Sides of the Large-Becoming World
421 · 20 February 03
Garnet Crow: "Crystal Gauge"
She is away. Her work entails traveling, at the moment, when mine requires staying home (and some vice versa), so part of our being together is being apart.
So I could use a little distraction. Luckily, my Japanese class starts again this week. This will be my fifth eight-week session, but the fourth ended way back in December. I had planned to do a lot of studying on my own during the break, but then these other things happened. I've still kept myself surrounded with the language, but I haven't opened my textbook at all, and I've barely used my dictionaries. But I have these days to reconnect myself, and one of the things I intended to do was attempt to translate an entire song. The newest Garnet Crow single just came in the mail. It's a reasonable length, and there's some English at the end if I make it that far, and something about the way Yuri Nakamura sings Nana Azuki's words makes me think that they will not turn out to be incomprehensibly idiomatic. And maybe this isn't really a spectator sport, but when is listening ever?
And, of course, there's music to help. Even before I confront the first symbol, I know what mood the language must exist within. That much, at least, is universal, or feels like it. Drums twitch and sputter, but keyboards sigh and an acoustic guitar sparkles. Yuri sings smoothly, wistfully. I have built up my impression about what Garnet Crow sing about, and it's probably wise I'm finally testing it, because if these are really murder ballads or tax advice I think I'd like to know. What I think they're singing about is the intersection between human frailty and angelic grace, the realities for which Enya's songs are the gauzy dreams. I think these songs are sad and tender and ultimately uplifting. Or, put another way, these songs are sad and tender and uplifting to me now, and I hope and expect they're going to still be sad and tender and uplifting to me once I know what the words mean.
I run into my first difficulty fairly quickly. On, actually, the second word. Of the song title. "Kurisutaru", in katakana (the phonetic language for foreign words) is pretty clearly "Crystal" (it helps to read it aloud, fast, with even stress throughout), but the second word has the katakana for "ge" with a long vowel (voiced like a drawn-out "gay"), and then the one for "shi" with two dots above it. Usually, the dots turn "shi" into "ji" ("she" into "gee", approximately), but I really want this word to be "gaze", and spend several minutes trying to talk myself into the idea. But the Japanese really render our terminal consonants with clipped "u" sounds, so "gaze" would really be "geezu" ("gay-zoo"), not "geeji". But what is "geeji"? "Gauge"? "Crystal Gauge"? Perhaps. It's a workable hypothesis, at least, so I write it down, and maybe when I hit it again in context it will be less ambiguous.
There are only six verses to this song, and I have a whole day free for it. That doesn't keep me from feeling just a little bit of panic as I ponder the first line. There's the symbol for the color green, then the ubiquitous sort of "of"/possessive thing that glues most Japanese phrases together, then the symbol for a tree, then a complicated thing that looks like some variation on rain and electricity, which my dictionary thinks means "leakage", then the symbol for a day. "Green's tree-leakage day". Oh dear. Is that really it? Thirty-two Japanese classes over the course of ten months and all I can make out of the first line of a tranquil pop song is "green's tree-leakage day"? Perhaps there is a special holiday, in the quiet rural town where Nana grew up, to celebrate the first tree-sap of the new spring. Does sap start in the spring? And is it green? All the sap I've seen has been kind of brown , but a) maybe they have different trees, and b) colors are always a little strange. There are several things we call "green" for which the Japanese use their word for "blue" (apples, traffic lights), and calling brown sap "green" is no more bizarre than English speakers calling brown skin "black". A little reverse-translation research, though, turns up no evident support for the otherwise compelling idea that sap is translated as "tree leakage", nor any sign of any holidays that might revolve around it. I fear that this is going to be a long and rather pointless exercise unless I can do a little better. Must employ larger dictionaries. My recurring reference conundrum is that one of my kanji dictionaries is easy to find things in but terse, and the other one has lots more detail but is unhelpfully organized. And, perversely, although the easy one attaches no less than eight different numeric codes to each character, and the complete one has four, these turn out to be twelve completely unique IDs, which forces me to cross-reference characters by their phonetic spelling in romaji, which works but seems ungainly. Still, at length I devise better theories for pieces of the first line. "Midori" can be greenery, as well as the color green, so with the tree later in the line, maybe we're talking about leaves, not sap. The big book offers "shines through", in addition to "leakage", for the verb. And I finally remember that the symbol used for "day" is actually primarily the symbol for the sun and sunlight. This gets me from "midori no ko more bi" to "green tree-shine-through light", and maybe I can do this, after all.
