Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Cultural Transfer in Anime Translation


Nowadays the term anime, meaning cartoon in Japanese, has become of common usage in the international context. Originally it was coined from the English term animation, and then adapted to Japanese phonetics. Since the U.S. d but of "Astro Boy" in 1963, the anime industry has continued to expand all over the world. It is no longer a sub-culture for a small group of fans; the majority of the new generation has grown and is still growing up in direct contact with the world of Anime translation (of Japanese culture) more than with the literary works. There exist a great number of websites of fans that are dealing with this topic; it is a sign of the public interest. Unfortunately, they merely make judgments that are often not objective. The present work is devoted to analyzing first the text features of the cartoons, second the examples of translations (Japanese-Italian) taken from a famous work, and, finally we will try to suggest a working method for anime translation. The goal is not to find fault with every single word and sentence selected by translators, but to identify the type of Japanese cartoon translation and to pursue the best way to deal with the transfer from one language into another i.e. from one culture into another.


It was more than forty years ago when the export of anime started. During the eighties and nineties, along with the huge success of Shogakukan's "Pok mon" (Pok mon; Pocket Monster) series which was broadcast in about 70 countries, anime established a leading position for itself in the world market. It is estimated that currently around 60% of the cartoons shown worldwide are made in Japan (JETRO, 2005). Entertainment genres such as anime, manga, and videogame, considered sub-culture, are now easily accepted worldwide and they may be more famous than the classic Japanese so-called high-culture such as the tea ceremony or ikebana. This trend also emerged at the 2004 Venice biennial: the Japanese pavilion reproduced the world of OTAKU with places and objects related to anime, manga, and videogames, all ex sub-culture. In addition to classic aesthetics, i.e. Wabi and Sabi, the keywords were Moe, Puni, Hetare, Yaoi; all of them are the new concepts born in cartoons. Meanwhile the anime directed by Miyazaki, entitled "Spirited Away" (La cittincantata; Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), won a great number of international prizes e.g. the Golden Bear of the Berlin Film Festival in 2002 and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2002. This year (2008), from July 3rd to July 6th two important events related to anime were held: Anime Expo in Los Angeles and Japan Expo in Paris. The former had 43,000 paying visitors (41,000 in 2007) and 100,300 (100,000 in 2007) total visitors. The latter has not announced the official number of visitors yet, but it is supposed to exceed 100,000 (80,000 in 2007). There is no doubt that the popularity of anime is rising globally and it may be no exaggeration to say that almost all children of the world have grown and are still growing up with the Japanese cartoons.


Furthermore, in recent years, the growing interest in Japanese culture fostered by anime can be observed around the world. For example, more and more travel agencies (e.g. Pop Japan Travel in the USA, Autrement in France, Mitani Travel Service in Chile) are organizing tours in Japan to visit museums, anime fairs, and sites linked to the famous animeseries. Other significant data are the growing sales of the tickets for foreign visitors to The Ghibli Museum produced by Miyazaki, the director of "Spirited Away": 37,780 in Fiscal year 2004 v. 59,850 in fiscal year 2006 (Tokuma, 2005, 2007). In addition, a number of specialists, including Shibakura of Charles University in the Czech Republic, Kondo of Tokyo University, Thomson of New South Wales University in Australia, Sakai of University of Paris 7, point out that one of the main reasons for students to choose Japanese is the interest in anime (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, 2007).

Anime, as other classic types of artistic expression such as literature, live-action movies etc., unavoidably contains cultural references i.e. proverbs, puns, gender- or age-specific speech, people's names and their allusions to the country of origin. This paper will focus on the strategies to translate the culture-specific terms (CSTs) for the Italian-dubbed version.


