The Art of War

The top FAQ about my new translation of the Art of War, is why the world needs another one. Apparently, Sun Tzu’s Art of War is the second most-translated Chinese book in history, after the Dao De Jing.

Well, there’s translations and there’s translations. Let me give you a passage of Chinese. Here is chapter one, verse two:



And here is the same piece of text, by several different translators:

Lionel Giles (1910)

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline

Samuel Griffith (1963)

Therefore appraise it in terms of the five fundamental factors and make comparison of the seven elements later named. So you may assess its essentials. The first of these factors is moral influence; the second, weather; the third terrain; the fourth, command; and the fifth, doctrine.

Thomas Cleary (1988)

Therefore measure in terms of five things, use these assessments to make comparisons, and thus find out what the conditions are. The five things are the way, the weather, the terrain, leadership and discipline.

And finally, this is my version:

Jonathan Clements (2012)

War is governed by five crucial factors, which you must consider and implement:

· Politics

· Weather

· Terrain

· Leadership

· Training

And that is why I think the world can wear a new translation of the Art of War. In bookshops now, and also on Kindle.

All Aboard the Gravy Train

doraemonLike some magical artefact pulled from an Anywhere Door, the Doraemon manga suddenly arrives in English, in its entirety! Yes, that’s 12,000 pages of one of Japan’s best loved comics, a valuable missing piece of the manga puzzle.

Publishing Doraemon in its entirety is a big risk, but not as big as it once would have been. E-publishing means that the owners, Fujiko Pro don’t have to print ten thousand copies of a 12,000-page manga, but can store it on a hard-drive and wait for your money. More crucially, the long-running adventures of the time-travelling blue cat arrive part-funded by a Japanese government initiative.

It’s been five years since this column speculated about the likely bail-out package for Cool Japan (NEO #60). But finally we have the Japanese Contents Localisation or Promotion fund, or “J-LOP”, as it appears to have been termed by whimsical policy wonks with a love of Jennifer Lopez. One of the few schemes to survive the collapse of the Aso administration, J-LOP offers millions of pounds to subsidise the translation or promotion of Japanese works.

J-LOP is an impressive exercise in trickle-down economics, an incentive scheme for copyright owners (not publishers or distributors) to push their work in new markets. And while it can front up to 70% of the costs, the owners still have to come up with some of the cash themselves – this is mainly going to be a scheme that benefits the rich, in the expectation that their ventures generate employment for the rest of us.

So it’s a job creation scheme to attract foreign money, thereby creating work for Japanese tax-payers on which they can pay tax. It is, according to its website at, also a tourism initiative, in order to keep foreign readers and viewers enthusiastic about Japanese stuff. One wonders if Doraemon is merely the first of many classics to get a leg-up, but I suspect that canny form-fillers will soon be at the trough, applying for subsidies not for worthy wallflowers, but for fan-bait that would have got translated anyway. A heroic tribunal will apparently be on hand to stop this happening. Now there’s an anime waiting to happen…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, published by the British Film Institute. This article first appeared in NEO #123, 2014.

"Master Sun says…"

In approaching a text in Classical Chinese, we must consider the immense differences between books and reading in our time and in that of the Art of War. There was, in ancient China, no such thing as our “book”. Classical Chinese was usually carved onto bamboo strips bound together with leather or string. Their physical appearance was closer to that of a modern rolling window blind than a “book”. One of the problems faced by modern archaeologists is the reconstruction of books from scattered fragments of bamboo – when the leather straps or connecting string decays, ancient Chinese books collapse into hundreds of scattered strips of unpaginated bamboo.

Many translators have overlooked the performance required from Classical Chinese texts. Classical Chinese is a literary language that often summarises the vernacular rather than directly quoting it. The meaning of Classical Chinese has to be unpacked and interpreted. We might consider the written Art of War less as Sun Tzu’s “book” than as his notes for a speech or for further discussion.

The first words of the text, repeated at the head of each chapter, are “Master Sun says.” Everything that follows is implied speech, delivered to an implied listener: a local king perhaps, or a group of officer cadets. This is surely the origin of many of the text’s apparent repetitions: not the meanderings of a forgetful author, but moments of call and response by a commanding orator. “This is how war is waged,” says Sun Tzu at various points, an antiphon to wake up the students at the back, just as he makes an important point. The reader is encouraged to read it out loud; it is often a text better heard than read.

