Spicks & Specks

Translation and Rewriting (Japanese-English)

Speech given by METI Vice Minister Sakamoto

28 January 2005

Recently I was fortunate enough to come across what I regard as an excellent piece of translation. This translation transforms a well-written Japanese speech into an equally well-written and forceful English version. The speech was given by the Japanese Vice Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Goji Sakamoto, at a session at the Boao Forum for Asia on 24 April, 2004.

A close inspection of the masterful translation supplied by METI suggests that it is not simply a translation, but a rewriting. It is always possible that translation was done by a native English speaker, but a few mistakes and sections that depart from the original Japanese suggest that the passage was first translated into English by a Japanese speaker, maybe someone at the Ministry, and then rewritten by a professional rewriter.

This translation brings out to a high degree the advantages that such an approach can bring to translation. The English-speaking rewriter has not been influenced by the original Japanese and has concentrated on the style of expression, bringing considerable writing and rhetorical skills to bear on the rewriting. The disadvantage, of course, is that the rewriter has misinterpreted the meaning in a couple of places, either because of simple misunderstanding, or because of a failure to incorporate late changes in the original.

In this section I give three versions of the speech:

(1) The Japanese original.

(2) My own attempt at translation, which tends to follow the Japanese quite closely.

(3) The official translation supplied by METI.

Looking at all three reveals the art of the rewriter in ensuring that a well-written Japanese speech becomes an English speech of the highest standard for consumption by an international audience.

There is plenty on the Internet about Japan's policy on FTA's which may be useful to refer to when looking at the speech:

Speech by the Japanese Ambassador to Thailand (25 February 2004)

Speech by Chairman and CEO of Jetro (13 March 2002)

Japan's FTA Strategy and the East Asian Economic Bloc (by YUN Chunji, Associate Professor, Yamaguchi University, 15 March 2002)


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