Fun with pretend government offices from 19th century Japan

Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi title imageSean and I recently went back to Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi, a show I started watching via fansubs in 2006 but never got around to finishing. Now the whole series is on Crunchyroll.

The fansubs always translated the name of the agency the Arashi worked for as the “Occidental Investigation Office,” so I was surprised to see it called the “Office of Barbarian Knowledge Enforcement” in the official translation.

Transliterating what they’re saying, you get “Bansha Aratamesho”. I put this phrase into hiragana, ばんしゃあらためしょ, and googled it. The official page for the series came up, as did the official kanji for the name: 蛮社改所. Obviously, since this group was made up for the show, this term doesn’t appear in dictionaries. Here’s how it breaks down:

蛮: ban, “barbarian”

社: sha, “association, society, etc. (or the counter for those things)”

改: this kanji can be part of a verb meaning “to inspect”, which I’m guessing is the intended meaning here.

所: this is just weird; alone and pronounced sho, it only appears in dictionaries as the counter for places.

Searching the phrase in compounds yields better results. According to this page, 蛮社 is short for 蛮学社中, bangakushachuu, which refers to the Western learning done by samurai attendants. Meanwhile, I found the compound 改所 along with a different starting phrase. 貫目改所, or かんめいあらためしょ, refers to an office under the Edo shogunate that tracked the weight of shipments moving along highways, according to this page. Since 貫目 means “weight”, you can infer the meaning of 改所 to be something like “inspection office”.

Based on this, I’d say 蛮社改所 could be translated as “Western Learning Oversight Office.” I can see where the translators got “Office of Barbarian Knowledge Enforcement,” though, given that there’s no distinction between “barbarian” and “Western learning” in this time period.

(Fun side note: Here is an article about 蛮社の獄, or “Jailed for Western Learning,” that mentions Takano Chouei, who happens to be one of the many historical figures featured in Ayakashi Ayashi.)

The main cast of Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi

Abi, Yukiwa, Atl, Yukiatsu, Saizou, Ogasawara, and Edogen

Conrad’s cold pack

I just discovered that someone sold Conrad-branded cold packs with his cringe-inducing pun, そんなはずがアラスカ, printed on them. Here is a picture from an eBay listing for the item:

Photo of Conrad cold pack from eBay
This line, そんなはずがアラスカ, is a play on the phrase そんなはずがあるっすか?, which basically means “That couldn’t be the case.” Literally, it’s more like “Could you really have that expectation?” What Conrad is doing is changing the very last part, the part that asks the question. He leaves the introduction of the topic, “the case” or “that expectation”, and then changes the question part to–wait for it–ALASKA.

For those of you who don’t read Japanese, here’s a romanization that will make everything clearer.

The original phrase: sonna hazu ga arussuka?

Conrad’s version: sonna hazu ga arasuka.

Just a slight sound change, and the whole meaning is different! Yet similar enough to be punny.

Of course, this joke fails, because it doesn’t make any sense. Alaska? What? When Conrad makes this joke in Kyou Kara Maou, Yuuri is horrified that such a cool, handsome guy like Conrad would make such a terrible pun…

Conrad is pimp.
…but he reminds himself that everyone has to have a flaw somewhere.

Here’s the kicker, though. In Japan, when a joke falls flat, people basically respond by going, “Brr! It’s cold!” I don’t know why this is, but in my head I equate the cold, frosty scene after a bad joke in Japan to the crickets and tumbleweeds we evoke here in the US. And this, my friends, is why it’s so hilarious that Conrad’s terrible pun is printed on a cold pack.

Conrad’s jokes: guaranteed to cool you down.


Some time ago, I attempted a fan translation of the bland anime-original Detective Conan episode 439, そして誰もいなくなればいい. Work went slowly because I found the story so boring. Not being a 推理オタク (mystery geek), I didn’t even realize the plot was a blatant rip-off of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None until a friend pointed it out later, so when I submitted my translation, I had a title like “And It’d Be Great If Everyone Disappeared”. While this works as a fairly literal translation, it’s obviously not what the writers were going for with the title. They very clearly meant to refer to Christie’s work.

