Date of Defense
Date of Graduation
Global and International Studies
I first became interested in Banana Yoshimoto’s works while studying abroad in Shiga, Japan. Her words leapt off the pages and came to life against the dynamic backdrop of the Japanese sceneries. When it came time to select a piece for my senior translation project, I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy working with her short stories. Black Butterfly (KuroAgeha) is a short story written and published in 2000 by Banana Yoshimoto. The story captures cross-cultural themes of growing up and the impermanence of beauty and was included in a book called “Karada wa Zenbu Shitteru” which focuses on the human body as a focal point. Yoshimoto is known for her musically rhythmic writing style and her ability to create striking sceneries in text.
I approached the work with a word-by-word method of translation. This strategy was useful to guarantee that no part of the text was overlooked. Upon producing a rough translation, I finely examined the sentence structure and further smoothed out the wrinkles with the help of translation and Japanese language experts. I was careful to reference the original Japanese text even when writing final stages of the English draft, to make sure subtle punctuation cues and word choices were respected.
Because Yoshimoto is so well known for her elaborate descriptions of scenery, I too spent a great deal of time choosing words that painted vivid imagery to set the story. She used dynamic metaphors and comparisons to engage the reader’s senses in the short story. Although some of the metaphors did not translate well into English, I decided to keep the language similar because it gave the scene more depth and intrigue. For example, “ waves like small jagged triangles shook on the surface,” gives the English reader a clear image, despite the unusual phrasing.
Another issue of imagery presented itself in the title. The original title, “Kuroageha” means Black Swallowtail Butterfly in Japanese, and refers to an almost completely solid black butterfly native to Japan. In English, the species that corresponds with kuroageha is called a Spangled Butterfly, and is not native to the United States. The word Black Swallowtail Butterfly in English actually refers to a yellow spotted butterfly. In order to minimize confusion for the reader and draw too much attention to complicated species names or meanings, I chose to simplify the title to “Black Butterfly,” to help the story retain the rhythmic simplicity of the Japanese text.
Translating speech from Japanese text also presented a challenge because of the difference in speech patterns between the two languages. Casual Japanese conversation focuses on a call and response flow to speech, which needed to be translated into a similar casual flow in English. Due to the difference in speech, I chose to mimic English speech patters that sounded casual and friendly by sometimes sacrificing the specific Japanese words and phrases in the original text. To confront these challenges, I had expert help from Dr. Jeffery Angles and Dr. Carlos Pimentel. I want to thank them for the advice and translation expertise that led the successful completion of the project.
Hemmen, Kathryn, "Black Butterfly: An English Translation of a Short Story by Yoshimoto Banana" (2015). Honors Theses. 2553.