While handmade copies certainly might circulate of the better known texts, the best way for a ruler to “read” Sun Tzu was to have Sun Tzu’s words spoken, in person, by Sun Tzu himself. It is such interactive performances, in which a monarch might question a philosopher during and after a reading of the philosopher’s work, that have generated the many conversations and interrogations that can often be found interpolating classical Chinese texts. There is the original, and then there are the conversations and responses inspired by the original, and then sometimes there is the revised manuscript incorporating such conversations, followed in later centuries by the annotations of others. In such a way, ancient Chinese books often bear a closer resemblance to academic working papers, and are less “published” than they are placed on a continuum of revisions and facsimiles.

From The Art of War: A New Translation by Jonathan Clements. Out now in the UK and the US.

Writing for Games

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has released some very sensible guidelines for games writers. I note with interest a number of things that I have had to hammer into the heads of certain producers, would-be producers and self-styled producers over the last ten years, now set out as gospel entitlements for professional authors, which is all to the good.

I’m not pleased with the setting in stone of “English script by” as a circumlocution for “not translated at all by” or “substandard translation knocked into shape by“. At least as far as the WGGB wording goes, a tin-eared monoglot hack who changes a couple of typos on a script gets to put his name after the words “English script by” — a pretension that has been commonplace in the anime world for 20 years. In fact, as the wording currently stands, our hypothetical tin-eared monoglot hack can actually ask to be credited as the “translator”, even if he can’t speak the language he has supposedly translated.

But otherwise very nice indeed — a truly useful document, and not only for writers; it’s very handy for producers who genuinely want to know what is considered good business etiquette. In one case from my past, it would have saved me from the embarrassing situation in which I would have been considered in breach of contract if I didn’t hand in a 100-page script only an hour after signing.

In Plain English


A while ago, a friend of mine in a large corporation asked me if it was possible for me to use my translation skills to translate an email he’d received from Management-speak into English. Herewith my best attempt. I may have changed some of the names to protect the guilty:

Large Corporation has a vision – to be the new force in banking, and at the heart of this is the diversity of our people, products and services. Treasury has its own Diversity Strategy which places a focus on excellence and aims to get the best out of the people that we have, and to be able to attract the best candidates into the organisation.

Translation: Hello. We are a bank, and there are lots of people working here. They are all different and not the same. We would like to be good at what we do. We would like to have people who are not rubbish.

To achieve this we need an environment of inclusiveness where everyone feels able to contribute. We will limit our business potential if we do not create an environment that is attractive to all. We should all value difference and recognise that people from diverse backgrounds, skills, attitudes and experiences can add positively to the business success.

Translation: It would really help if everyone was nice to the fat girls and the blokes with B.O. Please don’t take the piss out of each other. Something’s going wrong upstairs, and we’ve decided to blame you lot.

More details of the Treasury Diversity strategy are now on the HR site on the intranet which can be accessed by the following link: [snip].

Translation: Someone has written this all out again somewhere else, in words even Bob from Accounts can understand. Not that we would make that an issue with him or tell him that, because then that would not be inclusive.

To achieve this aim, we must demonstrate fairness and respect in our dealings with our colleagues, customers, shareholders, investors and communities in which we operate.

Are we not getting through yet? BE NICE TO EACH OTHER or we will fire your ass.

To achieve this aim, we must demonstrate fairness and respect in our dealings with our colleagues, customers, shareholders, investors and communities in which we operate. Therefore, a number of diversity awareness sessions have been arranged to develop our knowledge of the current issues. These sessions will be facilitated by Drama Llamas, who are leading providers of Diversity training and who will run the sessions in a fun, yet thought provoking way.

Some out-of work actors and someone who thinks he is Ricky Gervais will indulge in a futile effort to get you all playing a office-centred perversion of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, in which you will be asked to “role-play” dealing with difficult customers, and learn about “conflict resolution” in an office environment.

The only thing that will unite you with your colleagues will be your universal contempt for the people making you perform these bizarre circus tricks. However, the organisers do not give a toss because they get paid whether you enjoy it or not. And rather than admit they wasted thousands of pounds, Human Resources will report that the whole project has been a resounding success, and probably produce a chart that looks like a big pie.

Please respond using the voting buttons above to indicate which date you are able to attend, the sessions will be filled on a first come basis.

Someone with an English degree has realised that if we say “vote” and “first-come [first-served],” you might think that we were doing you a favour.

