The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation

This is a breakdown summary of The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation. If you would like a review into how useful this is for translators please read Can You Learn Translation from “The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation”?


The Scope

This is a beast of a book. It is 358 pages long (although the last 100 pages are appendix and index) with eight chapters: Introduction, Kinds of meaning I, Kinds of Meaning II, Discourse Genre, Understanding the source text, Translation techniques, Translation studies, and Translation projects.

This is also a textbook written for students at University level (specifically in the USA) and written with academic English. This may make it a little more challenging for people not familiar with this type of writing. Which also means it might be a boring read for some people (whether you’re used to academic writing or not.)

There are a lot of academic theories, essays, and books referenced. If you have never had an introduction to translation or linguistic theory before then these may be difficult to wrap your head around at first.


Each chapter starts with a clear and concise description of what it contains. (This is great if you ever want to review something!) And any key information or terms in the text are bolded and italicized.

Each chapter also contains plenty of exercises for both native English and native Japanese speakers. If you’re a native English speaker, though, the book states that it expects you to have JLPT N2 or equivalent Japanese ability. You could try this book at a lower level, but might not find it as useful.


1. The Introduction

The aim of the introduction is to give you a quick summary of linguistic and translation education (sec. 1.1) and theory (sec.1.3 – 1.5.) This means a massive info dumps of theories and people. I think these can be intimidating for a new translator, especially one who hasn’t had to read these kinds of texts before.

But, although interesting, translators don’t need to know all the history or academics in the field of translation theory.

If you do find the introduction interesting then I advice not skipping it, but if it intimidates you then I think it’s fine to skim read. You can re-read the introduction later when you want to. Just don’t let the dense introduction stop you reading reading this book! (Which I admit I did the first time I tried to read it.)


Anyway. If you read anything in this chapter at least read sections 1.3 to 1.5 which introduces you to some of the most important parts of translation practice and theory.

The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation What is Translation

These sections also begin to make you think about issues that might arise in translation. About how translation is not just a direct one-to-one action. (No matter what some people who know the basics of Japanese might think.)

Hasagawa says early on that her intent is not to correct learning translators “errors” but to enable “the learner to recognize potential problems and to discover how to deal with them.” (p.g 6)


2. Kinds of meaning I

In the second chapter Hasagawa discusses how translation issues are often related to meanings. She spends this chapter discussing propositional meaning, presupposed meaning, expressive meaning, and indexical meaning. This is so the translator can be aware of issues with meanings that might arise.

Propositional meaning

Conventions associated with concepts as provided by the authority of the sense of a word. (Which I interpreted as the accuracy of information.)

One example for issues with propositional meaning can arise from translating proper nouns (e.g the accuracy of people or place names.) The Japanese might just say a person’s last name or a place and expect the reader to know what that is. But an English speaker unfamiliar to Japan or Japanese history might not know who or what the text is referring to. So the translator can either translate literally (and risk confusing the reader,) explain or expand on the translation, substitute with another proper noun, or omit. All of these depend on the situation, which Hasagawa discusses in detail.

Presupposed meaning

When meaning is implied by a statement (e.g “My sister is married.” the presupposition: the speaker has a sister.) What certain words imply can obviously vary between languages and cultures, which Hasegawa discusses.

Expressive meaning

Meaning where the speaker expresses attitudes, beliefs, and/or emotions. She says how differences in expressivity are difficult for non-natives and dictionaries are often lacking in nuanced definitions.

This whole section (2.3) might be particularly useful for manga and literary translators who have to deal with translating a lot of onomatopoeia.

Indexical meaning

When meaning is implied by the language used. E.g in Japanese ore might imply the speaker is male, but in Saitama prefecture it can be used by all genders. Language has social significance/meaning which can tell you a lot about where a person is from, their age, identity, beliefs, social standing, etc.

This can be particular difficult in Japanese and English translation where a lot of indexical meaning is given in Japanese. Japanese readers can infer a lot from how a person talks, which does not always translate over to English.


Hasegawa goes through a number of linguistic elements where issues with the above four meaning can arise. She gives examples for each of them and discusses on how one might handle them with exercises for the reader to practice themselves.

In each explanation she drops a lot of linguistic terms, which are highlighted in italicized bold so they’re easier to pick out. Do you need to remember this linguistic terminology? Probably not, but at least knowing their meanings when you see them can help you better understand and navigate your approaches to translation.

Hasegawa also discusses a lot of English and Japanese words and phrases that carry meaning that one might not always think about. In this way it’s general education on how language and culture are intertwined in the two languages.


