Corps de l’article


The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal,[1] or the Tokyo Trial, was an international military tribunal established to prosecute twenty-eight leading Japanese military figures who had served during the Second World War. It began on May 3, 1946, six months after the start of the Nuremberg Trial. Its deliberations ended on April 16, 1948. Seven months later, the sentence was rendered to the accused at the historic International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

The Tokyo Trial courtroom was laid out as illustrated in the diagram on the next page (Editorial Board of Tokyo Saiban Handbook, 1989, p. 212). The author of this article has translated the Japanese of the original into English.

Diagram of Tokyo Trial Courtroom

Diagram of Tokyo Trial Courtroom

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Francesca Gaiba describes the Nuremberg Trial as being at the origins of simultaneous interpretation (Gaiba, 1998, p. 19). Similarly, some in Japan argue that simultaneous interpretation in the country originated with the Tokyo Trial. Unfortunately, there is insufficient information available to prove the validity of this argument. This applies not only to the mode of interpretation—whether simultaneous or consecutive—but also to the training of interpreters and the quality of interpretation. As for the Tokyo Trial, history books and political science publications mention only the inadequate quality of interpretation, and this only rarely.

This paper presents an overview of the interpretation system at the Tokyo Trial, including mode, training and other structural aspects of interpretation, and then examines how interpretation was actually performed through examples from the cross-examination of Hideki Tojo, who was held responsible and sentenced to death for acts committed during the war in his capacity as Minister of War and Prime Minister. This article is based on an analysis of both Japanese and English proceedings of the Tokyo Tribunal as well as on interviews with relevant persons.

1. Overview of Interpretation at the Tokyo Military Tribunal

1.1 Legal Grounds for the Interpretation Service and the Use of the Interpreter’s Booth in the Tokyo Trial

Interpretation services were provided at the Tokyo Trial in order to ensure a fair trial for the accused (Article 9, Section 3, Charter of the International Tribunal for the Far East).[2] In addition, to ensure an expeditious hearing (paragraphs (a) and (b), Article 12, Charter of the Tribunal), the court set up an interpreter’s booth equipped with an IBM Public Address System.[3] This IBM system had already been introduced experimentally at the Nuremberg Trial and proved so effective and efficient that it was incorporated into the design of the courtroom for the Tokyo Trial.

Though the IBM system was installed “in order to avoid the unnecessary delay which would have been incurred by adopting the ordinary method of translation by interpreting from time to time” (Judgment Part A – Chapter I, Judgment and Annexes of the Proceedings of the Tribunal: Prichard and Zaide, 1981, vol. 20, pp. 48, 426), simultaneous interpretation as it is understood today was not implemented in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. The paragraph just cited from the Judgment went on to say that “through this system whenever possible a simultaneous translation into English or Japanese was given” and then “cross‑examination and extempore argument on objections and other incidental proceedings had, however, to be translated in the ordinary way as they proceeded” (ibid., pp. 48, 426-48, 427). This means that the Japanese translations of the opening statement, judgments and affidavits were being synchronized by the interpreters or monitors with the original through the IBM system. Therefore, the simultaneous interpretation that took place at this hearing is quite different from what we understand this type of interpretation to mean today. The argument that simultaneous interpretation in Japan originated with the Tokyo Trial has been made before, but this does not mean that the skills or techniques of simultaneous interpretation were at play, but refers rather to the first use of the interpreter’s booth and equipment in Japan at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. We must look beyond the Tokyo Trial to find the origin of simultaneous interpretation among Japanese interpreters.

1.2 Interpreters and Monitors

1.2.1 Interpreters[4]

The official languages of the Tokyo Trial were English and Japanese. However, there were participants who spoke other languages as well, for example, the prosecutor representing France spoke only French. Therefore, not only English- but also Chinese-, French-, Russian- and Dutch-Japanese language interpretation services were added, when necessary. English-Japanese interpreters performed interpretation in both directions between English and Japanese. Relay interpretation was conducted when other languages were added.

The records of the proceedings of the Tokyo Trial contain the names of the interpreters and of the monitors. There was a total of twenty-seven English,[5] seven Chinese, six Russian, six French and one Dutch interpreter throughout the trial. The Japanese interpreters were essentially assigned to the trial through the Post-War Liaison Office, affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan, and officially hired by the Language Division of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The records of the proceedings provide the names of the monitors and interpreters assigned to morning and afternoon sessions, respectively.

