A Japanese interpreter who worked on a series of delicate Japan-China meetings says he hopes his language skills can help to improve relations at a time when bilateral ties are pained by a territorial dispute and by tension over conflicting readings of history.
In April 2012, linguist Yuki Izumikawa, 35, an official of the Association for the Promotion of International Trade, was appointed to serve as interpreter in a meeting between the association’s chairman, Yohei Kono, and Xi Jinping, who was vice president at that time and is now China’s leader.
“I was so worried. What if my interpretation causes further complications,” Izumikawa recalls. “I was very nervous — and made a number of trips to the bathroom.”
Shortly afterward, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara announced plans by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to purchase the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, to underline Japan’s sovereignty over the disputed territory. The islands are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu. The Japanese government eventually purchased several of the Senkakus in September 2012 from a private Japanese owner.
In another meeting, between Kono and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Izumikawa conveyed Tokyo’s gratitude for Beijing’s support for the victims of the disaster, paying careful attention to his way of speaking.
Looking back on his childhood, Izumikawa says he was a boy who tended to do things his own way and at his own pace, becoming absorbed in only one thing at a time.
At university, he studied Chinese and became intrigued by the language. He was also impressed with his hardworking Chinese classmates.
After graduating from university, Izumikawa went to Beijing to study Chinese. He recalls that he had his bag stolen there but met a compassionate man who helped him.
After deciding “to place Chinese at the center” of his life, Izumikawa went to an interpretation school and joined the association promoting trade and economic exchange between Japan and China.
Izumikawa has never missed a day of studying Chinese. It is as much a part of his day as breathing, he says.
Believing that preparation is crucial for successful interpretation, he devotes ceaseless efforts to deepening his knowledge of subjects such as economics and history, and he studies carefully past speeches by prominent Chinese figures.
He also prioritizes accuracy and always tries to make translations that are literal and word-for-word.
A fan of the historical text, Records of the Three Kingdoms, Izumikawa has read it in Chinese, as well as a Japanese manga adaptation of it.
On weekends, he spends time with a Chinese family in his Tokyo neighborhood. But he is originally from Okinawa Prefecture, formerly the Ryukyu Kingdom, which once served as a bridge in trade between the two countries. With that in mind, Izumikawa hopes to help build amicable Japan-China relations, an environment in which people from both countries can easily interact.