Japanese First-Grader Textbook Story Translations
One of my professors in the Japanese department here at UAF gave me the opportunity to take a JLPT N2 practice test. I did rather poorly on it. As I suspected would be the case, my lacking vocabulary was at the heart of all the problems I had with the test. I have too heavy a class load to make it worthwhile to study heavily and try to take the JLPT this year; even if I were willing to sacrifice my grades in the attempt, the air fare to Seattle is too expensive to be worth it if I fail. Just because I’m unwilling to cram, however, that doesn’t mean that I have no intention of stepping up my studies a bit. I have several resources at my disposal which have barely been tapped, including several books.
Shortly before the end of my study abroad term in Japan, I was given a full set of the 2005 Japanese language grammar textbooks for grades 1-9. These are the official Ministry of Education approved grammar books for native Japanese speakers going through primary school. There are twelve books for elementary grades 1-6, two books for each grade. There is only one book for each of the three middle school grades, and they’re thicker than the two books for any of grades 1-6 put together.
I’ve decided to start reading them straight through, beginning with the first of the first grade books. Some of the things in it are difficult for me to understand, because a lot of children’s language is used. They aren’t defined in the book because they don’t need to be for their intended audience. A child goes into school with a fairly large vocabulary, and grammar lessons start by teaching him to write words with which he is already familiar.
About midway through the textbook, however, once all the hiragana have been covered, short stories are introduced. There are three multi-page stories in the first textbook. One of them is a rather boring (to an adult) story about an old man who couldn’t pull a huge vegetable out of the ground. Along comes an old woman who tries to help him, then a kid, then a dog, then a cat, and finally a rat. Together they finally get the vegetable out. Very repetitive. The other two, however, are cute little stories that I think are worth sharing.
The translations are not quite literal in some spots. When I had to choose between faithful and accurate, I chose faithful. They’re stories for children, and they should read like children’s stories.
Steam Train (けむりの きしゃ)
A shooting star fell from the sky.
ながれぼしが おちて きました。
An old smokestack cleaner picked it up.
えんとつそうじの おじいさんが ひろいました。
The old man set the star on top of a smokestack.
おじいさんは、 ながれぼしを えんとつの てっぺんに おきました。
“Here, I’ll return you to the sky.”
「さあ、 そらに かえして あげよう。」
The old man started to burn some wood.
おじいさんは、 まきを もやしはじめました。
Smoke came out of the smokestack.
えんとつから、 けむりが でて きました。
“Thank you, grandfather.”
The star, riding the smoke, rose up and up into the sky.
ながれぼじが、 けむりに のって、 そらへ そらへと のぼって いきました。
The Mountains That Argued (けんかした山) by Mikio Ando
The illustrations for this story added context which aided me in its translation.
Two tall mountains stood next to each other.
たかい 山が ならんで たって いました。
They always argued about which of them was taller.
いつも せいくらべを しては、 けんかばかり して いました。
“Stop arguing,” said the sun.
「けんかを やめろう。」 お日さまが いいました。
The moon spoke, too.
“Stop it. If you don’t, the animals of the forest
「おやめなさい。そうで ないと、 もりの どうぶつたちは、
will be nervous and unable to sleep.”
あんしんして ねて いられないから。」
But neither mountain listened to their words.
それでも、 どちらの 山も いう ことを ききません。
Then, one day it happened.
ある 日の ことでした。
Finally, both mountains, unwilling to lose, suddenly spurted fire.
とうとう、 りょうほうの 山が、 まけずに どっと 火を ふきだしました。
Many green trees were engulfed in flames in the blink of an eye.
たくさんの みどりの 木が、 あっと いう まに、 火に つつまれました。
The songbirds spoke all at once.
ことりたちが、 くちぐちに いいました。
“Sun! Please call for the clouds to bring rain.
「お日さま。 はやく くもを よんで、 あめを ふらせて ください。
We’ll call for them, too.”
わたしたちも よびに いきますから。」
The sun called the clouds.
お日さまは、 くもを よびました。
Black clouds gathered quietly and rained steadily.
くろい くもが、 わっさ わっさと あつまって、どんどん あめを ふらせました。
The extinguished mountains looked at each other glumly.
火の きえた 山は、 しょんぼりと かおを みあわせました。
One year, two years, three years passed.
一ねん、 二ねん、 三ねん たちました。
Years and years passed.
なんねんも なんねんも たちました。
The mountains were completely wrapped in green.
山は、 すっかり みどりに つつまれました。
(Illustrated by Masahiro Kasuya.)
かすや まさひろ え