Chihayafuru: an update on the “teki” debate

What do I see you as?

Since I asked one of my Japanese teachers in Tokyo about the term late last year, I’ve been meaning to follow up on this post about what Taichi meant when he referred to Arata as a “teki.” I’ve just been putting it off because I had a whole lot of other things I wanted to write about more—I’ve even fallen really far behind on my reviews of the manga. Well, hopefully, this post will galvanise me to get back into it, though I make no guarantees whatsoever…

Let me begin with a comment by a professional translator in reference to translating Japanese video games:

Teki (敵) is enemy, but it can occasionally refer to an opponent, which is usually aite (相手, opponent or other player) in Japanese.

Daniel Morales—who writes a pretty interesting column about the Japanese language, by the way—doesn’t specify how you decide which translation you should go for. However, my Japanese teacher, who has a doctorate in Japanese studies, gave me the following answer:

“Teki” is used to mean ‘opponent’ in certain traditional Japanese contests. On the other hand, “aite” tends to be used more in games and contests that have come from the West.

I haven’t really had time to check this, other than to confirm that the traditional contests in question include Japanese chess (Shōgi) and Go. If I go by their descriptions only, actual physical contests such as Kendō and Jūdō tend to use “aite,” which I presume is due to the fact that they are martial arts that have traditionally been used to attack and defend oneself from hostile individuals.

My searches on google also suggest that some teams in sports like basketball and soccer might think about opposing teams as “teki” when they’re trying to develop and practice strategies against them. I’m not the biggest fan of sports anime (Guardian Enzo is, however, so that may be why he’s adamant that the translator should have chosen ‘rival’ instead of ‘enemy’), but if anyone proficient in Japanese could check this as they keep watching, reading and playing ACG media, I’d be glad to hear what you find.

Well, I never imagined that I would write about this gentleman in a post about Chihayafuru, but let me assure you that it’s warranted…

As an aside, I was also quite pleased to see the following when I was in D.C. recently. The official guide to the Lincoln monument states that Lincoln never referred to the Confederates as “enemies”; rather, they were always “our adversaries” or “those people over there.” Remembering a debate I once had about the translation of “teki,” I’m glad to know that Abraham Lincoln also thought that calling someone an ‘adversary’ didn’t mean the same thing as calling them an ‘enemy’. In fact, he’s not the only one.

Hence, I stand by my core argument about that scene: whatever Taichi meant by “teki,” “enemy” is most certainly not the right translation. Having gone over all of this once again, I’d personally argue that in chapter 105 / S2 episode 20, “an adversary” is the best way to describe how Taichi viewed Arata. But that’s not a word that most teenagers would use, so we’re left with “opponent” and “rival.” Unless I go for a mouthful such as “someone I have to defeat,” that is. And to be frank, although “opponent” is the correct translation, I don’t think it quite conveys the respect that Taichi felt for Arata’s karuta skills, the respect for his own skills that he wanted Arata to feel, and how much he wants to defeat him. So, though it’s not ideal because the connotation is more positive than I feel it should be, I think I’ll have to settle on “rival” in the end. The tone that Miyano Mamoru used for that line is going to have to convey the ambivalent feelings that Taichi had for Arata at that point.

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

7 Responses to Chihayafuru: an update on the “teki” debate

  1. ender says:

    lol you don’t need a Japanese language expert for this. all you need to do is look at the story. everything tachi has done in karuta was for the purpose of beating Arata. weather in love or in the game itself. He also wants to become someone that arata does not view as a coward. It is evident from the story that Tachi respects Arata and desperately wants to become a person that can beat him. words are only 30% of communication. we can figure out what you used language to figure out by examining the other 70%.


    • karice says:

      Well, I personally agree with you that we need to look at what characters show us through their actions as well as what they say, albeit with one major caveat. The often quoted numbers of how much is conveyed by non-verbal methods of communication come from studies about a very specific type of face-to-face interaction: namely, one where the words being spoken aren’t matched by the non-verbal cues (e.g. when someone lies that they’re having fun at a dinner/party when they are in fact not). (See this or this). This means that we need to be careful about how we make the argument–though I won’t go into that here.

