Break into Manga Translation with Manga Digital Guild

Lot’s of people who study Japanese hope to get into translation some day. And when it comes to translation, many people hope to do manga or game translation, why? Cause the content is freaking fun! But how to break into the field? A friend recently introduced me to Digital Manga Guild, and it seems to be a legit way to get some experience, and to get paid as well.

If you’re serious about giving this a shot your first step will be to take one of their tests.

You can test in many aspects of the translation process, including translation, editing, and lettering. You can even form a group and plan to work together on projects.

The workflow, click to enlarge

I have never tried Digital Manga Guild myself, but it does look like a legit opportunity. They even have a profit sharing scheme going, so if you stick with it you should eventually make some change.

Translation is always great because it forces you to figure out language that you may not be familiar with, and it’s a real skill that can serve you well in the future. I encourage peeps out there to give it a shot! And if you do, let us know how it goes!


– Harvey

Interview with Yuka-sensei

We have another interview for you! This time with my good friend, Yuka the Japanese teacher!

Sensei in her graduation kimono

Why did you decide to come to the U.S. to teach Japanese?

I received a scholarship to study TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) while teaching the Japanese language at Boston University.

The initial motivation to come to the U.S. again (I was an exchange student in upstate NY for 9 months) was the urge to explore outside Japan more after going around the world on a cruise ship as an interpreter. Also, I did not have such a great experience in NY because of my lack of understanding of the American college lifestyle, so this time I wanted to achieve what I could not do last time I was in the U.S.

Interesting.. what about American college life didn’t you understand that gave you a hard time? We’re curious to know what about the American lifestyle might be tough for Japanese people.

I did not like the crazy parties on campus especially because my next-door neighbor was a DJ… Also, I did not like some students’ crazy drinking on the weekends. Also, since I was in upstate NY and there were not so many Asian people, the school cafeteria did not serve rice at all. The difference in food was one of the biggest culture shock experiences for me and made me miss Japan a lot.

Another thing that was difficult in upstate NY was to make “American” friends. I lived in the International House, so I was able to make a couple of really good international friends. But, it just felt like no American students were interested in me and I was sometimes too scared to talk to native speakers of English. I felt very self-concious when I spoke English and I did not want them to judge me based on my English.

Wow, thanks for sharing that, and you should know that it’s very courageous of you to give study in the US another shot. Many people would have just been done with it! Nice job! Now, could you briefly describe your job now?

I teach first and second semester Japanese at BU. I teach two sections of 20 students. So, each semester, I have about 40 students in total. We have a 50-minute class four days a week and we cover all the four skills of language. We use the textbook Genki and the first semester covers from Chapter 1-6 and the second semester covers Chapter 7-12.

I have students from different backgrounds such as students from Korea, China, Mexico, the Philipines, Vietnam, and the U.S. They are very studious and many students study Japanese not because it is a requirement of the department but because of their genuine interest in the language and the culture. This is my 3rd semester to teach Japanese at BU, but as I get used to teaching and gain more experience, I can predict my students’ mistakes and change my instruction styles depending on the “teacher instinct.”

I love my job and I would like to continue teaching Japanese in the future although I am thinking of applying for a PhD program in one or two years from now.

So what were your initial impressions of people who study Japanese in the U.S.?

I was very impressed with my students’ ability to speak. Also, I am very happy to see students who are are very energetic and genuinely interested in the language. Although the first two chapters of Genki are very overwhelming for native speakers of English or Spanish since they need to learn “hiragana” and “katakana” in less than a month, once they grasp the broad picture of what the language is like, they seem to succeed very quickly after that.

Do you think that learning Hiragana and Katakana in a month is unreasonable? How do most of your students handle that pace?

I think it is reasonable to learn Hiragana and Katakana in a month because they are the two core alphabets in Japanese and I believe that students would learn better by “recycling.” In other words, rather than being stuck at the same learning stage, I believe it is better to move on to the next stage and come back to the previous stage later and review it again and again. Students would inevitably have to see the two writing systems anyways, so I do not think it is unreasonable at all to learn Hiragana and Katakana in a month (although it may be difficult for some students).

What are your recommended textbooks for people learning Japanese at the level that you teach?

I recommend the textbook “Genki” that we use in our school. The textbook is great in that it has a number of picture prompts and has CDs (You need to purchase them for the current edition, but the new edition, which will come out next year, will come with CDs.) Also, it has a website called “Genki Online” which has a lot of useful resources. You can easily self-study Japanese using the resources online.