The first Anime series exported overseas was "Astro Boy" (Astro Boy; Tetsuwan Atomu) to the United States in 1963. In Italy the import of cartoons created by Japanese animators began rather early, in 1977, with "Vicky the Viking" (Vicky il vichingo; Ch sana baikingu Bikke). One year later, in 1978, the success of titles such as "Heidi, Girl of the Alps" (Heidi; Arupusu no shoujo, Haiji)" and "Ufo Robo, Grendizer" (Ufo Robot Goldrake; UFO Robo Gurendaiz ) (JETRO, 2007) induced broadcasters to introduce a great deal of anime in Italy. In the course of 30 years Culture Specific Elements (CSEs) present in animehave been dealt with in different ways. In "F" (F - Motori in pista; Efu, broadcast in Italy in 1996), for instance, every scene with Japanese writing, such as newspapers, shows blank spaces, and advertisements were completely eliminated. It is almost impossible for the viewers of the Target Culture (TC) to realize that the characters are Japanese and they live in a foreign country viz. Japan. Regarding the characters' names in "Kodocha" (Rossana; Kodomo no Omocha, broadcast in Italy in 1996-1998), they were all replaced with occidental names, e.g. Sana Kurata with Rossana Smith, Akito Hamaya with Heric Akito, Tsuyoshi Ohki by Terence, Misako Kurata with Catharine Smith, Naozumi Kamura with Charles Lons, and so on. This adaptation gives the impression to the Target Language (TL) audience that the characters are all occidental and speak Italian. We can observe another emblematic example in "Saint Seiya" (I Cavalieri dello zodiaco; Seinto Seiya, broadcast in Italy, 1990-1992); even passages from Italian classics were added e.g. Alla Seraby Ugo Foscolo and L'Infinito by Giacomo Leopardi. The Italian audience appreciated the warriors who recited familiar solemn sentences (Villa, 2005). The series had a huge success although it has changed completely the effect which the original Source Culture (SC) version could have on the public. These facts show that Italian audiences have preferred Target Culture (TC) oriented translations for a long time. We can deduce that they have considered a foreign culture incomprehensible or unacceptable to the audience of the TC so the CSEs were to be omitted or substituted with some elements of the TC. In recent years a change has occurred in this trend. Several publishers such as Yamato Video and Dynit have re-dubbed some old anime, making new editions based on SC-oriented translations, releasing them on DVDs which include also the first versions for the old fans. Also, it is significant that today various private broadcasters like MTV and Sky adopt a SC-oriented translation policy, in view of the disadvantages of the previous TL editions. At the same time, public awareness of the quality of the translation is increasing. The expanding phenomenon of virtual communities e.g. websites, chat rooms, forums in which people often comment on the rendering or criticize the adaptation made in the TL version proves a growing interest in translation quality. There are even web activities dedicated to protests against censorship. Hence the issue of cultural transfer is inherent in importing foreign products and its handling is always subject to change according to the broadcasters' intentions and the viewers' requests.


What is the peculiarity of translating cultural references in dubbed version of anime? When cultural references are found in other printed media such as books, space is of no major concern. If necessary, the element in question can be described in more words to explain things in detail; endnotes, footnotes or glossaries can also be created. On the other hand, in anime the space and time for the text must conform to the original, so there is no possibility to paraphrase or extend. But there are other factors which can facilitate translation of CSEs. In the printed media, picture books utilize images as means of expression in the same way as anime, but the images of the latter are moving, which can better illustrate CSEs. This visual explanation can partly substitute for using more words in the description. Therefore, the on-screen image can be considered as an integral part of the anime translation. Also the live-action film consists of the moving image and the text, but the anime have an advantage over live action movies in that they don't require precise lip synchronization (Animeye, 2004).

Many scholars suggest different labels for the various translation strategies. Here we can use the definition and the procedures proposed by Peter Newmark. Following the present tendency mentioned in chapter 2, the main procedures for translating CSTs are transference, naturalization/functional equivalence, and paraphrase.

Without modifying the original length of the passage, there are two ways which can be useful: functional equivalence and transference. The former requires a culture-neutral word as the term in the TL, the latter is the process of transferring a Source Language (SL) word into a TL text, i.e. borrowing the original term (Newmark, 1988).

When it is not possible to find a solution through the two procedures mentioned above, it is possible to use the moments in which the characters neither appear on the screen nor speak. Although the atmosphere of the silent scene of the original can be ruined, we can use paraphrasing, that is to say, adding new phrases in order to explain the CSTs in more words.


