Becoming A Japanese Translator: Job Types

Japanese translator sounds like a straightforward job. You translate. You get paid. Then you party (Japanese style).

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Job Types

However, there are multiple versions of a translator. Which is great, because depending on how you like to work, where you like to work, and how you see yourself as a future translator, you can forge your own personalized path. You can change your path. You can build a maze if you want.

1. Volunteer (Amateur) Freelance Translator

This is where many people start. If you are interested in translating, the assumption is the best way to get experience is to just volunteer your translating skills into what interests you. The most common type is someone who is translating manga, anime, and anything else that you like and would want to be doing anyway. You most likely will receive no money, but a lot of people like to get their feet wet a bit by starting out with this.

From here some people decide they don’t like translating at all. Others decide they found their golden land and want to start actually getting paid. Others decide they like volunteer translating, but it’s a hobby, so they just want to do it for fun on the side.

The great thing about volunteer freelancing is the bar is often set low, and you can use it as a learning experience. People aren’t paying you so there is less pressure. You can quit anytime. You are expected to be in learning-translator mode, still developing your skill (though some people expect volunteer translators, especially when it comes to manga or anime translations, to produce absolutely perfect masterpieces every time despite doing it for fun).

2. Professional Freelance Translator

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Job Types 2

This may be exactly what you are looking for. You perform specific work for specific people or companies, and they pay you based on that work. This can range from a few short pages, all the way up to a 1000 page manual. You get paid either by the word, or by the hour (more on this in a later post). You build your reputation, one step at a time, and have the freedom to work anywhere.

There is one major distinction (at least in the U.S.), that depends on the way you are hired. A freelance translator is either hired as:

A. An actual freelancer: you have to pay self-employment tax (social security and medicaid), and file quarterly taxes, or
B. An employee: the employer handles the taxes, and you are treated in the same way as though you worked a normal job at the company.

The work is the same. The way you get paid is different. In case you are unfamiliar with this, it’s significantly more advantageous to be an “employee” freelance translator.

3. In-house Contract Translator

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Job Types 3

A company will bring you in to work on site at their office, for a varying period of time (days to months to sometimes even years). You are a temporary employee, you have normal work hours, possible overtime, and must sit in an office. You get a normal salary (this may be by the hour or a set salary) and your taxes are handled normally. Sometimes you can enroll in company programs such as health insurance, life insurance, commuting benefits, etc. Sometimes you’ll even get sick and vacation days.

Once you finish whatever project you are working on, you are done with the company.

4. In-house Full-Time Translator

This is the same as number 3, except you are a regular full time employee of the company. This is your job. Your career. You most likely will get more benefits, and will remain at the company for a long period of time (or not, if the place is terrible).

Best way to go?

Becoming A Japanese Translator - Job Types 4

I’ve done the first 3, so I can only talk about those.

Being a volunteer translator is a great way to get started just to see how things work, and to actually use translation in a setting where other people are looking at your work.

As for Professional freelance translator vs. In-house contract translator, I would choose the former in a heartbeat. You get freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom.

The pay for an in-house contract translator is usually higher I believe (though it can vary greatly by field), and it is nice to interact with people in your field, make friends, and have a place to get out to. But sometimes you end up in a bad working environment with people you don’t like (just like every other workplace in the world). When you work from home, this doesn’t happen. The only thing that happens is you, your pajamas, and your desk.

What’s your experience? Which one would you rather do?

For the translators out there, which have you done? Which do you prefer?
For the aspiring translators, which one sounds the most appealing to you?

Part 12 ● 3 ● 4  5 6 ● 7 ● 8 ● 9 ● 1011

Related posts:

The following two tabs change content below.


Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Becoming A Japanese Translator: Job Types — 7 Comments

  1. I would very much prefer to be an actual freelancer someday because I don’t want to make translation my primary source of income, at least for now. Working in an office is therefore out of the question. I’m actually doing amateur translations of some manga and light novels nowadays, so I guess I’m on my way. I hope ^^

    “When you work from home, this doesn’t happen. The only thing that happens is you, your pajamas, and your desk.”

    Adam先生のパジャマ姿...み、みたい! o(≧∇≦o)

    • Usually doing amateur translation naturally leads you to freelance translation, so there is a lot of hope!


  2. Thank you for this info. I dream of translating one day but being so new I feel like it will take years upon years to even get started to translate anything. I guess when you are learning you are technically translating your sentences into English but as you’ve said before, that is totally different from having paragraphs and things that have to sound correct and have flow as a whole.

    I hope to get there on day. You’re articles are awesome; so informative, I enjoy getting the newsletters so much! :)

    • You will get there, and it won’t take an eternity. It’ll be sooner than you think, and as long as you enjoy the ride while putting in the work every day, you have a lot of excitement ahead of you.

  3. I’ve been an in-house translator (although translation was only half of my job, so not really full time) and am currently a freelance translator. I’ve also done little bits of translation of unpaid translation and interpreting over the years. I definitely love the freedom that working freelance gives me. I found that the way I work best when translating doesn’t really fit with normal working hours, and that the office environment really got in the way of actually working! It was a great way for me to get a lot of experience though, and I actually still get a lot of work from the company I used to work for.

    The only problem with working freelance is the lack of stability, but I think the benefits more than outweigh that! I would definitely recommend it if you want to work as a translator in Japan, as working at many Japanese companies is… not great. The flexibility of basically being able to work anywhere with internet is good for me too as it means I can go back home for longer and still work, and I could move anywhere in Japan and still keep the same job. If I was working in my home country (the UK) instead I might be more tempted to try to find an in-house position.

    (Also I meant to share my experiences in the comments on other posts in this series, but I had to take an unexpected trip home for a funeral so wasn’t able to. I didn’t really have much to add anyway though!)

    • You worked as an in-house translator while you were in Japan right? I’m sure that does add a different layer of stress, as a lot can be said about the work environment of many (though not all) Japanese companies.

      You bring up a good point about stability in freelance translating, so I think people have to weigh the benefits and how important the extra freedom is to them.

      • Yup. I think there are probably places in Japan where working as an in-house translator would be really great, but it wasn’t for me.

        It takes a while to get established doing anything freelance, so while I am really glad that I made the choice, I think it’s something that requires a lot of thought (and a decent amount of savings to tide you over) before you make the leap. (Some people recommend doing it on the side until you have enough regular work to know that it’s financially viable, which is also a great way to approach it that’s less scary than diving in without any guarantee of any work!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *