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I came across this phrase in a Haruki Murakami short story, and I was wondering if this is just a literal translation of the English phrase?

I tried googling the Japanese phrase, but I could only find it as a Japanese translation for the English phrase (such as here: http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/ej3/7427/m0u/%A5%BC%A5%C3%A5%AD%A1%BC%A5/). If it is in a 国語辞典, then I couldn't find it, but I'm also not really sure where to look for phrases instead of single words...


  • If this is just a literal use of the English phrase, would a typical native Japanese speaker know what it means, where it came from, etc.?
  • Also, while I'm asking, is this something that Murakami does often? I've often read that Murakami writes "American Japanese" but I've never really understood what is meant by that.
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murakami has a reputation for writing in a style that at times seems like english translated into japanese. –  yadokari Jun 6 '12 at 17:17
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Murakami once famously stated that he wrote by first thinking up the text in English and translating it back to Japanese... –  Dave Jun 6 '12 at 22:56
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I was wondering if this is just a literal translation of the English phrase?

If the Wikipedia entry for "bed of roses" was correct in stating that this phrase was coined by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe, I assume it would have had to originate from English. If I am reading between the lines of your question correctly, I do not believe Murakami would have been the first to do this translation due to the sheer frequency of the phrase (see my next answer). (See update below.)

would a typical native Japanese speaker know what it means, where it came from, etc.?

I cannot personally comment on this as a non-native speaker of Japanese. However, a search for the exact phrase in Google and for 薔薇{ばら}の寝床 yield a combined total of 281k results, suggesting to me that the phrase appears frequently enough for everyday use.

Update: The method used above to answer this question is completely unreliable! In reality, Google reports a combined total of only 145 hits for these two searches. Unless I learn of another way to estimate the frequency this phrase is used, I'm afraid I am unable to answer this question at my current level of Japanese.

Also, while I'm asking, is this something that Murakami does often? I've often read that Murakami writes "American Japanese" but I've never really understood what is meant by that.

My suspicion is that "American Japanese" may refer more to his style, rather than his use of specific words and phrases (though using phrases of foreign origin may serve this stylistic purpose).

For example, in a Publisher's Weekly interview, Murakami stated:

You have to know that the writing in Japan for Japanese people is in a particular style, very stiff. If you are a Japanese novelist you have to write that way. It's kind of a society, a small society, critics and writers, called high literature. But I am different in my style, with a very American atmosphere.

His description of Japanese literature as "very stiff" and written "in a particular style" suggests to me that he is trying to describe American literature (and his own writing) as, by contrast, more relaxed and less-constrained stylistically. Again, it is possible that the use of translated phrases like "bed of roses" serves this purpose, but to say "American Japanese" does seem to describe something larger than simply word choice.

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Re: 281k Google results... You might want to read meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/522 –  atlantiza Jun 6 '12 at 17:29
    
@atlantiza Wow, I had no idea Google was this weird. When I click to the end of the results, Google reports only 25 hits for バラの寝床 and 120 for 薔薇の寝床! This is so strange. Thank you for alerting me to this. –  con5013d Jun 6 '12 at 18:24
    
@con5013d - however it is even harder to understand: for example if you search for "basketball" i get 700,000,000 results but only am able to access 60 pages of said results. So it is just a bad metric. –  yadokari Jun 6 '12 at 21:01
    
@con5013d, thank you for your answer! I'm going to accept because if the phrase was coined by Christopher Marlowe, it seems like it must have been absorbed into Japanese at some point (either by Murakami or elsewhere) and because your quote from the Publisher's Weekly interview certainly gives nice insight into Murakami's style, :). The thing that I still wonder about is how this phrase would read to a native speaker... It seems like, unless their English was very good, they could easily mistake it for an original phrase of Murakami's. Quite sneaky really, if you ask me. –  zakvdm Jun 7 '12 at 12:58
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If this is just a literal use of the English phrase, would a typical native Japanese speaker know what it means, where it came from, etc.?

Yes, it is a literal use of the English phrase. A typical native Japanese speaker will not understand it unless they know the English phrase.

Also, while I'm asking, is this something that Murakami does often? I've often read that Murakami writes "American Japanese" but I've never really understood what is meant by that.

I've read a couple of his books in Japanese, and I do feel that his Japanese could be easily translated into English. The most important thing to understand is that Japanese and English are very different and it is quite uncommon to have a one to one correspondence between an English and Japanese expression. However, probably due to being overseas for quite some time and also because Murakami originally has always been interested in non-Japanese literature, his writing style is very different from other Japanese writers. For example, with respect to time, English tends to be very linear. However, in Japanese literature, time is not as important as the event itself. Also, the expressions used to describe things are very different. If you really want to see some insane Japanese literature, I recommend reading some works by [三島由紀夫]{みしまゆきお}.

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