1.2.2 Selection of Interpreters

The Japanese interpreters had no experience working as professional interpreters before the trial. According to Toshiro Henry Shimanouchi[6] (Interview, 1997), English proficiency was the only requirement for being hired as a court interpreter in the Tokyo Trial. It was extremely difficult in those days to find qualified interpreters with sufficient command of English and Japanese, as well as with an adequate knowledge of the historical and cultural background and of the legal terminology. It is clear, then, that the minimum qualification of a good command of English became the selection criterion for Japanese interpreters for the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Mock trials were held approximately two months before the Tokyo Trial with the goal of selecting interpreters. The test for the examinee was to interpret the statements of a judge, a prosecutor and an attorney, while other applicants played the roles of other legal professionals who would be present in court. If the examinee passed this examination, he[7] was employed by the Language Division of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The first three months of the Tokyo Tribunal were a trial period for the interpreters, with some new arrivals along with some departures, as better-qualified interpreters became available. Masakazu Eric Shimada[8] (Interviews, 1997, 1999) noted that the Tokyo Trial could regularly maintain twelve or thirteen court interpreters with this selection process. Those interpreters included a former consul and officials from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a reporter from a news agency. Interpreters were given no prior training or preparatory classes; they received only technical information about the courtroom.

1.2.3 How Interpreters Worked

The assigned interpreters translated in both directions between English and Japanese from the interpreter’s booth. This usually involved two interpreters, one for English to Japanese, and the other for Japanese to English. If one interpreter had a problem, the other could take over and provide interpretation in the opposite direction. Each interpreter worked consecutively for about thirty minutes.

Usually two or three interpreters worked during one session.[9] The frequency of assignment varied from one interpreter to another. The most frequently assigned was Toshiro Shimanouchi (419 assignments), followed by Masakazu Shimada (323) and Takashi Oka (289).

1.2.4 Monitors and Their Task

The Allied Powers would have preferred non‑Japanese interpreters at the Tokyo Trial, but they soon discovered that it was absolutely impossible due to the complete absence of this resource in those days. Shimada (2000, p. 18) said that he was surprised by how poor the Japanese proficiency was among the interpreters of the Allied Powers, noting that this was proof that the Japanese language was little known or used in the world before World War II. It was then decided that interpreters should be hired from among the Japanese, and monitors from among officials of the Allied Powers would be relied upon to check and correct the interpretation if an inappropriate or false interpretation was rendered. The monitors also read out important documents such as the official Japanese-translated arraignments and judgments at the Tokyo Trial. This was a way of synchronizing with the original in the interpreter’s booth. These documents were so important that Japanese interpreters were not allowed to render them at the Tokyo Trial.

The monitors were David Akira Itami,[10] Sho Onodera, Hidekazu Hayashi and Lanny Miyamoto. They were officials in the Language Division of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. All four were Kibei Nisei, second generation Japanese residents of the US who were born in America but raised and educated in Japan, and then returned to the US before the outbreak of WWII. They were bilingual (English and Japanese) and were expected to be well‑versed in Japanese culture. During WWII, they worked for ATIS (the Allied Powers’ Translation and Interpretation Section). They were involved in intelligence activities such as tapping communication lines, code breaking, prisoner interrogation, information collection from diaries, memos and other materials seized from Japanese soldiers killed during the war. They had gathered sufficient knowledge and background information about WWII to perform their tasks at the Tokyo Trial.

One monitor worked with two or three interpreters in each session. According to Shimada (1997), a monitor determined the interpreters’ daily assignments. Before each session, the monitor in charge briefed the assigned interpreters and decided which language they would be interpreting into. During a session, the monitor checked and, if necessary, corrected the interpretation produced by the Japanese interpreters. The monitor supported the interpreters—for example, taking notes for them of details such as dates, periods, etc. (Shimada, Interview, 1997). If statements by witnesses, prosecutors or attorneys were too lengthy, the monitor lit a red light on the speaker’s rostrum to inform them to discontinue the statement and allow the interpreter to catch up and translate. If statements or interpretations were ambiguous, the monitor ordered a court reporter to read out the relevant passage so that the witness and the interpreter could clear up the ambiguity. If the interpreter paused when facing a translation difficulty and was deemed ineffective, the monitor called for a replacement interpreter. Takashi Oka[11] (1998, p. 116) stressed the value of the monitor’s work, noting that there were no significant translation errors because, whenever erroneous or inappropriate interpretation was rendered by an interpreter, the monitor pressed a buzzer, lit a red light and corrected the interpretation.