3. Kinds of Meaning II

This chapter covers more types of meaning: symbolic meaning, allusive meaning, associative and collective meaning, textual meaning, figurative meaning, speech act, and ambiguity and vagueness.

These have shorter explanations with some great examples from Western and Japanese culture and language that I didn’t know before!

Symbolic meaning

Things like a tea stalk standing up in some tea is a good omen. Or how 目を細める is associated with smiling, but a literal translation “narrowing one’s eyes” implies suspicion.

Allusive meaning

When a text references another text and assumes the reader should know it. (I’m thinking a lot of memes.) How do you translate this meaning? Footnotes? Explain it in the translation? Or just drop it?

Associative meaning

When people widely associate words with certain things, e.g “nurse” = female. And collocative meaning is when words are commonly associate with other words, e.g “resounding” is often used with “crash.”

Textual meaning

Meaning that makes sense in context. (Hasegawa explains a number of linguistic terms which are related to this and how they appear in Japanese language.)

Figurative meaning

When words convey meaning in a non-literal sense. How do you come up with a good equivalence for a simile or metaphor in a translation?

Speech acts

Theory focuses on when language is spoken. Spoken language works differently from written and meaning is conveyed in different ways. Such as when words are dropped or intonation implies different meaning.

The chapter ends with a large section on ambiguity and vagueness, including different forms of these, such as lexical ambiguity and grammatical ambiguity.


4. Discourse Genre

“A discourse is any coherent succession of sentences, spoken or written.” (p.g 106)

There are different genres of discourse which each have their own styles and expectations associated with them. Such as academic texts, business e-mails, legal documents, novels, etc. Writings that not match the expectations of a genre can upset readers. (How often have we seen “you shouldn’t say that in a business e-mail!”?)

A translation of a source text (ST), therefore, needs to sound like the same type in the target language (TL.)

The first section, which literary translator may find useful, discusses narrative discourse. The first thing is that narratives, i.e novels, are most often written in past tense in English. But in Japanese they tend to be a mixture of past and non-past tenses.

Hasegawa then goes on to explain tenses and how one might tackle these differences when translating from Japanese to English. She also has a number of examples and exercises again, which are really useful for literary translators and people interested in literary translation.


Other genres she discusses in this chapter include procedural discourse, which is more like technical, step-by-step translation. In English we use imperative forms, which Japanese does not. (You often see Japanese use ください “please,” while English uses a direct “don’t”.)

Expository discourse is used to explain or argue, focusing on logic. Descriptive discourse does what it says on the tin and describes things. Hortatory discourse aims to fulfil a purpose through suggestion or command (e.g dietary guidelines or political speech.)

Repartee discourse recounts a series of speech exchanges (e.g in a drama or manga.) In Japanese novels you might see a conversation go on for a few pages without saying who said what. Japanese conversations imply who is speaking from the language used (e.g male/female etc.) after all.


5. Understanding the Source Text

A translator must read through the source text before they start translating, and read it enough times so they know the outline of the overall text, meaning of each sentence, style and tone, context of the text, and the purpose/target audience.

Language studies that focus on words rather than grammar means some new translators might mistranslate. This is because they do not understand the overall sentence, even though they know what the words all mean.

The translator must understand the meaning of the source, then reconstruct that meaning appropriately in another language. But understanding a source text is always an on-going process that’s based on the reader’s (translator’s) own knowledge and experiences. This means constant re-interpretation of the source. And each translator will interpret the text differently.


Six pieces of grammar to look out for

In this chapter Hasegawa discusses six aspects of grammar and overall meaning that a translator should keep an eye out for to help them improve their understanding of the source text.

Predicates express ideas concerning entities (e.g someone is something.) And arguments are the entities which are being focuses on (e.g someone is something.) The arguments can be obligatory or optional. (This is better explained by Hasegawa through exercises and examples in Japanese and English.)

Because of the lack of arguments in Japanese, non-native Japanese learners can find Japanese to be ambiguous, while natives do not due to cues in the language for argument recovery. Hasegawa explains some of these cues in Japanese (such as the particles は and が.)

In Japanese noun modification comes before the noun, which can create long and complex noun modifiers. This can create some challenges which Hasegawa discusses, as well as issues with different types of relative clauses.

Complex sentences with multiple clauses in them can be a big issue in Japanese English translation and often needs to be broken apart to make them read well in English.

Japanese language makes a clear distinction between “self” and “other” which are different from how we view them in the West. Hasegawa discusses these in text as expressed in evidentiality (“accessibility of information”) and egocentricity.

Hasegawa revisits ambiguity, arguing that Japanese isn’t actually as ambiguous as some non-natives might thing, referencing the previous section in chapter 3 on ambiguity.


