Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lost in translation

It turns out my Japanese is not nearly as good as I thought it was.

Let me give you one small example. Every day, on my way to school, I pass by a restaurant specializing in octopus balls (and by octopus balls I don't mean octopus testicles. I'm talking about chunks of octopus baked in a thick batter and shaped into balls. Trust me, they taste way better than they sound).

Anyway, there's a big ad for the octopus restaurant painted on the shuttered door of the adjacent shop.

The octopus is saying, "Hanpa ja nai ze!!"

I translated this to mean, "It's not perverted!!"

This was not a translation based on fact. It was simply a guess. That's generally how I translate phrases I don't understand. I had never encountered the word "hanpa" before but it sounded similar to "hentai," which means "sexually perverted."

Using deductive reasoning, I concluded that perhaps "hanpa" was street slang for "hentai." I mean, look at the picture. It is clearly about the forbidden love between an octopus and a tiger.

"It's not perverted!!" seemed to be a logical translation.

I was pretty sure I was right but I wasn't 100 per cent confident. So I decided to ask one of my Japanese teachers what the octopus was saying.

I took my camera into class, turned on the display screen and zoomed in on the words coming out of the octopus' mouth.

The teacher laughed.

"It is a kind of slang," she explained. "It means, 'The taste is super wonderful!!'"

The taste is super wonderful? I wasn't even remotely close. And I'm supposed to be taking graduate-level classes in Japanese in April? I have a long, long way to go . . .

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