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What Is It Like to Work as a Translator at a Japanese Company?

If you’re learning Japanese, odds are you have considered working in translation. After all, there were 45 Japanese companies on the Forbes Fortune 500 list as of 2022, and many of them–and their suppliers, clients, and other stakeholders–need bilingual employees!

So what’s it like working at a Japanese company as a translator? I’ll share with you my experience and also how it compared to the translation work I did as a CIR on JET.

Why Japanese Companies Abroad Need Translators

For about a year, I worked at a Japanese manufacturer in the US. While my formal job title was “bilingual executive assistant,” I did mostly translation and interpretation work.

Many Japanese companies shuffle employees around to different roles and departments every few years, and many Japanese companies abroad follow this same custom. For this reason, if you work at a Japanese company abroad, you may work with Japanese staff who are abroad for a finite number of years. They might have limited English skills or knowledge about local culture, and translators at Japanese companies abroad also often help orientate and advise foreign staff with cultural matters. This is why translators are so important!

Studying is an Important Part of Translation

Of course, even within a Japanese company, there might be multiple types of translators. At the company I worked at, there were a few different categories. Some were hired for a specific role (for example, sales), and because they were bilingual, they could help with some translation and interpretation tasks within their specialization. Others were generalists. This was my case. I was the executive assistant to the president of the company, so I translated across almost all departments, from Japanese to English and English to Japanese.

This was not easy. My background was in social sciences, so I was most familiar with HR topics. However, other departments required a broad knowledge of engineering, chemistry, physics, business, and accounting vocabulary that I was unfamiliar with even in English! No matter how good your Japanese is, unless you already have a specific specialization, you will need to be adaptable and learn a lot on the job as a translator.

To study up, I had much better luck finding translations for terms and phrases on Japanese websites and in Japanese resources than in English ones. For example, if you are working for a company related to Toyota, I recommend this book to learn the lingo!

Translating at a Company Versus as a CIR on JET

Doing translation work as part of my role in a Japanese company in the US was very different from the translation work I did as a CIR on JET. This was for a number of reasons.

First, I was working in fields like international relations, communications, education, and tourism as a CIR. These were fields I had exposure to and prior understanding of (although I did have to often study!). Secondly, most of my translation work was conversational exchanges, rather than formal meetings, which was much of my work in the Japanese company. This made the CIR position feel much more relaxed, although occasionally there was high pressure, like when I had to interpret for ambassador visits! Finally, as a CIR, I wasn’t involved in many meetings with high-ranking employees or clients, but I did interpret many VIP meetings for the company. Therefore, confidentiality was key for the company, but not much of a concern as a CIR.

Final Thoughts

Have you ever worked as a translator for a Japanese company? We’d love to know how your experiences compare, so feel free to leave us a comment!

And if you are interested in becoming a translator, good luck with your next steps!

Kelsey is an American writer, translator, and educator. Japan feels like her second home, and she loves exploring new countries and learning the local languages while she’s at it. Apart from English and Japanese, she is also conversant in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, and Bengali. She’s an avid lover of dance, dogs, and tea.