan, and rejecting the traditional Japanese ways, he started to appreciate Jazz and Hollywood, which contributed greatly to his works now.

From the inspirations from the western world, Murakami ran a Jazz bar in downtown Tokyo when he was 29. It was then that he first had the urge to write, and he later produced his first ever novel ‘Hear the Wind Sing’, which won him the new writers award.

In his first novel ‘Hear the Wind Sing’, he wrote the first pages in English and later translated them into Japanese just to hear what they sounded like. He is also a translator and translated many other English works, most notably ‘The Great Gatsby’ into Japanese.

Although well versed with the English language, Murakami writes in Japanese, which is later translated by his personal translators into English. He claimed in an interview that he never reads his translated works, the reason being that, reading his work in a different language could be disappointing.

“My books exist in their original Japanese. That’s what’s most important, because that’s how I wrote them.”

Kafka On The Shore

Kafka On The Shore was published in 2002 in Japan, and was later translated to English by Phillip Gabriel. It tells the story of two stranders, Kafka Tamura, and Nakata. Kafka, the first strander runs away from his home and father who kills cats to make flutes out of their souls, and ends up in the home of Mrs Saeki, the owner of a Library. Nakata’s story starts with the recordings of an X-File by Americans who talk about a group of fourth graders who go up into the mountains looking for mushrooms before seeing a UFO, and passing out. They awaken shortly after, except for Nakato, who was in a coma for a few days before waking up, disoriented, but with the ability to talk to cats.

The life of Kafka and Nakato intertwine as Nakato kills Kafka’s father, who he thought was Johnnie Walker. It is a surreal, coming of age novel, with the struggles of all the characters in fighting with their personal demons.

I chose this particular translated book of Murakami’s because it is very different from his other works, a new style of writing. Murakami’s other previous works consisted of adults and their stories. But with Kafka On The Shore, he writes with the language of kids, Kakfa being a fifteen year bright boy, and Nakata, a sixty-ish year old man who never developed mentally beyond that of a child. Philip Gabriel also explained that translating this book was a different kind of task as certain details took days of experimenting and finding the right voice for the characters in English.

Analysis

Umibi no Kafuka, which translates to Kafka On The Shore was translated by Philip Gabriel, and the English version can definitely sense the presence of the new translator. The problem with translation I find, is that the voice of the author changes quite often than not. In other works of Murakami, Jay Rubin was a major translator and one could quite make out the difference in the ways of translation by the different English writers.

In the original text, the essence of the small village of Japan, the riddles left by the original author and certain words and sentences were so strong that the translation just didn’t seem fit or gave justice to those images and feelings. One thing that makes a big difference is the use of symbolism in the english counterpart, whereas, in the Japanese version, symbolism doesn’t quite seem to fit the part, as in, the spirit was used to explain the separation of human and soul in the translated version, but in the original text, the spirit merely was to show the duality of spirits in human.

The problems with the translation of word plays was also seen, though it was minimal, but word plays are important to understand certain situations. If I were to say ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’ in English but could never translate that perfectly in Ao, my attempts at making people understand life would be futile through that paradox. Likewise, not being able to truly convert that idea into a different language irks a reader. In this way, could Murakami himself be lost in translation? Seeing that the translator, even though he studied the text vigorously, he did, in a way, make the English counterpart his own through his slight change of words. We can, however, see the great affection for the work which Philip Gabriel was translating and he has a feel for language which is honestly enough for the readers to feel Murakami’s presence in the translated works, even though there is nothing like reading a work in its original text. Like Murakami himself said, “​If one of those elements is missing the translation won’t be worth much.​”

Conclusion

Without the ardent work of translators, Murakami would hardly be known all over like he is now. Although he started writing a long time back, translating his works have helped him gain the recognition he deserves, and English readers can now enjoy his work. Because translation is such a tedious work which needs precision at its finest, we must ensure that we get the best translators. Philip Gabriel has done a fine job at keeping Murakami’s spirit in the novel, even through the small changes that were made along the way, and the readers could go on the journey without feeling like they were going on a whole another path.

Gabriel explained the struggles he faced during the translation process, especially with finding proper translation for word plays, and finding the proper age vocabulary for the characters, since it was a first time for Murakami to write someone who was fifteen rather than his substandard thirty-ish year old protagonists.

To have to translate a book, with the consciousness of all the great books that stands behind, and to set out to write the same concept in a different language with all the changes made, making sure it remains the same, re-explaining everything is not such an easy feat.

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