Higashizono Tadatoshi (1927–2021): Translator, Writer, Scholar

On February 16, 2021, long-time SWET member, translator, and friend Higashizono Tadatoshi passed away at the age of 93. In late April, a message from his wife, Higashizono Hito, of Inagi, Tokyo, let us know that since retiring from in-house employment at Nomura Research Institute in 1989, he had long suffered from asthma, but had overcome its effects to remain active for 30 years thereafter. A man of broad interests, he enjoyed noh drama performances and followed his passion for research on culture, English and other themes, collecting books, borrowing books from the local library and copying documents at the Diet Library, until weakened by an accident in 2019.

Higashizono-san was a member of SWET from early in its history and a frequent participant in our events and parties over four decades. His enthusiasm for our activities, fine humor, and, cheerful support will be much missed. Among four articles that he contributed to the SWET Newsletter, the following, published in Number 105 (2004), recounts his story in his own words.

We hope readers who knew Higashizono-san will add their memories of him in the Comments section available at the end of this article


Rugged but Rewarding

(Preface to the original article)
A witness to the progress—and lack of it—in the Japanese-to-English translation profession over 40 years, Higashizono Tadatoshi studied English under a demanding English composition teacher in a Kagoshima high school and Orwell- and Galsworthy-enthusiast professors at a Kumamoto university. His translations appeared in the Japan Quarterly (1980-84, under the pen name Tad Tohyen). He is a member of the Japan Association of English Romanticism, the Asiatic Society of Japan, and the Japan Association for Current English Studies. He describes his retirement-free career in Japanese-to-English translation from the viewpoint of a native speaker of Japanese.

Mori Toru and Higashizono Tadatoshi at the Tokyo Toastmaster’s Club mid-year party, June 27, 1985.

Defying the general practice of remaining loyal to the same company under the once-vaunted lifetime employment system, for the past 40-odd years, I worked as a translator for five different Japanese business organizations in the fields of (among others) chemicals, advertising, and research. My true loyalty throughout, however, was to the profession of translation itself, with the weight shifting from English-to-Japanese to Japanese-to-English; the latter was the focus of my greatest aspiration. After supporting myself as an in-house translator in the daytime, I would hurry home to moonlight in other areas more or less to my liking. This self-imposed double-ply career—one part pursued under the constant pressure of time but sheltered by the corporate umbrella, and the other part pursued to my heart’s content—did have its unexpected synergisms. My years in the workforce coincided with Japan’s economic upswing as well as with the recession that followed the bursting of the economic bubble.

My first major after-hours job—an E-J translation of The World of Michelangelo in the Time-Life Library of Art series—came around 1968 through the Nihon Hon’yakuka Kyōkai (an association of mostly E-J translators, including Japan P.E.N. Club members), where I did volunteer clerical work. Since art was an area that excited me, I did my best to study the background of Michelangelo, heading off to Tokyo’s Kanda district to collect second-hand reference books. This impulse developed into a habit of preparatory reading that has stayed with me throughout my career. The editor laid down three strict principles for my style of English-to-Japanese translation: make the Japanese output comprehensible even to a high-school graduate; avoid the use of -teki, the too-easily-added suffix for creating an adjective; and use katakana expressions sparingly. Before accepting the first chapter of Michelangelo, the editor at Time-Life scanned my laboriously completed draft briefly and handed it back with a grimace twice; but I persevered, and by the time I submitted the eighth and final chapter, he asked if I would also do Rubens, which was followed by Delacroix, Manet, and Matisse. I am now grateful to that editor for opening my eyes to a profession that earns you money only when the output is adequately audience-oriented.

My third employer, an advertising agency, where I worked as a liaison between clients and copywriters, was also oriented to the audience/consumer. It was at this agency, in the process of summarizing and amplifying information from clients for the convenience of copywriters, that I learned the valuable AIDA (attention-interest- demand-action) principle. One of two major clients for which I was responsible at the agency (the other being the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) was a trading firm representing a former zaibatsu (corporate conglomerate) of some 50 companies. The firm’s English-language materials for external use—letters, documents, ad copy—required approval by a sober senior staff member who had spent his formative years in London. The copywriter our agency assigned to this client was a highly motivated young American who was versatile enough to spend his leisure time penning poems and directing his own film. As might have been anticipated, our ad copy was turned down time and time again by the Anglophile boss, and it was only after a two-day series of heated discussions between the client’s overseas publicity team and our team (the copywriter, the manager, and me) that our concept was finally approved. Behind the seeming showdown between British and American terms of expression, I sensed, lay a difference in notions of corporate governance as well as a gap in the social perceptions of writers (copywriters and translators included). Dealing with these perception gaps clearly consumes much extra time and energy for native English-speaking professionals working in Japan.

