July 19, 2018, 12:45:07 PM

Author Topic: Japanese Mythological World  (Read 358 times)

Online S. K. Inkslinger

Japanese Mythological World
« on: March 14, 2018, 06:49:04 AM »
I'm writing a novel based on my own version of a Japanese, Chinese-ish mythical world, and end up subconciously using some english-japanese words for some of the items. Examples: Futon, tatami mats, hakama, nodachi, oni, tengu and etc.

My question is whether my readers will be able to understand these items I'm trying to portray? Should I put in some definition list at the bottom of each page with the japanese words? Or do I need to replace the word with "mat for tatami, nodachi for longsword, oni for giant, etc." every once in a while to give the word an english definition?

Offline Nora

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Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2018, 08:13:05 AM »
Oni in its usual translation is more for "demon", not giant in Japanese. And not a giant but an ogre, as well. At least for all the translations I've met. I know it's not the primary meaning, that demon is Akuma, but they're cousin as far as my understanding goes.
I have a pretty good understanding of Japanese as both a culture and a language, so I personally stead clear of any Japanese-style fantasy that doesn't come from a Japanese author. I would be especially reluctant if it were mixed with Chinese, which has its own unique culture. A more pan-Asian world though, could be super interesting (to me! That's just my opinion)
So in the end I don't have a lot of experience with Japanese style fantasy that aren't manga or anime. So bear that in mind as you read my ideas :

If I were you I'd go like this : if it's set in Japan, using Japanese words is ok. Don't ever translate them at the bottom of the page. You should make their meaning understandable through the text.
If it's not set in Japan but a mythical Asian world where your own inspiration is from Japan, don't. It's like having an American-ish far west setting that is pure fantasy, and calling the booze "red-eye" and everyone carries Winchester rifles.
Some words though are accepted in English. I think you'd have an easier time going for "futon" than "oni". Plus if you use oni, where do you stop? Akuma, tengu, bakemono... I'd steal clear of all that if I were you, unless the story is set in Japan. Even then, maybe read the Otori series. I've heard mixed reviews but it's the typical example of a published author who writes about fantastical Japan. 
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2018, 08:47:38 AM »
Well, it's the same problem that a fantasy writer has when it comes to any type of world in which the reader may not recognise the words and concepts. My suggestion is that you try to introduce the words in a way that they are described within a context that helps the reader understand what they are. I personally loathe it when writers force exposition or explanations of words into the mouths of its characters. The denizens of your world know what a nodachi is and wouldn't name it or think about it as a "nodachi greatsword" (essentially a tautology).

The fact that it's Japanese will probably lead to confusion, however. There are a great many misunderstandings about Japanese words and concepts in the west (like how I'm not sure if nodachi is a longsword or a greatsword :D ). And I know a lot of westerners take the word "oni" to mean demon, likely related to the fact that they are described as having horns, which in western mythology makes them spawns of the devil (thanks, Baphomet!)

I think this is one of the biggest -- and most interesting --  challenges a fantasy writer faces. People tend to solve it in different ways, but my top priority is always to make any world-building or exposition a natural part of the narrative.
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Online S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2018, 03:59:03 AM »
Ah yes, Tengu and Oni will most certainly be in the story, since they are the main elements of thd novel itself. Thank you for the advices, I will probably try to put as least words as possible in Japanese, and replace the rest along the story with english words to convey the meaning.

Edit: And hmmph, many Japanese mangaka have written their stories based on fictional European settings that aren't totally accurate though... Although I guess everyone had their own distinctive preferences. We'll agree to disagree on this one.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2018, 10:31:43 AM by S. K. Inkslinger »

Offline Dark Squiggle

Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2018, 07:21:02 PM »
I don't know what any of these things are, except oni, which I learned about a couple weeks ago in the myth about the old lady and the dumpling that someone told me. If I could figure out what the things are, I 'd be fine with them. C. Pullman used gyropters without an explanation, (gyropters don't exist altogether) and I was fine (first example I thought of.)
Also, I just looked up a nodachi, and it is not a longsword or greatsword. That would be like calling a Toyota Supra a Ford Mustang or a Chevy Camaro; not only is not very precise, but it makes your reader picture something else entirely.

Offline Nora

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Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2018, 08:25:55 PM »
I didn't mean things in such a brash way. You certainly can use some words so long as you introduce them smartly.
For example :

Ayame shook his bedroll out, his mind still climbing out of his dreams.
"What are you doing with my futon?"
"Excuse me?" he asked, looking down at the child who stood with arms akimbo.
"This isn't your futon, it's mine! Yours has the flower pattern on it!"
Ayame looked blearily at the swath of fabric in his arms. It was, indeed, patterned with bunnies.
"My bad!"

Not Pulitzer prose, but you get the idea. Someone who doesn't know what a futon is now has a good idea of what it is : a kind of bedroll.
You can do the same with exposition.

A crash resounded, shattering the quiet of the small valley.
[cue, lengthy description of a monster, 4m tall and horned, with red skin and yellow eyes, whatever]
"An Oni! In this valley?"

Boom, visual before name works all the time. Since you're the narrator, you can always give us the facts through description without using the name, and then have the name come later.

But again, I think the best thing for you to do is to research what published authors of japanese-style fantasy do, and how it works.
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2018, 09:05:04 PM »
Unrelated: I always thought a futon was a type of comfy chair. Learned something today.
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Online S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2018, 04:25:16 AM »
Hahah, to think about it, I myself only know these words thanks to the animes I've watched, so maybe I should consider which words to introduce and whether it's that important enough.  ;D

Offline Nora

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Re: Japanese Mythological World
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2018, 10:39:22 AM »
Hahah, to think about it, I myself only know these words thanks to the animes I've watched, so maybe I should consider which words to introduce and whether it's that important enough.  ;D

Yes, it's definitely important to try and get a native speaker to help out if you know any. It'll get you a lot of insight.
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty