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I am trying to do a translation of this sentence and make it as literal as possible and keep the shine of the wordplay, as part of a wordplay game I am doing with a friend. I attempted a 直訳, but I am not sure what I should do with 死ぬほど, well, and 死にたい. There seems to be some intended puns packed into this line. By the way, I am not sure about the exact source of this quote, probably from a book or a show or something, but it is invoked online from time to time.

あなたが「死にたい」と思った今日は、昨日死んだ人達が死ぬほど「生きたい」と思った日なんです

My first stab:

When you are thinking about death you need to know at the same time a lot of people who will die are trying so desperately to live.

And that was a complete failure and wasn't a literal translation in any sense of the word. I also thought of "so much that they could/want to die" but it didn't seem to work either. Another stab:

When you are contemplating death, a lot of people who have died have all been in the same boat where their wish to survive was the death of them.

To my dismay the last part strays semantically...

Edit:

One of the things I was struggling with in particular was the identification of 昨日 and 今日. Is that hypothetical? I felt like 今日 was a temporal point with respect to あなた, while 昨日 only applied to 死んだ人達. So how do they connect? Is the sentence saying "your today is their yesterday" or is it merely metaphorical?

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My literal translation would be:

Today, when you thought about death, is the same day those who died yesterday would have killed to live.

As you can tell, I am not a native speaker of English and therefore cannot tell how much this really makes sense or to what extent the part with “would have killed” retains the original pun.


A second try...

Today, when you thought of dying, is the same day those who died yesterday had been dying to live.

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  • I believe you have done a much better job than I did! One of the things I was struggling with in particular was the identification of 昨日 and 今日. Is that hypothetical? I felt like 今日 was a temporal point with respect to あなた, while 昨日 only applied to 死んだ人達. So how do they connect? Is the sentence saying "your today is their yesterday" or is it just metaphorical?
    – Eddie Kal
    May 8 at 21:05
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    @EddieKal: I understood them quite literally as two back-to-back days. It was so literal I'm struggling to understand how else I might have understood them, or how you did even after your comment. (Maybe you parsed 昨日死んだ人達 differently?) 今日 doesn't have to be the same day this statement is uttered, of course, but 昨日 must be the day before it. People who died the day before (昨日死んだ人達) didn't get to live this day however much they would've wanted. So don't waste it.
    – aguijonazo
    May 8 at 22:48
  • I agree, note the idiomatic use of 死ぬほど, meaning "to the extent/point of dying", i.e. "they would do whatever, even die, in order to live". I thing the English "would kill for" conveys it nicely.
    – jarmanso7
    May 8 at 23:20
  • what about 昨日 being the past, and 今日 being the present? I don't know in Japanese, but in Spanish we sometimes use "el ayer" (昨日), "hoy" (今日) and "el mañana" (明日) to signify the past, the present and the future respectively.
    – jarmanso7
    May 8 at 23:22
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    @jarmanso7 きょう, definitely. The sentence says 〜日なんです。
    – aguijonazo
    May 9 at 0:38
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I'm a bit confused by the question and the answers here where there's all this talk about literal translations but no one seems to be noticing the たい of 死にたい or 生きたい. This is completely glossed over.

@JansthcirlU seems to come closest to a literal rendering and an interesting source for this quote, but then returns to translating 死にたいと思う as "think about dying" rather than "hoping/wanting to die".

I was interested in seeing what others would say about 死ぬほど. It seems a bit of an exaggeration given that they're dead and they want to live to the point of dying.

So here's my rendering:

Today when you wish to die is a day those who died yesterday desperately hoped to live for.

to keep the pun

Today when you wish to die is a day those who died yesterday wanted to live for so much they could die.

I think this is clearly a rebuke (though without any further context, that's really hard to say). To translate 死にたいと思う as "thinking about dying" seems too casual and the rebuke is almost lost. あなた wants to die; あなた is being rebuked for this desire on the grounds that there are those who've died who would have wished to live today. It's almost like, "how dare you wish to die when there are others who've already died who would have equally wished to live another day."

And so perhaps a bit closer (and I question whether this really comes through at all in the Japanese, but here I go)

あなたが「死にたい」と思った今日は、昨日死んだ人達が死ぬほど「生きたい」と思った日なんです

Today when you want to die is the day when others who died yesterday wanted to live to the degree that you die.

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  • I think all people here agree with your translation meaning-wise. However, if you replace "dying for live" by "desperately hoped to live", the pun between dying and living gets lost in translation.
    – jarmanso7
    May 9 at 13:59
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    @jarmanso7 I agree. I just felt the point of wanting to die/live was completely glossed over. So that's why I added my answer.
    – A.Ellett
    May 9 at 14:00
  • You bring up a good point, I had read 死にたいと思った rather than 「死にたい」と思った. The nuance is indeed lost in my answer, worth another think! May 9 at 15:26
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It seems that the original quote comes from a book called 「カシコギ」by Korean author 趙 昌仁 (Cho Chang-in).

あなたが虚{むな}しく過ごした今日という日は、きのう死んでいったものが、あれほど生きたいと願ったあした。

To the people who died yesterday, this day that you spent idling away your life, the day you call today, will forever be a tomorrow that they desperately wanted to, but never got to live.

It seems that 今日 and あした in the original quote definitely refer to today and tomorrow, but I feel like 今日 and 昨日 are sometimes used as metaphors for the present and the past (although I can't think of any examples off the top of my head).

So considering the metaphorical use of 今日 and 昨日, maybe your quote could be translated like this:

Before you think about dying, just consider those who couldn't afford to live another day.

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Let me share my translation attempt too:

You were thinking of dying today, while those who died yesterday would have died for being alive [today].

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