While writing the stories collected in Ghostly Tales of Japan, I always envisaged them being translated into Japanese. In fact, the way I wrote them in English was to a large extent dictated by that. However, despite living in Japan for 14 years, I now find that the translation process involves considering details of the stories which didn’t occur to me at the time of writing. This is because there are sometimes nuances which must be expressed and details which must be made explicit in Japanese which aren’t necessary in English. This became clear with the very first story in Ghostly Tales of Japan, The Hunter’s Wife. Immediately, my translator asked, “What kind of hunter is he? Does he use a gun or a bow and arrow as there are different terms.” The simple mention of a door elicited the questions, “Is it a sliding door or a western style door?” and “What kind of area is behind the door?” These details were totally irrelevant in my original English version, but were very important in the Japanese version.”
Another area which differs in English and Japanese is the way in which people, or yōkai (Japanese supernatural creatures) in the case of the story A Friendly Competition, talk to each other. In the story, three shapeshifters, a fox, a cat and a tanuki have several conversations. My translator asked me questions which at first glance may seem rather irrelevant. He wanted to know if they were old friends or strangers, if they were male or female and their ages. These details were necessary to determine their status in relation to each other. Without this information, the translator would not know which keigo, Japanese honorifics, to use when they spoke to each other. It is essential to choose the appropriate vocabulary and grammatical form to express the correct level of respectful, humble, and polite speech.
Rather than just handing the translator the stories and waiting for the finished translations, I am now busy analyzing each story to provide him with background details which were not needed in my English versions. It will be a much longer, but far more interesting and rewarding process.