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Some of the Japanese academics that I have translated for had never heard of terms, such as “APA style” and “MLA style,” and in some cases had very low awareness on the very concept of “style” (manifested in frequent inconsistencies related to punctuation, formatting of footnotes and quotations, etc., found within the source text itself).
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but is there no well-established, widely-used style guide for such academic writing in Japan? If not, are there any individual university or institution-level style guides that we could point clients toward if they are unsure of what stylistic rules they should follow when preparing their papers in Japanese to make the translation process smoother?

As far as we know, in Japan there are only style guides for academic writing in English, and perhaps you know these already. The very basic one is the Japan Style Sheet, here. At “Further References” are a number of other tools that may be useful, especially the link to…

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As far as we know, in Japan there are only style guides for academic writing in English, and perhaps you know these already. The very basic one is the Japan Style Sheet, here. At “Further References” are a number of other tools that may be useful, especially the link to the Monumenta Nipponica Style Sheet, which is mainly oriented to humanities academic writing, but is fairly suitable for social sciences and general non-fiction as well. Most of us working with academic papers follow the Chicago Manual of Style, though apparently Japanese universities are following MLA style for English-language theses, which is rather different. Most of the publishers putting out academic books (Routledge, Brill, Columbia University Press, etc.) use CMOS. APA style tends to be more popular in the field of journalism.

For writing in Japanese, we do not know of any widely accepted style guide, and every Japanese book we encounter does have those problems. In Japan, there seems to be no such demand for consistency, although certain practices have wide currency, such as for the use of kagi-kakko. Publishers sometimes perform 校閲 in preparing book manuscripts, in varying degrees of rigor, but not all attempt to regularize the writing or style of authors. Apart from outright 誤字,they may not edit for clarity or check and correct citation information or regularity of bibliographical style.

J-to-E translators and editors of texts translated into English need to be prepared to cope with these issues from the outset—one reason the JSS guide came into being. Authors’ writing idiosyncrasies and the lack of widely accepted editing practices at many Japanese publishers means that English wordsmiths must deal with stylistic inconsistencies and missing information, as well as fact-checking, in addition to translating.

In presenting Japanese terms in English text, there are various styles, as seen in the examples below. Which one is preferable?
1) Nagamochi storage chest with wisteria design
2) Large tea container (ōnatsume) with paulownia design
3) …earthworks and ramparts were increasingly replaced by stone walls, ishigaki.
4) …the construction, called gobo-zumi (burdock-piling) by the stonemasons.

It is hard to say which style is “preferable.” Editors make use of all these styles, in accordance with the flow of the text. For example, even in the same paragraph:

The logs support a roof network of beams and thinner rafters, which are tied together using straw ropes and bindings…

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It is hard to say which style is “preferable.” Editors make use of all these styles, in accordance with the flow of the text. For example, even in the same paragraph:

The logs support a roof network of beams and thinner rafters, which are tied together using straw ropes and bindings (neso) made from witch hazel saplings. Using fresh neso is important, because the knots tied with it tighten as the material dries. The ropes and neso bindings are replaced when the roof is re-thatched, which is done once every 20 to 30 years.

  1. When the term (nagamochi) describes or qualifies the gloss (storage chest) and makes it more specific, the simple adjectival style makes for smoother reading. I.e., there are many kinds of storage chests, and this one is the nagamochi type.
  2. Another way of presenting the term is to add it in parentheses as additional information. This interrupts the reading and adds to the apparatus of the sentence, so may be less elegant and readable, but if it is considered important information, it is a useful technique. Parentheses are used to enclose especially long strings such as the original of a poem, a passage from a text, etc. The reader can also easily ignore parts that are in parentheses, so they are used when wanting to stash the information where it can be easily skimmed over.
  3. If a block of text concerns a term that will appear frequently thereafter, it can be introduced as part of the sentence, and thereafter used without special treatment (parentheses, italics, quotation marks). It may be italicized on all mentions or on no mentions after the initial explanation.
  4. Sometimes the Japanese term is of cultural interest, but very specialized and not likely to be mentioned again. In that case, a gloss may be provided, calling attention to the literal meaning of the original.

Don’t we have to be consistent and always use the same pattern for introducing Japanese terms? If we started out using the 1) pattern, we should stick to that pattern only?