My confidence picks up quickly. The second line, "me o tojitara", is only tricky in tense. "Me" is eyes, "o" is the object marker, and "tojiru" is the verb "to close". We haven't actually covered the verb-ending "-tara" in class, but it means "while" or "after" or "if", and you've started to make some progress in Japanese at the point where these ideas start to seem somewhat interchangeable. "When I close my eyes", perhaps, although there haven't been any pronouns yet, and in Japanese they sometimes never do show up. Imagine an English idiom in which "one", as in "one's eyes close", didn't feel stiff.
Line three is "subete no tsunagari o kanjirareru", and I'm thrilled that I know "subete" ("all", more or less; as in Shunji Iwai's breathtaking Lily Chou-Chou no Subete) without having to look it up. The rest of the sentence sends me back into the dictionaries for a while, though. "Tsunagari" turns out to have something do to with connecting or relating, and "kanjiru" is "to feel". The ending "-rareru" indicates either a lack of control or potential (another intriguing pair, with some Zen implications), with the latter nuance seeming more specifically applicable here. "I can sense everything's connectedness", perhaps, keeping with the English-style personalization.
The last line of the first verse, "maru de idenshi no you na cosmic world", contains the song's first English words. I am sparing you the Japanese orthography, not knowing whether you have Japanese fonts installed, but the parts I italicize here are the only ones written in roman characters in the printed lyrics; everything else is my romaji transcription of kanji, katakana and/or hiragana, all of which would be meaningless squiggles to a non-speaker, which is why written Japanese is so much more intimidating than written Spanish or French or Italian. "Maru" means "circle", "idenshi" is a gene, and the "you" here (pronounced "yo" with a held "oh" sound, not like the English second-person pronoun) means "manner" or "way" (my big dictionary has over a hundred kanji for which the romaji is "you", which actually goes a long way towards explaining the value of kanji). Of the little words, "de" is kind of three quarters of the English conjunctions at once, and in this case "maru de" extrapolates from "as a circle" to mean "completely" or "perfectly". "No" is its all-purpose self again, and "na" is an adjectival connector, so this comes together as "perfectly gene's way cosmic world", or, a little more fluidly, "our amazing world". Thus is the context set: light through leaves, a moment of calm, awareness.
If you assume that most pop songs are love songs, then you'll usually be right, and you really only need to learn a few words of Japanese to feel like you're playing along at least a little bit. "Watashi", "boku" and occasionally "ore" are all first-person pronouns. "Anata" and "kimi" are second-person. "Kyou" is today, "kinou" is yesterday, "ashita" is tomorrow. "Kokoro" is "heart", "tokoro" and "basho" are "place", "hana" is flower, "kodomo" is child, "oyasumi" is "goodnight", "wasurenaide" is "don't forget", and "yume" is dream. This song finally delivers one of these to start verse two: "Kokoro ga yureteru". "Yureru" is "to shake". If you want "is shaking", you change the ending and add an extra verb, like "yurete imasu", except that in casual usage the polite form "imasu" devolves back to the dictionary form "iru", and then "yurete iru" contracts to "yureteru" because people speak through their mouths. "Ga" is the subject marker, so this is, in maximally stilted form, "about the heart, it is shaking". "Heart is shaking" is better, and in English we would almost certainly specify whose heart it is, and would almost certainly decide that it's the narrator's. I don't know enough to tell whether Japanese speakers would somehow know whose heart she means, or whether they would regard it as properly ambiguous.
