William Scott Wilson

World-Renowned Translator of Ancient Japanese Literature

October 2018

William Scott Wilson lives quietly a few blocks from UM, where his wife works as a writer. But in Japan he is famous as a translator of ancient texts, receiving both the Order of the Rising Sun from the emperor, and a commendation by the Foreign Ministry for spreading Japanese culture. Among his best-known translations is Hagakure, a book on the samurai warrior code of honor that became the basis for the movie Ghost Dog, starring Forest Whitaker. He is also known for his unique translation of the Tao Te Ching from the original 4th century B.C. Chinese and for his biography The Lone Samurai, about Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Five Rings. His translation of a book by a samurai doctor on how to stay healthy, Yojokun, sold out at Books & Books after he spoke there. 


His most recent book, Walking the Kiso Road, is about his journey on the ancient road in Japan that passes through villages unchanged in 300 years. His next project, funded by a National Endowment of the Arts grant, is a translation of the haiku poetry of Zen priest Santoka Taneda, for which he is in Japan this month. 


On his book Walking the Kiso Road: “Everyone wants to see old Japan. The first thing you don’t do is get a 5-star hotel. You go on the Kiso Road and stay at an old inn.” 

On his toughest job: “I had to translate a 4,000-page Japanese novel called Taiko, about a farm boy who rose to become the most powerful man in Japan in 1600. I had to be incredibly disciplined and sit down every day, five days a week, for two years. But the advance royalties got my kids through college.” 

On living here and not Japan: “I grew up in Fort Lauderdale and I love South Florida. I love the ocean. I am a kayaker and canoe paddler, and there is no more beautiful place than here.”