'Strange Characters and Expressions' : Three Japanese Translations of the Book of Mormon
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
During the twentieth century, the Book of Mormon was translated into Japanese three times. Alma O. Taylor, a young American missionary, was responsible for the first translation which took five years to complete from 1904 to 1909. At the time, sacred Japanese writings were typically written in a formal literary style, and Taylor hired several Japanese people to refashion his translation into this formal style. Sato Tatsui began the second Japanese translation of the Book of Mormon soon after joining the Church in Japan in 1945. The second translation was not motivated by a concern over accuracy but because of dramatic changes that had occurred in the Japanese language. Since many Japanese people no longer understood the formal style of sacred writings, Church leaders believed that a translation into simpler language would help the Japanese people understand the gospel better. Sato's translation was published in 1957. By the early 1970s, American missionaries serving in Japan were calling for a new translation because they were having a hard time understanding some of the outdated verb forms and vocabulary employed in the Sato version. By the 1980s, the Sato version sounded quaint and dated and was in some ways less accessible than the standard colloquial Japanese translation of the Bible. The Church authorized the creation of a committee of translators to produce a replacement for the Sato version. The First Presidency charged the committee to make the language of the scripture more comprehensible and to emphasize literal accuracy in order to preserve the purity of the doctrine taught by the book. The "Guide to the Scriptures" was translated for this new edition. Members of the translation committee experienced frustration in attempting to find suitable words to explain Christian doctrine in a country where just barely one percent of the population is Christian. This new translation was published in 1995.