Translation of Love

By Ma

Have you ever thought of confessing your feeling to your crush in a more poetic way? If you have heard of the following two Japanese phrases, you can express your affection in the most romantic way ever.

(1)   月が綺麗ですね


tsuki ga kirei desu ne (By Natsume Sōseki)

Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), one the most celebrated Meiji Japanese novelists and literary scholars, once aspired to be an English teacher and had studied English at London for a year. The phrase was indeed translated by him from an English sentence ‘I love you’. A story behind this translation began with an English course, where he asked one of his students to translate an English text into Japanese. His students literally translated the first sentence into ‘愛してる’(ai shi te ru), a seeming equivalent of the original. Sōseki, however, argued that Japanese people would not express their affection so blatantly, thus justifying his choice ‘月が綺麗ですね’(tsuki ga kirei desu ne), a back translation of which means that the moonlight is beautiful. Although the story cannot be verified, we can still catch a glimpse of the cultural difference between Japan and the Continent at that period.

(2)   死んでもいいわ


shi n de mo i i wa (By Futabatei Shimei)

When Futabatei Shimei (1864-1909) was working on a Japanese version of a Russian novel called Ася (English: Unrequited Love; Japanese:片恋), he translated the same English phrase ‘I love you’ into  ‘死んでもいいわ’ (shi n de mo i i wa). Upon translating the Japanese phrase literally back into English, it denotes ‘I can die for you’. However, while checking the original Russian novel, we will discover that what Futabatei was trying to translate was the word ‘Ваша’, which means ‘yours’ in English. Thus, it can be deferred that Futabatei adopted a relatively freer style in his translation.

Through the above two little anecdotes, we can learn some old Japanese euphemisms for expressing one’s love more subtly and romantically.




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