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This question is a bit challenging for me.

I mean, Weblio gives me a hint that I should probably translate the part “what does it mean? to どういう意味ですか。

The sticking point for me is translating “to be Japanese”. The phrase in this context implies that it is referring to Japanese people born and raised in Japan, and are “part of the club”, as it were.

I would really appreciate your help.

6

Unless you are talking about the meaning of a word or phrase, it would not be very natural to use 「どういう意味{いみ}ですか」.

Natural ways to say what you want to say this time would include:

「日本人{にほんじん}であることの意味{いみ}とは何{なん}なのでしょうか。」

「日本人であるとは,(一体{いったい})何{なに}を意味するのでしょか。」

「日本人であるということには、(はたして)どんな意味があるのでしょうか。」

  • I'm sorry I didn't reply sooner, but thank you very much for your answer! So, these three sentences can be translated the same way? – Micheal Gignac May 13 '18 at 12:26
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I guess you meant to ask "what makes a person Japanese" or "how a Japanese person is defined". Actually it is easier to translate these versions into Japanese, which I believe as a Japanese speaker are more English.

The former phrase is usually translated into a literary-style idiom:

日本人を日本人たらしめるものは何ですか

FYI たらしめる is decomposed into たる (auxiliary verb "to be", たら in irrealis form) followed by しめる (causative auxiliary verb, しめる in attributive form).

The latter is put simply like:

日本人の定義は何ですか

  • Thank you for your answer. I have to admit that “What does it mean to be X?” questions are tricky to translate, and that they might be better expressed as “What makes a person X?” or “How is X person defined?” – Micheal Gignac May 13 '18 at 12:29

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