In 1973, the year of the first oil crisis, I was hired by an economic and financial research think-tank executive who contributed 39 full-page columns in seven years to Newsweek’s International Edition. This was the heyday of “Japan Inc.,” and the researchers at the institution—my boss included—were making frequent trips overseas to expound on Japanese-style management. Figuring that behind the texts I was assigned to translate into English there must have been many pages of background reading, I asked the researchers to share some of their source literature with me. I also tried to keep an eye on the newspapers, journals, and books that were popular among those who would be reading my translations. I adopted this approach for my moonlighting as well, and gradually my authors began to provide me with background material, some of it unavailable on the market, in hopes of obtaining the best possible product from me. When such clients not only started to come back regularly for my services but also to present me with copies of their newly published essays or books, and to invite me to relevant seminars and luncheons, I realized that while translation may be a humble profession, it can offer unexpected rewards.

As I continued to work among the think tank researchers in an agreeably scholarly atmosphere, I began to wish to improve my translations of their speeches and oral presentations as well. It was around this time that I met fellow-spirit and mentor Mori Toru, who happened to be working for the think tank’s parent company. Mori was later to write Honyaku: Akubun no ryōrihō (The Proper Preparation of Bad Texts for Translation; Japan Times, 1982; out of print), an enlightening J-E translation guide telling how to render unpalatable Japanese texts laced with ambiguities and euphemisms into appetizing—or at least lucid—English. The sole Japanese holder of the title of Distinguished Toastmaster at that time, Mori took me along to a Tokyo Toastmasters Club gathering for beginning public speakers. The club’s instructions emphasized, among other things, “eye contact, vocal variety, and hand gestures”—requirements similar to those for actors. Temporarily assuming the guise of a yakusha (actor) was actually a help to me as a yakusha (translator), who is supposed to be as unobtrusive as a kuroko (black-garbed stage assistant). Both kinds of yakusha face a similar challenge: rendering original texts into the language of another culture or for oral expression or performance.

Kabuki (and, more recently, Noh) plays have been another of my abiding interests. This interest led to work, after hours, translating the monthly synopses for the National Theater (Kokuritsu Gekijo) for a period of three years. In my first translation of a synopsis for a play that I had not yet seen, I committed an inexcusable goof. The Japanese text for a scene said, “danjo tomo ni shisu.” With little doubt in my mind, I translated tomo ni as “together,” visualizing a man and a woman committing double suicide in typical Kabuki fashion. A month later, ensconced in a guest seat, I was astonished to realize that the man and woman don’t die together, but at different times and places! Obviously, tomo ni meant “both” rather than “together.” This incident taught me that when I took on a translation of the half-page Japanese synopsis I really needed to also peruse the 100- to 200-page script of the play.

While making my move into J-E translation, I naturally became aware of the distinct challenges faced by native Japanese-speaking translators (JSTs) and native English-speaking translators (ESTs). I began to compare our labors to climbing a mountain via two routes: for the EST the trail climbs steeply uphill at the outset, but once at the top it levels off onto a well-trodden path. By contrast, the trail for the JST seems gentle at first (though sometimes bumpy), but then it turns into a long and arduous ascent. I wondered if there was some way to facilitate that rugged second-stage ascent into something resembling the enviably easy course traveled by the EST.

Before long, I heard about a J-E translation course to be given by a prominent EST: Charles S. Terry, the translator of Yoshikawa Eiji’s classic novel Miyamoto Musashi (published in 1981 as Musashi by Kodansha International). I had read Terry’s candid advice in the June 1979 issue of PHP: “At one time, I gave a course for Japanese translators and I had to tell them quite honestly that if you really want to be a good translator from Japanese to English, the best thing is to be reborn American or British: in the same way, I would never ever undertake to translate anything into Japanese.” His admonition haunted me, but I leaped at the chance to take his course at NHK’s Aoyama “school.” Rather than dwelling on the rebirth issue, the soft-spoken lecturer emphasized careful visualization even of seemingly insignificant elements in the source text. He suggested that in translating the word ido (well), for example, you should visualize its specifics in terms of shape (round or square), materials (wood or stone), covering (lid or roof), and location (a farmer’s yard or at the roadside), even if verbalized or described. Terry’s point illustrates that renditions of the same source text can differ in nuance from one translator to the next. (Translator A may have in mind a round, wooden well with a lid in a farmer’s yard, while translator B may visualizes a square, stone well with the roof at a roadside. This difference, even if specified in translation, may lead to subtle difference in the effect of the end product. Likewise, even though the author simply writes “inu [dog],” the translator should visualize the dog as big, black, or whatever. This visualization, not description, may help later on when the author mentions another dog in the course of the story, for instance. That is what Terry had in mind.

Some years later, I heard about a course to be given by another master EST, Robert Wargo. In the class on translation at the Asahi Culture Center in Shinjuku, Wargo surprised me more than once by reading between the lines of some chapters of Umehara Takeshi’s Jigoku no shisō (The Concept of Hell; Shūeisha, 1996). Umehara, a philosopher and prolific writer on Japanese history and religious ideas, once admitted that his pen could not keep up with the constant flow of ideas through his head. Filling in the occasional gaps in Umehara’s train of thought requires profound insight into relevant areas of Japanese culture and society, but Wargo, who has lived in Japan since 1981 following a few brief stays after 1955, possessed that insight. In retrospect, I realize that the three years I spent learning more Japanese than English under him were a rare period of personal good fortune. 