Fiona Collindale will confirm your place by email.

Fiona Collindale will be the person who reports that everything was a “resounding success”.

The sessions are mandatoy.

Because if we only singled out the people who needed them, it would be unfair on them and ruin our special inclusion policy. So *all* of you have to go through with this, even though the whole thing is only really for the benefit of Gavin from Marketing, who still refers to the post-room as “his bitches.”

if you cannot attend a session please inform Fiona of any reason why you are not able to attend any of the dates below.

Fiona will shortly realise just how much power she now has, and take great pleasure in berating people for “letting down the team” when they tell her to shove it. You are *all* going to have to do this, people, but anyone who thinks it’s bobbins will have a little mark put on their file by Fiona, who will probably be head of personnel soon enough when Management read her report about how everything was such a “resounding success.” She will then have the power of life and death over you, so woe betide anyone who gives her grief.

(For Glasgow staff, we will arrange separate training later in the year although anyone is very welcome to attend if in London)

We know that Glasgow staff will slit our throats if we try it there, so we’re going to hide for a bit, and get round to it when we have hired some bigger people with cattle-prods.

Hope that helps.

My Heart Won't Let Me Say

Another blast from the past — a song translation from 1997 when I was doing rhyming lyrics for Pioneer CDs. This is from the Oh! My Goddess video series opening and closing themes. They were for the full-length versions that I can’t actually find on You Tube. But you can get an idea from the 90 seconds that were actually used in the show. If you’re interested in methods and tricks for this sort of thing, I did talk briefly about songs in a lecture I gave to the Department of Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, a full transcript of which appears in the book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.

By your side, but I still want more

Need your love, but I can’t be sure

Try to give my heart away

But you think it’s just a game we play Continue reading

(Bring My Love) Right Back to Me

Because the song translations I did for Pioneer were for the music division, not the anime division, they covered theme songs from other companies, too. That is the only possible explanation for Pioneer’s decision to hire me to work in 1997 on lyrics for the mad hair-metal theme to Fist of the North Star “Ai o Torimodose”. I did the best I could… and you thought Schoolgirl Milky Crisis was weird.

Shock of love! When heaven sent you it was just the start

Shock of love! Stopped me in my tracks, now you’ve got my heart

Burning fever binds me waiting for my love to find me

But now I’m giving it my all

None can stop my anger, I just point my little finger and down

They all fall

Shock of love! Just one look at you, heartbeat’s getting fast

Shock of love! Me and you as one, and it’s gonna last

Now my heart is burning with the madness they call yearning

To find the place where you’re hiding

I can’t live without you, fight the cruel thoughts that doubt you, I’ll do


Now you’re far away, a quest to save our love, and I’m here waiting for you

Tomorrow’s gone, until you bring the key

Never can forget your pretty smiling face, for I know your heart is true

Bring my love right back to me*

Shock of love! Shining light upon the shadows in my mind

Shock of love! Just the thought of you, and my thoughts unwind

When we’re back together, promise it will be forever and then

Take me in your arms

I will hold you to me and nobody’s gonna free me again

From your charms

repeat *

Tough Boy

Just when you thought it was safe, I dig up another of my song translations from the Pioneer anime CDs. This one is the theme from the second series of Fist of the North Star, for which i set myself the intellectual exercise of keeping all the Engrish lyrics in exactly the same place in my translation as they occurred in the original.  “Tough Boy”, for so this song is called, is an interesting exercise. Even to the Japanese, it must have seemed impossibly dated — I was hired to translate it in 1997, with a chorus that lionised the fact that its singer was “living in the eighties.” Good luck with that!

From the looks of this, it seems that I couldn’t be bothered to make the lyrics to this one actually rhyme. Perhaps I knew I was on a hiding to nothing.