Another textbook that I recommend is “Minna no Nihongo.” It is the most-commonly-used Japanese textbook in the world and it is translated into many languages. Although it would be a great textbook for native speakers of English, grammatical explanations in other languages could be confusing for some who do not know any English because the textbook was written for native speakers of English and then later translated into many other languages.

What do you notice about students who are able to learn Japanese well? Do they do anything different from those who… well… don’t?

The second language acquisition theory of “Interaction Hypothesis” states that students need to interact with others and negotiate meanings to acquire a language. What I notice in my class is that students who are outgoing and interact with me or other people who speak Japanese have a great command of speaking whereas very serious straight A type students score high in quizzes and exams. Thus, I do not think the academic grade necessarily reflects their true linguistic ability. However, each student has his or her own learning style and those who already know how to study a language and know multiple learning strategies succeed in the language in the long run.

Thanks for your time Yuka! I know you’re busy keeping all those students in line so we’ll leave it at that.

Thanks for having me! It’s fun to share!

Good luck with the rest of your studies and work!!!

– Harvey

If you’re into Interviews you might also like…

Interview with Translator @Durf
Interview with @Sandkatt
Interview with a new JET CIR
A JET CIR Interview

First-hand Look at the 2010 Boston Career Forum

Sam the Newbie attended the 2010 Boston Career Forum to find a job in Japan. He put together this writeup of his experience, so I’m posting it here so that everyone can benefit!

Feel free to post any questions that you may have in the comments and Sam will come back to answer them!

From the CRUSH of 9,000 suits, a solitary photo survives...

About the Boston Career Forum

Boston Career Forum (CFN) is run by Disco International, a Japanese HR company. They hold a few different job fairs throughout the year in LA, London, and Tokyo. But the Boston event is by far the largest (I met a few students who flew from Tokyo to attend the event!!). For anyone who’s been following this thread, it’s extremely difficult to get work in Japan when you’re in the US. CFN is definitely the best way to do it! The Boston event is targeted mostly at undergraduates, but there are all kinds of positions for mid-career, MBAs, and other grads.

Getting Prepared

I started preparing for Boston Career Forum through their website probably 3 months before the event. It’s free to register with Disco and free to register for each of the events. After registering, the first thing you do is fill out your resume in English and Japanese using their form. You can’t upload your own resume in DOC or PDF format, so this can be a little time-consuming.

Basically, how it works is each company will post their information on the website: their company profile, what positions they’re hiring for, what majors they’re looking for, what Japanese/English levels they require, etc. So search for the companies to which you want to apply and start doing research. Each company will have a few screening questions, either in English or Japanese or both, that you are required to fill out. These are questions like: “why are you choosing this company? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Describe a difficult situation?” Standard interview questions basically. So you’ll submit your resume and the answers to these questions. This should be viewed as the first step of the application; so be sure to put your effort into this step.

Depending on the company, they might acknowledge your application with a response through the CFN email system or to your personal email address listed on your resume. Some companies won’t reply at all, so it really is a case-by-case sort of thing. Other companies will ask you to apply through their own internal application system, where you’ll be invited to complete online assessment tests and other screening questions. So again, it depends. Just to be sure to stay on top of your email, and check the CFN website often. In my case, a few companies contacted me for phone/Skype interviews prior to the actual event. But from talking to other applicants, this is pretty rare.

About one month before the event, companies will start contacting you to set up interviews for the actual event. Based on previous year’s statistics, most people are able to schedule a few interviews before the event. I was in this group. Again, I think it depends on the company. So if you’re not contacted for interviews, don’t be discouraged! The vast majority of companies accept walk-in candidates at the event. But, of course, if you do get an interview scheduled, that’s a good sign!

So the strategy that I took was to apply to all companies that I was interested in, or that I met the requirements for, get a few interviews scheduled and focus heavily on preparing for those interviews. Other people will focus on one sector (finance, IT, retail) and do research on all of those companies and try to walk-in interview with all of them. I think it depends on how much time you have and what your personality is like.

Navigating the Career Forum Battleground

The actual event takes place on the third weekend in October at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Friday and Saturday are the busiest days, with Sunday being a bit slower because a lot of companies leave on Sunday. So, if you’re doing walk-ins, try to do them as soon as possible. That being said, I didn’t find it necessary to arrive as soon as registration opens (9AM) and wait in line with the other 9000 people (true!) to be the first one into the venue. It’s fine to get there at 9:45, 10:00 AM and just walk in on your own pace.

