Richard Medhurst
  • Richard Medhurst 
  • By this author: 36 Latest posted: 2017.12.01
Translator and editor, Received a master’s degree in modern and contemporary poetry from the University of Bristol in 2002. First came to Japan in the same year and taught English for three years in Chiba Prefecture. He has also lived in China and Korea. Worked in Imizu City Hall in Toyama Prefecture for five years until 2013, when he moved to Tokyo and started full-time translation. Joined in 2014.
Character Assassination: Successes and Failures of Kanji Reform2017.12.01

In 1866, as the Edo period drew to a close, the statesman Maejima Hisoka submitted a proposal suggesting that Japan abolish kanji to the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Maejima, who had both learned and taught English, bemoaned the amount of time students spent memorizing Chinese characters, which could have been used for other study. He was just one of many would-be reformers and abolitionists…

Bridging the Gap to Early Japanese Literature: Translator Peter MacMillan2017.09.12

If you had to pick one book to introduce Japanese culture, what would you choose? For the translator and poet Peter MacMillan, it would be the thirteenth-century anthology Hyakunin isshu, which he rendered in English as One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each. “These hundred short poems tell us almost everything we need to know about the Japanese,” he said in a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club …

Puns, Poetry, and Superstition: Japanese Homophones2017.07.15

Wordplay is not always welcomed openly in Japan. Make a weak, but harmless pun—observing that there is “no ginger” (shōga nai) at the sushi restaurant and saying “it cannot be helped” (shō ga nai), for example—and listeners will greet it with shivers, as if a chill wind has just passed through. The standard retort to a “dad joke” or another attempt at humor that falls flat is samui, “ooh, that’s…

“Blue” for Go? Exploring Japanese Colors2017.06.03

“Blue” traffic lights come as a shock to many students of Japanese. If one learns that midori is “green” and ao is “blue,” it is surprising to find that the clearly green traffic lights at Japanese intersections are described as aoshingō. This demonstrates that even common words may not have simple translations. Japanese traffic lights are not actually blue; they are ao, a word that usually mean…

“Killing Commendatore”: A First Look at Murakami Haruki’s Latest Novel2017.03.16

Murakami Haruki’s new novel Kishidanchō goroshi (Killing Commendatore) was released in Japan on February 24, 2017. There have been no announcements about when an English translation will see the light of day, but fans will probably have to be patient. 1Q84 came out in English a year and a half after the 2010 publication of the third volume in Japanese. There was also over a year between the Japane…

Talking About The Emperor in Japanese2016.11.02

When service assistants talk to customers in Japan, they show courtesy by using honorific language, known as keigo. If the customer is king, appropriate deference is required. A discrepancy in rank—whether in a brief service interaction or within a company—brings into play different vocabulary than that used in casual, everyday conversation. It can take time even for a Japanese graduate new to t…

“Yojijukugo”: The Compressed Poetry of Four-Character Idioms2016.08.20

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight” has become a popular inspirational quote in English, extolling the virtues of perseverance in the face of repeated setbacks. An online search for related images will find countless motivational posters as well as a few tattoos. It is a translation of 七転八起 (shichiten hakki),(*1) one example of a yojijukugo, or four-character idiomatic compound. As the na…

How Japanese Children Learn Kanji2016.06.13

During their six years in elementary school, Japanese children learn over 1,000 kanji. In this time, they greatly increase their reading sophistication, moving from picture books to short novels and simple biographies. Characters are all around them and often graded to their level, whether they are taking lessons in social studies or other subjects, practicing calligraphy, or even reading manga …

Doctor Yellow Keeps the Shinkansen Network Healthy2016.04.28

One of Japan’s most famous doctors is a brightly colored train that whizzes around the country’s high-speed rail network. The Shinkansen test train, popularly known as Doctor Yellow, is used to monitor the condition of tracks and overhead wires, helping to preserve the enviable safety record of the high-speed rail service. The vehicle’s nickname derives from its diagnostic function and distinctive…

Digging into the Past with Burial Mound Cakes2015.12.05

The burial mound cakes of Japanese confectioner Petit Marché have won unexpected popularity for the small company based in Nara, western Japan. Attention to detail has helped the appeal of the cakes to stretch beyond archaeologists with a sweet tooth; Internet and magazine coverage has given them nationwide fame. Burial mounds, or kofun, can be found through much of Japan. They provide the name…

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