The recent decision by two Japanese companies to make English their language of business has unleashed a complicated mix of emotions. It is undeniable, though, that English has become the world language and that being able to communicate through English is increasingly important in an age of globalization. If the Japanese government is serious about its “Cool Japan” program to raise Japan’s profile internationally, it would do well to promote better English-teaching methods and more translations into English.
Although the number of titles translated into Japanese from English far exceeds those translated from Japanese, some genres have won themselves a place internationally, such as manga and children’s books. Japanese publishers first started taking children’s books to international book fairs in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, more than 3,000 works are translated annually in 56 countries. Even with adjustments to fit the local culture, such books have an incalculable role in making Japanese life more familiar to parents and children throughout the world.
Perhaps reflecting the strengthening ties with China in business and other areas, certain Japanese authors such as mystery writer Keigo Higashino are enjoying a marked popularity in China. The case of Haruki Murakami’s latest book “IQ84” is especially interesting. IQ84 Book 1 had a startling first printing of 1.2 million when it was published in China in May. Eleven days later it went back to press for an additional 100,000 copies. When Book 2 came out at the end of June, it went to the top of the best-seller list.
Interest was particularly fueled, according to the Aug. 16 issue of Asahi Shimbun, by rumors that as much as $1 million had been paid for the rights and by a public debate over the translation process itself. There was much comparison of the work of the earlier translator, who had written in a dense, literary style, with Taiwanese editions and the work of the new translator in China for the IQ84 books.
However one feels about particular styles of translation, it is hard to deny the indispensable role it plays as a bridge between peoples, whether between the Japanese and Chinese or the Japanese and other peoples of the world.