Translating the Japanese directly doesn’t always work, especially when you come across a character with a Japanese accent. This post looks at how to translate Japanese accents in manga, the kind of accents you’d come across and how best to translate it into an English accent.
Many people want to translate manga but there is not much information on how to start translating manga. This series looks at different aspects of translating manga for beginners, with the aim of helping you be a great manga translation and improve the overall quality of manga translation online.
As manga uses spoken Japanese accents come up often. Along with everyday Japanese, there’s keigo and accents such as Kansai-ben.
Everyday/standard Japanese is something everyone translating manga should know. It’s informal/casual Japanese used daily by Japanese people and is considered the national language, mostly used in Tokyo. If you need to brush up on it though J-Talk Online Memrise has some free flashcard courses:
- Manga Grammar for Beginners
- Anime Japanese for Beginners
- Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (N5)
- Beginners Japanese Grammar 2 (N4)
Formal Japanese or keigo is normally used in situations with hierarchical relationships such as rich families (the ojou-sama type character), and historic manga. It is also a part of Japanese that you should be familiar with by JLPT N3/N2 level. If not there are some guides on the blog and a course on Memrise which should help:
- Keigo I – Sonkeigo
- Keigo II – Kenjogo
- Keigo III – Rules For Using Keigo
- Complete Japanese Keigo (Memrise)
Kansai-ben is the accent used in Osaka and Kyoto. It’s often associated with comedy due to a large number of TV comedians originating or training in Osaka (there’s a famous school for comedians in Osaka too). Kansai-ben is often used in manga based in the Kansai region or when characters from the area move somewhere else such as Tokyo.
Kansai-ben is difficult to study if you’re not living in the area for a time and using it in everyday study, BUT there is a great website that breaks down the grammar and gives you practices.
There are other dialects in Japan but I’ve rarely seen these used as much as Kansai-ben, and other dialects are very similar to it, once you know Kansai-ben it’s pretty easy to determine what was being said.
Translate Japanese Accents to English
There are SO many accents in English, many more compared to Japanese, yet it’s also harder to depict these accents in text. What one person may think is one accent, another may interpret as a different accent.
There is no ‘right’ way to translate an accent, it depends on perspective. For example, in Azamanga Daioh the character who spoke Osaka-ben was given a Texan accent in the official translation of the manga and anime. Or in the video game Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, the fairy Shizuku/Drippy speaks with an Osakan accent in the Japanese version but Welsh in the English translation. (If you’ve never played Ni No Kuni it is worth it just for the amazing translation and localization by British company Shloc.)
Think about the character and what they’re like, what kind of accent do you want to portray them talking? How would that accent sound when spoken out loud?
The next issue is how to type it out. The best thing to do when deciding how to type out an accent so it’s clearly distinct from standard English but understood but the reader, is to look at tips for fiction writing. Some good ones are:
- How to write authentic dialects and foreign accents
- Writing Accents and Dialects
- Ten tips on writing characters with accents
An accent isn’t only about dropping certain parts of words, it’s about how a native person would structure that sentence, which is why it’s normally best to stick with an accent you’re familiar with. If there’s a particular accent you want to use you can look up videos online or in TV shows to hear how that person would talk.
You do not have to translate all Osaka-ben as an accent and all standard Japanese as standard English. You can translate standard Japanese into accents as well! A good example is YenPress’s translation of Black Butler. In the Japanese version the main character uses standard Japanese, but in the official translation they have given him a posh British accent. Although this is not a ‘direct’ translation of the original, it does fits the character and gives the story and character a bit more depth.
- Be familiar with Japanese accents so you know what’s being said (and don’t miss translate).
- Think about the accent that would best fit a character.
- You can translate standard Japanese into an English accent if you think it will help the character.
- Pick an accent you’re familiar with (or research a lot!).
- Research how your target accent sounds and how best to write it (make it understandable).