6. Translation Techniques

This is it! The chapter every translator wants to get to! Translation techniques!

Hasegawa goes over the following techniques with examples and some exercises to practice with. Probably not so useful for experienced translators who have learned these through trail and error. But quite useful for aspiring translators who are afraid to not directly translate everything.


Borrowing – Used when there’s a lack of close equivalent in the target language. This is most commonly known as loan words, such as the English words “karaoke” or “manga,” or the Japanese words ダイエット or シャワー. But not all loan words are created equally and some might need explanatory words such as “soba noodles” instead of just “soba.”

You should be careful of false friends which are loan words taken out of context so they no longer mean what you think they might mean. Such as カニング (lit. “cunning”) which actually means “cheating.”

Calque – Directly translating source words as noun phrases, e.g 牛丼 as “beef bowl,”

Literal Translation – Translate the source literally in the target.

Transposition – Where you use semantic equivalence rather than formal equivalence.

Modulation – Changing the message by changing the point of view. E.g 禁煙 lit. “smoking prohibited” would be “no smoking” in English.

Equivalence – Creating an “equivalent” translation by using different structural or stylistic methods. Such as お元気ですか being translated as “How have you been?”

Adaptation – When the situation in the source text is completely unknown in the target text. Such as an おみくじ being translated to “fortune” or “oracle.”

Omission – Sometimes it’s okay to omit things from the source text. Especially if it’s particularly repetitive.

Addition – If the source text has culturally specific information then translation loss is inevitable unless addition is made to explain it to the reader. Or you can add the information that’s lost in one place back in in another location. Completely useless information can also be removed.


Contrastive Rhetoric

When translators aren’t aware of significant differences between English and Japanese their interpretation of the source might be distorted. Hasegawa discusses some key characteristic differences to keep an eye out for.

Text organization – In Japanese the important information often appears in the middle rather than at the beginning like in English. English readers have different expectations for essays etc., for where to find important information.

Paragraphs – Japanese uses a lot of line breaks, where as English doesn’t, and has longer paragraphs.

Verbiage – Languages tends to use redundancy, which varies between languages. In Japanese repetition is common while it’s less forgiving in English. In English it’s seen as clumsy writing, which the Japanese view repetition as reassuring.

Phaticism – Language that deals with making an emotional connection such as “naturally,” “as you may know” etc. Very important in Japanese but should be toned down or omitted from English. Rhetoric questions are also common in Japanese to achieve rapport with the reader, but these read strange in English.


7. Translation Studies

This is entirely translation theory. It’s basically my year-long Translation MA boiled down into 33 pages of names, dates, and examples.

There is a lot brought up in this chapter which is why I’m not going to summarize everything. The chapter is split into premodern translation theories (that focused on the source text); mid-twentieth century translation theories (focusing more on defining equivalence); skopos theory (focusing on the target text and audience); the negative analytic (the study of how texts are deformed); and recent approaches to translation theory.

There are no exercises in these chapters, but Hasegawa does explain all of these theories within the context of Japanese-English translation. If you were to read a theory book like In Other Words, you might get all the same information but with examples from a variety of languages (mostly European.)


8. Translation Projects

This chapter is all about how to analyze a project to know what the best approach to take translating it is. Similar to high school it has you asking why is this being translated? What is the purpose of the text? Who is the intended audience? What are the constraints?

A translator (ideally) shouldn’t just jump straight into the translation. They should be familiar with the source text and read it a few times before they start translating.

Research is also incredibly important, including the use of dictionaries, thesaurus, term bases (known as corpus,) etc. She also provides you with a few exercises here for practicing these important research skills.

Editing is such an important part of the translation process, so of course there’s a whole section on editing. As well as a section at the end about evaluating a translation (whether your own or someone else’s.)

This chapter ends discussing translation certification with the American Translators Association, but I don’t think this is as useful for entertainment translators.


The Last 100 Pages

The final part of the book consists of the appendix and reference.


Final Thoughts

I discuss what I think about this book and how useful it might be for beginner and experienced translators in Can You Learn Translation from “The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation”?

But hopefully by the time you finish this textbook you’ll have the knowledge to gain/improve these important skills:

  • Good linguistic and sociocultural knowledge in the source language.
  • Good linguistic and sociocultural knowledge in the target language.
  • Transference (translation) competence.
  • Knowledge of the topic and research skills.
  • Knowledge of text types and their conventions.
  • Ability to evaluate and discuss translations objectively.

(The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation by Yoko Hasegawa p.g 22)


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A Summary of “The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation”
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