A test case: Spirited Away (La cittincantata; Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)

As we saw in chapter 3, there are mainly three strategies to translate the CSTs of anime following the present trend of SC-oriented translation: functional equivalence, transference, and paraphrase. We are going to investigate each of them in detail analyzing the examples of CSTs in "Spirited Away" (2001), the Miyazaki movie, which has received many awards. It was produced by Studio Ghibli, whose fascinating products had already been appreciated overseas for many years. Italy is no exception and imported almost all of its cinematographic products.

The movie deals with the adventure of Chihiro, a 10-year old ordinary girl, in a wonder village. Chihiro's family moves to the suburb. On the way to their new house, they get lost in the woods. Across an unusual tunnel, they find themselves in a seemingly abandoned theme park. Going deep inside, there appears an old village lined with empty food stalls without either attendants or clients. Chihiro's parents devour the foods, which are in fact for gods and spirits, bragging that they own a credit card and a full wallet and, as a result, they are transformed into pigs. Thanks to a mysterious boy called Haku, Chihiro arrives at Yuya, a public bathhouse for gods and spirits and starts to work there in order to get her parents back to be human. She has to face a number of difficulties in performing her tasks but she is courageous enough to accomplish them with her colleagues' cooperation. Finally, she matures as a person and can go back to the human world with her parents.

Although the characters are contemporary, the majority of the scenes develop in and around a traditional public bathhouse which is full of cultural references. Moreover the bathhouse in question is specific for gods and spirits, so the public of the TC of monotheistic religions can find many unfamiliar elements. Therefore "Spirited Away" can be considered suitable for examining how the SC is transferred in the TL version.

4.1.1. Transference - BANDAI

The story of "Spirited Away" develops in a present-day traditional bathhouse for which the main character called Chihiro, a girl of 10, has to work. On the first day of her service, her colleague Lin asks her to go to the bandai. A bandai is a counter where the guard sits in a public bathhouse. There the clients pay the fee or buy some necessities such as shampoo, soap etc. The term can also indicate the guard in a bathhouse. In the original version, Chihiro answers Lin, "Linsan, Bandai tte nani?" (Lin, what is a bandai?). It is clear that Chihiro is not familiar with the term bandai. It is actually possible that present-day children do not know what the bandai is, due to the decreased number of public bathhouses. In Tokyo, for example, There were 2641 in 1965, but by 2005 the number had fallen to less than half--1025 (Bureau of Citizens, Culture and Sport of Tokyo, 2007). This means the public bathhouse is not a familiar place anymore for the new generation; as a consequence the related terms such as bandai cannot be known by today's children. So it can be considered that bandai is a CST not only for the audience of the TC but also for certain viewers of the SC. Accordingly it is important to take into account the effect which the term can have on the people who hear it. In the Italian version, the conversation of the two girls is translated as follows. Lin says, "Vai dal caporeparto" (Go to the head of department) and Chihiro answers, "Lin, che cos'il caporeparto?" (Lin, what is the head of department?). A hypothetical functional equivalent expression has been used to replace its SL word. The meaning of the term "head of department," however, is not even close to that of "bandai." It is, however, a commonly-used term which is easily comprehensible to all, unlike the word bandai. Chihiro's question as to what the head of the department is, would sound odd. Therefore this replacement cannot be considered to be successful. In this case a culture-free word like custode(keeper), could work better. But following the Italian current trend of SC-oriented translation, in order to create the same impact as the original, transferring the original term into the TL text can be more functional than selecting a culture-neutral word or creating some substitute expression for it.

It is necessary to find a CST and make it understandable to the audience of the TL in a suitable way, but at the same time, it is important to bear in mind that culture is not static. Along with the evolution of the SC, the connotation of the CSTs and the way to translate them are changing.