The venue can be a bit overwhelming. It’s held in a large open room, with thousands of people running around in suits. One on side of the room, there will be all the company booths, registration tables, office supplies desks, computers and copiers for printing out resumes, etc. On the other side of the room are individual interview booths that are enclosed with white curtains. You’ll get a map and other information when you arrive for registration.

Overall, the event is, in traditional Japanese fashion, very well-run and efficiently organized. There is free Wi-Fi in the building, a lot of eating options, and plenty of room to sit and prepare for your interviews. The only issue that I observed was the dearth of power outlets. So if you’re bringing a laptop, be sure to charge it before you go.

Once you get in there, you are free to walk around and do walk in interviews with any company you want. The vast majority of companies will accept walk in interviews. It works like this: the company will have a person greeting applicants. Go up to him/her and introduce yourself, explain that you’d like to do a walk-in interview. They’ll probably ask you to submit a resume, likely the English version. Then you’ll probably have to wait for a chair to open up in front of the interviewers at the booths. Some of the more popular companies, you’ll have to wait 30 minutes to get to the front of the line. But that should give you more time to rehearse your answers! Other lines will move more quickly.

Handling the Interviews

The first interview takes place at the company booth, in the open, in full view of your fellow applicants. This can be a bit intimidating; but it’s the only way for the companies to get through so many applicants in a single day. After you’ve left the booth after the first interview, the company might contact you (most likely via your cell phone) to schedule a second interview with a more senior employee. They’ll set up a time and ask you to come back to their booth. At this point, the two processes (walk-ins and pre-scheduled interviews) look the same. When you go back to the company booth, check-in with the greeter and tell him/her your name and interview time. They’ll escort you back to the individual interview area where you’ll sit in a chair outside the booth and wait for the interviewer to call you in. The same call back process will take place if the interview goes well. I personally was called back twice (3 interviews total) by a few companies all on the same day. So your schedule can fill up pretty quickly. Pace yourself!

In my case, the interviews were about 50/50 English and Japanese. Again, it depends on the type of position/company/location you’re interviewing for. In one case, an interviewer gave me a Japanese newspaper and told me to read out loud. Other interviews were all in English. So it depends.

Wine and Dine

If all the interviews go well, (some) companies will invite you to attend dinner with the employees and other applicants at night. From my point of view, these dinners are an opportunity for the interviewers to observe you in a more casual environment and see how you interact with other people. So you should be on your game for these dinners, even if it’s very casual. That being said, you don’t need to be in total interview mode. It’s ok to have a couple of drinks and get relaxed a bit. Just make sure you don’t drink too much!

That’s a Wrap, or, The Big Wait

So that’s a basic rundown of the pre-event and event details. I can’t tell you too much about the post-event situation, because I am still living it! It’s been about 5 days since the event finished and I am waiting to hear back from the companies with which I interviewed. I didn’t receive a timeline (i.e. “we’ll let you know within one week”) from any of the companies, so I am keeping my hopes up. Of the applicants that I spoke to, only one received an offer of employment at the actual event. So I think this is a very rare case (look at the statistics, only 16% get offers in Boston). So to any participants who are reading this now, let’s keep our hopes up for good news!!

Feel free to post if you have any questions or comments.

– Sam the Newbie

Related Links:

Photo Tour of the Career Forum on their official site.

Help a newbie get Work in Japan! – the original Sam the Newbie Post

From JapanNewbie Of Centuries Past:
Career Forum FAQ
Career Forum Opinions

From around the Web:
What I learned from the Boston Career Forum
Boston Career Forum Report

Japanese Podcast Recommendations – Part 3

Profile! I'll never be featured on this Podcast...

This podcast is called 上田の仕事人名鑑 プロファイル! Basically, the host will go out somewhere in Japan to find hardcore Japanese people working. I don’t mean soft cushy desk jobs, I mean 70 year old men who jump into chest-deep waters with a basket rake tied around their waist and scrape the ground for clams (あさり). It’s good stuff. You get to learn Japanese and Japanese culture at the same time. Fabulous.

One confusing thing here. When I first started subscribing to this podcast it was called ココが知りたい! It featured a lady who would just go explore some places in Japan and interview people to learn about what they did or about the place that she was visiting.

