Guide to Translation Jobs in Japan

By Elena Vigani | October 2020

Do you want to enter the Japanese market as a translator? If you are looking for translation jobs in Japan and you don’t know how to make the first steps, don’t be afraid! Finding a job in Japan can be challenging, but we want to help you. We have created a useful and complete guide for foreigners who want to discover the Japanese translation world and find a job in this constantly changing and stimulating field.

This article is part of our series on jobs in Japan.

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    Translation Industry in Japan

    Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, following that of the United States and China. Japan’s economy is mainly based on exports of advanced technology. They file for more US patents than any other country, accounting for 39% of all patents ever filed in the US by a foreign country. This significantly increases the volume of the Japanese translation industry and the need for translators.

    There is a wide range of sectors to which translation jobs in Japan can be included. Translators are needed for translating manuals mainly in the field of car development, translating Manga, novels, video games, movie subtitles, books, legal documents such as contracts with foreign companies, but not only. 2020 is becoming the year of medical translation. The Asia-Pacific region has the second-largest healthcare industry and it is going to grow more, bringing an increasing demand for multilingual medical and pharmaceutical translations. 

    As Japan’s economy has a worldwide presence, both Japanese companies and foreign companies need translators. The first ones need them to go beyond national borders and expand overseas and the second ones need translators to enter the Japanese market. The great thing is that this field doesn’t involve any Japanese. There are mainly two reasons for this. Firstly, Japanese people have a lower level of English knowledge compared to the rest of the world, according to the global English Proficiency Index. Secondly, the majority of documents have already been translated from Japanese to English, and currently, they just need employees who can translate those articles from English to their native languages.

    Translation jobs in Japan

    What Companies Employ Translators in Japan

    Considering the reasons above and the current world economic situation, we can affirm that almost every type of company currently offers translation jobs in Japan, both in English and in other languages. All firms that work all around the world will need someone who can communicate and expand everywhere else the ideas, projects, and legal things of the mother company. 

    For this article, let us divide the most likely options that translators have in Japan into 4 types.

    Commercial and Industrial Companies

    Every company that works beyond the national borders needs someone who translates the documents in order to sell products and services. This type of company usually is of large size. Between their human resources, they have employees who take care of the translation. However, they may rely on their translation efforts completely to a translation agency. 

    Translation Agencies

    If you are truly hoping to become an expert in translation, you may be the most interested in this one. Translation agencies are companies that offer translation services for other companies or private use. They are made by teams of professional translators who translate to and from several languages.

    Local, National and International Governments and International Bodies

    Another field where there are a lot of opportunities for translators is the government. Every government has to communicate and create relationships with the governments of the rest of the world, so they require someone who translates documents and joins meetings. You can find job opportunities in international bodies, such as the United Nations, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and Embassies. 

    Project-based (Freelance)

    If you are an experienced translation professional, you can look for this opportunity. Japan, like the rest of the world, is starting to like the flexibility related to freelancers and currently, there is an increasing demand for this type of worker.

    Whatever kind of work in the translation industry in Japan you are interested in, there is currently a great demand thanks to the enormous huge trade coming in and out of the United States. For this reason, both countries are always looking for Japanese translators. Moreover, competitiveness is relatively low due to the complexity of the language. Just to give us some ideas about the number of the industry of Japanese translators all around the world:

    • On Indeed.com, there currently are 61 job offers for Japanese translators in the United States;
    • On LinkedIn, 54 job offers for Japanese translators in Japan have appeared in the last week.

    Types of Translation Positions in Japan

    The translation is a broad term, which can refer not only to several jobs but also to different contracts. Here there is a list of types of contract and translation jobs in Japan, with their description:

    Interpretation

    While translation is mainly referred to as the written language, interpretation is referred to as the spoken language. An interpreter is a person whose job is to translate what someone is saying into another language, which could be both your native or a foreign language. There are several ways of interpretation:

    • Simultaneous interpreting: this type of interpretation is mainly used in conferences with a high number of participants. The simultaneous interpreter must translate in real-time what the orator says. He works in an acoustically isolated cabin. Participants in the meeting can listen to the translation using an earphone.
    • Consecutive interpreting: this second type is mainly used in short-duration press conferences. The interpreter has a notepad, where he can take notes of what the orator says. He translates at regular time intervals, ranging from 5 to 10 minutes.
    • Chuchotage: this is a simultaneous translation reported in a low voice in the ear of one or two participants at the conference.
    • Bidule: the bidule is a system of portable receivers and transmitters.
    • It allows simultaneous translation without a cabin, but it is practicable only for small groups and for less formal events, such as workshops and company visits.
    • Negotiation interpreting: the interpreter enables communication in business negotiations and work discussions in which a limited number of people participate.