4.1.2 Transference - HOKORA

Chihiro's family moves to a small town from a city. While driving to their new house, Chihiro sees a number of tiny house-like objects along the path. She curiously asks to her mother what they are. "Ano ie mitai no nani? (What are those things which seem like houses?). And the mother answers, "Ishi no hokora. Kamisama no ouchi yo." (They are the stone hokora, gods' houses.). The answer of Chihiro's mother in Italian version is "Altari abitati da piccoli spiriti, coscredono alcuni" (Altars inhabited by small spirits. Some believe so). First, the mother's assertive explanation about the hokorais transformed into a somewhat hesitant one due to the addition of the second part "Some believe so." But it would be useful in order not to hurt the sensibility of TC people professing a monotheistic religion. This kind of infidelity to the original version is sometimes important in anime translation, since the products are often targeted not to a small group of intellectuals but to a mass audience whose knowledge and capacity of accepting the unfamiliar are rather limited. The term in question "hokora" is translated "altari" (altars). A hokora is a small house-shaped shrine where the gods are worshiped, usually with a statue of a Shintoist or Buddhist god located inside. Instead of a miniature house, a simple niche is used in some places. You can find the hokora at the entrance of a village, at crossroads, or in the sites such as deep in the mountain or on a cliff, which reminds us of the primitive physiolatry. On the other hand, the term altare can indicate the desk on which the ancient offered the sacrifice or the table where the Catholic priest celebrates the Eucharist or the principle part inside of a Catholic church. There is no overlap of meaning between "hokora" and "altari." It would be advisable, in choosing the rendering for hakama, to pay attention to the fact that there exists an analogous custom with hokora also in the Catholic country, Italy. A edicola is a shrine with some saint's statue or image inside. It can be found at a crossroad or along the highway just like the hokora. But the term edicola is rather technical and, although they are familiar with the concept, not all Italians are familiar with the term. It can be assumed that Chihiro does not know the term hokorabecause her mother explains it in plain words. Therefore edicola could be considered the cultural equivalence translation for hokora taking into account the use and the low popularity of the term. But does it sound too technical? Could Catholic people expect a Madonna to be inside of a edicola? If these doubts arise, transference can be adopted. As the case of bandaiin the previous chapter, it is supposed that normally a little girl of today coming from a city doesn't know the term hokora, since her mother gives her a brief explanation. Since there is no precise equivalent in the TL, the original word can be left in the TL version as such in order to get the same effect of what the hokora makes on the viewers who hear it. Anime translation is where the translator should show his or her knowledge about the SL and SC as if it were an examination. The term should maintain the effect of the original version and the author's intention; especially if we tried to follow the Italian current trend of SC-oriented translation.

4.2.1. Functional equivalent - HAKAMA

When Chihiro goes to work at the bathhouse, Lin gives her a uniform in traditional Japanese style. Handing over to Chihiro one of the pieces of the uniform, Lin says only, "hakama" and Chihiro gets it without saying anything. Unlike the case of bandai, Chihiro naturally accepts it without asking any question, even though hakamaappears on the screen as a folded piece of cloth, and the image does not help in understanding the meaning. In the Italian dialogue it is translated into "pantaloni" (pants). In fact hakama are Japanese-style trousers. A generalization of the term for a public in a culture unfamiliar with that specific type of pants works well and produces the same effect as the original term, i.e. it is taken for granted that the term can be understood by everyone.

However, here again the factor which should not be undervalued is the nature of the culture, which is evolving as time passes by, especially in contact with another culture. Suffice it to recall that Japanese terms like kimono, judo, sushi, geisha have been part of the vocabulary in different foreign languages as loan words (Nagami-Nannini, 2006) for a very long time. Hakama is used also outside of Japan as part of the sportswear for martial arts e.g. Kyudo, Kendo, and Aikido. Thus hakama is becoming an internationally known loan-word. Japanese martial arts have been attracting foreigners for many years, with a large increase in practitioners over recent years. As to Aikidoin particular, for instance, in 2007 the Aikikai Foundation reported that the number of practitioners of Aikido had almost doubled, compared with 1988, and the sport is now practiced officially in 90 countries compared to 55 countries in 1988 (Aikikai, 2007). In other words, today there are much more people who are familiar with the term hakama; therefore, in the near future, in spite of using a culture-neutral word, the strategy of transference will became adequate (HANADA, 2005) also for the case of hakama. It goes without saying that a translator should be competent in the SC and it is also necessary to be aware of the changing situation of the TC. The greater part of the imported anime products may contain elements which are easily subject to change since they are generally targeted at children and young people who are more sensitive of novelty and curious about the unfamiliar.

