Becoming A Japanese Translator: Job Types — 12 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!)

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience!
    I’m still a newbie in Japanese, but I’m really interested in the language.
    Recently, I started to translate manga for free, and it’s really nice and I like it a lot!
    But I’m wondering, if anyone has any experience on becoming a translator…?
    I’m afraid I like translating manga EXCLUSIVELY, and not other articles etc… (as I rarely read actually… ): )

    • And can I please ask anyone here who has translating experiences…
      What do you all usually translate?
      Because I’m really curious what translators (JapaneseEnglish translators to be specific) usually translate.
      If I was able to pick a field, I would definitely love to translate more in the entertainment industry (shows/ books/ games) instead of political things like news or boring (100% IMO) articles………….
      But just wondering, is there a mix or…? Is 80% translating ARTICLES? O_O

      • I know this school that is online and in Japan that helps with that kind of translation. It’s called Jvta. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but plan on doing it. I know this is late.

        • I checked out that online school (Jvta) and I think it is definitely not for beginners or even amateurs. Their Japanese to English course requires an JLPT N2 level (when the average skill level for translators I’ve heard is only N3 – which is probably like a high school or associates degree level, which seems to be a sufficient language skill level even for native Japanese speakers), and the course is taught entirely in Japanese. And, all the information about their English to Japanese course is in Japanese. They say the course only lasts a year, 2 six month long courses, but they only hold a class once or twice a week, and even though it sounds very flexible with it being online and all, the classes are actually held at a fixed time on a fixed day and are practically done face to face, making the only difference from a normal college class is that you get to pick where you set up your computer. And, to be frank, if you can manage to reach N2 BEFORE you take their course (which is notorious for being a highly difficult accomplishment – probably the equivalent to a bachelor degree in a language), I can’t imagine why you would even bother taking their course at all. What I mean is, if you can manage to reach N2 without their course, then you are probably skilled enough to learn the rest of what you need to know without their course, and whatever resources you used to get you that far are probably going to be far more useful to you. It is surprisingly more diffult to switch between learning programs than it is to just stick it out with the one you are already familiar with.

          I like to think of translating as if I were reading Shakespear. In a way, there is a core to understanding his writing, and it is in the details that people start to argue about what he means by it. In a sense, language is an artform, and the deeper you go the more complicated it gets. When I learned English I got confused by all the details that everyone tried to shove into my brain, but once I understood it’s core, or rather, the bigger picture, then it became that much easier to understand and how it could be used. The millions of details came after the fact.
          How many times did an artist draw something before they considered it a masterpiece, how many hours did they spend studying perspectives, how to use their tools, and to find their own styles, and how long did it take until someone first told them they had talent? A language may be more precise than art, but it is still very open to interpretation. So, if you can learn how to learn on your own, you are already more skilled than the average student. I may not know every single word in the English language, I may still get confused by verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, and I may misspell all kinds of stuff every so often, but that doesn’t make me any less skilled or any less qualified to have a Masters degree in English. I can pick up additional vocabulary whenever I want just by picking up the dictionary. I’m still human, not a master computer with infinite memory. And I can imagine that any native Japanese speaker could say the exact same thing. I may not know all the career specific jargon for playing a certain sport or being a professional chef, but it’s not like I couldn’t learn it as I need it. So, any course that claims to teach you an industry specific set of communication skills… let’s just say that they are simply trying to replace the purpose of doing internships, volunteer work, and real life learning situations. Real life is real time and actually useful, course work can be outdated and lack practicality, that’s why course work should focus on the core knowledge of what you need to know, rather than on the details, also known as the “finishing touches”. (If you want to go above and beyond N2, you are probably looking to get a P.H.D. in which you go beyond the details, and you actually start to approach “career obsessive”. Which is something I imagine isn’t the normal goal post for a translator, especially when a lot of translators simply learn the language for the joy of it, and only need basic/average comprehension.)

          P.S. I highly recommend studying at your own pace, and the perfect tools for that are simply a good old dictionary (that’s up to date), some decent textbooks, maybe a grammar dictionary for good measure, and some common Japanese books for you to practice on. After that, it’s merely putting your skills to the test whever you can until you feel confident. (Taking the JLPT test is one way to put your skills to the test, and get a qualification score for any future work you want to shoot for. But I think too many people make the JLPT test into an ultimate goal and they shoot for it too hastily, I believe it is better to learn in order to feel confident in your own skills rather than to learn in order to pass a benchmark.)
          Being in the US, the only opprtunities I can see me having for translating work is to either focus on manga, anime, and related websites, or finding a company in the US that does business with someone in Japan. Otherwise, I bet I would need to have a lot of connections before I could get any work directly from Japan. I would imagine that there is not a whole lot of demand for simply translating average everyday books, but there is plenty of, and in fact quite the growing demand, for manga and anime translations for the average consumer. So, if you can’t get work from a company, it is best to focus on what the average consumers are going for.

  5. I started focusing on Japanese Translating because I am pretty much bed-ridden most of the time and it was the only kind of work in which I could learn the skills all on my own without needing to go into even more debt to get a degree just to get some work that might never pay off that debt. It also would provide me as much flexibility as I needed, I could work even while I was struggling to function and not have to worry about always doing stuff at certain times, just so long as I got the work done and beat the deadline.
    I am used to living off of practically nothing while still managing my medical needs, so I don’t expect to make any glamorous amount of money right from the get go or even in the long term, at the absolute worst I still have family who cares enough to keep me alive until I can do something for myself. I just need something that’s going to keep me on my feet until I can do more. I’m not picky about the genre of work, just so long as I can do something that suits my needs and suits my skills, I can address all the details as I go.
    Although, it sounds like self-employment is going to be more of a hassle than most other options, taxes are hella confusing. Even though I have always excelled at math and even got some honors and awards for it, taxes are not really math but rather a game created by the Cat and the Mad Hatter where every rule has 3,000 exceptions and insane consequences for even 1 wrong answer. I’m sure it gets better once you get used to it, but it definitely isn’t something I am looking forward to. Every freedom has it’s price.

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