    Translating 

    As I already said, translation refers mainly to the written language. A translator is a person whose job is changing words of a language into words of another language, which could be both your native or a foreign language, without altering the meaning. The duties of a translator can include a wide range of activities, such as reading documents, preparing summaries, converting texts and audio recordings into different languages, building relationships with clients, consulting with experts in a specialist field, and so on. Translators work with technical, legal, business, and scientific written materials, as articles, books, and reports. According to your interests and previous experiences, you can also decide to specialize yourself in a particular sector. Translators also review texts translated by third parties in order to find any errors.

    Assistant 

    Between the different opportunities related to translation and languages, you could also decide to become the assistant of your chief executive. This opportunity arises from the fact that sometimes the executives know only one language and do not have time to learn other ones. Thus, they need someone expert in languages, who joins meetings with them and translates the contents, writes and translates emails, and creates documents in several languages for them. 

    Full-Time and Part-Time positions

    Until ten years ago, translation jobs were almost all full-time positions. Currently, they are a mixture of both full-time and part-time positions. Sometimes companies decide to hire employees firstly in a part-time position, giving the possibility to pass into a full-time position after a first initial period. Thus, don’t be discouraged if you cannot find a full-time position at your first. 

    Project-based and freelance positions

    Currently, working as a freelance translator is common. A freelance translator works as an independent translator, who joins companies in order to do a specific project. The relationship between the company and the translator finishes once the project ends.

    Skills are needed for a translation job in Japan

    There are different skills and knowledge you must have if you want to gain translation jobs in Japan. These skills range from linguistic and cultural knowledge to computer skills, including also personal skills. Here is a list of the main skills a translator should have:

    Advanced language knowledge

    This is the leading skill for a translator. If you want to make a career as a translator, you must be fluent in at least two languages in addition to your native language. You must understand a text or audio fully, including the implicit implications they could have. The knowledge of the languages must be both at the written and oral level. You are expected to be able to identify grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors and avoid them. Knowing the languages perfectly, you will be able to adapt it according to different contexts. For instance, you should be able to use different styles if you are writing promotional documents or legal ones. The languages most useful in Japan vary according to the field you want to translate. 95% of business meeting translations and interpretations use the Japanese-English combination, followed by Chinese-Japanese one. Instead, in court interpreting, English, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese are in demand.

    If you want to gain more opportunities to have translation jobs in Japan and have a complete understanding of the Japanese language, I suggest you read the article about How to Reach Advanced Level Japanese and Beyond.

    Cultural knowledge

    A good translator has in-deep knowledge both of his own culture and the target culture. Translators respect the culture they represent with their translations. This cultural knowledge includes attitudes, traditions, how people see the world, which values are important for that culture, what is considered offensive, and so on. They must understand how all of these factors influence the language. Through their jobs, they can contribute to eliminating barriers and stereotypes that one culture could have against another one.

    Computer Skills

    Nowadays technology is everywhere and it has changed the way people work, also in the field of translation. A good translator should learn how to use technological tools and adapt to them. This is a must-have translation skill. You should know how to work with word processors, billing platforms, editing tools, and office programs, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint. Many translators currently work with computer-aided translation tools in order to save time and increase their productivity. All these tools are constantly updated, so translators should be able to always improve themselves and learn fast. 

    Research Skills

    Translators are constantly searching for something, such as words, meanings, backgrounds, common sayings, local concepts, and so on, especially in the first years of working. A good translator should be able to research efficiently. 

    Time Management Skills

    This is one of the most important personal skills you should have in order to become a good translator. You should be able to manage your time, organise your agenda, and be ready to complete all your tasks on time. This skill is more important if you want to become a freelancer. If you don’t meet deadlines, clients will see you as unprofessional and they won’t request your translations again.

    Communication Skills

    Translators should be able to establish long term relationships and to deal with clients. In order to do that, they should have good communication skills. They should be customer-oriented and be ready to answer for all the clients’ needs. They should keep in touch with clients throughout the whole work. 

