The Many Translations of the “Lost Woods”

27 Comments

If you’re a fan of Nintendo games, then the name “Lost Woods” probably has some meaning for you. It’s a somewhat unique name for a forest where important things tend to happen in the Zelda games, and it’s often where the legendary Master Sword sleeps until the next hero needs it.

In contrast, the Lost Woods are known as the 迷いの森 (mayoi no mori) in Japanese, which isn’t nearly as unique in Japanese entertainment. There’s a mayoi no mori in the Super Mario series, for example, and there’s one in the Final Fantasy series.

Image 1Image 2Image 3

The mayoi no mori name pops up a lot in Japanese games, but it usually gets translated a different way in each different game. This is because mayoi has several different (and sometimes overlapping) meanings:

  • Getting lost
  • Mental confusion
  • Spiritual confusion
  • Indecision / hesitation
  • Illusion
  • Delusion

Even I’ve had to handle this phrase on occasion during my career, and it’s been strangely fun seeing how other translators handle it too. So I thought I’d compile a mayoi no mori gallery below to share the foresty fun.

Mayoi no Mori in Action









Summary

Before I began studying Japanese, I had no idea that Super Mario World had its own “Lost Woods”, or that the spooky Phantom Forest was Final Fantasy VI‘s “Lost Woods”. If I’d known about these connections as a kid, I probably would’ve daydreamed about how they might all connect to each other. Getting so lost in one forest that you wind up in another game’s forest would’ve had such cool crossover potential!

Anyway, besides showing how translation isn’t a straightforward process, these mayoi no mori examples also show how a single term can be written in very different ways using Japan’s three writing systems. In this case, we’ve seen マヨイノモリ, まよいのもり, まよいの森, and 迷いの森. Yet, despite looking different, they’re all the same word with the same pronunciation. It’s surprising how looking at a simple video game name can be so educational!

I’m sure there are many more mayoi no mori translations out there, so let me know if you can think of any others. I’ll add new examples to this article from time to time, so check back once in a while.

If you liked this look at how a single word can be translated a bunch of different ways, you'll love my articles about Demon Kings and the Four Heavenly Kings!

27 Comments
  1. “If I’d known about these connections as a kid, I probably would’ve daydreamed about how they might all connect to each other.”

    Might be for the best since your 11 year old self may have written it out only for it to be published in Nintendo Power for all to mock for decades.

    Reply
    1. Oh right I totally forgot about those haha, they were super-cheesy but I recall kind of liking them back then.

      Reply
  2. The Touhou series has 迷いの竹林, mayoi no chikurin, which is generally translated Bamboo Forest of the Lost. Makes sense, since it’s literally named after the fact that people get lost in it.

    Reply
  3. Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja 4 for PS2 has a place named the Forest of Delusion. There’s also Devil May Cry 4’s Lost Woods

    Reply
  4. In Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, 迷いの森 pops up as well, which 8-4 localized as the “Lost Treescape.” : )

    Reply
  5. Pokemon has multiple places called mayoi no mori. In addition to the one you mentioned in Black and White, there’s also one in X and Y, which got translated as “Winding Woods”, and one in episode 6 of the Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl anime that got translated as “Bewilder Forest”.

    Reply
  6. Is 迷 considered an advanced Kanji? I’m interested in why it would be written as まよ in some games and 迷 in others.

    Reply
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyōiku_kanji

      It’s taught in 5th grade, which is why it’s left out of games like Mario and Zelda, which are aimed at slightly younger audiences than things like Final Fantasy. A Japanese 9 year old wouldn’t be expected to know it, while an 11 year old would.

      Reply
  7. Oh God, a few years ago a Japanese light novel called Story of Evil: Cloture of Yellow was translated by fans into English. And by “translated”, I mean they took a Chinese translation and run it through Google Translate. This infamous incident lead to the novel’s protagonists going through the “Forest of Bewilderment”.

    Reply
    1. “Forest of Bewilderment” was probably a good summary of the reading experience.

      Reply
    2. Wow, that sounds like a “duwang”-level train wreck.

      Reply
  8. Some other 迷いの森 translations that I’ve found:

    Forest Labyrinth (Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara)
    Forest Maze (Chrono Trigger)
    Forest of Doubt (Arcana)
    Mazewood (Romancing SaGa)

    Reply
  9. Considering the phrase appears nearly identically in so many games, is it just like, an idiom that people repeat with no known origin, or is there specifically some book or poem the mayoi no mori comes from?

    Reply
    1. I haven’t looked it into it in detail, but I’ve always been curious about it myself. My current hunch is that maybe it’s in a children’s story that everyone hears, like maybe the forest in Little Red Riding Hood is called 迷いの森 in Japanese or something.