4.2.2. Functional equivalent - HANKO

Haku, direct subordinate of Yubaba, who is an old witch supervisor of the bathhouse, steals the precious hanko from Zeniba, twin sister of Yubaba. He risks his life because the hanko is under a spell; those who steal it should die. But Chihiro saves him and undertakes a journey to get the hanko back to Zeniba. Anyway many events happen around this hanko, but the movie does not give us any hint to understand what hanko stands for. In general, hanko is a kind of stamp with one's own name used instead of a signature. All Japanese people possess at least one hanko which is often custom-made. In every occasion in which a signature is required in the western world, in Japan one has to stamp his or her name, for example, to receive a parcel, effect a bank operation, or rent a house. Hanko is translated in Italian "sigillo d'oro" (golden seal). Actually we can see a small golden object on the screen. The additional adjective "golden" conveys the idea of value and it could suggest an important function of the hanko to the audience of the TC. The seal looks similar to a hanko, but, although it has the monogram or initial which can identify its owner, it does not have the power to validate anything. The seal is not used in place of the hanko-stamp so it is not strictly functional equivalent, but together with the additional word "golden," seal represents something important.

The hanko is also called majo no keiyakuin in the movie, which means witch's hanko of the contracts. It must have something to do with contracts and we could imagine that it would be to validate the contracts or to give its owner the power to enter into contracts, or it may be the symbol of the contract. In any case, the use of the hanko in the movie is not clear. Therefore in this event, even if the "golden seal" is not accurate semantically, it works well in the context appearing as an important object which doesn't betray the on-screen image. It can be considered contextual functional equivalence. The translation of anime does not require only the demonstration of the semantic accuracy of the term, but it needs to take into consideration the average background knowledge of the mass audience about the SC. However, let us recall that as in the case of hakama in section 4.2.2, the choice of the rendering is always relative. In this moment the translation "golden seal" is functional. But if the use of the hanko-stamp in Japan becomes as widely known to Western audiences as is the custom of using of chopsticks instead of knife and fork, it will be appropriate to translate it as timbro (stamp) or even transfer the original word "hanko." Along with the incessant evolution of the culture, it needs to be borne in mind that the translation procedure is changing.

4.3.1 Paraphrase - ENGACHO

Paraphrasing can be suggested as a last resort to render the CST when there is neither a general word nor the possibility of borrowing. If in the original version there are silent moments where some descriptive dialogues can be inserted. During the scene in which Chihiro squashes a small black slug with her foot, Kamaji, the operator of the boiler room of the bathhouse says to Chihiro: "engacho" and "kitta" (cut). Engacho is a charm used among children to send away bad luck and it can be performed by making a chopping gesture through another person's connected index fingers. In the Italian version, many phrases are added as follows: "L'hai ucciso? Porta male, molto male. Unisci gli indici e i pollici prima che ti attacchi il maleficio" (You killed it? Those things are bad luck. Before it rubs off on you, put your thumbs and forefingers together.) and "Sfortuna, vattene!" (Evil be gone!). This paraphrasing gives adequate explanation to those who are unfamiliar with engachoas a CST. We should not overlook that it is not a mere CST, but it is a kind of dialectal expression, and there are many local variations such as enkitta, engatcho, gitcho and the gestures which accompany the charm vary locally. When Kamaji says to Chihiro "engacho," we can see on the screen that she makes a circle with her index fingers and thumbs spontaneously without asking him any question. Thus "engacho" is an obvious expression for Chihiro, even though not all the viewers of the SC can understand the meaning. In this case the on-screen image can help viewers to be aware of the concept of the CST. In general, translators are inclined to try to find functional equivalents for CSTs in the TL, or explain them by some means. However, at times the CSTs can be CSTs, or foreign elements, even in the SL as in the case of engacho. Especially if we wish to be faithful to today's trends in SC-oriented translation, we should not modify the original effect. Due to the addition of the descriptive passages to the original dialogue, the scene in Italian can give the impression that Chihiro does not know what engacho is. In place of a paraphrase, the borrowing strategy or some creative expression which sounds like a charm in the TL can be suggested.