Then one day, the same podcast thread suddenly stopped getting ココが知りたい! and flipped to this 上田の仕事人名鑑 プロファイル. Now it seems that I can’t find ココが知りたい anywhere on the store. I guess it was replaced by プロファイル。Too bad! I think you can still find the ココが知りたい episodes though if you dig back in the links to the podcast files themselves.

Here is a link to the プロフィル! Video Podcast on the iTunes Store.

Here is a link where you can grab the individual files from the video podcast.

Be sure to check out the Manyoushuu Podcast Recommendation, and Nikkei Trendy Podcast Recommendation from the other posts in this series!


This guy is Tough

– Harvey

Other Japanese Podcast Recommendations:
Nikkei Trendy
Oeda Mariko – Nikkei Moyamoya Talk
Audio Book: Ningen Shikkaku

An Interview with an upcoming JET CIR

Hello JapanNewbies! Today we’ve got another interview for you. A “getting to Japan” success story if you will. Akeem has been accepted to work in Japan as a CIR in the JET program and will be arriving in Japan on July 27th. Which is like, tomorrow, pretty much.

Akeem first contacted me long ago, in JUNE 2008(!!!) when the possibility of working in Japan was just an idea he had. Through a lot of hard work he has finally worked it out and he’s heading for Japan. That’s two years man! If this isn’t proof that persistence pays off, or something, I don’t know what is.

Heading for Japan

I hope this interview serves as an inspiration to those who want to work in Japan some day, and also as sort of a roadmap for people who want to know the possible avenues they should consider to make it to Japan. Here we go!

Thanks Akeem. So to start off, could you tell us when your interest in Japan started, and specifically when you started seriously considering moving to Japan to work full time?

My interest in Japan started when I was young. I used to watch this funny TV show that taught you how to count in Japanese in song form. In high school I got addicted to Japanese music and anime. It was only until I got into college that I could take formal classes. I applied to be an exchange student and Keio University and was accepted. That year changed my life. Since returning from Japan in 2006, I’ve been trying to get back. While holding down a corporate desk job.

Your story is surprisingly like mine! I started studying in high school, got hooked on anime and Japanese music, and studied abroad at Nanzan University in Nagoya… that year changed my life as well.

Was the exchange program you went on part of a larger program? Or simply a school provided opportunity?

The exchange to Keio was part of an exchange program through my university. If you are at the University of Washington, please visit this site about the exchange program to learn more.

Moving on, what was the most difficult aspect of making the final decision to move to Japan for you?

Since I’m following my dreams, the decision was not so difficult. Perhaps the logistics are the most concerning part. Trying to throw away your current life, car, motorcycle, and general junk you accumulate through living can be tough.

Do you already speak Japanese? If not, are you worried that this might be a problem when you arrive?

Yes, I already speak Japanese fairly well. However, I’m most concerned with specific details that a CIR has to perform like interpretation and translation. I know I’ll be sweating bullets when they ask me to interpret on the topic of something like environmental issues.

Sounds like your Japanese is solid already. Good stuff. Are there any books or online resources you recommend for people trying to push their Japanese to the next level?


Personally, I prefer to listen to and speak Japanese more than reading and writing. I think that every learner should have the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary for Kanji lookup. If you are into reading more advanced Japanese, I really enjoy Read Real Japanese which contains many short stories by contemporary writers.

Akeem Approved.

For speaking and listening, I love to watch dramas. has some great resources for seeing what’s out there in the Japanese drama scene. I prefer the dramas because they contain more natural speech and give you a better context for how language is used compared to anime. I’ll often spend time repeating certain phrases to make my Japanese sound more natural. I’ll also keep track of a bunch of YouTubers who speak Japanese to get some varied types of input. I love to watch 大笑い shows to learn a bit more about Japanese humor.

How long did you actively work on this big move?

This process started back in September of 2009. The JET application process is long and rigorous. There are dozens of pages to fill out, transcripts to get and letters of recommendation. Then there is the interview, an FBI check, a ton of waiting to hear the result of each step and finally getting rid of all of your stuff to make the big move.

I had no idea there was an FBI check. Geesh.

What options did you initially consider regarding your move to Japan? Could you describe your success with each of them? Any in particular that you would recommend, or others that you would advise others to avoid?

