Obituary: Tom Mori

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The Independent Culture
TOM MORI was the chairman and owner of the oldest established and biggest literary agency in Japan, the pre-eminent agent for Asian translation rights and well known in publishing circles all over the world. He had an exceptional understanding both of his own, Eastern culture and of that of the West. Tuttle-Mori's slogan was, aptly, "Agency to Span the East & West".

He was born in Manchuria in 1942. When Chairman Mao's forces advanced the Mori family escaped with their only child and his father secured a job with Mitsubishi and was posted to New York. This gave Tom a remarkable grounding in English and a deep love of all things American.

He finished his studies in Japan at the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo and was then persuaded by the great American pioneering publisher of Japanese and Asian material Charles E. Tuttle, his uncle by marriage, to join the literary agency that Tuttle had founded in 1948 in Tokyo to introduce works by foreign authors to the Japanese market. Although he went into an agency with an existing structure, at the age of 24 the young Tom Mori brought a fresh mind and enthusiasm to the business. The Tuttle- Mori Agency - as the Charles E. Tuttle Literary Agency became - is 50 years old this year.

Each year the Frankfurt Book Fair would ring with the sound of Mori's laughter. Travelling widely in Europe and America, he sought out authors he felt would be of interest to Japanese readers and persuaded Japanese publishers to give them a chance.

He opened up the Japanese market not only to best-selling fiction and non-fiction authors such as Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell, Boris Yeltsin, Simon Schama and Alan Bullock, but also to children's writers and illustrators including Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, Eric Hill and Michael Foreman, as well as the more literary Saul Bellow, Julian Barnes, Norman Mailer and Anita Brookner; he also sold business books and academic works such as Grove's Dictionary of Music. If there was one book which he cited as his proudest deal it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago.

Many of the authors he represented in Japan became close friends and attended the three-day housewarming party the Moris held in Arizona in June 1996: nearly 200 guests from all over the world flew in for feasts, sightseeing and line dancing.

The agency became wholly his in 1978 and he set about assembling a first- class team, many of them female graduates - unusually for a Japanese firm at the time - who were not only committed to books, but multilingual. Each year they saw more of the translations that had gone through the agency appearing on the Japanese best-seller lists and competing with indigenous writers.

The agency also dealt with other aspects of intellectual copyright: another branch was set up to handle electronic, video and television rights from abroad.

In the last decade operations had expanded in Asia and Tuttle-Mori became affiliated with agencies in Taiwan, China, Korea and Thailand, always working with local colleagues. As well as traditional scouts in London and New York Mori added representatives in Munich, Milan and Paris.

Tom Mori was a man of strong character and great individuality. He wore a personalised watch - a gold Rolex studded with diamonds and latterly with Navajo turquoises. He was a talented linguist, learning Italian in order to secure a big Italian publisher's business. He had a beautiful singing voice and sang in the Kremlin with Boris Yeltsin, whose books Against the Grain (1990) and The View from the Kremlin (1994) he had sold in Japan, but he was equally at ease with a taxi driver. He was passionate about golf and had just represented Tiger Woods's autobiography.

In July Mori was diagnosed with cancer just before leaving for a summer break in Arizona, where he had designed and built a house for his family. He had married a fellow graduate of Keio, Yasuko Sanobe; they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in March.

He was full of plans for the future of the business despite the recession in Asia and pleased that his son, Ken, had joined his team in the previous year.

Takeshi Mori, literary agent: born Harbin, Manchuria 18 January 1945; married 1973 Yasuko Sonobe (one son, one daughter); died Tokyo 26 August 1998.