Japanese lends itself to parallelisms, and the couplet that begins verse two is a nice one: "Kokoro ga yureteru / Kodoku ni mogaiteru". It's a little less perfect if you realize that in Japanese vowel-combinations are always serial, so the last word is said "mo-ga-i-te-ru", not "moh-guy-tay-roo", and in fact there are some extra nonsense syllables at the beginning that push the whole thing off the meter entirely. "Kodoku ni" is "alone", with some implied loneliness, and "mogaiteru" is approximately "struggling". Line two segues right into line three, which I am startled to discover I can translate without help. "Anata wa watashi no kokoro o katte". We all know "anata", "watashi" and "kokoro", now, so "wa" is the topic marker, and "katte" is the imperative form of "kau", which is the verb "to buy". Thus, this is "You buy my heart". Presumably an English romantic lyricist would have used a less materialistic verb, but this one pays off in the next line, as Yuri sighs "Kiete itta it's cry", where "kiete" is "spend". "It's spent and gone; I cry"? Or possibly the English was supposed to mean "it's tragic". The camera pulls back, the singer's waking reverie dissolves back into her immediate surroundings, and she remembers she is in love.
The music begins to build in verse three, and the lyrics start to assemble themselves into larger thoughts. "Ooi naru uchu no side kanjite". "Kanjite" is the imperative form of "to sense", and if you flip the verb around to the beginning, where it would be in English, you get rather straightforwardly to "Sense the large-becoming world's side", where I'm guessing side (in English) implies "surface". "Ooi" is "large", "naru" is "to become", "uchu" is "world". See, Japanese isn't so hard. "I kangaenaoshite mitara ne keep on heart" tries some cross-language evasive action, but "kangaeru" is "to think", and "-naoshite" here makes a compound-verb with the sense of doing something over in order to improve it. "Mitara" is the same if/when/after ending from "tojitara", but here applied to "miru", which is usually "to see" but here I think means "to try". "Ne" is a confirmation-seeking sentence-ending, like "right?", which suggests that the whole thing is aiming at something on the order of "It was after I tried to think again, wasn't it? Keep believing." "Yasuragi ni michita hakai ryoku de" pushes dangerously close to the limit of my word-order understanding, but "ryoku" is "power", "hakai" is "destructive", "michita" is the past tense of "to be complete" and "yasuragi" is "peace of mind". "Was-full-of-peace-of-mind's destructive power" has a kind of Native-American logic to it, with a somewhat more likely English interpretation being "The destructive power of absolute serenity". The only tricky part about "Sono tobira o akete" ("Open that door"), is that "tobira" is written in kanji but sung in English as "door" (adorably, this is noted in furigana, the tiny superscript normally used to gloss the phonetic transcription of kanji characters). The lilting "Fukaku fukaku moguru" means "deeply, deeply dive", with an English "stay" appended for emphasis. And although the last line of this verse stopped me dead for about half an hour, I eventually convinced myself that a critical symbol in the middle of the line is a simplified form of the slightly more complicated thing my big dictionary has for the word it sounds like they're singing. "Sagasu" is the verb "to look (for)", "gensen" is a source, "afureteru" is "overflowing", "tsukinai" is "inexhaustible", and "kurai" is a bit of quantity blurring, so "tsukinai kurai afureteru gensen o sagasu" is something like "looking for a nearly inexhaustible overflowing source". Awake now, the singer tries to find the conscious version of the effortless dream she just left.
That's the first of two columns of printed lyrics, and it took me about three hours to get through them. The second half of the song goes a little faster. Verse four has parallel conditionals, a rhyme created by using two different words that are pronounced identically, and a repetition of the kanji symbol for the verb "to walk", which saves me a little look-up time. "Tachidomareba aruite kita kiseki / Furikaereba mieru hodo no kiseki / Miwataseru kurai no michinori shika aruitenai". Closely rendered, this is approximately "If you stand still, came-walking tracks / If you wave again, enough-to -be-seen footprints / You only walk the distance you look out over". Except I wonder if the last line is supposed to have the reverse sense: you only ever see the places you've been. Verse four has some parts I'm vividly unsure of, but I make out "Souzou dekiru kagiri no mind atsumete / Tadoritsukitai no wa doko ka no basho janai / Doko ni ite mo yuruganu ideology / Zenaku no kijun wa subete no hito ni kyoutsuu janai" to be something like "Concentrate on what it's only possible to imagine now / Wanting to struggle on, it's not any place / And where you go, not-shaking ideology / Good and evil's criteria are not the same for all people". "False image?", Yuri interjects in English (except you'd never guess without seeing the printed lyrics). "Enigmatic smile?" I'm lost for a moment, but "Yuruyaka ni shoumetsu suru leave me" might be "Gently disappear, leave me", and then all the confusion makes sense again, a slow gathering towards muted panic. The final Japanese verse goes "Ashita mata ne ... tashika na mono wa nai / Aishi aou yo ... wakeaeru dake no / Sekasanaide ... tokihanatereba ii / Kurisutaru geeji". "Again tomorrow? There aren't certainties / Dear meeting, just sharing / Don't hurry, it's OK if you're set free / Crystal gauge". Pleas, concessions, hope. The title remains inscrutable to me, explained no further by the dreamy English coda: "Forever love will remain / Just like a gentle breeze / Cleanup time for my soul / God, will you lead me". It's reassuring, I guess, that Nana's own English doesn't sound appreciably more fluent than my inept translations of her Japanese. And "God" has a very different function in Japanese poetry than it generally does in English, must less specific, but did she write that line in English for exactly that reason? You think you don't have to translate the parts that are already in English, but of course you do. She's still in love, and re-centered, and ready to proceed.
