The Kyoto Linguist

Musings of a translator and travel writer enjoying life and business in the Land of the Rising Sun

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Vixens of Vengeance

Have you ever felt frustrated because of some completely ridiculous or unwarranted feedback from an editor/coordinator/creative director/whatever? This is bound to happen at least every once in a while in any creative profession, be it writing, visual design, acting, music, etc. These experiences can be incredibly frustrating, but sometimes, we can also find great humor in them. I would like to share one of the latter with you.

Early in my translation career when I was still working on localization for Japanese video games, I was involved in a freemium mobile game, what they call a “trading card game” in Japanese (usually “collectible card game” in English). It basically involves the player collecting cards, each of which has a character on it, with which the player can form a party to go on quests and other adventures where the gameplay is not all that different from a Vegas slot...

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Rejection’s Bright Side

In my 13 years as a freelance translator, I’ve been selected to work for more projects/customers/clients than I can remember. On the flipside, I have also had my fair share of rejection. Rejection can feel, well, rejecting, but it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be very good.

The most poignant reminder of that came to me last spring. This was in the midst of Japan’s first emergency declared in the COVID-19 pandemic. After focusing solely on translation for more than a decade, I have been periodically exploring opportunities in other lines of work, not so much for the money, but for the opportunity to do something new, different, and interesting. One of these potential avenues was related to travel writing, which I have been particularly active in pursuing for the past few years. The project I was bidding to join would involve writing content for signs displayed at sightseeing...

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Crafting Natural English from Japanese - Episode 12

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Welcome back to our series on creative J>E translation, where we translate the idea behind Japanese words, not merely the words themselves. If you’d like to go back to the first episode, click here. For the full episode list, click here.

Today we have two closely related words: 地方 and 地域. But first:

A Note Before Continuing
The examples below come from actual projects that I have worked on for my customers, although I have modified the text to some degree in order to maintain confidentiality. Also, keep in mind that when it comes to translation, especially creative translation, there is usually more than one right answer. You may have different ideas for how to render these examples into English that could be just as valid or even better than mine. Much like writing, I’ve always thought of translation as an art, not a science. Of course, it also helps to have a good editor, so I’ve...

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Less Burnout, Please

It’s a new year. Sayonara to 2020! Hopefully 2021 is much better, and not only in terms of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seriously, fuck the coronavirus.

That statement and the brilliant mockumentary “Death to 2020” pretty much express how I feel about last year.

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“Goodbye and good riddance to 2020!”

But to address the topic of this initial post of 2021, I have to first take a quick look back at 2020. (Cue Samuel L. Jackson asking with perplexity, “Why in the fuck would you wanna do that?”)

Okay, no more F-bombs. Got ‘em out of my system.

Anyway…as the potential for the novel coronavirus to wreak havoc on the global economy became more apparent, uncertainty and looming disaster defined the spring. The Japanese companies and organizations that pay for the kinds of translations I do, especially in tourism and promoting the Olympics, slashed their budgets. However, as in...

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My First Translation Assignment

I want to announce that I am very happy for a young colleague who recently received his first freelance translation assignment. Congratulations!

This news got me thinking about how different it must be now to enter this profession. I got started about 13 years ago, in December of 2007. I was in my fifth year of living in Japan and teaching English as a second language. I had enjoyed my time in the classroom, but I was looking for something better, and I found it in translation. It didn’t take long for me to double and then triple my income, all from the comfort of my home while doing something I enjoy.

However, I’m sure the market dynamics have changed in the time since. Thanks to the popularity of cultural exports like anime, manga, J-pop, and of course video games, more people from the English-speaking world are learning Japanese. I am doubtful, though, that there are many who are...

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Crafting Natural English from Japanese - Episode 11

Welcome back to our series on creative J>E translation, where we translate the idea behind Japanese words, not merely the words themselves. If you’d like to go back to the first episode, click here. For the full episode list, click here.

Today our word is 世界観. But first:

A Note Before Continuing
The examples below come from actual projects that I have worked on for my customers, although I have modified the text to some degree in order to maintain confidentiality. Also, keep in mind that when it comes to translation, especially creative translation, there is usually more than one right answer. You may have different ideas for how to render these examples into English that could be just as valid or even better than mine. Much like writing, I’ve always thought of translation as an art, not a science. Of course, it also helps to have a good editor, so I’ve only selected examples from...

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My Agency Horror Stories

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Caption: Don’t let a terrible translation agency ruin your life. Take advantage of the freedom in freelancing and escape!

As promised in my last article, this time I’m going to share my worst run-ins with translation agencies. While these episodes were infuriating for me in one way or another, I’ve heard of much, much worse experiences from my colleagues, especially those who work for agencies outside of Japan, which I generally stay away from. The best thing to do is to avoid working for such crummy outsourcers in the first place. My previous post provided a few pointers on that.

So let’s get right to it!

Agency 1
This isn’t actually a horror story, but I want to share it here. It’s more an example of a super cheap agency. This company offered me my first foray in freelance translation. They were the London branch of a translation agency headquartered in China. The rate was cheap...

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What Good Does a Good Agency Do?

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Caption: “So in the translation, you want me to accurately reproduce the formatting, including all the tables, from this nearly illegible scan of a fax of the source document? And you want it done overnight? And you want a discount? And top-notch quality? And you say we can work out how I’ll get paid sometime after I submit the translation? Hmm… Is this what a good agency does?”

The vast majority of my translation work comes through agencies, and this is the way I prefer it. Let me tell you why.

Early on in my translation career, as I was networking with other fellow newcomers to the profession, I met many who were very eager to find direct clients. Their idea was that they could get more money than what they were earning from agencies. In their eyes, agencies were little more than useless middlemen just taking a slice of the pie without making any sort of positive contribution. It...

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Crazy Idea: Go Freelance in a Recession?!

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The last few months have sent me on a roller coaster ride like none other I have experienced during my nearly 13 years as a freelance translator. But this is not the first shock to my trade that I have been through. The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the April 2014 hike in Japan’s consumption tax from 5% to 8% both hit my business hard, as I was operating at about 50% of capacity for two months, but things soon returned to normal.

This time has been different. From mid-April (around the time I posted my last article) through mid-June, I was receiving orders worth about 30% to 40% my normal turnover. That was not fun.

So do I have a solution for finding translation work in these hard economic times? Not really. I considered and tried out all sorts of ideas. I even thought about abandoning the freelance lifestyle I so cherish by exploring my potential for becoming a digital...

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Crafting Natural English from Japanese - Episode 10

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Welcome back to our series on creative J>E translation, where we translate the idea behind Japanese words, not merely the words themselves. If you’d like to go back to the first episode, click here. For the full episode list, click here.

Today our word is チャレンジ. But first:

A Note Before Continuing
The examples below come from actual projects that I have worked on for my customers, although I have modified the text to some degree in order to maintain confidentiality. Also, keep in mind that when it comes to translation, especially creative translation, there is usually more than one right answer. You may have different ideas for how to render these examples into English that could be just as valid or even better than mine. Much like writing, I’ve always thought of translation as an art, not a science. Of course, it also helps to have a good editor, so I’ve only selected examples from...

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