Takumi Shibano died January 16 at 8:06 p.m. (JST). The reported cause of death was pneumonia.
His life spanned the founding of Japanese fandom to the announcement of the Nippon 2017 bid. He was a guest of honor at two Worldcons, L.A.con III and Nippon 2007.
Japanese author Tetsu Yano, who Gene Van Troyer called Japan’s Robert Heinlein, said he could hardly imagine what would have become of SF in Japan if Takumi Shibano had not existed: “Thanks to his fanzine Uchuujin, we had a network that allowed us to meet, and I feel blessed that Shibano-san was here to create it. All of Japanese science fiction and fandom was born as a result.”
Takumi, born in 1927, was the son of a Japanese Army officer. Following his father’s postings, Takumi attended schools in Taiwan, Tokyo and Manchuria. Upon finishing high school in 1945 he was drafted into the Physico-Chemical Research Association. There he learned the essentials of modern physics. After the end of WWII, Takumi attended the Tokyo Institute of Technology, graduating in 1950.
That same year he sold his first story, which appeared under the name “Kozumi Rei” (a wordplay on “cosmic ray”). He would later use that pen name as a novelist and translator of science fiction stories.
Takumi taught math for 26 years at Tokyo Municipal Koyamadai high school, from 1951 until 1977 when chronic asthma led him to quit teaching and become a full-time writer and translator. Among the works he translated into Japanese are Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” and Larry Niven’s Ringworld and “Inconstant Moon.”
A colleague, veteran translator Hisashi Asakura, paid this compliment to his work in 1996: “Takumi Shibano has such a fundamental grasp of science that he understands the nature of the ideas that the writers have. If he has the slightest question about anything, he pursues the answer with total dedication, writing letters of talking directly with the authors. He’s peerless — a real role model for translators and authors.”
Takumi and Sachiko Takahashi married in 1954. They had two daughters, Miho and Minae.
Takumi’s fascination with SF first drew him to join the UFOs Flying in Japan’s Skies Research Group in 1956. As he explained in a quote run in the Nippon 2007 Souvenir Book, “It wasn’t that I was so enamored of UFO research, but that I was interested in those basic, fantastical science ideas, so I wanted to do SF.” The group was as close as he could get, but that would soon change.
At one of the meetings he threw out the idea of doing an extra issue of the group’s publication solely devoted to SF. Several members responded so enthusiastically they launched the first issue of Uchuujin (“space dust”) in May 1957. Uchuujin’s first issues were handwritten on mimeograph stencils, but it transformed into a typset publication by 1960. In later years, the zine’s best stories would be collected in five professionally published volumes.
Production of the magazine soon led to in-person discussion and the formation of Kagaku Sosaku (variously translated as Science Fiction Club or Science Creation Club), led by Tetsu Yano.
Takumi chaired four of the first six Japanese national science fiction conventions. He also helped establish the Federation of SF Fangroups of Japan in 1965 and served as chairman from 1966 until 1970.
He wrote several original juvenile science fiction novels, all published in Japan under his pen name Rei Kozumi: Superhuman ‘Plus X’ (1969), Operation Moonjet (1969), and Revolt in North Pole City (1977). He was also the principal author of The World of Popular Literature (1978), a nonfiction work.
Takumi was effectively introduced to American fans through the pages of Roy Tackett’s fanzine Dynatron. People became eager to meet him in person. LA’s bid committee for the 1968 Worldcon simultaneously ran a fan fund to bring Takumi Shibano to the Worldcon. Only the fan fund succeeded, consequently Shibano-san attended BayCon, the Worldcon in Berkeley, California.
He and Sachiko attended many more Worldcons through the years. At Denvention 2 in 1981 they appeared on stage during the Hugo Awards for the first time to present Seiun Awards to the Western sf writers whose translated works had won. (The winners are chosen by the Japanese national convention.) It became a Hugo night tradition for the Shibanos or other Japanese pros to appear in ceremonial robes and recognize the winners.
Takumi won World SF’s President’s Award in 1984 and its Karel Award in 1991. He received a Special Committee Award from ConFrancisco, the 1993 Worldcon. And he was the winner of the E. E. Evans Big Heart Award in 1987.
Takumi, through his love of science fiction, achieved a rare bridging of cultures. He was a gracious man who warmly responded to anyone’s welcome and questions. Like Ackerman, to whom he is invariably compared, he was one of fandom’s early organizers who became an international ambassador of science fiction.
[Thanks to Atsushi Morioka, John Hertz, Glenn Glazer, Craig Miller and Peggy Rae Sapienza for the story.]
Update 01/18/2010: Adopted correction by John Hertz — the proper order of Takumi’s pen name is “Kozumi Rei.” Then, based on Petrea Mitchell’s suggestion (and a consultation with John) altered the spelling of the fanzine title to ‘Uchuujin,’ as the most accurate translation within the power of my limited coding skills….