4.3.2. Paraphrase - CHIHIRO

Chihiro goes up to the Yubaba's penthouse suit in the bathhouse to ask for a job. Yubaba refuses the request persistently but ultimately she gets Chihiro to sign the contract. When Yubaba reads her name, she thinks for a moment and says, "Hun, Chihiro to iunokai" (Bah, you are called Chihiro). Then she decides to change the name to Sen, commenting: "Zeitaku na namae dane." It literally would mean "It is an extravagant name" but zeitaku("extravagant") is also used to indicate something that one does not deserve. In this case what Yubaba intends to say is, "This name is too nice for you". While Yubaba gives to Chihiro the new name Sen, the viewers see some kanji, ideograms which compose the name disappearing due to the magic of Yubaba. The kanji CHI, which means "thousand," can be pronounced "Sen." The kanji HIRO denotes "encounter" and it is also a measurement unit, one HIRO being eight times of one SHAKU, a smaller measurement unit. In other words, HIRO signifies metaphorically "many" or "long." Hence Yubaba judges the name Chihiro to be too rich for a girl like her and cuts it in half. In the Italian version the diminishment of the name is lost and it may seem that Yubaba would choose just another name. As a consequence, the reason for the only one letter remaining on the contract would appear unclear. The Italian translation is as follows: seeing the Chihiro's name, Yubaba compliments the girl, "Che nome grazioso!" (What a pretty name!)." Adopting a sarcastic tone of voice could partially help the unavoidable imperfect choice of the expression to reproduce the negative connotation of the original. But since in Italy the kanjiideograms are not used, it is impossible to intuit the reason why Yubaba comes to a decision to call her Sen. In view of the fact that the loss and regain of proper names is one of the key elements of the story, it would be advisable to make this clear for the TC audience. In this event the paraphrase to give a brief description might be useful. It would be suggested to make Yubaba think aloud during the few moments in which she reflects on a second reading of the name on the contract in the original version. Unlike the case of engachoin section 4.3.1, such an addition of lines would not influence the meaning and the effect of the original. Instead of "Che nome grazioso!" (What a pretty name!), the phrase could work better as follows, "Chihiro, nome troppo importante. Semplifichiamo" (Chihiro, too important a name. Let us abbreviate it). This summary solution cannot convey the sense of this scene completely because of the lack of explanation about kanjiwhich can have more than one pronunciation. But it is not advisable to expand the text too much, since the available time and space are limited. In any case, even if it has a weak point, the mystery of the flying away ideograms becomes clearer. Contrary to the example cited in section 4.2.2., which is the case of the translation helped by the image, here, rendering by paraphrase can help the message of the image. The script makes sense only if it's interpreted together with the image.


Three translation procedures i.e. transference, functional equivalence and paraphrase can be useful for the CSTs in animetranslation. There is no absolute rule to apply because the appropriate selection of the procedure can vary according to the TL audience's acquaintance with the SC. Thus the working method to cope with the cultural transfer has a dual nature i.e. knowing naturally the SC and analyzing the diffusion of the SC in the TC. Recently, along with the global popularization of the anime, the phenomenon of rising interest in the Japanese culture owing to the animeis observed. That implies that viewers are acquiring more and more background information about the SC of anime. The more detailed is the knowledge, the more SC oriented translation strategies can be applied. It can be asserted that the monitoring of the evolution of both SC and TC is also an important task for translators in order to choose the right interpretation. Furthermore today, thanks to high technology like TV, DVD and especially the Internet, people of one culture are continuously exposed to other cultures. That means the pace of the evolution of a culture and the background knowledge of the viewers of the TC to understand the SC is accelerating. The way to transfer one culture into another, i.e. the translation strategies, should be in step with the times. Certainly, it goes not only for anime translation but also for all the other types of translation. The majority of the anime imported in Italy is aimed at the children and the young people who are absolutely curious and absorb the unfamiliar rather easily. Therefore translating animerequires, in addition to the linguistic and cultural competence in general, the sensitivity to current trends and constant research into the evolution of the respective cultures.
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