    Other skills that a good translator must have are attention to details, being creative and proactive, self-motivation and organization, adaptability, and curiosity. You should also focus only on one or a few particular areas, according to your interests. This can be an advantage because you can concentrate all your efforts on studying and improving the language for that specific area. This will allow you to save time and be more productive.

    Salaries for Translation Jobs in Japan

    The Japanese translation industry is a very promising sector also in terms of earnings. The income in translation can vary depending on many things, such as years of experience, from which and into which language you are translating, which sector the translation belongs (medical, legal, advertisement, etc.), how fast are you able to translate, your geographical location and which type of document is involved. The Japanese language is one of the most profitable languages in the world. In terms of sectors, the highest-paid are patent, medical, and judiciary translations. Thus, the highest salaries are for those translators employed in a law firm or a pharmaceutical company. Some of the reasons for this are the level of accuracy they require and the fact that they are less affected by the use of Google Translate and other translation programs, conversely to other sectors as the translation of manuals that use a very predictive language. Hence, the competition for an in-house position at these 2 types of companies is fierce.

    In-House Translators

    The average salary for a translator in Japan who is regularly hired by a company is 459.000yen per month, but this changes firstly according to the years of experience. The first two years of experience is the period where the earnings are the lowest. This translator earns approximately  298.000yen/year. Between three to five years of experience, you will have the possibility to earn 365.000yen per month, while between five and ten years the salary is expected to increase by 42%, arriving at 518.000yen per month. The salary continues to grow. When you reach twenty years of experience, you could get a salary of 704.000yen per month. 

    Translation jobs in Japan

    Another factor that influences the level of your income is education. The average salary of people who have the same years of experience varies according to their level of education. If you have finished only high school, you can get a salary of 361.000yen per month. After the Bachelor’s Degree, you can expect to learn 535.000yen per month. Finally, who gains a Master’s Degree can earn up to 704.000yen per month. 

    Japanese salaries for translation jobs in Japan

    Project-Based Translators

    Project-based translators’ incomes vary according to the number of years of experience, but also to the number of hours dedicated to the translation. Working as a freelancer could allow you to earn the highest income, but it is riskier than working as an employee. The more you translate, the more you earn. Freelancer translators are usually paid per word translated or per hour spent into the translation. Normally, freelancer Japanese translators earn approximately 12yen per word, but it increases or decreases according to the language they are translating into. Here’s to list some examples of earnings per word and hour in different languages:

    LANGUAGE PAIR YEN/WORD YEN/HOUR
    Japanese-English ¥12,65 ¥3.800
    Japanese-Spanish ¥11,60 ¥3.620
    Japanese-French ¥11,60 ¥3,464
    Japanese-Swedish ¥14,74 ¥4.540
    Japanese-Korean ¥9,49 ¥3.394
    Japanese-Chinese ¥10,54 ¥3.631
    English-Japanese ¥12,65 ¥3.700
    Spanish-Japanese ¥12,65 ¥3.496
    French-Japanese ¥13,70 ¥3.778
    Swedish-Japanese ¥15,81 ¥4.574
    Korean-Japanese ¥10,54 ¥3.558
    Chinese-Japanese ¥10,54 ¥3.673

    Among the work that a freelancer can do, there are also revisions of translated texts with clients for larger projects. These types of jobs are generally paid by the hour. The hourly rate varies from 3.125 yen to 5.209 yen.

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    Where to find translation jobs in Japan

    So where do you find translation jobs in Japan? What companies hire foreigners?

    Full-time and part-time jobs

    There are numerous ways to find a translation job in Japan. Firstly, you can search on Social Networks and job advertisement sites. Here are some examples of sites where you can find translation jobs in Japan: 

    Another way to find full-time or part-time job offers in the translation industry is controlling the website of the companies you are interested in. Some of them have a specific area, usually called “work with us”, “join our team” or “career”, where they publish specific job opportunities. Otherwise, they give you the possibility to send your CV as a spontaneous application. 

    You should also enroll in some recruiting agencies. They help individuals find opportunities that suit their interests and their objectives. Some of them are international and known worldwide. Some examples of recruiting agencies that are currently looking for Japanese translators are Michael Page, Robert Walters, and Hays.

