The use of a single term, hon’yaku, to describe translation during the Meiji era belies the wide diversity of practices identified by this word. This diversity of practices reflects the variety of actors who became involved in translating texts to chart a way forward in this era of societal and intellectual upheaval. During the Meiji era, many who were not specialists in science turned their energies towards translating science. They did this, not simply to transmit scientific knowledge, but because they felt science had a special relevance in navigating the challenges particular to the times in which they were living, and because they felt it was a means of promoting the type of society they envisioned.
In this talk I will discuss who translated science in the Meiji period, for which audiences, and for what reasons. I will show how translator motives shaped how they approached their activity, and will discuss the role played by translators in shifting science from an elite activity into one open to people of various educational and literacy levels. Through a range of examples I will demonstrate how translators creatively made science accessible and relevant to those who had not previously engaged with it, and how they used science as a means of engaging with wider debates about the future of Japanese society.