      Nevertheless, I still argue that Chihayafuru gives several good examples of how we need to pay attention to non-verbal cues. Taichi is arguably the character most affected by this, though just off the top of my head, I can name several points where it applies to Arata as well. But some fans I’ve encountered seem to prefer to take what they say in the scenes in question at face value. Their reasons for doing so aren’t convincing to me, especially since they’re also basing their evaluations on some questionable English translations…

      But to be honest, this post is really for myself, since I’ve found these little nuances about the Japanese language really interesting. There are quite a few other words and phrases that I’ve clarified with Japanese friends and teachers over the years: it’s just that I don’t often have much of a chance to work them into what I write here ^^

      Liked by 1 person

  2. yes this “teki” moment always has been a strange one. Obviously he was really not happy at all that Arata announced that he was coming back to Tokyo: he must have had a real, disagreable feeling of rejection at that moment; and then he says “teki”. Personally i have always felt it is something in between “rival” and “enemy”……this scene is very well done, especially for a Taichi fan like me, cause i could almost “feel” the scene. It doesn’t make you feel good at all….LOL.

    and talking about Arata: that moment when he says “Chihaya belongs to no one” will be qualified in the same box for me as Taichi’s ‘”teki” moment……why Arata went and put that on Taichi’s plate after he lost, still seems not very ‘nice’ of Arata, who usually is “nice” (i prefer him like this though! he also has his little mean moments ;))


    • karice says:

      There is no doubt that the scene expressed Taichi’s strong negative reaction to Arata coming back to Tokyo. And that’s why “rival” doesn’t really give the whole picture either. But you’re right, the best comparison is Arata’s own negative reaction to seeing Taichi–instead of himself–battling Chihaya in the Yoshino Cup final. The difference between the two of them is that Taichi was fully aware of why he has such conflicting feelings about Arata, whereas I’m still not sure whether the latter understands. What happened during the Takamatsunomiya Cup in chapter 133/4 should have helped, but I would like to get some sort of confirmation. (^ ^)

      As a point of contrast, I really liked how Arata is one of the people that come to Taichi’s mind when Suou points out that he’s kept playing karuta because he really likes the people around him who are also in that world. It’s a really good piece of evidence that he has some very positive feelings towards Arata as well, though I expect that it’s not going to stop his detractors from arguing that a lot of his ‘friendly’ actions are not genuine… (-_-;; )


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  4. landofthekwt says:

    I appreciate your efforts to elucidate the meaning of “teki” I think rivalry has a lot to do with what is going on in Chihayafuru. We see rivals who have come to terms with each other as in Haruka and Sakurazawa. Rivals who will always be enemies like Nishida’s coach and Harada.

    Chihaya wants to be the Queen’s rival but she acts more like her friend. Shinobu becomes angry with Chihaya because she promised to play her in the Queen final and went on a school field trip
    instead. Chihaya realizes that she broke her promise to Shinobu, but is able to recover what she lost with Shinobu by sacrificing her most prized possession to help Shinobu win.

    Shinobu just wants a rival who wants to play her and fight her. Arata brushes off her attempts Chihaya is confused when Taichi attempts to be her rival, but recovers when she realizes that her friend Taichi is still there.

    Arata is actually shaken when he plays Taichi because he realizes that if the Chihaya card had been called he would have lost because as his rival Taichi is willing to fight harder for Chihaya than he is.


    • karice says:

      Yeah, rivalry is hugely important in any sport, and it’s no different here.

      But I’m not sure I agree with how you’ve characterised all of the ‘rivalries’ in Chihayafuru. I’d say that Arata recognises Shinobu as a rival, but one that he can defeat (so not someone that challenges him). As for Taichi and Chihaya, I don’t think she’s confused because he was attempting to be his rival: I’d say she was shocked to learn how little she actually knew about Taichi (proving what Hyoro had said at the Fujisaki Camp).

      I’d be cautious about implying that rivalry is just about opposing each other, because it’s also about helping each other to greater heights. If I remember correctly, one of the seniors in the karuta world actually wants Arata to have a rival for those reasons.


      Arata is actually shaken when he plays Taichi because he realizes that if the Chihaya card had been called he would have lost

      “…may well have lost”, not “would have lost.”


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