Swet Columns

Word Wise: Keeping Active

By Richard Medhurst

It is time to take the initiative again and consider various ways of translating Japanese words. This column is on the pairing of 積極的 and 消極的, looking particularly at the former, which is commonly encountered. One way to think about how to translate 積極的 is to roughly divide usage into three categories. The first is how a... more

EVENT REPORT: Toda Natsuko Talks About Her Life

If you watch English-language movies in Japan, you have probably seen the name Natsuko Toda in the subtitling credits. She is at the pinnacle of her profession. You may have wondered about the foundations of this pinnacle if, reading some of her subtitles, like me, you occasionally suffer a mental snort of disapproval at her Japanese renderings of English. Ms.... more

Word Wise: Number Puzzles

By Richard Medhurst

This column often looks at cases where the same concept is expressed differently in Japanese and English. This is a particular issue when it comes to terms related to numbers. For starters, the numerical system in Japan of counting by ten thousands (万, 億, 兆) can trip up the unwary. One pitfall is not noticing a... more

Word Wise: All in the Mind 意識

By Richard Medhurst  

The mind is a mystery. It’s hard to draw a firm line between the domains of knowledge, emotion, and opinion. This uncertainty is reflected in language, including the Japanese word 意識, which covers a range of situations related to the mind. The English “conscious” is a good starting point for considering this term. If an accident victim... more

Word Wise: Typically Troublesome

By Richard Medhurst

What is the ultimate bugbear translation term? If there was a vote, 代表的 might well be in the running. Both it and synonymous variations of を代表する are scattered across Japanese texts at a rate that can vex translators who want to keep their writing fresh.

The way 代表的 covers a broad range of meaning from neutral description through to... more

Word Wise: According to Habit

By Richard Medhurst

While it is handy to have default translations for terms, a little variety can refresh both writer and reader. The phrase によると is common in Japanese and commonly rendered by translators as “according to” in English.

With a company or public figure, it may be possible to use “stated” or “announced,” when the context is clear or easily checked,... more