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I'm trying to read a light novel for the first time and it's been confusing so far, what with the historical present tense and everything, but I mostly managed through until I got to this one scene.

Ana is a girl who can enter other peoples bodies, and is currently in the body of an old man, Oniwaka. Then, he teammate Daiki suddenly uhh harrasses the old man, so to say.

なぜ、そんなことをしたのか、自分でも分からない。気がつけば、ダイキはアナの……鬼若の尻をさっと撫でていた。

「キャッ」鬼若が……鬼若の姿をした、アナがぴょんっと跳び上がった。「なにするんですか!?」

「ずっと気になってたんだが……そんななりをしてても、やっぱり『キャッ』て言っちゃうんだな」

So translated,

Even Daiki himself didn't know why he did such a thing. He realised that he had quickly stroked Ana's...Oniwaka's buttock.

"Kya!" Oniwaka...Ana, who was in Oniwaka's body, jumped up. "What are you doing?!"

"I've always been curious but...even in a body like that, you still say 'kyaa', huh."

But, this is confusing me slightly. First it's said that Daiki doesn't know why he did it, and then he makes that comment about being curious as to how Ana would react in such a body. So then that would mean that he did it because he was curious- but then not knowing why he did it would be a contradiction to that.

So I looked up なぜ and saw it could be used to ask for either reason or cause, and I thought that second option made more sense. If the sentence wasn't meant in the 'he didn't know /why/ he did that' sense, but in the 'he didn't know what /caused/ him to do that' sense. Since he had a clear motive for it.

I've been thinking about this paragraph for a few hours now so my head feels too muddled to tell if I'm right or not though. Could someone explain this apparent contradiction?

  • I think it is more of psychology on the part of the authour (of the novel) than of the Japanese language. My best effort in speculation is: Daiki realises his own contradictory behaviour and feels embarrassed (who wants to stroke the buttock of an old man?) – eltonjohn Jul 3 '15 at 7:55
  • Ah, I can see that. So the comment would be more of an embarrassment rooted stock-phrase 'even he didn't know why he didn't such a thing' rather than something to be taken seriously and considered as 100% truthful. – Hedgehog Jul 4 '15 at 3:16
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I, for one, do not find this to be a contradiction because:

It is the narrator who says 「なぜ、そんなことをしたのか、自分でも分からない。」 and it is Daiki who says 「ずっと気になってたんだが・・」.

There may be a slight discrepancy in content between the two, but I just do not think it serious enough to call a "contradiction".

The question (to me) is: "Should we hold the narrator responsible for these incidents in light novels?" My own answer would be negative because if one required such perfectly calculated and executed phrases, one could not read light novels in the first place.

I would refrain from judging this novel by the short passage provided this time, but spendng hours on this passage alone might not prove very productive in the end. I admire your prudence as a foreign language learner, but as a Japanese-speaker, I could assure you that this is not a particularly serious problem (though I am saying this with no knowledge of the larger context).

  • I agree that it wasn't anything important character or plot wise, and I'm not saying the author made a mistake, but just that I'm just trying to comprehend the subtleties of the novel more, I guess. But I confess to being confused as to why you see this as a non-contradiction since the narrator is narrating from Daiki's pov. For example, earlier in the scene, Daiki thought Oniwaka was walking towards him and that was how it was narrated 'Oniwaka was walking towards him' and then when Ana called out and said it was her: 'It seemed like Ana had gone into Oniwaka's body'. – Hedgehog Jul 4 '15 at 3:11
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I think rather than a contradiction, it's just a way of the author showing how Daiki acted on impulse.

Look at the tenses of the first sentence 「なぜ、そんなことをしたのか、自分でも分からない。気がつけば、ダイキはアナの……鬼若の尻をさっと撫でていた。」

So that's simple past tense 'した', historical present like you said for '分からない', and, most tellingly, past perfect for '撫でていた'. So the thought of Daiki not knowing why he did it is immediately after he realises what he did. He's stunned because he moved without thinking, acted without realising, and doesn't know why he did it in that moment.

Thus, it isn't a contradiction if Daiki knows his reason later on, because the moment Daiki didn't know why was a historical present tense moment immediately after he had committed the action, not a continuously lasting state. I believe the author stated Daiki himself didn't know why he did it there as a way to emphasise how Daiki had acted on complete impulse ala curiosity.

That's my solid answer. The rest is a bit more built on assumptions:

From what I've read here, I don't personally think Daiki does know his reason for doing it. Yes, he says he's always been curious, but he doesn't say it as an explanation, he says it while commenting on Ana's reaction "I've always been curious but your reaction was like this after all etc"

I mean, 'I've always been curious' isn't the same as 'I was overwhelmed by curiosity'. One is a passive state of curiosity, the other is an active action fueled by curiosity. If being curious was a reason for groping people while they're in other bodies, then Daiki would've long given into the impulse by now (I'm assuming here that he and Ana have known each other for a while since he says ずっと). There's a difference between being curious about a reaction, and wanting to create a scenario to observe that reaction despite social consequences.

So, about the なぜ sentence, again, I think you're concentrating too much on the why and not enough of the when. You're thinking of it as 'even he didn't know why he would do such a thing', when it's saying 'even he didn't know why he did such a thing'. It's focusing on the completed past action, rather than a general question. It's why he actually went and did it in that moment, rather than why he would do it. Which makes sense, since we know why he would want to do it (curiosity) but we don't know what prompted him to actually do it (random impulse?).

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I'm pretty sure it simply means that he was always curious, but he never thought he would actually allow his thoughts to become actions in that way. Or he really had no idea why he did it, but instead of telling the girl that, he made something up to tease her.

I don't know the context beyond what you shared, but I think you are overthinking it haha. It doesn't really have much to do with the language. :)

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