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Style guides for academic writing in Japanese?

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  • Many Japanese academics seem to be unfamiliar with the concept of style guides (i.e., APA or MLA style) and source texts frequently contain inconsistencies in punctuation, footnotes, and quotations, etc.

    Is there a well-established, widely used style guide for academic writing in Japan? If not, are there any institution-level style guides that might help clients prepare their papers to make the translation process smoother?

  • There is no established “style guide” for Japanese writers, but there are resources that can help translators and editors.

  • 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 (JSS), here. At “Further References” there 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 (CMOS), 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 many Japanese books we encounter have these problems. Certain practices have wide currency, such as the use of kagi-kakko, but there is considerable freedom in matters of style. Publishers sometimes perform kōetsu 校閲when preparing book manuscripts, with varying degrees of rigor, but not all attempt to regularize the writing or style of authors. Their main attention focuses of correct character use, including okurigana, punctuation, and consistency of text alignment. They may not edit for clarity or consistency of style even for citations and bibliographies. In a sense, a great deal is considered part of the author’s personal style and domain and therefore not territory upon which a publisher should tread.

    J-to-E translators and English-language editors need to be prepared to cope with these issues from the outset—one reason the JSS guide came into being. Dealing with the fairly freewheeling approach to style in Japanese and dealing with authors’ writing idiosyncrasies in transferring the text to the more rule-based expectations of English-language readers will be part of the job. The relatively tolerant editorial policies of Japanese publishers means that translators must deal with stylistic inconsistencies and missing or dubious information in addition to translating.

Styles for presenting Japanese terms in English text

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  • 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.
  • All of the above are perfectly acceptable.

  • 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.

Styles for presenting Japanese terms in English text: Consistency

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  • How important is consistency in patterns for introducing Japanese terms? If we started out using the 1) pattern [in previous topic], we should stick to that pattern only?

  • It is not necessary to be rigidly consistent; variety is actually preferable.

  • 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).

Use of italics for foreign-language terms, words, and phrases

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  • Using italics for Japanese terms can be thought to call attention to their foreignness and introduce 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 history are purposefully aimed at presenting 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.

When should diacritics be used for words in Chinese, Persian, Sanskrit, etc.?

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  • We use macrons for Japanese words as our house style. Do we need to use diacritics for words from Chinese, Persian, Sanskrit, French, as well?

  • For general readers, use of diacritics is discouraged (CMOS 17th edition; 11.74). For scholarly readers, authors may strongly request use of diacritics, and their use can be an asset in such contexts.

  • Even texts for general audiences may opt to use macrons for Japanese words, and if your established style uses macrons for Japanese, it may seem consistent to use diacritics with the romanization of other languages. Using them for French/Spanish/German, etc, (ê, é, è, ü, etc.) would not be a problem.

    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.”

    Nevertheless, scholars may appreciate use of diacritics, as they do widely the use of macrons. The Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies calls for their use.

    One important consideration, which applies to macrons as well, 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.

    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”).