Working in the field of Japanese-English Translation

Various sectors are in need of competent Japanese - English translators capable of getting through and communicating the details of both languages. Prospects of the career rest on the proficiency of an individual to apply and manage the communication needs of another person for each purpose.

Table of Contents

  1. Features of Translation Job
  2. Working as a Translator in Japan
  3. Key Reminders
  4. Summary

Features of Translation Job

Translation is both an Art and Skill

Being bilingual or multilingual sounds like it should equate with being a good translator. In fact, being fluent and proficient in two or more languages is not the recipe for becoming a good translator. Some studies actually show that translation has a lot of undiscovered sides and that the definition found in the dictionary is just one side of it. 

Thus, proficiency and even fluency with languages such as Japanese and English do not necessarily mean that a person can be a good translator. It is all about the skill of the individual and perfecting the art of translation. It means understanding the speakers' language, emotions, feelings, and culture not just merely spouting words. It is about strategically, effectively and naturally conveying a message coming from a source language to an intended audience without removing the text's original meaning and idea. And of course, as should be obvious, as the original text is not your own, you cannot twist the original meaning of the work in your translations, thus requiring the delicate balance of maintaining meaning while sounding natural.

Working as a Translator in Japan

There are various translator jobs available in Japan, from amateur translators just starting out to professional translators, where companies usually hire people on an in-house contractual per-project basis or full-time. Some people opt to freelance instead. Below is the typical translator job you can find in Japan.

Categories of Japanese Translator Jobs

Verbal Interpretation

Verbal translators or interpreters translate verbal texts. They translate on site since they at times accompany their employers and interpret what their foreign clients and business partners are talking about. Interpreters have to be exceptionally good listeners, fast-thinking and quick in translating.

Commercial and Literary Document Translators

As you can guess by its name, document translators such as commercial and literary translators translate written texts from Japanese to English. Commercial translators basically translate Japanese commercial documents of companies and organizations into the English language. Some examples of these documents are advertisements, transaction receipts, and presentations, and have expanded into web content as well.

On the other hand, literary translators translate literary texts such as books, poetry, and essays. What is good when translating these documents is that you can do the job in the comfort of your own home because most companies and organizations hire freelance translators and translators working under an agency.

Types of Translator jobs in Japan

Novel translators

The job is translating foreign novels from English into Japanese and vice versa. The average salary is around 5 million yen per year, while professional and famous translators can earn tens of millions of yen per year.

Movie and TV show translators

The job is translating Japanese audio from filmed footage into English subtitles. A movie translator's average salary is around 5 to 6 million year, while famous movie translators can earn as much as 16 to 25 million yen.

There are other types of translator jobs in different fields like manga and video games translators, as well as advertising, financial, or medical and legal translation jobs.

The average recorded salary for translation work, depending on the project's length and the type of translation, is more than 8 million yen per year. However, this also depends on years worked, the level of skill and experience, etc. as well.

※ Heikinnenshu, "Translator annual income"

Qualifications and Requirements

  • Passed the Japanese Language-Proficiency Test N1 (JLPT N1)

The JLPT is an exam taken by non-Japanese speakers to evaluate their Japanese skill. The exam consists of two parts: the reading exam and the listening exam. Keep in mind that this exam is only available to take on July and December outside Japan. There are 5 levels of difficulty (N1-N5) of JLPT, with the JLPT N1 being  the most difficult. 

Keep in mind that some jobs may not require an N1 level, but in order to be an effective translator, this is the minimum you should be working towards to have the best grasp of the language. However, simply having an N1 doesn’t instantly mean immediate translation jobs as experience is also a big part.

  • Bachelor’s degree

In order to become a translator, one has a better chance if they have a degree in the language field. Examples are degrees in any language (in this case, English and Japanese) and/or a degree in linguistics.

Again, this is not required. Some people get work experience and learn the language that way. However, you need to have good mastery over both languages.

Specializations in Japanese-English Translator Jobs

Working in your specialized fields such as medicine, finance, information technology (IT), law, and literature is an advantage when translating commercial documents. The reason for this is that there are words and ideas in these fields that are foreign to other people but normal to you if you have a background in that particular field. Hence, when translating, you can easily understand and interpret the jargon and translate it into another language.

Having a specialization in a technical field also often leads to a higher salary than translation in literary works. 

Work Experience in Japan

Some people get other jobs first to start their life in Japan. A common one is teaching English, as it’s often the easiest to get a visa for when you don’t have work experience in another field. For example, there is the JET Program for those who want to gain experience before going straight into translator jobs. The JET program allows applicants to work as teachers, but it also has a position called coordinators for international affairs (CIR) that involve doing translation work for the local government and community. This program can be your stepping stone if you want to work in translator jobs in the near future. However, you already have to know a decent amount of Japanese to qualify for a CIR which is why many people first opt for the English teacher route.

Key Reminders

Gain Experience and Constantly Study

A famous saying says that, "Experience is the best teacher." Experience while working in any field not just as a translator allows you to know and learn the ins and out of the work like translating. You learn things that you are not able to learn in school. For example, in translation, you are able to learn how to translate quickly and effectively, how to communicate with other people and other more. Also your learning and studying should never ever end. Continue to actively take in the language every day, through reading, listening and speaking.

Good Communication Skill is a Must!

One must have good communication skills when working as a translator especially if you are in an interpreting job. One must know how to read the mood and body language of both speakers in order to properly deliver the thoughts and ideas of both parties. Be mindful of your tone, body language, and word choice as well as cultural cues as it could cost you your job and your employer a deal.

Specified Visa for Translators

A Japan Specialist in Humanities Visa or an International Services Visa is needed when you decide to pursue a career as a translator in Japan. It covers a wide range of professions including translators, language teachers, and business managers. It is smoother to apply for if you have a company sponsoring your visa. You would have to build up a significant portfolio in Japan in order to prove work experience in order to obtain this visa on your own.

※ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, "Working visa"


Translating a language is not easy since it is not just about being fluent and proficient in both languages. It is about understanding and considering the thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings, and culture of both speakers of the languages involved. Being a translator in Japan can land you a job onto the different types of translator jobs as a freelancer or an employee in translation agencies or firms. You can either do document translation to translate written texts like commercial and literary documents or do verbal translation or interpreting.

Before going to Japan to pursue a career in translating, make sure that you study the languages constantly, pass the JLPT N1, and acquire a Japan Specialist in Humanities Visa or an International Services Visa. Most importantly, gain some experience when working in different places and learn to have good communication skills. Make sure to keep these in mind if you plan to become a translator in Japan in the near future!

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