1.3 Language Arbitration

The background information on the Tokyo Trial includes ideas specific to Japanese prewar national institutions, its political system and its culture. Sometimes translation difficulties beyond the capacity of the monitors were encountered. Therefore, “the Tribunal was compelled to set up a Language Arbitration Board to settle matters of disputed interpretation” (Judgment Part A – Chapter I: op.cit., p. 48, 430). This “language arbitration” was the most significant step for resolving language problems in the Tokyo Trial. Once the interpretation of a disputed word was resolved by the Board, the arbitrated translation had to be used for the rest of the trial.

2 Analysis of Interpretation during Tojo’s Cross-Examination

General Tojo was one of the key figures among the accused and was sentenced to death at the Tokyo Trial. He was on the witness stand to answer cross-examination from Prosecutor Keenan for six days (from December 30, 1947 to January 6, 1948). It was claimed that he had conspired in planning wars of aggression against China, the US, the UK, the Netherlands and France, and had ordered Japanese Imperial Forces to commit illegal activities against other countries in violation of international laws, treaties, agreements and assurances. Issues in Tojo’s cross-examination included the actions of Japanese forces stationed in China, the signing of the Tripartite Pact of Germany, Italy and Japan, the background to the establishment of Tojo’s Cabinet, Plan A/B leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, the Emperor’s responsibility for the war and other matters associated with the outbreak of the Pacific War. This chapter examines interpretation during Tojo’s sessions in light of these factors.

2.1 Assigned Monitors and Interpreters

Monitors and interpreters assigned during Tojo’s cross-examination are listed in Table 1.

Table 1

Assignment of Monitors / Interpreters

Assignment of Monitors / Interpreters

-> Voir la liste des tableaux

2.2 Analysis of Monitors’ Interventions

A monitor at the Tokyo Trial was responsible for checking interpretation and correcting inadequacies. Less frequently, interpreters corrected their own interpretation. “Intervention” here is defined as a set of corrections and other statements mainly made by monitors and, on very few occasions, by interpreters immediately after an interpretation was presented. This section focuses on the analysis of those interventions. In this paper, we use Henri C. Barik’s definition of “inadequate translation,” which includes omission, addition and substitutions / errors (Barik, 1994, pp. 121‑137). All interventions are classified into three categories:

  • Intervention A: to correct translation errors, in other words, intervention for accurate translation. Intervention A, therefore, includes the correction of false translation and omissions, and the elimination of unnecessary additions.

  • Intervention B: to improve interpretation for more pragmatic contextualization of the content expressed in the target language so that listeners would understand the translation more easily and comfortably.

  • Intervention C: to confirm and explain the situation, and to give instructions / directions and orders.

Table 2 shows the aggregate number of interpretations of English to Japanese / Japanese to English, respectively, during Tojo’s cross‑examination. Translation of each remark was counted as one. If a remark was long, a single paragraph was regarded as a single interpretation.

Table 2

The Number of Interpretations Rendered in Tojo’s Cross-Examination

The Number of Interpretations Rendered in Tojo’s Cross-Examination

*1 Half‑day afternoon session

*2 Half‑day morning session

-> Voir la liste des tableaux

The following section illustrates three types of interventions by monitors.[12] The abbreviations and symbols used for the examples cited below include: orgl (original language), transl (translation), intv (intervention), e (English), j (Japanese), < > (English meaning). For example “j transl” means “Japanese translation rendered by an interpreter.” The segments underlined represent actual statements in the original Japanese and the monitors’ corresponding translations/interventions.

2.2.1 Interventions Interventions in English to Japanese Interpretation (Japanese Interpretation)
Intervention A

Monitor Miyamoto corrected the error in a figure-related context in Japanese (j intv):

201man 5sen ni sara ni tsuika sareru beki mono de arimasuka? <Would that add to 2,015,000 stated before?>
(January 2, 1948)

Intervention B

“Safe assumption” was translated as “anzen na suitei,” a word‑for‑word translation. Monitor Itami presented an equivalent Japanese expression better suited to this context. (j intv)

Machigai arimasenka? <Is it correct?>
(January 6, 1948)

The interpreter gave a word‑for‑word translation (“hari wo sasu”) of the English expression “sticking a pin.” Monitor Onodera clarified what was actually meant by Keenan’s metaphor “sticking a pin.” (j‑intv)

Sunawachi, hari wo sasu to moushimasunoha, sono tokidoki ni atatte kaizen subeki ha kaizen shi, aratamubeki ha aratamuru to iukoto wo anata ha mitome masuka?
<“Sticking a pin” refers to “you can sometimes improve what should be improved and change what should be changed, when necessary.” Do you agree with it?>
(January 6, 1948)

Intervention C

This Japanese translation was long and unclear. Monitor Onodera asked Tojo whether or not he had understood Keenan’s statement (j intv):

Wakarimashitaka? <Do you understand?>
Tojo: (e transl) No, that question wasn’t quite clear to me. May I have it repeated?
(December 31, 1947)

The Japanese court reporter then read the Japanese translation.