そして誰もいなくなった is the Japanese title of And Then There Were None. Changing the verb ending to なれば makes it conditional, and then adding いい indicates that the preceding is the desired situation. This results in something like:

If (And Then There Were None), Good!

So, how to reference Christie’s title while keeping the conditional intact and using English that doesn’t sound ridiculous? Obviously “It’d Be Great If and Then There Were None” is out. But that was the best I could come up with for months and months. This morning, lying sleeplessly in a bed hundreds of miles from home, a solution finally occurred to me. Here are some variations.

And Then There Were None? That’d Be Great!
And Then There Were None? That’s My Preference
And Then There Were None? If Only

The question mark handles the conditional and maintains the flow of the original title. Then it’s up to the following phrase to drive home the murderous point.

I think I like the last one best.

Fun with phrases

In Japanese, you can string phrase upon phrase upon phrase, and then at the very end have everything you just said modify a noun. For example, here’s a line from Detective Conan:

watashi wa jishu wo susumetai no…goshujin wo kousatsu shita Yuuko-san, anata ni ne

[I] [(topic particle)] [surrender (n.)] [(object-identifying postposition)] [advise*] … [husband] [(object-identifying postposition)] [strangled] [Yuuko] [you] [to]

This has the dramatic effect of hiding the true subject of everything you’re saying until the very last moment. It’s often used in Detective Conan to make the unveiling of the murderer a surprise.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to do this in English. Here’s the most literal translation I could think of:

I’d advise surrender…husband-strangling Yuuko, to you.

Of course, no one talks like that. So maybe:

I’d advise surrender to the one who strangled her husband…you, Yuuko.

* Susumetai has an ending, –tai, that indicates the desire to do something. I could have translated it as “like to advise”, but for the sake of simplicity I did not.

Translation Exercise: "Analog Blog"

I was catching up on a few RSS feeds, and I happened to read an interesting entry on Digital Camera Sketch (デジカメスケッチ), “a report on the ordinary using a digital camera”. Normally I use the Rikaichan Firefox plugin to get the gist of these posts and then move on, but today I felt like trying to write up a translation of this post, titled “Analog Blog”.

Here’s my translation:

Awhile back, this project was going on in the Nipponbashi area of Osaka. Pictures were taken with digital cameras, brought here, printed on the spot and pasted up together with comments. Incidentally, mine is the one on the right, the photo of the streetcar in the Nipponbashi shopping district.

Click here to see the original post and a photo. The “analog blog” in question has the title “Den-Den Town Bit by Bit Blog”. The post refers to a place in Osaka called Nipponbashi; click here for more information on that area.

Please note: I am not a professional translator, nor am I fluent in Japanese! This was just for practice. If you see any problems, let me know. I was unclear, for example, if he meant he took two photos or just one. Also, it seems like he used the wrong kanji in 商店会; I assumed he meant 商店街.


For those of you who are intrigued yet mystified by the Casshern trailer… this is my horrible “I’ve taken two whole years of Japanese, golly-gee-wow” attempt at “translating” it.

MAN SPEAKING IN BOARD ROOM: koko ni, hitotsu no seika wo happyo sasete itadakitai.  sono nawa, shinzou saibougu.
[here]  [one] [product/result]  [announce receive/ask to do] [heart/mental image/newly made] [cyborg]

Here, I would like to present to you a product.  That is, a new cyborg.

MALE VOICE 2: kore ga…[something?  hu?] koko made [something] da na…
[this is]  [this far]

What?  It’s already come this far?  (this is pretty much a guess based on the guy’s tone…)

MALE VOICE 3: okusama, ko-byokidatou wo okishimashita ka.
[Madam] [illness] [occurred]

Madam, have you become ill?  (there seems to be a malicious undertone to this.  also, it’s spoken very formally)

MALE VOICE 4: runa wa dou surun da.

