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Takeda, Kayoko (2010): Interpreting the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. A Sociopolitical Analysis. Ottawa: The University of Ottawa Press, 183 p.[Record]

  • Mª Manuela Fernández Sánchez

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  • Mª Manuela Fernández Sánchez
    University of Granada, Granada, Spain

The book under review deals with the use of interpreting at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in the context of post-war Japan (1946-1948). Along with other not so recent works that come to the reviewer’s mind, such as Gaiba’s (1998) and Baigorri’s (2000), Takeda’s Interpreting the Tokyo War Crimes Trial fills a gap in historical research on interpreting and is a valuable contribution to the history of conference interpreting and to the history of interpreters who worked in such sensitive settings such as the first international criminal courts in the aftermath of World War II. In fact, the book is dedicated to these untrained interpreters who accepted this challenging assignment. The book is the first extensive study on the subject in English. It is based on a Ph.D. thesis submitted by Professor Takeda in 2007 at the Rovira i Virgily University (Tarragona, Spain). She has also published articles on the topic as well as an additional book specifically oriented to Japanese readers. As far as we know, there are only a few exceptions to this very little show of interest to study the use of interpreting in this so-called Japanese counterpart of the Nuremberg Trials: Tomie Watanabe’s thesis and other articles which are written in Japanese, although she has also published one article in English (Watanabe 2009), and Brian Harris, who has devoted three informative posts to the topic in his blog Unprofessional Translation. The fact that the Nuremberg trials created a major judiciary precedent in applying for the first time effective criminal sanctions on individuals rather than on the states as a result of a “legal revolution” in international criminal law (Beigbeder 2006: 271) should not diminish the historical importance of many other exemplary judiciary trials, established in other countries to prosecute leading figures for the same crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. According to some Japanese historians such as Totani, the Tokyo Trial was a lost opportunity in many aspects but it helped to set the historical records straight, to get as much documentation as possible about Japanese war effort, and “to allow the Japanese to come to terms with what their government and military had done during the war.” The title of the book announces the topic without more specification. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the book needs a subtitle: “A Sociopolitical Analysis,” which implies the author will theorize about contextual factors and fundamental questions that help to explain the particular situation that happened in Tokyo at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), where the Allied Powers established a hierarchical structure for its interpreting system, which included interpreters, monitors, and language arbiters. More specifically, the Allied Powers had to hire about twenty-seven Japanese nationals to work as interpreters throughout the trial. The interpreters were Japanese citizens with bilingual backgrounds but no formal training as interpreters. In order to monitor the interpreters’ work, the Allied Powers had to rely on four Nisei (second generation Japanese-Americans), who were all Kibei, born in the U.S. but raised in Japan and then returned to the United States. They worked for the U.S. Army as military intelligence staff against Japan during the Pacific War. The third level of this hierarchical structure of control was occupied by two bilingual U.S. military officers who were in charge of resolving linguistic disputes within the Language Arbitration Board. The photographic image on the cover of the book is also worth mentioning. What the photograph shows us is three men sitting in a glass booth, wearing headphones branded IBM. The first two are probably Japanese interpreters, they …