Advice for aspiring J-E translators

I recently got an email from a woman doing postgraduate studies at a Japanese university. She was seeking advice about getting started as a translator after graduating next year. Some of the advice I gave her will be useful to other aspiring translators, especially those living in Japan, so I've excerpted and edited them here.

If you're living in Japan, I imagine it'll be easier for you to get started than it was for me, starting from Ohio. There's lots of work here in Japan — someone once told me that there are over 1,000 translation agencies in Tokyo alone.

Getting a job as an in-house translator at a translation agency or large company could be a good way to get experience. I'm not much of the corporate type, but working in a company does teach you a lot. If you have an area you want to specialize in, it might be a good idea to work in-house at a company in the field. For example, I recently saw an advertisement for an entry-level position at a securities firm in Tokyo.

I work mostly for agencies, and it's pretty easy to get work from them. Just send them your resume, take a short trial if they've got one, and if they like you they'll start sending you work. If you have sample translations, that'll probably help. Then over time, as you build a reputation, work will start coming to you. For several years, my new clients have all come by word-of-mouth introductions.

The Japan Association of Translators (JAT) has monthly meetings in Tokyo. They're a great way to meet other translators, network, and get tips on starting out. The November meeting is about taxation, so is probably of more interest to established translators, but it could still be useful for you to attend, and meet some working translators. It'll also be followed by a nijikai, which is a great way to network.

In December, JAT will have a Christmas party, and if you're in Japan at that time, I'd definitely recommend attending. There's also joining JAT itself, which costs money (10,000 yen/year), but is a good way to start networking with other translators.

In April, the annual IJET conference will be held in Okinawa, and while that may be a budget stretcher, there will be a lot of useful information for starting translators there as well. When I first decided to make a go of translating as a career, I put together the money to attend an IJET, and found it very useful for everything from translation techniques, to advice about getting clients, to setting rates and invoicing. If you're a member of JAT, you get a significant discount on IJET as well.

JAT also has a translation contest for new and aspiring translators. In addition to great prizes (free JAT membership and free trip to IJET), it's a fantastic way to get exposure as a translator.

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