Table 3 is a distribution of the three types of monitors’ interventions in the English to Japanese interpretation during Tojo’s cross-examination.

Table 3

Breakdown of Monitor’s Intervention (Japanese Interpretation)

Breakdown of Monitor’s Intervention (Japanese Interpretation)

-> Voir la liste des tableaux Interventions in Japanese to English Interpretation (English Interpretation)
Intervention A

Tojo: (orgl) Watashi niha yoku wakarunodesu. Kidokun no kaitamono mo yoku wakarimasuga, sorekara Heika no oose ni natta koto mo yoku wakarimasu.
Interpreter: (e transl) I understand the situation very well. I can also understand what KIDO states there, and I furthermore understand what the Emperor felt or was thinking very well—what the Emperor said very well.

Monitor Itami ordered to delete the interpreter’s addition for purposes of accurate translation (e intv):

Strike out the first interpretation.
(January 2, 1948)

Intervention B

Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) You say you are not a statesman. You were Prime Minister later and you were War Minister and Minister of State at this time, were you not?
Tojo: (orgl) Mochiron sodesu. Keredomo, ganrai, watashi ha gunjin da toiukoto wo moshiagetakatta. Seiji wo shokugyo toshita ningen deha nai to iukoto wo moshiagetakatta node arimasu.
Interpreter: (e transl) Yes, of course, but what I meant is that I am originally and fundamentally a military man. That is to say, I was not a statesman by profession.

Monitor Itami made an addition to ensure better understanding by the Court (e intv):

Or politician by profession.
(January 2, 1948)

Intervention C

Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) (Continuing) Will you please answer that question directly without making a speech?
Tojo: (e transl) May I have that question repeated? It was not quite comprehensible.

Monitor Onodera clarified the situation in English (e intv):

We are trying to get an accurate translation on this last one. We have not done so yet.
(December 31, 1947)

The monitors’ interventions in Japanese to English interpretation are summarized in Table 4.

Table 4

Breakdown of Monitors’ Interventions (English Interpretation)

Breakdown of Monitors’ Interventions (English Interpretation)

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2.2.2 Summary of Analysis of Intervention

In total, there were 172 interventions in Japanese interpretation and 88 in English interpretation by both monitors and interpreters (Table 5). Nearly twice as many interventions occurred in the Japanese interpretation. This might be caused by a lack of familiarity with English words and expressions specific to pre‑war Japan, as well as legal terminology among Japanese interpreters. Some of the interpreters came from bilingual families or had lived in the US in order to study at an American university. Therefore, it might have been easier for them to translate Japanese into English.

Table 5

Breakdown of Interventions and Language Arbitration

Breakdown of Interventions and Language Arbitration

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In the case of Japanese interpretation, monitors made a much greater number of “Intervention B” (50.3%) than they did “Intervention A” (37.3%). Monitors effectively used a pragmatic and context-based approach in relation to the interpreters rather than word-for-word translation. As a result, Tojo was able to obtain the precise meaning of Keenan’s statements as easily and quickly as possible (Figure 1). This allowed Tojo to state what he really wanted to say on the disputed matter.

Figure 1

English → Japanese (Monitor)

English → Japanese (Monitor)


  1. Accuracy

  2. Pragmatics / Context Driven

  3. Explanation & Instruction

-> Voir la liste des figures

In the case of English interventions, “Intervention C” accounts for the highest percentage of interventions by monitors (51.4%). We also see a greater number of “Intervention A” than “Intervention B” (Figure 2). As for the interpreters’ interventions, “Intervention A” constitutes the highest percentage (81.1%) (Figure 3). Monitors and interpreters paid greater attention to accuracy in English for the purpose of providing the Court with the best possible translation. Accurate information given to the Court was very important: it was the basis on which the accused was sentenced.

