Bracing Good Sense, Balm for the Tired Translator’s Soul

Reviewed by Anna Husson Isozaki

Translator Perspectives (Honyakusha no mesen). Tokyo: Japan Association of Translators, 2012. 72 pages. ISBN 978-4-906408-06-1.

This slim, concise volume recently out from the Japan Association of Translators (JAT) belongs in the collection of anyone remotely intrigued by what translation really is, and certainly in every professional's—first to savor, and then to show clients and everyone else who needs to understand translation better. The entries are mostly single-page or at most two-page gems, and the comfortable integration of Japanese and English throughout reminds one that sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Even when writers give similar points, the unique way each has put them makes them satisfying and memorable and before one knows it, one is reading piece after piece, and rereading. From Helen Iwata's foreword: “Some people seem to think that translation is merely a matter of replacing words in one language with their equivalents in another. It's not that simple. Translation demands context. It demands understanding. It demands empathy. It's a very demanding task but one that can be vastly eased and improved when clients understand the challenges.” The contributors go on to help with that understanding, from Usha Jayaraman's pragmatic advice (“Knowing what it takes to get a job done . . . allows you to allocate time appropriately to the various tasks involved―research, first draft, polishing up, final checks”) to Michael House's well-experienced exasperation: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

Deeply thought-provoking pieces consider intangibles, including aspects of culture that challenge translators, as in Enda Kazuko's “Shataku ja neko o kawarenmon” 社宅じゃ猫を飼われんもん, which discusses why a sentence like that (“We're not allowed to have cats in our new company house”) would be unlikely to communicate clearly to a child living in the American countryside. Lyrica Bradshaw's meditation on observing the unconscious influence a translator may give a piece in “On Translating Someone Else's (Emotional) Landscape” asks, “Was something lost in translation? Or, was something created in translation?” She finishes by saying she does not know, but the reader leaves the page indelibly reminded to value the question.

Torkil Christensen's concluding advice on how to make us “deeper and better people” is dry and funny, and then perhaps many readers will find fitting the parting words in Tsutamura Matoko's “Hon'yaku-do michi nakaba, kore kara mo ganbarimasu” 翻訳道道半ば、これからもがんばります.

The book is available in several digital formats on the JAT website, and for the paper version (visually appealing, with a beautiful bilingual cover design), one should contact JAT with full postal address, while supplies last.