Word Wise: The Senses of “Sacred”

By Lynne E. Riggs

聖地をつくれ!

This is the Japanese title for a series of articles about people who spearhead the creation of 聖地 for various attractions, such as film locations, anime settings, and blue jeans (see the original and the translation in three languages here). A perusal of the Internet shows that the word is widely used in the world of anime and manga and that there are more than one “聖地マップ” and “Seichi Map” and so on, so it is getting a lot of exposure. Translations are quite diverse (holy land, sacred spot, film or fictional location, etc). One finds “Seichi Map” for the English (or romaji version) here and there. Perhaps keeping the possibly puzzling Japanese word seemed safer than picking an English word that may have carried more religious or secular connotations than desired.

For a seichi where the main attraction is blue jeans, the religious meaning is remote. The essential idea seemed to be getting people to come to a distant place from near and far to check out something attractive and valuable—well, to shop and spend money—so I improvised a bit, knowing that the client recognized that translation is about meaning, not words, and so suggested: “Putting Ourselves on the Map”

To the client I explained that I had I tried the straight translation: “Make a ‘Holy Land’!” But readers may wonder what that means! …. and what it has to do with blue jeans. Yes, I had also thought of using the word “pilgrimage site” but that would be only for something religious, so not really suitable. “Holy land,” “mecca,” “sanctuary” “hallowed land,” etc. are quite likely to evoke the idea of a sacred place for Christians or Muslims, so in English perhaps it might not be a word to use in contexts that are in fact rather different. By way of reference, I mentioned that the same idea is expressed in English by such names as “Birthplace of the Declaration of Independence,” “The Home of Thomas Jefferson,” “Gold Rush Country,” “The Place the Gold Rush Began,” “Land of the Peace Pipe,” “Cradle of Freedom,” etc. These are expressing something of the “location” or “literary landmark” idea. They all do miss, however, the element of “seichi” that denotes a place that is the focus of reverence.

聖地 reared its head again in an article about a new building in Niihama, which is 住友の聖地, the place where the great Sumitomo zaibatsu got its start in the copper mining industry. Here again, rather than the version provided by the author, “Sanctuary of Sumitomo,” we suggested “Cradle of the Sumitomo Business.” The author vigorously resisted the professional editor/translator’s advice, suggesting the religious connotations were important to him. In a valiant search for an option to other than “sanctuary,” we offered “native home,” “hallowed ground,” and “roots,” while thinking that the prosaic “where...got its start” was really informative enough. But where the client gets the last word, translation is also negotiation.

The bulletin welcomes feedback and ideas for more "Word Wise" articles. Contact and contribute at info@swet.jp.

(For more articles in this series, see here.)