Taking a stab at Japanese translation

Greetings everyone.

I had a very cool time today fiddling with some Japanese translation so I thought i’d jot down a few bits about it. My regular day to day currently involves getting all the bells and whistles setup to launch my clothing company (coming soon!) and I was designing a poster for one of my brand concepts. It was a poster with a few sentences written beneath. I started an idea a few years about called “Robot Monkey Army®” and i’m in the final stages of releasing it and I’m seeing if I can work on a Japanese campaign. Anyhoo, the english text at the bottom of the poster reads like this:

The day when the spaceships came, mankind was not prepared.

The armies fell like black ants from the sky, burning and pillaging in their wake.

A new dawn emerged from the molten ashes of humanity’s end.

Okay! So when I wrote those lines, I realized that sort of Japanese is not easy to translate, and it actually took me a while to get through the translations, but I learned a few cool things from it.

Tackling sentence One

So the first sentence.

The day when the spaceships came, mankind was not prepared.

I know space is “宇宙”(うちゅう) and I figured “space ship” would be “space + ship (with the Heisig meaning) sure enough I was correct. 船 (ふね)is ship, and attached to 宇宙 it becomes せん。So spaceship = 宇宙船

I knew the basic way to say “the day ~ came. ” but I didn’t really know how to say “prepared”. This is interesting because in English, we use “prepare for everything” : prepare for war, prepare food, prepare to eat, prepare to go to bed, etc. But in Japanese, there are tons of ways to say “prepare”(with different kanji) and I wanted to learn what this version was.

Also, what is “mankind?” in Japanese? I knew 人間性 (にんげんせい)(humanity) and 人間界 (にんげんかい)(human world), but I didn’t know that word. turns out it was 人類(じんるい)。

Looking back on the sentence:

The day when the spaceships came, mankind was not prepared.

I literally knew how to say “At the point in time when the spaceships arrived,” in Japanese. So now I knew “spaceship” I could type


which says “when the spaceships came to the land of the human world…”

but I didn’t know how to say “mankind  wasn’t prepared”. I had to read through several sentences to see shades of meaning. For example in my last post, I wrote that 支度 (したく) is to prepare say, a meal. But 心構え(こころまえ) I learned means “preparedness” say for a test or something, but it still didn’t mean, “prepared” say, for a war. Eventually I ran a few different versions of my sentence through google translate and excite yahoo translator and I got the same result Kanji-wise. The idea of “was not ready” isn’t so easy to find a translation for.

So the translations brought up 人類は準備させれなかった。

(にんげんかいじゅんび)させれなかった。I immediately recognized “saserenakata” because when I was in Tokyo, I had this converastion with a friend about it. It’s basically a kind of causative expression. In researching to remind myself how it really works, I stumbled upon this AWESOME website that had it explained perfectly with loads of example sentences. You can read it below:

Maggie Sensei explains saseru and sasereru

Continuing, so I remembered that “nomusaseru” means to make someone drink. So I figured that “junbisaserenakatta”(準備させれなかった) meant that “someone was made not to prepare”. Which sort of fits the translation.

so the last bit of the sentence: 人類は準備させれなかった literally means that “mankind was made not to prepare” (the causative part being the arrival of the spaceships).

So with that, I was able to write my entire first sentence on my poster, which reads:


What’s interesting though it that like any translation, this isn’t fixed. I’m glad I learned that way of saying the statement, and I hope I will have opportunities to use it often, or find more examples to read. Because I did another version, which was


This says basically “when the spaceships arrived in the land of the human world, mankind didn’t have time to prepare for war.” What’s funny about this is that I wrote : せんそうのしたく(戦争の支度)using the 支度 that I mentioned before. It seems to translate, but i’d have to rap with someone who is really fluent or native to get their take on the shades of meaning.

Tackling Sentence Two

Okay I know this is a lot of information, but what eventually will happen with me (I am hoping) is that I will have enough “grammar armour” and “knowledge armour” to be able to translate more efficiently. In fact, after learning certain kinds of grammatical patterns and so on, I can see how writing certain expressions won’t be horribly difficult, but i’d have to double check them with a native speaker initially to see if they sound “natural”. For now, I’m in the early learning stages. So, sentence two:

The armies fell like black ants from the sky, burning and pillaging in their wake.

I didn’t bother to translate the entire sentence.

The armies fell like black ants from the sky. 

So I replaced “armies” with ”spaceships” 宇宙船(うちゅうせん)and then wanted to figure out how to write. “fell like black ants”. This is where I learned about using ように for comparisons like these.

So for practice it’s A は  B のように+verb

where from Tae Kim’s site it means literally  “A has the appearance of B”.

so sky is 空(そら)black is 黒い(くろい)and ant is アリ(a ri). When I did  a google translate from a few sources, and saw “ように” come up twice I figured it was a comparative particle. So basically i’d have to write:

From the sky, Spaceships (with the appearance of black ants) fell.

Then the sentence I wanted to write ended up like:


Literally reading: many spaceships, black ants (appears like), sky from, fell.

But again, I could write this another way, which is:


From the sky, spaceships looking like black ants, fell. So this was how I pretty much figured how to write the second sentence.

The last two sentences. 

A new dawn emerged from the molten ashes of humanity’s end.

In English I can be very flowery and creative with words, but for now with Japanese, simplicity is best. I am not sure if “humanity’s end” has a colloquial expression, or if there is a way of saying it, so in rethinking the sentence for translation, I thought of:

From the molten ashes, a new dawn rises.

Since the spaceships arriving and manking not being prepared is said before, the “end of humanity” is implied quite strongly. Either way, I didn’t know “molten ashes” and I didn’t know “rises”.

I knew the kanji for “ash” and learned the reading was はい which is like saying “yes”.

molten is ようゆう 溶融 and dawn is 夜明け.

I didn’t know “rises” which I had to look up, and then found out it was 上昇 which from Hesig is literally “above rise”.

So the sentence turns out to be something like this :


From inside the molten ashes, a new dawn rises.

Then the last sentence.

A new world order : Robot Monkey Army!


新しい あたらちい - new

世界秩序 せいかいちつじょ – world order

りくぐん 陸軍 – army

ロボトマンキー Robot Money (in Katakana)

*NOTE* This may not be 100% perfect, but as usual, this is my “in the process blog” and I post about what i’m doing, how I am attempting it and so on. As time passes, hopefully i’ll get better, use better translations and so on!

Till the next post!


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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