So I would like to translate a Japanese book into an Indo-European language (specifically, Russian) and I'm really not sure how to deal with the paragraph structure.

As you may know, Japanese literature is often written in numerous paragraphs, each containing just two-three sentences at best. I feel like if I keep the structure as is, it will result in an unnatural looking text because that's not how literature is usually written in my language. We tend to favor longer paragraphs and generally try to avoid making our texts too fragmented.

How do people usually approach this problem? Is it common for translators to simply follow the original structure or is it generally accepted that they should take some creative liberties and restructure the text in an attempt to make it appear more organized? Are there any papers on this?

  • 2
    Have you simply tried comparing original and translation for several books translated from Japanese? Feb 6, 2019 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


Disclaimer: I've never done any professional Japanese to English translation before

I found the following in The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation by Yoko Hasegawa. Note that ST stands for source text and TT stands for translated text.

Between Japanese and English, an adjustment that is frequently called for concerns paragraph breaks. Compared to Japanese, English writing has significantly fewer breaks (K. Inoue 2004: 95); conversely, Japanese writing utilizes frequent line breaks. One may even encounter Japanese texts that place a line break after every kuten 句点 (。). This is due to the fact that the concept of paragraph has not been clearly established in Japanese writing (Hojo 2004: 41). Let us examine whether there is a discrepancy between STs and TTs in regard to paragraphing. The following table compares the number of paragraphs in the first section or chapter of the STs with their corresponding TTs.

Source Text Author ST Par Translator TT Par
After Babel George Steiner 20 亀山健吉 20
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll 17 矢川澄子 17
A Pale View of Hills Kazuo Ishiguro 12 小野寺健 12
Saving Private Ryan Max Collins 13 伏見威蕃 13
The Cop and the Anthem O. Henry 48 大久保康雄 48
The Moon and Sixpence Somerset Maugham 7 中野好夫 7
The Selfish Gene Richard Dawkins 32 日高敏隆他 32
『女形』 三島由紀夫 13 Donald Keene 10
『キッチン』 吉本ばなな 17 Megan Backus 11
『樹々は緑か』 吉行淳之介 44 Adam Kabat 42
『中国行きのスロウ・ボート』 村上春樹 19 Jay Rubin 16
『春は馬車に乗って』 横光利一 36 Dennis Keene 34
『砂の女』 阿部公房 7 Dale Saunders 7
『雪国』 川端康成 48 Edward Seidensticker 42

Clearly shown by this table is the fact that paragraph breaks are maintained in English-to-Japanese translation, whereas they are likely to be changed in Japanese-to-English translation. Moreover, when paragraphs are adjusted, English TTs invariably have fewer paragraphs. Although we do not investigate how paragraphs are combined in English TTs, Japanese-to-English translators should be aware that such an adjustment might be called for in order to produce quality TTs. (For an excellent discussion of paragraph adjustment in translation, see Hojo 2004: 41–59.)

References mentioned in the excerpt:

  • Inoue, Kazuma 井上一馬. 2004. Inoue Kazuma no hon’yaku kyDshitsu 井上一馬の 翻訳教室. Chikuma Shobo

  • Hojo, Fumio 北條文緒. 2004. Hon’yaku to ibunka – Gensaku tono “zure” ga kataru mono 翻訳と異文化―原作との<ずれ>が語るもの. Misuzu Shobo.

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