Figure 2

Japanese → English (Monitor)

Japanese → English (Monitor)


  1. Accuracy

  2. Pragmatics / Context Driven

  3. Explanation & Instruction

-> Voir la liste des figures

Figure 3

Japanese → English (Interpreter)

Japanese → English (Interpreter)


  1. Accuracy

  2. Pragmatics / Context Driven

  3. Explanation & Instruction

-> Voir la liste des figures

“Intervention C,” used for confirming responsibility, instructing and explaining the situation, was mainly the role of the monitors. This is clearly illustrated in the English interpretation. The function of “Intervention C” is not seen in modern day conference interpretation or in court interpretation. Shimada (1997) said, “The monitors were allowed to perform this role, while the interpreters were not. The interpreters were supposed to follow the orders of the monitors. But if the records of the proceedings of the Tokyo Tribunal suggest that interpreters also performed ‘C’-type interventions, this may have been due to an immediate need during the trial.”

Kojima (1971, p. 257) pointed out that language problems were one of the serious obstacles at the Tokyo Trial, which is why it took two and a half years, whereas the Nuremberg Trial was completed within a ten-month period. Kojima, a political historian, quoted Sir William Webb, the President (presiding judge) of the Tokyo Tribunal, who said that if Japanese attorneys had been more fluent in English or Japanese interpreters more competent, it would have affected judgments (Kojima, 1971, p. 258). The monitors failed to correct 34 translation errors in Japanese and 27 in English.[14] This corresponds to 34 of the 1,178 Japanese, and 27 of the 845 English translations (Table 2). These were minor errors, such as omissions and additions, which did not have any significant effect on the proceedings. As far as Tojo’s session is concerned, Kojima’s criticism, according to which the witnesses’ statements were sometimes translated loosely (1971, p. 258), is not applicable.[15] Therefore, if we consider that interpretation consists of the interpreter’s rendition and the monitor’s correction at this historic military trial, the quality of the interpretation was fairly good, as far as Tojo’s session is concerned.

Tojo’s trial was in the latter part of the proceedings of the Tokyo Military Tribunal. In addition, Tojo’s testimony attracted so much attention that the admission tickets were said to have been at a premium. This might explain why interpreters were selected from among those who had already served on a greater number of assignments during the previous proceedings. Those interpreters included Shimanouchi with 419, Shimada with 323, Oka with 289, and other interpreters with approximately 200 assignments. If we consider that interpreters and monitors accumulated background information and experience during the first half of the Tokyo Tribunal, it is reasonable to conclude that the interpretation in the Tojo session would be of greater quality than in earlier sessions.

The pragmatic approach employed in the Japanese language proceedings, coupled with the accuracy-oriented interventions in English, indicate that the monitors carried out painstaking work within their capacity to secure the Japanese accused’s right to a fair trial. This supports Fuji’s statement (1988, p. 146; and 1997) that the presence of monitors greatly enhanced the fairness of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

2.3 Language Arbitration

There were three cases of language arbitration in English to Japanese interpretation, and one in Japanese to English interpretation in Tojo’s session (Table 5). The former all concerned words and expressions specific to Japanese culture or to the prewar system, and were closely associated with the causes of WWII. Difficulties in translating those words led to language arbitration, a measure which was quickly addressed by the Language Arbitration Board. After the Board’s discussion, the Language Arbiter issued an arbitrated result. A translation which had been corrected in such a manner was deemed valid and had to be applied to the rest of the trial. This section will discuss two of those four language arbitration cases in Tojo’s cross‑examination.

2.3.1 Examples of Language Arbitration Naiso (January 2, 1948)

An issue had arisen with regards to the former War Minister committing “naiso” to the Emperor by suggesting to the Throne that Tojo should be the new War Minister. “Naiso” was translated as “secretly suggest to the Emperor.” The question here is whether “naiso” is a secret act or not. If “naiso” was actually carried out secretly, this would constitute a conspiracy with the Emperor. Language arbitration replaced “secretly suggest to the Emperor” with “informal recommendation.” Below is the excerpt of the “naiso” arbitration from the records of the proceedings:

Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) … why General Hata should … secretly suggest to the Emperor that you be made War Minister at that time? …
Interpreter: (j transl): Hata taisho ga naze Tenno no tokoro ni iki, … anata wo kounin no rikusou ni suruyou ni to himitsuri ni teian shitaka
Tojo: (j origl): Itsudemo so desu. Sore ha shoukan no jinji ha, ninmei sarerumae ni naiso toiukoto wo surunodesu.
Interpreter: (e transl) … That is always the case. Personnel matters with regard to General Officers are done according to the following procedure: Before any appointment is made, an informal recommendation is made to the Throne. …
Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) Mr. Tojo, … back to the KIDO diary… He (KIDO) said that the War Minister had just secretly recommended Tojo for War Minister, …
Interpreter: (j transl) Kidonikki ni modori, … naiyo kara inyo itashimasu. Kare ha sono naka de rikuso yori konin ni Tojo wo naiso
Monitor Itami: (j intv) Sore ha nihonbun no genbun niha “naiso” to arimasuga, kensatsukan no yomareta eibun niha “himitsuri ni tenno ni suisen shita, arui ha sohsen shita” to iu kotoba ga arimasu.
<Though the word “naiso” is in the Japanese original document, an English document that the Prosecutor has read includes the expression “secretly recommended to the Emperor.”>
Keenan: (orgl) … Do you say KIDO was wrong about that?
Tojo: (e transl) ... the translation is mistaken with regard to the word “naiso”—informal recommendation. There is nothing secret about “naiso.”
President: We will ask for an immediate determination by the (Language Arbitration) Board.
Tojo: (e transl) … it is not only you who does not understand the meaning of “naiso,” or informal recommendation. Even many of the Japanese gathered here do not know what it means.
Language Arbiter (Captain Kraft): (orgl) The word in question seems to be “naiso,” which, literally translated, means “informal recommendation.”
Tojo: (e transl) … that does not appear to hit the nail on the head, but that is much better.

As seen in the initial highlighted part, Keenan used “secretly suggest to the Emperor,” and the interpreter then translated it into “(Tenno no…) himitsuri ni teian shitaka.” Tojo responded to this question with the word “naiso” which was translated as “informal recommendation” in English. Next, however, the interpreter started to use the word “naiso” when Keenan read a quote from the KIDO Diary in which “naiso” was translated as “secretly recommended” in English. Monitor Itami suspected that the translation was wrong, suggesting that the Japanese original had the word “naiso” while the English read by Keenan contained the words “secretly recommended.” The monitor’s intervention enabled Tojo, in his next response, to explain to Keenan that the English translation of “naiso” was incorrect. This in turn led to the establishment of language arbitration. Indeed, it should be noted that this process was initiated by the monitor’s intervention. “Naiso, or informal recommendation” was the next translation of the interpreter in the last highlighted portion. The language arbitration subsequently determined “naiso” to be translated as “informal recommendation” in English. Tojo did not seem to be fully satisfied with it but accepted this translation. “Naiso” was a word very specific to the pre-war Japanese Imperial system. This is an example of effective use of the monitor-led arbitration mechanism to address translation problems in Tojo’s cross-examination. Taian (January 6, 1948)

This arbitration was related to the background of the Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor. Prior to this attack, the Japanese government sent the Japanese ambassador to the US a coded telegram entitled “Nichi‑Bei kosyo no taian [taian in the Japan‑US negotiations].” But the American military intercepted this telegram and translated “taian” as “counter‑proposal.” Keenan considered that “counter‑proposal” meant that Japan harbored some hostility towards the US. Tojo denied this allegation. “Taian” had to undergo language arbitration. The excerpt is as follows:

Tojo: (e‑transl) … it does not seem to me that this is a matter for the Language Arbitration Board. … there seems to be a difference between the copy which I have and the original text.
Monitor Itami: (e‑intv) The question is whether the original text and the copy I have matches (sic) or not in this particular word.
Language Arbiter (Captain Kraft): (orgl) The word in question is “hantai teian.” It should be translated “counter‑proposal.”
Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) Do you deny that that had reference to what has been so frequently referred to in these proceedings as Plan A?
Tojo: (e‑transl) … this counter‑proposal is the one that was made in return to the American note of October 2, and this has been translated … “hantai teian,” but that seems to be a very strong word to me. … “taian” is more appropriate.
Monitor Itami: (e intv) By way of explanation, “taian” is proposal in answer to the proposal presented to one party; in other words, answer by the second party. Somewhat along that line; there is no definite
Language Arbiter (Captain Kraft): (orgl) Correction: the former correction is “opposing proposal” instead of “counter‑proposal.” I am sorry; it was a mistake.
Monitor Itami: (j intv) “Counterproposal” deha naku, “opposing proposal” to yaku shita ho ga yoi yodesu. <The translation should be “opposing proposal” instead of “counter-proposal.” >
Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) … my attention has even been called to the fact that exhibit 1164 apparently is an intercept. Therefore, I would want to go to exhibit 2924 which is the original that came from the Japanese Foreign Office. …
Tojo: (e transl) Well, matters have turned out a bit differently now.
Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) I thought so.
Monitor Itami: (e intv) Just a minute, please.
Tojo: (e transl) … I have never once denied proposals A and B. You were asking me about the so-called counter-proposals…
Monitor Itami: (e intv) Or opposing proposal, as suggested Language Arbiter.
Tojo: (e transl) (Continuing) The translation made in your country on the basis of the intercept has the word “hantai teian” or “counter‑proposal” or “opposing proposal,” but the original telegram has no such wording. The word used there is “proposals in the Japanese‑American negotiations.”
Monitor Itami: (e intv) The word “taian” is used in the original.
Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) And I asked you … if they were not final proposals that were submitted to the American authorities by the Japanese Ambassador.
Tojo: (e transl) They were probably used as the final draft in so far as diplomatic negotiations were concerned.
Prosecutor Keenan: (orgl) Now, I want to take up that point.

