Drive my car / Doraibu mai kā

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Questions from Nancy Friedman:

I'm writing something about the Best Picture nominee "Drive My Car," whose Japanese title is "Doraibu mai kā." Is there a name for this sort of transliteration from English into Japanese? Why would a Japanese writer–the source story was written by Haruki Murakami–choose a transliteration instead of a translation? (Beatles reference, maybe?)

From David Spafford:

It’s definitely a Beatles reference. I don’t know this particular Murakami work, but he’s well known for his Beatles references: think "Noruuei no mori", which is an obvious reference / mistranslation of the Beatles song, "Norwegian wood".

From Jay Rubin:

There may well be a way to say “Drive My Car” in Japanese, but there is no need to express the idea “drive my car” in Japanese for the title of the story or the film.  The whole point is to echo the title of the Beatles song.  Almost certainly, Murakami dreamed up the story from the song.  If he had translated the phrase “drive my car” into Japanese and made that the title of his story, no one would have gotten the reference.  Oddly, his super-hit NORWEGIAN WOOD does have a Japanese title, Noruwei no mori, “the forests of Norway”, but in that case the Beatles reference is clear because the song title was mis-translated into Japanese to begin with.

Here's the Beatles song (originally released 1965, here as remastered 2009):

Asked a girl what she wanted to be
She said, "baby, can't you see
I want to be famous, a star on the screen
But you can do something in between

Baby, you can drive my car
Yes, I'm gonna be a star
Baby, you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you"

I told a girl that my prospects were good
And she said, "baby, it's understood
Working for peanuts is all very fine
But I can show you a better time

Baby, you can drive my car
Yes, I'm gonna be a star
Baby, you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you"

Beep beep'm beep beep yeah

Baby, you can drive my car
Yes, I'm gonna be a star
Baby, you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you

I told a girl I can start right away
And she said, "listen, babe, I got something to say
I got no car and it's breaking my heart
But I've found a driver and that's a start

Baby, you can drive my car
Yes, I'm gonna be a star
Baby, you can drive my car
And maybe I'll love you"

Beep beep'm beep beep yeah
Beep beep'm beep beep yeah
Beep beep'm beep beep yeah
Beep beep'm beep beep yeah

And here's the trailer for the film (2021):


Fascinating how the same three words can be passed from one language and one script to another language and another script, without undergoing translation.

Selected readings


[Thanks to Julia Alekseyeva]


  1. martin schwartz said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 12:11 am

    Re Norwegian Wood: If one seaches the latter plus "knowing she would" one gets various reports that the last phrase was intended
    (misunderstood or punned upon). Just sayin'; I dunno myself.
    But it adds another angle to the larger matter. "Norwegian Wood" is
    inscrutable in context, tho.
    Martin Schwartz

  2. martin schwartz said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 12:17 am

    typo, recte "searches"

  3. Chris Brody said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 12:34 am

    Everyone reading this thread will want to watch the recently released video article by Noriko Manabe in SMT-V (the video journal of the Society for Music Theory): "Abe Road: Kuwata Keisuke’s Beatles Parody."

    It's about Kuwata Keisuke's full version of the Beatles' Abbey Road album using entirely lyrical re-creations of this kind, for purposes of various social/political commentaries. The album is a remarkable achievement and Prof. Manabe's elucidation of it is a delight.

  4. Richard Warmington said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 1:13 am

    A piece of trivia: In Japanese, "Norway" is ノルウェー, and the Beatles song is ノルウェーの森, but in the novel title, Norway is ノルウェイ, not ノルウェー. I don't know why. Both spellings would be pronounced the same, I should think. Maybe it's just so that, when written down, one can tell whether it's the book title or the song title.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 8:19 am

    From Zihan Guo:

    Not just for a special use in film titles, maikā マイカー also commonly refers to one's own car / private car jikayōsha 自家用車. But it is often used in discussing environmental issues. E.g., datsu maikā 脱マイカー advocates less use of private cars.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 10:09 am

    Experimenters/pranksters like Kuwata Keisuke aside, it seems unsurprising that the Japanese convention is to transliterate rather than "translate" (= calque) titles of English-language rock songs. So just looking at Japanese wikipedia, for example, Deep Purple's immortal "Space Truckin'" (famed for the live version recorded 8/16/72 in Osaka that stretches out to almost 20 minutes) comes out as スペース・トラッキン ("Supēsu Torakkin") rather than something involving 宇宙.