I’ve looked at and considered a bunch of options. I looked at trying to get a job directly with contracting agencies in Japan. I’ve put out resumes and made calls to discuss my skill set and probabilities of getting a job. I’ve worked with contracting agencies in America that specialize in finding work for people that are J/E bilingual. I’ve had a couple of interviews through them but nothing panned out. I even flew to the Boston Career Forum looking for a job to no avail. I also interviewed in China for a bilingual job, got an offer and had to turn it down.

I would recommend looking at all of these avenues. I went into each of them with the mindset of furthering my Japanese. I’ve had to write resumes and go through interviews in Japanese. They have all really helped me understand my deficiencies in the language and what employers are really looking for.

This is a big question, but could you tell us anything about the entire CIR application process that you think would be hard to find out otherwise? I know lots of people would love to apply to the JET program.

The information about the program and application process is bountiful on the internet. Don’t be afraid of the interview. Go into it with the mindset of showing them your character and you cannot go wrong. Leave the interview having said all that you want to communicate.

What are you most looking forward to regarding the big move? How long do you think you’ll stay in Japan once you move there?

Ramen ramen ramen! Did I mention ramen?

Sounds like you and Ramen Fanatic would get along just fine!

I love Japanese food and will knock grandma out of my way to get another bowl.

Please don’t do that if you live in Osaka, the grandma might knock you out instead.

On a more serious note, I’m looking forward to new challenges that the CIR position will present. If everything pans out, I’d like to eventually move into the IT field in Japan. I have a very technical background that I wish to put to good use.

I think he's more packed now...

Is there anything interesting about your move planning that you think would interest our readers?

If at all possible, get out of the place that you are living about a week before you depart. Stay at a hotel or live with friends until your departure date. This gets rid of the stress of having to get rid of something at the last moment.

Any links to those job placement agencies that you used that were especially promising?

In the US:
Pasona – Jobs here are focused for J/E bilingual people around the US.

Boston Career Forum – You should go at least once.

In Japan: – Jobs are mostly IT oriented.

Any final words for others who hope to move to Japan some day?

Do whatever you can to stay active in the Japanese community where you are. It will surprise you how connected some people may be. This could easily turn into an opportunity for you.

Thanks! We’ll catch up with Akeem again once he is in Japan!

Thank you again for this opportunity.

Good luck with everything!

Related Links:
Akeem’s website:

NeoMeruhen’s YT Channel – YouTube channel which chronicles the process of what it’s like becoming a JET CIR.

Jason “MyArgonauts” – The best YouTube Channel on JET in existence

Official CIR Website

Official JET Program Website

Check out this other Japanese-learner interview with @Sandkatt.

– Harvey

Help a Newbie Get Work in Japan


Hey JapanNewbies!

A fellow JapanNewbie (but actually not so newbie Newbie) contacted me with a request for help. I figured I would ask the community to see if we can generate some ideas that may help any other people who may be facing the same situation.

Basically it shakes down like this. Got the education, got the Japan experience, just finished school, and want to work in Japan. Tough to seal the deal without being in Japan though. Check the details below.

I am a newly minted MA in Japanese Studies, living in New York City. The world is my oyster, right?!! I am trying very hard to find a full-time job in Japan (non-English teaching) to improve my Japanese language abilities while gaining professional skills. As someone who had done JET for two years, I have never had to do the shukatsu (job hunting in Japan) thing. I have applied to a number of jobs in Japan, for which I am qualified, and gotten a few Skype interviews. From many companies, however, I get the familiar refrain: “we only hire locals.” So, my fellow Japanophiles, how would you suggest I tackle this problem? Should I head to Tokyo on a tourist visa and hit the pavement? Should I sell my soul and take an eikaiwa job just to get a visa? To help you answer these questions, here is some info about myself:

I graduated from an Ivy League university in 2005 with a BA in English and Art History. I did JET from 2005 to 2007 in Shizuoka-ken. I came back to NYC and worked as a copywriter for a marketing company for one year. For my MA, I spent two years taking courses focused specifically on Japan in business, politics, and history. I also completed a certificate in logistics and transportation, unrelated. My primary areas of research were renewable energy and environmental policy in Japan. I have about 1,000 kanji safely under my belt and have passed 2 kyuu of JLPT.

Based on my background, I am looking for jobs in sales, marketing, market research and operations in Japan. My strengths are writing, research and area knowledge of Japan. I actually found my perfect job the other day: “proposal writer for a leading renewable energy company in Japan.” I applied for it, only to encounter the same response: “LOCAL HIRES ONLY.” Please help me get to Japan. Yoroshiku.