Welcome to this crazy time

On the run and deep in trouble, your life’s on the line

You’re such a tough boy…

She never met a boy that made her feel so bad

I got a feeling that a man like you could drive her crazy

You, tough boy…

Here we are, at the end of the century

Our time is now, out on the streets, our generation’s taking over

Keep you burning, till the race is run

Got to be more to your life than all this scum and crime and dirty fighting

No boy no cry, cast your fears aside

There’s a bright tomorrow waiting, wait until you see the rising sun

We are living, living in the eighties

We still fight, fighting in the eighties

Looks as if you’ve had your share of battle scars

It’s gonna take more than a few hard knocks to break your spirit

Such a tough boy…

Everywhere she turns she gotta feel so sad

I got feeling that’s there more to you than causing trouble

Tough boy…

Here we are, in the eternal rockland

Our fists are raised, it’s time for us to make a stand and take it over

Keep you burning, till the race is run

Gotta fight the madness of illusion, till our hopes and dreams are all our own

No boy no cry, keep on keeping on

Turn and face the wind and take its strength so you can be a hurricane

We are living, living in the eighties

We still fight, fighting in the eighties

We are living, living in the eighties

We still fight, fighting in the eighties

You’ll notice, perhaps, that my pronouns are all over the place here — a sign of my indecision over whether the singer was male or female, and hence whether the titular tough boy was first- or third-person. Such switches in addressee are a bad idea. I’m pretty sure, for example, that such vagueness in the lyrics of “How Does She Know” in Enchanted cost the song its Oscar. But there won’t be any Oscars for “Tough Boy”, either, not till hell freezes over. These days, I would be able to YouTube the original song and get a look at the band… or Wiki them to work it out, but those options weren’t available 13 years ago. At least, they weren’t to me.

The Song the Goddess Sings

Time for another visit to the translation archives. I’ve decided to put up more of my pre-Schoolgirl Milky Crisis works up online. Back in 1997, Pioneer hired me to translate the lyrics of some of the CDs they were selling in the UK market. The company already had a reputation for bilingual releases, although often English and Japanese versions of the same song were quite different in meaning. They asked me if I could come up with English versions of songs for the CD liner notes, so that fans could sing along if they wanted.

The ones I was proudest of were songs with lyrics by Natsuko Karedo, including Tenchi Muyo spin-offs like “Ueno Love Story” and “Discovery Blues”. But I can’t find versions of them on You Tube, and without the sound of the song to hang the translation off, it loses a lot of its effect. However, I did stumble across  “Megami wa Utau” from one of the Oh! My Goddess albums. I’ll put the Japanese into the comments if any linguists want to scrutinise it for themselves. I wrestled for a while over the term “nice”, which is horribly twee, but then again, some might say…


My umbrella has shut out the rain

Now the town is bright and clean again

When I shake the drops away

Like sparkling gems they fly

Park bench still wet from the passing storm

Near the children’s house, so nice and warm

From their window they can see

A rainbow in the sky

Everybody wants to be free, it’s plain to see

Open your windows to the sun

There’s a dream of love, in the sky above

Just listen carefully

And you can hear the song it sings to you

Kindness in all things, loving feelings

Are all you need to be true

And that’s the song the Goddess sings

Heaven’s shining smile is rolling down

Down the hill and straight towards the town

Waves of happiness arrive

They’re reaching out to you

In the flowers, in the birds and sky

In the voices as the kids pass by

The dream transforms all that it sees

And fills them all with love

Everybody can be happy, it’s plain to see

Open your heart and let in love

To your love be true, all you have to do

Is say it from the heart

And then the day of love can really start

I will be happy

You will be happy, and all people

Goddess is always with you

There’s a dream of love, in the sky above

So come along with me

And we can sing our song so tenderly

Sparkle in the sun, love to everyone

It’s all you need to be true

And that’s the song the Goddess sings

Japan Sinks

(This is my review of Sakyo Komatsu’s original SF novel, from Anime FX way back in 1995 when it was released in paperback suspiciously swiftly after the Kobe Earthquake. The latest movie remake, oddly retitled Sinking of Japan, is out this week in the UK from MVM).

Although the hardback version was first published a generation ago, Japan Sinks remains one of the few works of Japanese textual SF available in English. Now re-released this month by Kodansha, the book and translation make for intriguing reading. When first published it was ahead of its time; last year it might have been regarded as a little dated, but this year it has acquired new significance.