    In a recent thread on another blog, someone asked how Russians translated the title of a particular Bob Dylan song and the answer was, similarly, that they don't translate it, but just refer to it (presumably with some phonological twists) by its English title.

  7. David Morris said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 2:29 pm

    I know almost nothing about Japanese movies. Korean movies are not uncommonly titled as transliterations of English (probably the most famous being 올드보이 ol-deu-bo-i Oldboy). How common is that for Japanese movies? (Note that Oldboy was based on a Japanese manga オールド・ボーイ, Ōrudo Bōi

  8. Dara Connolly said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 4:20 pm

    The possessive pronoun "my" has been adopted by Japanese in a very idiosyncratic way.
    I have been asked by a Japanese person (speaking English) "Do you have a my-wife?", and on another occasion I was very confused when a Japanese woman asked me (also in English) "Is this my house?" My first thought was to respond "I have no idea". But then I realised she was asking me if it was my house.

    In Osaka on Fridays you can buy a ノーマイカーデー "no my car day" public transport ticket. A Japanese phrase made up of 4 English words that would not be grammatical in English.

  9. Terpomo said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 4:56 pm

    Wasei Eigo is a whole thing of its own, and frankly it's pretty interesting how they repurpose linguistic resources derived from English.

  10. Daniel Barkalow said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 5:26 pm

    Of course, English speakers will have no idea what you're talking about if you refer to Brother James or The Cockroach, and, if you say someone was singing Brother John, you clearly mean that they were singing the English translation, not that they were singing in French and you're reporting it in English.

  11. John Rohsenow said,

    March 1, 2022 @ 5:37 pm

    "The possessive pronoun "my" has been adopted by Japanese in a very idiosyncratic way."
    The late, and much missed linguist Jim MacCawley at the Univ of Chicago used to talk about how to translate the Japns. o- prefix, meaning (something like) "something dear or important to me". I myself thought that in many cases the easiest way was to translate it as "my",
    as when my mother used to say to me "Shut the door; you're letting my heat out". Years ago in the 1970s I once distinguished myself in the Japns. consulate office in Taibei by inquiring in my VERY limited Japanese, which I had acquired mostly from staying with an elderly female Japns. English language teacher in Kansai, "O-benjo-wa doko deska?". Japns officials rarely crack a smile, but this was apparently too much for him to resist. When I asked him where I had gone astray, he confessed that he had not heard anyone, especially any male, say "o-benjo" for many years :-)

  12. Jonathan Silk said,

    March 2, 2022 @ 4:13 am

    @John Rohsenow
    Interesting! Long before I learned Japanese, I learned from my father, who had been in Japan during the Korean war, the expression "O-benjo-wa doko deska?". I guess I've never used it in Japan, but I never had any reason to think that it was a gendered expression. So, indeed, interesting!

  13. Chris Button said,

    March 2, 2022 @ 6:24 am

    @ Richard Warmington

    the novel title, Norway is ノルウェイ, not ノルウェー.

    That’s interesting. It suggests it might be harking back to an earlier time when the two pronunciations would have been distinct. I suppose that makes sense—especially when the second syllable “way” used to be written 威 with its old ゐ “wi” pronunciation.

  14. Bill Taylor said,

    March 2, 2022 @ 8:16 am

    Am I understanding this right – the Japanese name for Norway is based on the English name for Norway, rather than the Norwegian one?

  15. Rodger C said,

    March 2, 2022 @ 10:54 am

    Bill Taylor: Well, which Norwegian one?

  16. Dara Connolly said,

    March 2, 2022 @ 5:35 pm

    The Japanese name is certainly much more similar to the English name than to (either version of) the Norwegian name of the country. The Japanese names of some other countries such as Sweden, Iceland, Poland, and Spain, similarly are closer to English than to their native names.

  17. Dara Connolly said,

    March 2, 2022 @ 5:40 pm

    Norway is ノルウェイ, not ノルウェー. I don't know why. Both spellings would be pronounced the same, I should think.

    To me, those two spellings represent distinct pronunciations – the first is a diphthong, the second a (long) pure vowel. Am I wrong?

  18. Kimball Kramer said,

    March 6, 2022 @ 2:58 pm

    @Bill Taylor: The English names for Firenze & Roma, etc., are based on the French, not Italian, versions of the names. I’m sure there are many other cases where, historically, a country gets place-names and their altered spellings via a third country and adopts the spelling (and/or pronunciation) from the intermediate country.

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