By on July 26, 2012

“I am following him everywhere, except into the rest room.” For nearly twelve years, interpreter Yuki Morimoto has been Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s adapter to the Japanese world. The lady is a miracle. She simultaneously translates Ghosn’s high-speed stream of wit and Gallic sarcasm into Japanese, and translates Japanese back into perfect English. Morimoto is so in tune with Ghosn that she sometimes finishes his sentences before him – in Japanese.

Morimoto-san is proud of conveying precisely how her boss feels. She does not pretty up what people say, she translates it as it comes.

In a land where the waving of arms makes you suspect of suffering from epilepsy, Morimoto has adopted Ghosn’s trademark body language that underscores words with gesticulations. She transposes Ghosn’s undulating emotions into wave after wave of likewise emotional Japanese, and when the boss gets loud, Morimoto is known to crank up her voice.

If Ghosn is displeased with you in Yokohama, you will hear it. If you don’t speak English, you will hear it again from Morimoto. Amongst the executive crew at Nissan’s headquarter in Yokohama, the saying goes that “when the CEO yells at you, you get yelled at twice.”

For more than a year, I had been bugging the troops and generals in Yokohama to let me do a story about Morimoto, who I had been surreptitiously recording anyway. When I suggested it, a lot of sucking air through the teeth ensued, I was told that it would be, you know, muzukashii, or difficult, because she’s shy in real life, and, sumimasen, the CEO’s personal translator, wakarimasu ka? I kept suggesting it, they kept sucking air.

Today, to my thorough dismay, I find this seven minute feature-length movie about the (shy my eye) translator on YouTube. Produced by Nissan’s global newsroom, it confirmed my worst fears: Those guys are here to put us all out of business. After more than a year of tut-tutting and sucking air, they wait until I’m out of the country, and steal my idea. Wait until I’m back in Tokyo, Dan Sloan.

Dan hasn’t put us out of business just yet.

In the week since the Morimoto video was up on YouTube, it attracted a shocking 419 views. If you see more than 419, then these are all ours, adding clicks to injury.

The non-amount of clicks stands in no relationship to the importance of the lady, and, dare I say it, the production value of the video. We really need to talk, Dan Sloan.

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29 Comments on “Her Master’s Voice: Carlos Ghosn’s Japanese Alter Ego...”

  • avatar

    These two have such a strange and awesome relationship – not a hint of romance, but there’s still intimacy owing to her being required to keep up with what he says and how he says it, and the constant proximity.

    This woman is very, very cool.

  • avatar

    What an extraordinary job, and an extraordinary women. And yes, by Japanese standards, in non-familiar circumstances (like this interview), she is *incredibly* expressive. This is the side of my Japanese friends that I really fell in love with, it’s so radically different than working with them in a business setting.

  • avatar

    Nice! An interesting window into something I’ve never thought about before.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Thank you. A wonderful behind the scenes look at doing business. Watching the two working together was fun. Morimoto is delightful and Mr. Ghosn is a very lucky boss to have found her.

  • avatar

    It’s a different culture entirely for her interfacing with Carlos. I am sure he’s been to classes on Japanese etiquette but mistakes do happen. I worked with interpreters frequently and they would smooth over anything I said out of place.
    The most important thing is to trust that person, and she clearly has his trust.

    • 0 avatar

      As far as the smoothing goes, she has been instructed by the boss not to smooth anything, and to translate everything exactly how it is said. She does that perfectly.

      I by the way find it annoying when translators do that. Many mistakes happen that way.

      • 0 avatar

        Thus the concept behind the movie “Lost in Translation”, which is even funnier if you actually read the actually direction Bill Murray’s character got during the commercial shoot.

        Yeah, in this case, translate EXACTLY what the boss said is what the boss want.