Sakyo Komatsu is, according to Brian Aldiss, one of the most-read SF authors in the world. He remains virtually unknown in the English market, but gained many readers worldwide when Japan Sinks was made into a film (known here as Tidal Wave). But Japan Sinks is not the most representative Komatsu story; like his compatriot Shinichi Hoshi, much of his real skill lies in the punchy twists of SF short-shorts. Many of his stories are also parables, making warnings of the if this goes on… variety. In The Quiet Corridor, for example, the narrator realises too late that his own sterility is not unique, and that the ‘quiet corridor’ of the maternity unit and the dying vegetation outside his window are but two indicators of imminent environmental collapse. More warnings are contained in At the End of the Endless Stream, which shows humanity fleeing a dying planet by travelling into the past. Komatsu’s novel Resurrection Day depicts the hellish results of a bacteriological weapon, which leaves only a small pocket of humanity left alive in the Antarctic. In each case we see the human reaction to a global problem, and this form of writing is repeated in Japan Sinks. The title should be enough of a hint. Scientists discover that the Japanese archipelago is just about to give way; the government tries to cover it up, but then all hell breaks loose as the inhabitants flee their drowning country. But what will happen to the global economy? Where will those millions of people go? If they leave Japan, will they still be Japanese?

Japan has always been a danger area, at risk from earthquakes, tsunami and volcanoes. Critics of anime violence who see an easy explanation in the influence of the Bomb, might already have discovered their mistake in the wake of the Kobe earthquake. Natural disasters have played an important role in the development of the Japanese psyche, and this book throws much light upon it. Komatsu’s Japanese are adaptable, brave people, whose characters have been shaped by their environment. Japan Sinks posits the ultimate disaster, and shows us how Komatsu thinks his countrymen would deal with it.

On occasion, his observations speak volumes about Japanese attitudes. In extreme situations, Komatsu’s characters revert to (stereo)type, as an insular, nationalistic and determined herd. By extrapolating ‘disaster’ to such extremes, Komatsu is able to amplify subtle influences to such an extent that many stereotypical views of Japan become much more understandable. However, post-Kobe, some of Komatsu’s scenes are tragic in their inaccuracy. How could he have guessed that when the next big earthquake came in 1995, the rescue operation would be anything less than efficient? Komatsu expects a stiff-upper-lip heroism from his nation, and in one scene describes the arrival of humanitarian aid. It is not unlike the post-Kobe operation, although Komatsu’s characters do not charge money for drinking water. Neither would they have bulldozed ruins scant days later, even though survivors were being pulled from the Mexico City site three weeks after zero-hour. While Komatsu makes many interesting points about ‘the Japanese’, he also makes many assumptions that have proved to be too optimistic.

This may be a symptom of the book’s age. It was written in 1973 and translated in 1977, two factors which have considerably influenced the style of the English version. The 70s edition was abridged from the original by an experienced literary translator, Michael Gallagher. Gallagher is better known for his ‘mainstream’ works, and his versions of Mishima’s Spring Snow and Runaway Horses are excellent. He did a pretty good job on Japan Sinks, too, but there are features of his text that both date the work and demonstrate areas where a background in ‘high’ culture can work to a translator’s detriment. ‘Software’ for example, is spelled ‘softwear’; a reasonable mistake in the computer-illiterate 70s, but not one that would escape the attentions of a contemporary editor. Similarly, there are a few places where Gallagher’s translation seems to be pitched at the wrong market. There are words and references which would require no explanation to an audience of Japanese-language students, but which a mass-market readership would find confusing. In one scene, characters make ironic reference to the sinking of the Tei-en. Although readers would be aware that it is a line from an old war song (it says as much in the text), few would know that the Tei-en, or, to give it its real name, the Dingyuan, was a Chinese flagship in the Sino-Japanese war, or that the lines of the song are the last words of a dying sailor, asking if his comrades have succeeded where he has failed. The pathos of the scene is thus lost on much of the readership. (Although if you really want to know about the Dingyuan, its story is told in my biography of Admiral Togo – JC, 2010).

If Japan Sinks were a modern translation, things might have been very different. It is possible that Gallagher might not have been hired at all; not because he is bad (he isn’t), but because there is now a significant number of skilled translators who specialise in popular texts, just as Gallagher specialises in literary works. One wonders what ALfred Birnbaum, Dana Lewis or Frederik L. Schodt would have made of the same material; they too would have cut it drastically, but they might have also written for an SF audience. Readers used to ‘real’ SF might find Japan Sinks a little turgid in places, while readers of ‘literature’ might find the characterisation too sketchy. Using a literary translator on a popular work is a little like using a spanner to drive in a nail. It might work well enough, but a hammer would have done a better job.

(Ah the naivety of youth. There was me in 1995 assuming that popular translation would bring its own rewards, and cause people to specialise in it. In your dreams, today, in your dreams would you get people of the calibre of Michael Gallagher translating modern Japanese science fiction novels. But I have ranted about this before – JC, 2010)