Japan’s Role and Contribution to Asia is through Translation

Japan’s Role and Contribution to Asia is through Translation

米国翻訳専門職大学院(USA)副学長 堀田都茂樹

Tomoki Hotta
Vice Chancellor
Babel University Professional School of Translation

Along with its current History of Translation in the World course, BUPST is going to be offering a new course on the history of translation in Japan. Prior to launching this new course, BUPST will run a series in The Professional Translator looking at the history of translation in Japan. The author of this series, Sumio Kawamura, earned a Ph.D. from Indiana University and specializes in Eastern European history. This remarkable professor is proficient not only in Japanese, English, but in German, French, Russian, Czech, Polish, Yiddish, Chinese, and Korean.

We Japanese are well aware of the fact that many other Asian countries have given up on using their native language in higher education and have chosen to use English instead. As a result, these countries have been content with emulating the West and experiencing mediocre development. On the other hand, Japan has used translation in its modernization to create new Japanese terms for Western products of culture and ideas. Long before Japan started translating those things from the West, it adopted ideas from Chinese culture by rewriting those ideas using the Japanese language – thus using a form of ‘translation’ to import Chinese culture.

The Japanese have a remarkable history of assimilating culture from other countries that differ from their own, as well as foreign concepts that can be used in Japan. When there are no Japanese words to describe such culture and concepts, the Japanese have created a new Japanese language environment which accommodates that information.

Whether those in the Japanese government know about Japan’s history of translation or not is unclear. What is clear however is that these politicians are slighting the wisdom of their predecessors when they boisterously proclaim that English should become the official language in corporations and municipalities, and in higher education, such as super global universities where instruction is in English.

It is during this transitional period however that we should reflect on the history of translation in Japan, thoroughly organizing and consolidating the history and methodology of ‘translation’ that has been created.

Multicultural harmony is a key phrase today. When considering what Japan can contribute to other Asian countries to foster that harmony, what first comes to mind is Japan’s methodology of ‘translation’, or how Japan developed as a translation nation. Japan should share this knowledge, particularly with other Asian countries.

Babel has been involved in the field of translation for 45 years, which is almost half a century! It’s still just as important when working with multiple languages to develop translation and language expression techniques that ensure continued high translation quality. What’s more important however is rethinking translation as Japan’s national policy, rebuilding Japan using translation, and sharing with other Asian countries – and indeed the world – translation as a methodology.

From The Professional Translator No.192