What is Runa/Luna doing?  (not specifically; more like, what is she up to?  what’s on her mind?  what’s her problem?)

MALE VOICE 5: tomodachi katta dakatte iru no ni jibun dake konnata tokoro ni du(?) wake de wakanai.
[friend][?][?][exist/are (a person/people)][nominalizer particle][directional/purpose particle][self][only][this place][reason] [of] [I don’t know]

(Um…yeah.  Your guess is as good as mine.)

LAB TECHNICIAN (or something): geninfume desu!
[cause unknown] [it is]

We don’t know what caused it!

MALE VOICE: shinzou saibo wa mada kansei se no ka?

Isn’t the new cyborg finished yet?!  (I’m pretty sure on this one, but I could be wrong)

MAN WITH RED LIGHT ON HIS FACE: dou yuu koto da?

What is the meaning of this?

MALE VOICE: gunbu gan go iteru to yuu koto desu.
[military authority/rural area/county] [frozen]

(These words could really mean too many things for me to even make a good guess.  But I think the “frozen” bit must be correct, seeing as there is so much snow in that scene.)

GIRL EMBRACING BOY: naze hito wa tatakau no kana?

I wonder why people go to war… (This might be “So that’s why people go to war…” or something…I’m still sort of unsure about the “kana” form)

WOMAN: anata katta wa.  nani wo shita no desu ka?

I found you out!  What have you done?!  (I’m pretty sure this is it, but I’m still bad about plain form because they leave out lots of particles that could help me figure out what parts of speech words are…also, when she says “anata”, she might be meaning “dear”, as in “my husband”.  This is typically how the word is used these days.  If that’s the case, then it’s just “I caught you, husband!” or something similar.)

MALE VOICE: shio wa samaru anata wo shinsou ningen to shioshu.
[opportunity][topic particle][?][you][preposition marker][depths/deep level/real] [human][part of speech marker][?]

(This looks something like “I took the opportunity to [do something involving] real humanity”, but who knows…)

MALE VOICE 2 (gasping): ningen wo?
[human] [obj.particle]

To humans?!  (or maybe “Humans/humanity [are being ___]?!”)

ICY LOOKING GUY (Casshern?): minagoro shissuto.  (sheest?)

(NO CLUE WHATSOEVER!  I would like to just guess that he means “I’ll kill everyone”, but I can’t find any evidence for that theory :>)

FRANTIC MAN ON PHONE: kodomo(?) aru(?) no(?) kyu(?) hyaku shiro!

(Some details that probably explain everything.  I don’t even know if I transcribed the words correctly ;_;)  Quickly!

MALE VOICE (whispered): Hello. (I think, anyway…)

MAN (murmuring to woman): watashi no buwe no tsukutano fifu […?]

(People shouldn’t mutter.  ;P  Other than “my”, I have no idea what he’s saying.)

KNIGHT-LOOKING GUY (Casshern?): kisama…!

You…!  (kisama generally refers to someone you are very unhappy with.)


Who are you?!  (or “Who is that?!”)

MAN WITH SHINY ROUND THING ON HEAD (Casshern?): ore wa mo ningen ja nain da yo!

I’m not human anymore!  (This doesn’t sound like a random statement, but rather he’s saying this in response to something, or as a reason for something)

MALE VOICEOVER: tatta hitotsu no inochi wo sutete, umari kawatta fujimi no karada.  tetsu no akuma wa tadaite kudaku.  Casshern ga yareneba.  Dare ga yuru(?)
[only] [one] [power] [suteru-to abandon/throw away?][buried/surrounded/overflow/filled] [another/different/various/particular/unusual] [immortal] [body] [iron] [demon]  [comes?] [break/smash]
Only one power (something), filled another immortal body (???). The iron demon comes to destroy.  Casshern can’t be stopped.  Who (something)?

So yeah, wasn’t that great?  My attempt sure cleared THAT up!!!  ^^;;;  If anyone has a real clue, be sure to leave a comment or send me an email and let me know.