Although “taian” was finally determined as “opposing proposal” by the language arbitration, there was a long debate between Keenan and Tojo on the translation of “taian.” In the first place, the interpreter was not aware of the inconsistency in the translation between Japanese and English. Monitor Itami noticed the point in the course of the discussion and intervened, saying, “the question is whether the original text and the copy I have matches (sic) or not in this particular word.” Then the monitor carried out another intervention to the Court, describing, “By way of explanation, ‘taian’ is a proposal in reply to the proposal presented to one party; in other words, a reply by the second party. Somewhat along that line; there is no definite…” Responding to this information, the Court ordered the second language arbitration. Yet Tojo was not satisfied with the arbitrated translation. The Japanese word “taian” in the coded telegram had been translated into “counter‑proposal” at the time of its intercept, which finally came to light in Court as a result of Tojo’s repeated argument.

As for the disputed word “taian,” the proceedings continued without accurate arbitration until the end of this part of the cross-examination. In total, Monitor Itami produced five interventions in English. Four out of five were meant to provide additional information aimed at reinforcing accuracy of the translation. The remaining one was however of remarkable note: when Tojo tried to continue his statement as Keenan started to speak, Monitor Itami intervened and said “Just a minute, please,” suggesting Keenan wait for a moment in order to have Tojo finish what he wanted to say. This type of act is out of the question for today’s court interpreters and is meant to be carried out by the Chief Justice. Did Monitor Itami intervene because he had the capacity to control the proceedings as a monitor, or did he choose to intervene while being fully aware that he was not allowed to? We are left without clues to answer this question: the records of the proceedings do not elaborate any further on this matter. It is fair to say, though, that this example should suggest that the monitor attempted to protect the rights of the accused to receive a fair trial through language, while taking into consideration the smooth progress in the proceedings.

2.3.2 Summary of Language Arbitration

Language arbitration involved giving significant consideration to addressing language problems at the Tokyo Trial. It should be noted that, through their interventions, monitors played an important role. As the monitor soon became aware of the difficulty, he intervened in Japanese to explain the situation to the witness, while providing accurate information in English to ensure that the Court understood the witness’s argument.

It is undeniable that Tojo’s rapid understanding and response, as well as his adamant assertion of translation errors, led to language arbitration in the first place. But another fact which should not be forgotten is that the monitors played a significant role in this language arbitration. Particular attention should be paid to the monitor’s intervention where he instructed Keenan, who was about to continue his question, to wait so that Tojo could complete his statement. It must be noted that the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal recognized the importance of intercultural gaps, and then set up a language arbitration function. In addition, greater discretion than that allowed in the present court interpretation system was actually exercised by monitors.


The interpreting system at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal included the following distinctive features: the first installation of the IBM public address system with interpreter’s booth, the provision of consecutive interpretation from the booth (not simultaneous interpretation), the use of interpreters from Japan (the country of the accused), the assignment of the Kibei Nisei monitors from the Allied Powers to supervise the Japanese interpreters, the specific role played by the monitors (intervention), and the establishment of the Language Arbitration Board. Those aspects are due to requirements of the situation in Japan immediately after World War II.

According to the analysis of the monitor’s interventions in Tojo’s cross-examination, Japanese interpretation laid particular emphasis on pragmatics / context-centered Japanese expressions that were suitable and easy for the witness to understand. This paved the way for Tojo to answer the questions posed by Keenan as easily and adequately as possible. On the other hand, English interpretation focused on presenting the most accurate English expressions to the Court in order to make sure that the witnesses’ testimony was properly understood. Concerning “Intervention C” (which involved monitors confirming and explaining the situation and giving instruction / direction and orders), the most remarkable examples can be found in the language arbitration process. When a disputed translation was found in a document, the monitor intervened to show the difference in translation among documents, for example between the document from the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the document intercepted and translated by the US military forces. This kind of intervention by monitors (“Intervention C”) helped the Court to know that the translation was inaccurate. As a result, it led to the language arbitration. In addition, the monitor in “Intervention C” requested Keenan not to proceed with further questions to Tojo because the monitor was aware that Tojo had just tried to give his answer. Given the fact that the present code of ethics for court interpretation only permits interpreters to translate strictly in the consecutive manner, these interventions might have been a very intrusive act even for a monitor. The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal might have given greater latitude to the monitors. This “Intervention C” suggests that with this greater latitude the monitor tried to ensure the right of the accused to receive a fair trial by means of language, while taking into consideration the smooth progress in the proceedings.

