Swet Columns

Japanese and English express ideas in different ways, as every translator is regularly reminded, and ensuring natural output sometimes requires a little reflection. This column offers a record of grapples with thorny words and phrases.

Word Wise: Safety First

By Richard Medhurst

Japan is particularly prone to disasters, and 2018 was no exception, to the point that 災 was chosen as the kanji of the year. The country tackles this perennial problem with 防災 practices aimed at reducing the harm that disasters cause. While the English-speaking world also has such measures, there is a range of terms that may be... more

Word Wise: Population Phrases

By Richard Medhurst

Japan’s declining birth rate and aging population affect its society in countless ways. The country is considering such issues as how to maintain enough workers to support its industries and social security expenses, while many of its smaller communities face potential extinction. Typically the changes Japan is going through are summed up in the phrase 少子高齢化, which may... more

Word Wise: Attention Please

注目 Chūmoku

By Richard Medhurst

I often see the phrase 注目を集める or its close counterpart 注目を浴びる translated to say that something is “attracting attention” or “drawing attention.” As 注目 means “attention” this popular rendering naturally follows. While it is not incorrect, and I use it myself at times, the English phrase is nowhere near as common in texts by native writers as... more

Word Wise: Animals and Plants

By Richard Medhurst

Moving away from this column’s usual focus on individual words, this time I’d like to consider translation of animal and plant names. One reason this is a tricky area is that the way Japanese and English group words together may be different. A flower known in English by one name might have several different names in Japanese or... more

Word Wise: Appealing to Your Better Judgment

魅力 Miryoku

by Richard Medhurst

Among the versatile words that Japanese copy writers reach for most, 魅力 and the adjectival form 魅力的 are seen particularly in tourism texts. Depending on context, translators could talk about “the appeal of traditional ryokan inns” (旅館の魅力), “the charms of Hakodate” (函館の魅力) or “an attractive town” (魅力的な町). It is also possible to talk about a sight being... more

Word Wise: Making Assessments

評価 Hyōka

By Richard Medhurst

Japanese words with distinct, similar meanings can be troublesome. This is especially true when they have small but crucial differences. The primary dictionary definitions of 評価 tell us that this word is used to decide the value of something or someone. This suggests English words like to “assess” or “evaluate.” With 専門家の評価, we have an expert’s “appraisal” or... more