By MANABU KITAGAWA/ Correspondent
November 4, 2020 at 07:00 JST
Maher Elsherbini, a professor at Cairo University who specializes in the Japanese language, spent seven years translating all 10 volumes of the manga “Hadashi no Gen” (Barefoot Gen) into Arabic. This photo, taken in August, shows Elsherbini at Egypt’s Giza Governorate. (Manabu Kitagawa)
"Barefoot Gen," the creation of the late manga artist Keiji Nakazawa, is a loosely based account of the author's life growing up in Hiroshima after the city's atomic bombing in 1945.
It took seven years, but Egyptian academic Maher Elsherbini has finally completed translating into Arabic all 10 volumes of the book titled “Hadashi no Gen” in Japanese.
Looking back on the task, Elsherbini, 61, said he felt he has “finally fulfilled my responsibility.”
The hugely popular manga ran in several magazines from 1973 to 1987 and was subsequently adapted into live action films.
“Anyone reading the story will be able to figure out how horrific nuclear weaponry is,” said Elsherbini, explaining his hopes that people across the Middle East will take a look at his work.
During the course of the translation project, the Trump administration sharply escalated tensions with Iran in May 2018 by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal that was considered one of the crowning diplomatic achievements of former President Barack Obama.
That decision left Elsherbini “really concerned about the possible use of weapons of mass destruction.”
Born in a northern Egyptian town, Elsherbini got interested in Japan during his junior high school days, in part because his home had a black-and-white, National-brand TV produced by what is now Panasonic Corp.
He studied the Japanese language at Cairo University and then attended Hiroshima University’s graduate school. On returning to Egypt, Elsherbini started teaching at Cairo University in the Department of Japanese language and literature.
Although Elsherbini reached the college’s standard retirement age last year, he currently serves as a specially appointed professor there.
His first encounter with “Hadashi no Gen” was in 2014 after a friend urged him to give it a read. Shocking scenes depicting the aftermath of the atomic bombing, including one showing a dead mother found carrying a child in a fire cistern, left a deep impression.
Convinced that “no lies are told in the story,” Elsherbini decided to work on an Arabic version of the manga.
Named a specially appointed professor to Hiroshima University in 2015, Elsherbini interviewed hibakusha atomic bomb survivors about their experiences in his spare time.
The 10th volume of the Arabic edition of “Hadashi no Gen” was released in February, but an exhibition themed on the manga was canceled due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
Because of that, Elsherbini is on a personal quest to promote the translation via social media.
“People in the Middle East know little about the damage caused by the atomic bombing,” he said. “Telling the story is my mission.”
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