To the lighthouse

I am mostly a fan of Meredith WEATHERBY's translation of Mishima's Shiosai (潮騒, "The Sound of Waves"), but I think his decision to totally ignore the dialect the characters speak was the wrong one. Mishima sets his exquisite Standard against kanji-assisted islandish to striking effect:


But Weatherby renders everything in a fairly neutral English:

"Now you're not ashamed any more, are you?" He asked the question at her as though cross-examining a witness.

Without realizing the enormity of what she was saying, the girl gave an amazing explanation:



"You—you still haven't taken everything off."

Dealing with dialect is tough, though, and I have no idea what drove this decision for Weatherby, so he gets a pass. But it did make it all the more surprising when he left some dialect in—and in Japanese, no less:

"Immorality?" asked Hiroshi. "What do you mean?"

"Don't you know, Hiroshi? I mean what your brother Shinji did to Miyata's daughter Hatsue—I mean omeko—that's what. And that's what the god is angry about."

"Omeko"—in the original Mishima gives this the ateji "交接", which would normally be pronounced kōsetsu and mean "sexual intercourse". So it's pretty clear to the reader what this means, even if they haven't heard that particular slang before.

Having a dirty mind, I looked it up; turns out it is used all over western Japan (and as thieves' cant in the east by the Taisho period at latest), and that it originally referred to the female genitals rather than any particular use to which they would be put. MAKIMURA Shiyō's Osakan dictionary has this to say:

Derogatory term for the female genitalia. Perhaps from 女子 (meko, woman-child)? In women's language, ososo. [Osakans] never said omanko, bobo, etc. In the Sangetsu Hall of Tōdaiji in Nara, there is a wooden statue of Daikoku known as the "Omeko daikoku". This is because his right hand is forming a kongō-ken, which looks like an me-nigiri ["woman squeeze"], in which the tip of the thumb protrudes from between the index and middle fingers of the fist [representing, again, the vagina].

The more you know!

Popularity factor: 11

Akaki Kuumeri:

Any examples of English translations that solved ateji tricks like this any way smart?


Derogatory term for female genitals meaning intercourse, in English that would be "pussy" right?


I don't really have a sense for how dirty it is out west. "Pussy" sounds about right as a first approximation.

AK: I've never read an English translation of anything that conveyed Ateji particularly well, although, Yanase uses ateji to translate Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" so maybe the reverse could work. Here though the ateji are mostly just used to explain the otherwise opaque dialog (nno?) to the Standard Japanese-speaking public.


It was in high school in Kobe that I learned omeko-suru. I didn't realize it was regional. But I also remember hearing somebody utter the taunt 'omee no kaasan kusoman', which at one point I repeated to some older Korean males to argue that Japanese did indeed have sexual swear words.


Ah, the beauty of intercultural understanding!


I admit I don't know this translation but I'm not really sure I understand the problem here.

A dialect is only a dialect from the perspective of people who speak the 'standard' form of the language. To everyone else, a dialect is just, well, a language.

Thus for a translation aimed at people who don't understand either the standard tongue or the dialect, doesn't treating the dialect matter only in the case where the difference in tongue is integral to something internal to the story?

You do mention a striking effect that you consider lost, but I'm unclear what that effect derives from. Presumably there is more to it than just the fact that people on the islands don't speak Mishima's Japanese. So the effect must be derived from a particular choice Mishima made. But since I can't think of any other plausible strategies for this section that he might have chosen, I'm not clear about why this particular one is effective.

In the absence of this knowledge, Mishima's approach also seems to be fairly neutral to me.



Well, one easy strategy that he could have chosen is just to have everyone speak standard Japanese, except maybe for a few crusty old folks who get light +rustic and "washi", for example. That's not an uncommon choice.

But instead, he chose to use dialect in some characters' dialog. The contrast is not only with the Standard narrative voice, but also with other characters (Chiyoko arrived from the mainland speaking joshidaisei), and even other formats -- Hatsue's letters to Shinji are basically in Standard too.

I have no idea if the end result is realistic or not, but the use of this contrast as a tool is undeniable. Its most obvious application is to make points about purity and closeness to an idealized state of nature.

So while I agree with your argument that there's no absolute reason to distinguish between dialect and standard, here I feel that the tension between them is indeed integral to the story (if not the plot).


Re: O-Meko

The word "Meko" seems to pop up regularly in Yuji Aoki's "Naniwa Kinyu'udo" manga (which uses Kansai dialect almost exclusively, except for Haibara's speech). Usually, Aoki takes delight in using "O-Meko" as a brand of underwear, or as the name of a restaurant, or the name of a brothel, etc.


Filthy people, these Kansai folk. Well, I guess the brothel makes sense.


I once heard that TV stations in Kyushu in 1950s to 70s had so much trouble when airing the pro-wrestilng programs featureing this American wresler.


Wow, I really missed out when I skipped Art History class on the day they discussed mudras.

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