This pushes on one of the hardest questions about translation, though, which is whether you should attempt to preserve the foreignness of the foreign expressions, or try to convert them into figures that have the same effect on the translation's audience as the original had on the original audience. If we wanted this song to sound like an English pop song to an English audience, we'd get Vanessa Carlton or Jewel or somebody, and we'd have them sing something more like "Through the leaves of the trees, the sunlight streaming through / Washes over me here, dreaming of you / Everything's connected, I feel you in the air / Everything's electric, we're together everywhere." In fact, there's an instrumental version at the end of this single, and those lines fit the meter pretty well, so fix up the other five verses and make your own. But we've already got pop songs in English, we don't need to translate Japanese ones. Nor, in the end, is translation exactly my own goal, either. Yes, I wanted to know what this song says, and after translating it I can now claim to (modulo whatever appalling errors I made), but translation is a stop-gap measure at best. What I want, and what I will keep studying for as long as it takes, is to understand these songs as I hear them. Being able to translate them into English on the fly, as opposed to over four or five painstaking hours with five dictionaries and some scratch paper, would be a cool trick, but what I really want is to understand them in Japanese, without translating them at all. After all, these words have meanings, and arguably the greatest value of learning a new language is that it gives you a way to extricate yourself from all the old ones. I want to listen to a song like this, smile, and when you ask me what they're saying, have to stop and wonder how to begin to explain.
And then, listening to this song one more time, stepping back to take it all in at once, instead of symbol by symbol, I suddenly realize what I've found in it, and wonder whether I didn't somehow understand it from the very beginning after all. These people I've never met have written a song about exactly how I've fallen in love. So much for distraction. After hours of translating, I am left with a love song I could have more easily written myself, one that my love and I have very nearly already written each other. Or was that the conclusion I was always going to reach, no matter what these words were? Am I so in love that even my dictionaries are caught up in my bliss? I've gone in search of foreign mystery, and instead have come upon my own escaped heart in a sun-sparkled clearing in another country. How did it get here? Obviously it couldn't, I must have brought it with me. But isn't that how love always works? Your love surprises you because you love in the language of what you love, not yet realizing that you already speak it. Maybe that's even a definition: love is what it feels like to suddenly discover that you are somebody else. It's incredibly tempting to think that love is what vibrates inside of you when you touch her, but that's the easy part, and this song is about the hard part.
The hard part is to wake up without her, light shining through the trees into ripples on the pillow where her head should be, and to know that you are even more profoundly connected by waking up alone and thinking of each other than you are by waking up in each other's arms. However agonizing the loneliness seems, it is the second sweetest prize for having had the courage to let go of your own heart. And you sink back into the sheets, overwhelmed and transfixed and aglow. Every separation, instantaneous or endless, is a precious moment between joys. Dwell in it. Make it infinite and it will become timeless. Make whatever rules you need. Everything else will stand still, in awe, until you see her face again and give the world leave to resume its spinning. Tomorrow? It's the wrong question; "tomorrow" waits for us, not the other way around. Patience, my love. You left this tiny machine on my nightstand, or buried in my brain, and it measures the weight of time and says these days are nothing without us.