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Japanese unveil new Hail Mary translation

By special correspondent, Tokyo

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan (CBCJ) yesterday published a new, colloquial translation of the Hail Mary for trial use throughout Japan.

The provisional translation, known as the “Ave Maria prayer” for its inclusion of the Latin phrase at the beginning, was approved during the CBCJ extraordinary plenary assembly this October.

The prayer is offered for general use through March 25, 2011 – the Solemnity of the Annunciation – and the feedback collected will be considered until the conference makes a final decision on the prayer’s adoption during its ordinary plenary assembly in June.

The bishops first published a prayer book with colloquial translations of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary in September, 1993.

Those versions supplanted prayers written in a classical literary style which had been used previously. Then, in February, 2002, a further-revised Lord’s Prayer was issued in common with the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan (Nippon Sei Ko Kai), and it is this version that is used officially today.

In the 1993 colloquial translation of the Hail Mary, a number of passages from the original Latin were either omitted from the Japanese entirely or else liberally paraphrased. For that reason, some said, “We want a translation more faithful to the words of scripture,” the CBCJ explained.

Translation issues have been a recurring point of discussion in Japan for centuries. In the past 10 years there are a number of vociferous debates on Japanese translations of everything from prayers to the catechism, to the Mass. This debate has also found its way into the pages of

A version of this article was first published in the Katorikku Shimbun (The Catholic Weekly) in Tokyo, which was translated for by Dominic Pease.

Pease has highlighted the main points of revision of Ave Maria prayer as follows:

1. Original Latin: Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”)
1993 Japanese: Sei Maria (“Holy Mary”)
2010 Japanese: Ave Maria (the Latin phrase is used)

The word “ave” (“hail”) in “Ave Maria” was omitted entirely from the Japanese in the 1993 prayer book. In the provisional translation, the Latin phrase is retained as-is and rendered phonetically in katakana, the script used to write words that come from foreign languages.

2. Original Latin: gratia plena (“full of grace”)
1993 Japanese: megumi afureru (“brimming over with grace”)
2010 Japanese: megumi ni michita kata (“ full of grace”)

The 1993 version rendered the Latin “gratia plena” in a Japanese phrase meaning, “brimming over with grace.” The revised translation, “megumi ni michita kata,” is more faithful to the meaning and word order <*1> of the source text.

3. Original Latin: Benedicta tu in mulieribus (“Blessed art thou amongst women”)
1993 Japanese: Shu wa anata wo erabi, shukufuku shi (“the Lord chose you and blessed you”)

2010 Japanese: Anata wa onna no uchi de shukufuku sare (“You are blessed among women.”)

The 1993 version included the phrase, “the Lord chose you,” not present in the Latin, but neglected to translate the Latin “in mulieribus” (English: “among women”).

4. Original Latin: fructus ventris tui (“fruit of your womb”)
1993 Japanese: anata no ko (“your son”)
2010 Japanese: go-tainai no on-ko (“your Son, within your womb”)

The 1993 version replaced the Latin phrase “fructus ventris tui” with the simple phrase “your son.”

The new translation addresses the original words more directly, but rejected any direct equivalent of the word “fructus” (“fruit”) as irreconcilable with acceptable Japanese idiom. Instead, the provisional text uses the phrase, “your Son, within your womb.” Here, “your Son” is an honorific phrase used previously in the older, literary translation from before 1993.

Translator’s Note

1) The new phrase mimics the meaning and word order of the Latin, but not the structure, technically. The new Japanese uses an appositive modifying “Maria” instead of the adjectival phrase of the 1993 version, which was grammatically more similar to the Latin. However, there is no way to have a post-positional adjective in Japanese, as there is in English and Latin, so it’s an unavoidable trade-off. Additionally, with the change of “Sei Maria” to “Ave Maria,” I think their hands were basically forced on this point due to the internal structure of the Latin.
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