Then came the news about the forthcoming age of machine translation. I felt my career was doomed, like those of the rickshaw men driven off the streets by speeding motorcars or of the benshi, film narrators who faded away in the wake of the talkies of the early Shōwa era. Worried about my suddenly darkening prospects, I attended a two-day seminar on artificial intelligence, listening to experts’ prophecies regarding MT hardware and software, Japanese and English syntax, MITI’s ambitious projects to promote AI, and Japan’s technological strengths in the field. The head of the engineering faculty of a prestigious national university solemnly proclaimed that in ten years or so, translation either from English to Japanese or vice versa would practically be taken over by machines. The authority with which these experts spoke was decidedly unnerving, so I set out to confirm the state of the art for myself at demonstrations given at Tokyo’s Harumi exhibition center and at a city-center hotel. Each time I went, I carried with me that day’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun and asked the exhibitors to try translating the first sentence of the editorial. My request was usually tactfully evaded, but on one occasion the attendant obligingly took the editorial into a back room. About ten minutes later he reemerged, most likely from a long struggle with pre-editing. By taking so much time, he had unwittingly relieved my anxieties, reconfirming my conviction that, indeed, “the style makes the man,” not the machine.

In 1996, 28 years after completing my E-J translation of Michelangelo, I received a request for a J-E translation of the coverage of Jasper Johns’s visit to Japan by a few Japanese art magazines. The client, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York, also hired translators in Germany and France, other countries the great contemporary artist had visited. The translations from German and French, as well as my translation from Japanese, were incorporated in a book: Jasper JohnsWritings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews. At the halfway point, and again after I had finished my translation, the person in charge at the museum sent me faxes saying “wonderful” and then “impeccable.” I did not take her comments at face value, for I was not certain whether she, a specialist in art rather than language, could read the Japanese text. Nevertheless, to a JST, there was (and still is) no greater joy than hearing a complimentary word or two from a native English speaker whom one does not know personally.

Over the years I have witnessed an unmistakable improvement in Japanese clients’ knowledge of the English language, and thus also in their evaluation of translators’ output. At times, however, their unwittingly patchy knowledge perplexes me. A client in a government-affiliated organization once demanded that I change “boils down” into “is boiled down,” on the grounds that the original text used the passive form. This request I politely declined, citing the peculiar Japanese preference for passive over active forms, which I had confirmed in my comparative study of various translations and writings by Japanese and non-Japanese. For instance, I had found that in his translation of Kikuchi Kan’s Onshū no kanata ni (The Realm Beyond), John Bester used only 78 passive forms, compared with an earlier (Japanese) translator’s 101. The client’s demand prompted me to check the first ten passive forms in Ibuse Masuji’s Honjitsu kyūshin and its translation by Edward Seidensticker (No Consultations Today, with Glenn Shaw. Hara Shobō, 1964). I was enlightened to find that the passive usages in the original did not correspond with passive usages in the translation, a discovery that opened my eyes to the contrasting use of voice in the two languages.

A number of journals in Japan focusing on the English language, education, or business contain regular feature pages for J-E translation practice for the benefit of their readers with feedback from mainly Japanese professors. In 1955, J-E translation enthusiast fans of such pages, particularly those in a magazine published by Eigo Tsushinsha from 1929 to 1969 called The Current of the World, started a coterie monthly publication entitled COW. Currently, COW members regularly contribute to such J-E translation practice pages in Eigo kyōiku (The English Teachers’ Magazine; Taishukan), and in the English literature monthly Eigo Seinen (The Rising Generation; Kenkyusha), which celebrated its 105th anniversary in August 2003. Almost solely thanks to the unstinting efforts of editor Koizumi Ko, COW is in its 49th year of publication and put out its 590th issue this June. The approach to J-E translation in these pages, however, places excessive emphasis on grammar and original sentence structure, at the expense of attention to the response of the audience. As a COW member since 1956 and of SWET since its inception, I feel their approach to J-E translation is in dire need of risutora, receptiveness to restructuring of the original text, as so pointedly stressed by Kano Tsutomu, the late editor of The Japan Interpreter, in his 1977 essay on our profession, “The Alchemist.” 

I remain an active COW member, although I cannot hope to be reborn an English-native speaker. Charles Terry’s advice to native Japanese-speaking J-E translators sounded rather cruel when I first read it, but I have enjoyed direct contact with native English-speaker translators and learned much from their professional expertise, so the admonition has begun to seem quite kind.

© 2004 Higashizono Tadatoshi. Originally published in the SWET Newsletter, No. 105 (August 2004).

Articles by Higashizono Tadatoshi published in the SWET Newsletter.

“The Silent Citadel: Poetry for 9/11 and 3/11,” No. 129 (November 2011)
“Noh Translations on the World’s Stage,” No. 119 (May 2008)
“Bibliophile Frank Hawley’s Life in Japan” (book review), No. 110 (January 2006
“Rugged but Rewarding,” No. 105 (August 2004).




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