Tough situation. I have my thoughts, and I’ll post them in the comments. Please share your ideas as well!

Help a newbie out!

– Harvey

An Interview with Durf

Hello JapanNewbies!

Many of you enjoyed the interview with @sandkatt, so I decided to find another willing Japan-head Twitter friend and put them on the spot as well. Meet @Durf!

Durf and his Peeps at JapanEcho

I have interacted with @Durf for a while now on Twitter, but I hardly know him. I knew he was some kind of non-Newbie translator, but I had no idea he was this epic. Seriously. @Durf has mad Japanese skillz that I hope rub off on me someday. Check out what @Durf has to share with us below.

Harvey: So, care tell us a little bit about yourself? We’ve got your Twitter
on hand. “Translator/editor working for @japanecho in Tokyo. I like skiing,
beer, and my wonderful daughter.” Anything to add to that? Could you also tell us about your initial interest in Japanese and Japan? Big question to open up with, but hey, I don’t know you. Spill the beans!

Durf: I’m an American citizen who grew up mostly in Oregon until 1985, when my family moved to Tokyo. The parents got jobs at the American School in Japan, which is where my siblings and I all ended up graduating from high school. 

I was the one member of my family who wasn’t excited about the idea of moving to Japan. My parents knew it would be a great experience for us all, my sister had been here on an exchange trip and liked the idea of coming back for more, and my brother was young and wild and ready for adventure wherever it could be found. I was turning 15 that year and had finished my first year of high school; leaving my friends and school behind wasn’t my idea of fun. So of course, 25 years later I am the one who’s still here; the rest of my family is living in various parts of the Bay Area now. That’s the way things tend to end up, I suppose. 

This means it’s hard to answer questions on “what sparked my initial interest in Japanese,” since my initial aim was to stay far away from it. I had been studying French and was good in general at learning foreign languages, and taking Japanese at ASIJ was a natural thing to do, so that’s when I first got classroom exposure to the tongue. I found the JFL, or Japanese as a foreign language, course at ASIJ easy enough that I ended up skipping years, taking JFL 1, 3, and 5 in my three years at the school. 

Early on I made some good friends who had been here forever—Japanese classmates and blond-haired Americans who had been born here and gone through Japanese elementary schools and the like. These were some great guides to have outside the classroom. It’s hard to say whether I did more learning in school or while exploring west Tokyo on bicycles and drinking in Kichijoji (shh! don’t tell my folks) and doing all those other extracurricular activities. I think a good mix of both classroom and “real world” experience is one key to learning this language successfully, really.

Translated by Durf's Prof, Van Gessel

After graduation I went to the University of California at Berkeley, where I ended up majoring in Japanese. I had the good fortune to study with professors like Van Gessel, who has translated Endō Shūsaku’s books, and Joshua Mostow, who writes really interesting stuff about classical and medieval poetry. And again, I managed to supplement this classroom learning with experiences outside the classroom. My parents worked at ASIJ up through 1993, so I managed to spend most of my summer and winter breaks “back home” in Tokyo. I also spent a year and a half working at a shoe store near Union Square in San Francisco. This was owned by a Japanese brother and sister and catered to the JTB tours crowd, so I was pressed to pick up some polite Japanese to deal with customers there and got to speak more casually every day with my coworkers. I also got to buy Timberland boots at wholesale prices. Very win-win. 

I should note that it was during this job that my Japanese communication skills really blossomed. When I studied French I became able to hold a conversation on pretty much any topic in under two years, but getting to this stage in Japanese took me closer to six. When it came out, it all came out at once. It was like I’d been building up the tools in my linguistic chest for all that time and the pressure of using the language in a business setting finally let me open up that tool chest and put them all to work. All of a sudden I could say everything I wanted to—or at least talk my way around a problem if I didn’t have all the words to describe it—without piecing it together in English in my mind first. I don’t expect it works this way for everyone but in my case it was like a dam finally breaking; a very liberating feeling. 

In 1992–93 I applied for a CIR position through the JET Program and got rejected when I fell afoul of some rules that said you couldn’t have spent more than X amount of time in Japan over the previous decade. Thanks to a connection via one of those blond-haired kids from ASIJ, I managed to land a very similar job in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, where the town government wanted to privately hire an ALT who could also do some translation. I stayed there for three years, working in schools (mainly junior high, but some trips to elementary schools as well) and doing a day each week of research or translation in the town hall or the library next door. I also got to go skiing with the kids and the town employees and help coach basketball and volleyball teams. I managed to pick up a bit of a farmer accent while I lived there. I think I’ve lost most of it by now but an echo of it comes back when I’ve been drinking, apparently. 