There were a few errors which the monitors did not correct. But those remaining errors did not have much impact on the entire proceedings and sentencing. Therefore, if we consider that language services were performed by both interpreters and monitors in an integrated manner, it is safe to say that as far as Tojo’s cross-examination is concerned, interpreting was well performed in both qualitative and quantitative terms and in an unbiased, sincere and professional manner.

After the Tokyo Trial

What happened to those monitors and interpreters after the Tokyo Military Tribunal? Based on the information currently available, we know that David Akira Itami (monitor) kept working as a military officer in the US forces and received the Legion of Merit, the highest honor given to non-combatant American military service personnel. He later committed suicide and was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in the US. His story as a Kibei Nisei was made into a Japanese best‑selling novel Futatsu no Sokoku (Two Homelands) (Yamasaki, 1981). This novel became the original piece of Sanga Moyu (Mountains and Rivers Burning), a year‑long popular TV drama shown every Sunday night by NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster (NHK, 1984). He is said to have been depressed because of his inability to reconcile his dual loyalty to his two home countries, Japan and America. According to Kinashi (1997), Itami’s experience as a monitor at the Tokyo Trial contributed to a worsening of his psychological burden. Sho Onodera (monitor) became a correspondent for the Japanese press, the Sankei Shimbun assigned to the United Nations. He was highly evaluated by the Sankei for his work as Tokyo monitor (Shimada, 1997). Toshiro Henry Shimanouchi (interpreter) was among the Foreign Ministry officials accompanying Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida to the US for the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951. In fact, he interpreted into English Japan’s “Acceptance Speech” that Prime Minister Yoshida delivered at the San Francisco Conference. Presumably his experience at the Tokyo Trial was effectively used on important diplomatic occasions after the Tribunal.[16] Another Tokyo interpreter from the Foreign Ministry, Hideki Masaki (1999),[17] later became an interpreter exclusively serving the late Emperor Showa as a government official. Masakazu Eric Shimada (interpreter) returned to his profession as a correspondent with the AFP news agency. Takashi Oka (interpreter) also became a correspondent for the American press, including the New York Times, after he finished a Master’s Degree at Harvard (Oka, 1998, p. 117; Shimada, 1997/1999). Among other interpreters, Kazuji Nagasu (interpreter) was Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture. Not one went on to become a professional interpreter.

Long-Term Implications

At the Nuremberg Trial there was a team of interpreters, some of whom had already experienced professional interpreting. The team was led by a then famous interpreter Léon Dostert who had served Dwight Eisenhower. The historic success of the interpretation system at Nuremberg has both practical and academic implications, such as a growing demand for simultaneous interpretation (made easier by the improvement of interpreting machines) at international conferences, and the development of higher education for interpreters through simultaneous interpretation skill training. Both factors have brought about the birth of new schools for interpreters, and the introduction of simultaneous interpretation training at the School of Interpreters and Translators in Geneva. In fact, Léon Dostert himself founded the School of Language and Linguistics at Georgetown University with a Division of Interpretation and Translation (Gaiba, 1998, pp. 161‑164).

Contrary to the Nuremberg proceedings, the Tokyo Trial did not involve any famous interpreters, or even any professional interpreters of the Japanese language. Though IBM equipment with an interpreter’s booth was introduced at the Tokyo Trial, the experience with the new machine and technique did not contribute to the development of simultaneous interpretation and of higher education for interpreters in Japan. It was not until the 1960s that simultaneous interpretation delivered by Japanese professional interpreters began to be recognized and praised by the public in Japan, and only in 1995 was the country’s first post‑graduate program of interpreting education started at Daito Bunka University (Kondo, 2000, p. 61).

Could it be argued, then, that the Tokyo Trial did not have any implications for the emergence in Japan of interpretation as a profession requiring special skills and education? We do not think so. Even without a precedent, both interpreters and monitors at the Tokyo Trial left abundant interpreting examples which had great significance for future interpreters in Japan, such as the parts of Tojo’s cross-examination discussed in this paper. It is regrettable that the details of their work were not unearthed until over fifty years after the Tokyo Trial was concluded.