Anime fans are known to often spout off Japanese they don’t know because they think it’s cool. Okay, sometimes they do know Japanese, and still spout off Japanese words. I do this, too. For instance, when I was in Japan, I’d often comment on how takai (expensive) everything was. While I did it half-jokingly, running Japanese words into your English speech becomes a habit once you spend enough time in Japan. So–as awful as this may sound to some–I think in certain contexts it’s okay to run Japanese words into English sentences. For instance, I think it’s fine to do this amongst other people who know the language while talking about concepts with no 100% direct translation. It’s almost fine in blog posts (though I think footnotes would have worked better).
However, when Jake Adelstein quotes his buddy as saying, “Omae, I’ve never seen anyone do that before and live to tell the tale.” in his book Tokyo Vice, I think something is wrong. Yes, he explains what omae means and its connotations (it’s a rude/familiar way to say “you”), and I can see the kind of tone he’s trying to convey with his translation, but this just shouldn’t be done in a professionally published book for mainstream readers. It would have been far better just to use “you” then note that in Japanese, the guy was using omae, and what omae means. People who don’t know Japanese won’t ever fully grasp the tone the man was taking whether or not omae was used in the translation, and those of us who know Japanese will be able to imagine said tone if “you” was used instead, and a note about the use of omae followed afterwords.
The book also uses fansubber favourites like senpai, kohai, as well as the infamous gaijin. I don’t think gaijin is even explained–it doesn’t really need to be, considering the book’s target audience–but it doesn’t hurt to be safe, right?
That said, about a fourth of the way in, Tokyo Vice is a pretty interesting look into a side of Japan that I don’t see talked about much, so to that end it’s a pretty good read. And it’s not like it’s badly written either, it’s just Adelstein’s use of Japanese puts me off, especially when he uses “comic book” as opposed to manga.
I’m sure he appreciates some guy on a blog that has a “Lolita Appreciation” category getting on his case over something so trivial!!