In 1996 I got a job with Japan Echo Inc., a small publisher in Tokyo that’s my employer to this day. I can’t say this was ever a career goal of mine. The position is one that caught my eye when I read the Japan Times Monday classifieds one week, I applied, I interviewed, and here I still am. I also met my wife at the company, and in 2007 our daughter joined us. I think that covers everything in my Twitter bio!

Harvey: Wow, thanks for the detail! Anyway, so was translation always a career goal for you? What kind of translation work do you do?

Our company is best known for a magazine titled Japan Echo, which ran from 1974 to earlier this year and contained mostly translations of Japanese-language articles on politics, economy, society, culture, diplomacy, and on and on. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs bought up a considerable chunk of our print run and distributed the magazines to libraries, schools, and researchers around the world via its embassies and consulates. Most of the readership probably thought of us as a government outfit, but the truth is that we were always editorially independent and MOFA was simply our biggest institutional subscriber. (Unfortunately for us, this situation ended early in 2010 after the Democratic Party of Japan zapped the MOFA funds for purchasing our magazines in the jigyō shiwake process of slashing public spending. We just didn’t have a large enough subscriber base outside of MOFA to keep the publication going.) 

As for the sort of work I do, while the magazine was being published I did translations of articles from Japanese journals like Bungei Shunjū, Chūō Kōron, and Voice to go into it. Over the years I’ve also done a lot of work for publications like The Japan Review of International Affairs and Japanese Book News. The publishers of these things are our clients, and we handle the translation, editing, and layout of their publications. 

We work for a lot of private-sector clients as well, so I’ve done a fair amount of translation and editing for Nissan, Epson, Canon, Keidanren, the Toyota Foundation… The list is long and the work is varied, which is one thing that’s kept me happy in house for so long. I think most translators tend to cut loose and go freelance at some point, but I’m still soldiering on 14 years later. 

On the public-sector side, we do work for MOFA, including content for the Foreign Ministry website and production of things like Trends in Japan and Kids Web Japan. We also translate speeches and press conferences for the Kantei, so a lot of the English content you at is done by us.

Translated by @Durf

On the freelance side, I do a bit of work—nothing too ambitious, since I don’t have many hours in the day. The one time I took on a serious project was when I translated a biography of Noguchi Hideyo for Kodansha International. That was a steep challenge in terms of scheduling, but it’s nice to be able to look for my name on as a result. I’ve also been known to teach the odd class in J-E translation at a language school in Tokyo. 

Harvey: Would you recommend translation as a career goal for people out there studying Japanese at the moment? What kind of people do you think are best suited for that kind of work? Any tips for those who are looking down that road?

Whether you recommend a career in translation depends on whether you think computers will one day take all this work away from humans, probably. As I’ve written before on my site, I think automated translation tools may end up taking care of a lot of our translation needs, but at the high end there will always be a need for talented human beings to get to the heart of a text and rephrase it in different languages. 

To be a J-E translator means more than just reading Japanese words and writing the same meaning down in English. Words don’t just float out there in a vacuum; writing is about something, and if you’re going to be a good translator of that writing you need to understand that something well. For this reason the best translators aren’t necessarily former Japanese majors, like me: a former civil engineer may be the best choice for a text involving that field, and a former software designer may do the best job when it’s time to translate a user interface into another language. You’ve got to have three things to be good at this job: (1) an ability to read your source text, (2) an ability to write well in your target text, and (3) knowledge about whatever it is the text covers. A lot of learners of Japanese who think they might one day want to translate for a living have only (1) in mind, but (2) and (3) are easily the more important parts of this equation. 

That said, you can’t do the job without (1) as well, so by all means keep at it! I just want people to know that being a fluent communicator in two languages doesn’t make you a qualified translator. 