      Reply
  10. Came across this by Googling, some Japanese are discussing how to best translate the term into English as well.
    https://oshiete.goo.ne.jp/qa/5327576.html

    Couple interesting things to take from that:
    *迷子の森 seems to be an equivalent term. There’s a place in Miitopia by that name, which the English translation calls Wayward Woods, the same name Pokemon X/Y used for their 迷いの森, but it doesn’t seem all that common.
    *Both commenters more or less treat “Lost Woods” as a mistranslation that’s unfortunately become treated as legitimate because it’s used in a Nintendo game.

    Reply
  11. Robotrek (an SNES RPG also known as Slapstick in Japan) has one. In English it’s called the Forest of Illusion like in Mario. A quick check shows the Japanese writing for it to be 迷いの森.

    Reply
  12. Bartolo Polkakitty

    In the NES Legend of Zelda, it’s funny how, soon after the release of the game, everyone just seemed to accept “Lost Woods” as the name of that area, even though that name wasn’t actually used in the game. This seems especially strange considering that, at that time, it was common for people to buy NES cartridges secondhand, without the manuals or any other feelies that might have originally been packaged with them, so there were probably a substantial number of people who had played the game, but had never actually seen the name “Lost Woods” used by an official source. Even the localization teams for later games picked up “Lost Woods” as their way of translating 「迷いの森」.

    I think there are probably two reasons why the “Lost Woods” name stuck so completely: the first is that, if you do still have the map that came with the game, it shows exactly where the “Lost Woods” are, whereas the hint the old lady gives you, like most of the hints in the game, is ambiguous about the location of the “Forest of Maze” (also, because of a translation slipup, it sounds like she’s giving you instructions to get from where she is to the “Forest of Maze”, not instructions for how to pass through the forest when you get to it.)

    The second reason is because the NES Zelda was released during what was pretty much the golden age of third-party strategy guides, when a large enough audience for video games started to form that there was a viable market for those guides, but before it fell out of favor to design games in such a way that you could just wander around for a significant amount of time without knowing the location of the next official goal that you were supposed to go to (the dungeons, in this case.) Any decent strategy guide for the game would have included a map of the overworld, and I would bet that most strategy guides copied most of their maps from the map that came with the game, which of course, would lead to them also using the “Lost Forest” name.

    Reply
    1. Probably doesn’t help that “Forest of Maze” sounds incredibly Enrgrishy, while “Lost Woods” does not.
      Also, “Lost Woods” appears rather prominently in most Zelda guides and media, while the old lady you have to bribe is easily skipped which also makes the former more common.

      Reply
      1. Eh, it’s not like “Lost Woods” makes a whole lot of sense either. “Forest of Maze” is Engrish, but so is half the other text in the game, while “Lost Woods” is just nonsense. What did you take it to mean as a kid, “woods that are lost”? They’re right there and aren’t lost in the slightest.

        Reply
        1. They’re Woods that you can easily become Lost in. Makes sense to me.

          Reply
  13. Digimon World for PS1 had a variation, “Mayowazu no Mori” (迷わずの森), which the English version translated as Native Forest. Fans usually translate the Japanese name as Unwavering Forest.

    Reply
    1. There’s an LED sign on the ground in that game that has silly names for the adjacent locations. For example, File City is called Digimon Town or something like that. I think there was a silly name for the Native Forest on there, but I can’t remember what it is.

      I’ve been told this game is a parody of RPGs, but it got lost in translation.

      Reply
  14. Brave Fencer Musashi (PS1) had a “Meandering Forest” as well.

    Reply
  15. In Tales of Symphonia, there’s a 迷いの森 that has a proper name: Gaoracchia Forest. But there’s a skit called “Labyrinth Forest” where they talk about how the forest is cursed. I assume that’s the translation of 迷いの森 they went with there.

    Reply
  16. A little late to the discussion, but apparently wario land 2 features a mayoi no mori for one of its chapters, which was translated as “Maze Woods.”

    https://www.mariowiki.com/Maze_Woods

    Also, I was surprised to discover that the Forest Maze from Super Mario RPG is NOT a Mayoi no Mori, but is known as Hanachan no Mori in the Japanese version, Hanachan being the Japanese name for Wiggler.

    https://www.mariowiki.com/Forest_Maze

    Reply
  17. That’s quite interesting I suppose. Wanna go the other way around and see if there’s any interesting japanese translations in Western titles?

    Reply
  18. I always love hearing about your time working on One Piece. I’ve said it before, but i really think it would be awesome if you’d do an interview on The One Piece Podcast.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *