Popuri from Harvest Moon 64 saying "Hand, huh?" upon seeing the player's dog

Harvest Moon 64 Gives This Dog a Hand? Huh?!

Bokujō Monogatari 2 — lit. “Farm Story 2”, localized as Harvest Moon 64 — was my first exposure to farming sims. Despite reading Nintendo Power religiously, I’d never considered that it was actually someone’s job to convert video games from other languages into English so people like me could enjoy them. For better or worse, I became interested in localization almost as a direct result of HM64. Even as an 8-year-old, I could tell this game didn’t start out in English.

The title screen for Harvest Moon 64. The center of the screen reads "Push the START", and the copyright is attributed to "Natume Inc."
The legendary “Push the Start” text on the title screen should be your first indication of that! By the way, Mato has an interesting article on why Natsume is spelled ‘Natume’!

BokuMono, now known in the West as Story of Seasons, is celebrating Harvest Moon (SNES)’s 35th anniversary this month. So, I thought it was as good an opportunity as any to peek into HM64’s localization. One could generously describe the translation as “rough,” but Natsume was working with some handicaps.

With the exception of the SNES Harvest Moon and Lufia 2, the bulk of their projects were text-light shoot-/beat-em-ups like Pocky & Rocky and The Ninja Warriors. According to this interview, Natsume was staffed by about 5 employees at this time. 5 would’ve been plenty for small projects like that, but a text-dense game like HM64 was another story.

Harvest Moon 64's Special Thanks. Hiro Maekawa and Graham Renn are listed, along with Natsume Inc., spelled Natusme.
As a matter of fact, the credits (where Natsume’s name is actually misspelled, this time!) name only Natsume President & CEO Hiro Maekawa alongside Operations Manager Graham Renn.

Furthermore, it faced the limitations of the N64 cartridge. While we don’t think of text as taking up all that much space, on average it takes around four times as much text to convey the same ideas in English compared to Japanese. There was also incentive to keep cartridges to 6MB or smaller, to reduce production costs. This was so much of a problem that hundreds of lines of dialogue were cut from the game, as well as a leaderboard and map!

A screenshot of Bokujō Monogatari 2's map screen, which is inaccessible in the localized version. It shows an isometric view of the entire play area, with the player's location marked by their head.
The missing entertainment channel is well-known, but despite being a huge BokuMono fan, I had never heard of the map and leaderboard being cut until I bought my own Japanese cart.

Lastly, Hiro Maekawa was a Japanese native who came to America through his university, seeking an English-related career. There was disparity between his lifelong foundation in Japanese language/culture and his years-long exposure to native English speech at the time of localization.

With those facts in mind, we’ll proceed with some leniency. Let’s look at the line that prompted this article and my Japanese-learning journey as a whole. It occurs when showing Popuri your dog.

The player is showing Popuri his dog. Her response is, "Ha ha, cute. Hand, huh?"
You ain’t nothing but a hand, dog!

Showing off your dog is a simple (and free!) way to build friendships, so naturally I saw this as a kid. But the “hand” part never made sense to me. As will quickly become customary, let’s compare the Japanese, the official localization, and my take.

JapaneseOfficial EnglishDirect Translation
Ha ha, cute.
Hand, huh?
Ahaha, cuuute!
Shake! Wow!

あれ (are) is a simple Japanese expression of surprise, so no confusion there. But the “hand” part threw me for a second even once I had begun to learn Japanese. It turns out, while お手 (ote) literally means ‘hand’ or ‘paw’, it’s equivalent to ‘shake’ in this context!

A photo of my black rabbit putting his paw on top of my hand and looking annoyed he had to stop eating for this.
Ote isn’t just for dogs! My rabbit can do it, too!

One thing that stands out to me is that other Japanese pet commands are generally pretty close to English ones:

JapaneseLiteral MeaningEnglish Version
お手, otehand, pawshake
おかわり, okawariseconds, refill, another servinginstructs the dog to give you its other paw
おすわり, osuwarisit down (baby talk)sit
待て, matewaitstay
伏せ, fuselay face downdown, lay down
立て, tatestand upup
ゴロン, goronrolling soundroll over
ワン, wanbarking soundspeak
つけ, tsukeattachheel
いい子だね, iikodaneYou’re a good kid, aren’t you?Who’s a good boy/girl?
Side-by-side screenshots of a Goron rolling towards Link in Ocarina of Time, and Kagome making Inuyasha Sit.
You might recognize some of these terms. The rolling Gorons in the Legend of Zelda series get their name from the onomatopoeia, and the dog-demon Inuyasha’s necklace forces him to obey Kagome’s osuwari command.

Here, Maekawa probably knew dog commands were largely similar in English, and went with ‘hand’. I think this is a good counterexample to the idea that literal translation is necessarily the best way to localize. Of course, preserving the original intention is important! But it’s also important that the translation doesn’t stick out in the audience’s mind as “off” somehow. It definitely betrays that a lot of the localization work was done by a Japanese native. I think a team of native Japanese and English speakers would’ve produced the best results.

Another screenshot of Harvest Moon 64's credits. Here, some of the Japanese names are localized in an unusual way. There's also a typo and some miscolored text.
Another giveaway is the use of Nihon-shiki-style romanization, which Mato referenced briefly in his article linked above. “Tyaki” comes from 茶木, and would most commonly be written as ‘Chaki’ by a Western translator today. Similarly, “Tuyoshi” would be written ‘Tsuyoshi‘.

I’m speculating here, but I find it pretty likely Maekawa translated most of the game himself. He had just recently become President of Natsume, and Harvest Moon was seen as a life preserver for a drowning company struggling to maintain their already spartan staff. Beyond that, the company was also localizing the PlayStation Harvest Moon: Back to Nature — which released the same month as HM64 — as well as some other, lighter games.

It makes sense to me that, with staff spread pretty thin, and being concerned with the continued survival of the company, he would handle one of its most important releases with a personal touch. Of course, he probably made use of his native English-speaking staff as well, but maybe the minor nature of this dialogue let it slip by.

Since this is the first article I’ve posted to the site, let me know what you think of it, and let me know if there’s any localization mysteries you want me to look into! I’ve got dozens of articles planned and researched, so please, check back often, or follow me on Twitter!


  1. This was really interesting! Especially the part where you mentioned a lot of text and a bit of content was cut. Please make more of these, I would love to read through them 🙂

  2. I stumbled here because of the map image (which I’d never seen before) and had to read the article which I thoroughly enjoyed! Makes me want to go buy the Japanese version and go back to learning to read Japanese just so I can experience it all!

  3. Definitely excited to see you guys tackle some of these things. Harvest Moon for example, I remember finding out about the map and stuff way later and feeling cheated!! It’s cool to see someone delving into it.

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