    Freelancer Jobs

    Working as a freelance translator could be hard, mainly because you have to find yourself your clients. Fortunately, in Japan, some websites are aimed to link businesses with freelance translators. These websites are created with the specific purpose of translating from Japanese into English. Businesses contact these sites with something that they need to translate. The site turns the work to a suitable translator, who is registered to the site. These types of working are ideal for people who want to work as freelancers, but who do not have enough time to find clients themselves. The negative aspect is that part of your income is devoted to the website. Here are some examples of these websites for Japanese translators:

    If you are working as an independent Japanese translator, you should enroll in UpWork. This is the top freelancing website, used by more than 5 million businesses. You have just to sign up, put the type of work you are offering, your hourly rate, and then wait for businesses to come. Another site that works in the same way is Interpreters.travel.

    Translation Jobs in Japan

    Education for translation jobs in Japan

    If your dream is to become a Japanese translator, you should study hard and follow some steps. The first way to become a good Japanese translator is to follow a university course on translation. Currently, there is an increasing offer of language studies in the Asia-Pacific region. Many universities now offer translation courses and Master of Translation and Interpreting. Normally, at least a Bachelor’s degree is required, especially if you want to work for the governments or for international organizations. However, a Bachelor's degree is not always necessary, if you can prove that you are fluent in the language you want to translate. Thus, the most important requirement is to be fluent in Japanese and to be able to prove that. 

    Here are some steps you could take in order to become a good Japanese translator.

    Become fluent in Japanese

    First of all, you must master Japanese. If you have the possibility, start studying Japanese in High School and go on during the Bachelor’s Degree. You could also choose to enroll in a university course or a professional school in Japan. Living in the country is the best way to acquire the language and its culture too. NHK Bilingual Institute is one of the best if you want to polish your Japanese because they are very strict on Japanese usage. As Japanese is a very difficult language, it will take you a lot of time to learn and improve that. For this reason, start as soon as you can. You should gain a strong understanding of its grammar structure, its terminology, and its culture.

    If you want to learn some tips about How to Learn Japanese according to your starting level, this guide is for sure the ideal place to learn

    If your objective is to gain an advanced level of the Japanese language, you should read the BFF Tokyo article about How to Reach Advanced Level Japanese and Beyond

    Be familiar with translation techniques

    Once you have gained fluency in Japanese, you should develop skills in translation. It is not enough to be familiar with the language, you must be able to produce clear and accurate translations. This often requires you to follow specialized courses. You could take part in a Master of Translation and Interpreting. During these courses, you will learn all the translation techniques and you will become familiar with Japanese resources, such as Denshi Jisho, Tangorin, Weblio, Kotobank, Biglobe, ALC, GooJisho, Sanseido.

    Become certified

    This is not a compulsory step, but it is strongly recommended, as Japan is a certification society. Translators don’t need certifications in order to start translating, but they are useful because they demonstrated that you are able to speak, write and translate in Japanese and they may help you get noticed by companies. You could take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. This is a test that measures the knowledge of Japanese of non-native Japanese speakers. It is created by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services. It is done one or two times a year, according to the place you are going to take it. It is divided into five levels, which represent five different levels of difficulty, and it tests grammar, vocabulary, reading, and listening. 

    Choose your area of interest and become specialized

    One of the best ideas to become a good Japanese translator without losing too much time is focusing on one or two areas of interest. Once you have gained fluency in Japanese and familiarity with translation techniques, you could familiarize yourself with industry-specific terminology. This technique will give you the possibility to save time during the translation, as you will be completely prepared for the terminology of your field. 

    For example, if you want to specialize in translating visual media contents, you could enroll in the Japan VisualMedia Translation Academy. The academy is made of two courses that last 6 months per course, and it is completely dedicated to foreign students who want to enter the media world. It will teach you all the techniques and terminologies you need to know in order to become a great Japanese virtual content translator. 

    Gain work experience

    As per the majority of the work, if you want to be hired as a translator you should have done some working experiences in the field of translation. One way to gain work experience is through internship programs. Some companies give the possibility to make a period of paid or unpaid internship, during which you will have the opportunity to put into practice what you have studied. Another way to gain experience is by doing volunteer work. Many organizations and hospitals offer volunteer opportunities for translators. 

    Join some translation communities

    Translators need to always be ready to improve their knowledge and their techniques because the language always changes and the techniques are evolving thanks to the technology. Moreover, they should keep in contact with as many people as they can in order to enlarge their clients’ line. One of the best ways to constantly be in touch with news and with other translators is to join a translation community. A translation community is a virtual place, where translators and people who want to be translators meet each other, discuss how to make a good translation, which translation opportunities are available, and all the topics related to translation. Here’s a list of some translation communities you could be interested in:

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