      • 0 avatar

        By the same token, it is equally annoying when the person doing the translation go back and forth with the local for ten minutes with lots of gesticulating only to come back and translate the entire conversation as, “no, that is not possible” or some such thing. Obviously, there was a lot of detail in that back and forth that was edited out and now you have to go back and figure out what it was like a riddle or something. I run into this a lot even with people who should know better.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I had to translate for the big boss for a couple of years. I never tried to smooth anything… it was the company’s President and I felt my duty in that position was to provide him the most precise translation I could.

      I got called to come along many many times, except for the really really high level meetings.

      For me it was a pleasure and a honor to work for that gentleman.

      Props to her for doing her job like that.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Edit: lovely interview! and beautiful to see how the pros get it done.

        I would guess that in 12 years Mr. Ghosn has developed a sense to “understand” Japanese. Judging from my experience, nobody will know except maybe this lady.

  • avatar

    “..Ghosn’s high-speed stream of wit and Gallic sarcasm…” Would Ghosn’s stream more likely be Brazilian, if he speaks in his native language?

    • 0 avatar

      Ghosn’s family is originally from Lebanon. It’s quite possible that French is his first language.

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently Ghosn is fluent in French, Portuguese, Arabic, and English. Although he has dual citizenship (France, Brazil) I’d agree that his ‘stream’ would be Gallic since he left Brazil at an early age (6) and was not only educated in the French speaking Lebanese schools (10 years), but completed the majority of his education in Paris (and with an engineering degree from Ecole Polytechnic.) Plus he worked for Michelin for over twenty years.

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    Carlos wasn’t kidding when he told her ‘good job’.

    One is reminded that some cogs in the machine are indispensable cogs in the machine.

    After watching/listening to her translate I shouldn’t be surprised that her English is perfect but I am.

  • avatar

    I’d hit it.

  • avatar

    Thanks for this, Bertel. What talent! I hope she earns a very large salary.
    Maybe Dan Akerson could use a translator, too , – – – from Detroitese into English….
    Sergio certainly doesn’t need one!


  • avatar

    It just occurred to me that trying to think, compose what you are trying to say and then speak it, while someone next to you is speaking as loudly as you are in a foreign language must be pretty difficult for both of them. I would get lost nearly instantly.

    At some point it must become natural, but initially it must be very easy to get tangled up and grind to a halt. I think it’s a test of talent and adaptability for both of them. I have never seen it done “on the fly” like this anyhow.

    Makes “batch translation” (where you complete a thought or a premise before pausing and then moving forward) look very easy, and now I appreciate the distinction.

    Is the advantage with this solely a throughput/time thing or are there other benefits to on the fly translation?

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    A very impressive interview about a very impressive interpreter and a very impressive CEO, Mr. Ghosn.

    I’d would love to know how it feels to REALLY love my job the way Ms. Morimoto seems to love hers, AND to work for my business idol, Carlos Ghosn.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    What an intellect. What a sense of humour. What a human being.

  • avatar

    When I was in Japan I worked with translators for many meetings and presentations. Although I speak Japanese pretty well, just to be on the safe side, I always used translators for especially important meetings and public presentations.

    When someone is with you in a professional setting, translating your thoughts and words into another language, you develop a special bond. There is a special level of respect between you and your translator – their skill is as important as yours because how you communicate, at least in my line of work, is as important as what you communicate. If that bond, which is so well described above, fails to develop, then you probably need to find another translator.

    I’ll never forget the meeting in which someone on the other side, noting the rapport I had with my translator, asked how long we had been married. We all had a good laugh, especially since the woman was almost 30 years my senior. When you get that kind of response, you know you have “the connection” and you go from performing without a safety net to a situation where you can take real risks with how you communicate because you know this other person will not let you fall.

    A professional relationship like this is amazing to see, but even more amazing to be a part of. It’s a melding of the minds, like having a second brain inside your head that speaks another language and knows another culture. And to those of you who are wondering about romantic entanglements it can be tempting, but that special relationship is like catching lightning in a bottle, you never want to mess that up. It’s too important.

  • avatar

    Articles like these are why I stopped reading other car sites and let my Automobile subscription lapse. well done.

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