Consistency must be balanced with readability and concision. If variety, rather than rigid consistency, in the use of these styles supports readability, it is an asset, not a fault. Editors are unlikely to insist that a text follow only one of these styles; rather, they would encourage use of…

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Consistency must be balanced with readability and concision. If variety, rather than rigid consistency, in the use of these styles supports readability, it is an asset, not a fault. Editors are unlikely to insist that a text follow only one of these styles; rather, they would encourage use of more than one.

More examples:

the Tokugawa shogunate issued the ikkoku ichijo (one domain, one castle) decree

more readable–> the Tokugawa shogunate issued a decree that there should be only one castle in each domain (ikkoku ichijo)

 

Its roots are in sarugaku (a form of theater pre-dating noh), mime, and acrobatics.

Records indicate the presence of tayu (troupe leaders) practicing the art at the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1867)

An Edo period (1603–1867) costume used by both the kamiza (upper troupe) and shimoza (lower troupe).

An Edo period (1603–1867) costume used by both the upper troupe (kamiza) and lower troupe (shimoza).

Using italics for Japanese terms calls attention to their foreignness and introduces bias. Why do editors use italics in texts about Japan?

Not using italics at all is one style option (see JSS, p. 36).

Whether no italics is best for readability in texts about topics related to Japan is something the editor or author must decide. Many texts translated from Japanese or about topics relating specifically to Japanese culture or…

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Not using italics at all is one style option (see JSS, p. 36).

Whether no italics is best for readability in texts about topics related to Japan is something the editor or author must decide. Many texts translated from Japanese or about topics relating specifically to Japanese culture or history are purposefully aimed at singling out something that is different from what readers may be familiar with—the text may have a built-in bias desired by the writer. Whether the editor should encourage removal of such bias or not must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Please advise about English notation of foreign words such as Chinese, Persian, Sanskrit, French, etc. We usually write those words in roman characters without diacritical marks and I believe that is standard in English writing. Am I correct? I am asking this because one of our authors is an elder professor who wants those diacritical marks for his essay.

If your established style is to use macrons for Japanese, some authors may think it is only consistent to use diacritics with the romanization of other languages, and in a way they are right. I believe you would be likely to use diacritics with titles, names, etc. given in French/Spanish/German,…

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If your established style is to use macrons for Japanese, some authors may think it is only consistent to use diacritics with the romanization of other languages, and in a way they are right. I believe you would be likely to use diacritics with titles, names, etc. given in French/Spanish/German, etc, (ê, é, è, ü, etc.).

Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition; 11.74) says: “Except in linguistic studies or other highly specialized works, a system using as few diacritics as are needed to aid pronunciation is easier on readers, publisher, and author.” It is likely that characters with diacritics are understood mainly by scholars, very little by the general reader. So a text aimed at scholars would likely consider use of diacritics the most desirable (for example, the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies), while a a text aimed for a broad readership (general as well as scholarly) would omit them to make it more widely accessible.

One important consideration is whether an author is willing to check and proofread for correct usage; if there is no one expert enough to check, it may be best to avoid their use. This applies to macron use as well.

These days most common diacritics can be input from the keyboard in MS Word and are part of most font sets, so hopefully putting them in would not be the technical difficulty it once was.

There are differences of opinion regarding Sanskrit, with some authors insisting on their use and others happy to omit them. In the NICH Style Manual, as you can see (search “diacritic”), the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage (NICH) museums do not agree on use of diacritics, but in their catalogues and signage, they all use diacritics to some extent in Sanskrit (the NICH rule for Pinyin is “without diacritics”).

Regarding Pinyin, it is my understanding that the use of diacritics for romanized Chinese is rather complex and poorly understood by the general reader so that, in most cases, it would not help to achieve better pronunciation. Academic journals might use them if an author preferred and would oversee the checking.

We editors like to be consistent once we adopt a house style, but to deal with your author, I think you have two options:

  1. You could be flexible in order to accommodate authors who want to use all the diacritics and make an exception as long as they will take responsibility for checking them, but keep to a standard policy of not using diacritics for Pinyin, Sanskrit, and other Asiatic languages.
  2. You could tell the author that the trend in academic publishing in English (as advised by CMOS) is to omit diacritics in Pinyin, Sanskrit, and most other Euroasian languages, even though use of macrons in Japanese romanization is now quite common, as is the use of diacritics in European languages. In deference to the primarily general readers of your publications, you would ask him to defer to your established house style.