People who are best suited for this job are bookish types. If you love to learn new things, to read, to research, and to write, you’re on the right path. At the same time, you’ve got to have a realistic outlook. Not everyone gets to translate manga and literature; the market for industrial specifications and financial reports is far larger. I’ve written about stuff like this in the past as well

My number-one piece of advice for someone who wants perhaps to do J-E translation is to be in Japan. There’s nothing more important than this when it comes to mastering the language—or to meeting potential clients. If you’re over here, doing work of some kind (ideally, work that you enjoy), you’re already in the chute: you’re picking up linguistic knowledge you need to decipher a source text *and* you’re learning the field-specific background to a particular area of the economy. 
Harvey: When you translate what tools do you use to help you get the job done?
A computer. Email. The World Wide Web. A fax machine and a telephone. A shelf full of paper dictionaries. Depending on the job there are plenty of software packages that are helpful, or even vital, but at its heart this job is one you can do with a pen and paper. In fact that was how I did quite a bit of that Noguchi book. I translated on the train, going to and from the office each day, longhand into a notebook. Then at home I would transcribe that into the word processor. It was an excellent way to get an extra editing stage in there; I made quite a few refinements when I brought the handwritten rough draft into data form. 

There are fields where CAT, or computer-aided translation, tools like Trados or OmegaT can be a great help, so it doesn’t hurt to know about them. In the fields where I work they don’t come in particularly handy and I’ve never needed to use them. As far as software goes, I have an application called Logophile that lets me search my digital copies of Daijirin and Kōjien and Kenkyūsha’s J-E and E-J dictionaries all at once. Very handy, although you do need to obtain all the glossaries that go into it separately. But if you’re serious about this then you should be ready to spend money on serious dictionaries: Eijirō and Jim Breen’s databases just don’t cut it. 

Beyond that, use what you like. Unless there’s a job that requires use of certain software (which often means Microsoft Office stuff, and sometimes the Windows flavor only), translation can generally be done on Mac, Windows, or Linux. A good keyboard and a good, large monitor (or several) will always be the most important parts of your computer, since they’re what your hands and eyes—the two parts of your body that let your brain actually interface with the machine—use. 

Harvey: Do you have any particularly interesting translation related experiences stories you’d like to share with us? I hear you have worked on stuff with the big wigs of Japan’s political sphere?

I wouldn’t call most political speeches particularly interesting. In the past, though, our company has had the contract to accompany the prime minister overseas and do on-site translation of his press conferences, which is much more interesting as far as the work experience goes, even if the texts are similar to what always gets said. In 2004 I got to go to New York for the UN General Assembly (photos on flickr here) and Santiago, Chile, for the APEC summit (photos on flickr here). I blogged about that latter trip as well. Domestically, in 2000 and 2008 we handled the on-site translation of messages for the press information system at the G8 summits, so I also got to go to Nago, Okinawa, and Tōyako, Hokkaidō (photos of the 2008 job are here on flickr). The work itself is far from glamorous—you’re up at three in the morning, typing “bus for Chitose to cover Chinese premier arrival leaves at 07:30” or whatever into a terminal—but there’s some energy to be felt when you’re at a location like that with world leaders and the global press running around. 

Have Language Skillz, Will Travel

Oh, OK, one other “interesting job” story. I’ve done a few speeches for a Diet member: he calls me into his office, chats with me for about 30 minutes (in Japanese) on the topics he wants his speech to cover, and sends me back to my office to write them up in speech form. One day he called me up at work from the back of his limo. He sounded sort of tipsy; he may have been on his way to or from a fundraising party of some kind. He really wanted to figure out the meaning of the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” though. I spent close to 20 minutes on the phone with this guy, the lyrics up in a browser window, talking with him about what precisely is meant by “though my story’s seldom told”—the boxer’s story in particular? Stories that are like his? How much do “only workman’s wages” come to? It was quite surreal. When we were done I hung up and had no good answer for my coworkers who asked what the representative had wanted. And now that I think of it, I can’t really call it an “interesting job” story since we didn’t bill for it . . .

Harvey: “Thanks Durf that was awesome. I have learned a lot and I have a new respect for power translators! I hope our other readers found this as interesting as I did! See ya on Twitter!”

Other Stuff:

If you’re into interviews with other Japan-heads, you might also be interested in reading this interview with Michael from over on

If anyone has any questions for @Durf grab him on Twitter, or leave a comment here!

Foreigner Radio Taisou Fun

A friend of mine had the pretty rare experience of working in a company that still does the Radio Exercises (ラジオ体操) before starting work each morning.

The video says it all.

Japan is a quirky place.

I once worked in a company which still had the ラジオ体操 music play over the loud speakers each morning and after lunch, but no one actually got up and did anything.

It was weird. Could set your watch to it.


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