– Discussions with people in the Japanese media localization industry –
Why don’t you tell us about yourself?
So, my name is Daniel and I’m a Japanese to English translator and game localizer, hailing from North London in the UK. I currently live in lovely little Kyoto, where I’ve been for the last four years or so.
I’ve only been translating professionally for about two years now, so I’m still quite new to the game.
I’m an avid gamer and bookworm and I studied English Literature and English Language Teaching at university. I started studying Japanese in my mid-twenties and picked it up through self-study and immersion (reading books, playing games, watching TV and interacting with people). Of course, I still have a lot to learn, but I love making new discoveries every day.
How did you get into video game localization?
I’d started learning Japanese purely for the selfish purpose of enjoying media we’d be very unlikely to get in the West. As my Japanese got better though, I started to wonder if I could put it to good use; and help bring some of Japan’s great games back home.
The more and more I read about localization, the more I realized that it would be a great place for me to contribute in some way to the game industry. I started practicing translation in private. I fell in love with it but had no clue where to go from there.
After reading and commenting on a Japanese article about localization on Twitter; my tweet was picked up by an industry veteran who very kindly took time out to ask about my aspirations and to set me on the right path. Following that, I fired off some applications and (supposedly) didn’t do a terrible job on some trials and started getting some work through. And things just built up from there.
I still can’t believe sometimes how it all just came together, and the kind of stuff I get to work on now. I’m incredibly lucky. I really was just in the right place, and right frame of mind, at the right time.
You’ve been doing a full-time job while establishing yourself as a translator: How has this experience been for you?
Ah, I didn’t mention earlier that I also work as an English teacher here in Japan. When I first started out with translation I was also working full-time, but I dropped down to part-time hours last year as more translation work started coming in. My weeks now are usually split between the two.
Although I’m in the process of phasing out the teaching completely, the one thing that I like most about it is the social element. Freelancing can be pretty lonely. Even when you’re collaborating with others on projects, it is predominantly just you and your computer, for long stretches of time. Getting away from the screen and interacting with people is great for a reboot before the next translation session.
Financial security was another advantage. Getting a guaranteed paycheck every month makes it easier to plan for the short and long-term future. Now though, the day job occasionally gets in the way of taking on more projects, which would actually be more lucrative. There are only so many hours in a day after all.
Which brings us to an obvious disadvantage: time.
How do you juggle freelance, work and family?
Joking aside, since I became a dad last year; juggling the day job, freelance work and family life has definitely become a considerable challenge. Creating a fixed schedule for freelance work and making certain compromises have helped to keep things manageable.
On days where I teach; I usually translate in the mornings before work or in the evening after I get home depending on the shift (and sometimes both). And of course try to squeeze family time into the gaps.
For the other half of the week I try to structure my freelance work around my wife and son’s schedule. Especially since I want to spend quality time with my son and also need to help my wife with various things. This usually means splitting my freelance work for the day into three sessions; a long early morning one, a short afternoon one and then a long evening session. (After dinner, my son’s bath and him going to bed).
As for the compromises; all of my reading and gaming have been relegated to late night sessions in bed before I fall asleep. I’m usually pretty tired by then though, so that means maybe getting in a half hour or so each day.
Of course, I don’t have freelance work to do all the time. During the occasional off period I set aside time to catch up on studying, reading and playing things. Some weeks are better balanced than others, but it seems to be working well for me so far.
What do you wish you had done different when starting out?
After moving to Japan, really digging in and learning Japanese became such a huge focus that I started neglecting reading in English. This was a huge mistake.
It’s equally important to keep exposing yourself to texts in your first language. Especially if you want to encounter fragments of language and turns of expression that’ll serve you well when it’s time to get writing.
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
When starting out, especially if you’re starting out as a freelancer, it can be quite hard to get your foot in the door when no-one knows you and you have no professional portfolio to speak of. Of course, passing translation trials is what’s going to get work coming your way… But getting the chance to even take the trial can be difficult.
I think a lot of people gun for qualifications that they can throw down on their resume. (I sure did). But it seems that not all companies are interested in them. (And besides, passing the top levels of the JLPT doesn’t guarantee translation proficiency, but that’s a discussion for another day).
Building up a portfolio or body of writing that you can point companies to. Or having some examples of skills and expertise that will be valuable to the company may very well be the difference that gets you a trial.
Something else I wrestled with in the beginning, and that still occasionally plagues me even now, is dealing with imposter syndrome.
I think it’s important to remain humble and open to feedback as you grow as a translator. But for some people it’s very easy to fall into a crippling spiral of self-doubt.
It seems I’m not alone though on this one, and there’s been a lot of talk recently amongst fellow translators about this subject and how to overcome it. Keeping track of your small wins and continually pushing forwards, with the view to improve, will get you through the tough times.
What have you been most proud of?
I’ve surprised myself a few times with some absolutely pun-tastic bangers on the monster naming front in a particular series where it’s a major part of the fun atmosphere of the game.
Whenever I see them, reflecting on the train of thought that got me there always makes me smile. It’s usually a collaborative effort involving a lot of discussion and bouncing ideas off of your team. It’s a great feeling when you get a giggle and the all-clear from your colleagues.
I got really nervous when they first made it out into the wild. It was like watching your kids leaving home and heading out into the big bad world. They seem to have been well received by the community though, so I guess I did alright. The little work I’ve done on that series has been some of the most fun I’ve had so far working on games.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
A large part of localization is getting Japanese games into the European market. And usually FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) translators will use the English translation of a Japanese game, with translation notes to make that happen. Things like contextual notes, explanations of cultural and historical references, breakdowns of puns, can make a huge difference in how the final product turns out.
A lot of the translation work I did in the early days was translating internal information for FIGS teams.
This stuff obviously never sees the light of day but is essential for creating accurate translations. Some of the stuff sometimes takes a ton of research to dig up and can be very time consuming.
It’s all for the greater good though, and I usually learn a lot in the process too, so it’s a win-win even though consumers may have no idea just how much work goes into it.
Otherwise, can I count translating game manuals in here too? As much as I enjoy working on them, I feel like a lot of people don’t have the patience to read through manuals these days. I’m pretty sure any work I’ve done there has gone largely unnoticed.
If you could do anything what would you love to do?
I can’t go into specifics, as I don’t want to land anyone in hot water; but I was actually lined up to work on my dream project last year, for a series that I love very dearly.
I passed the trial, got the thumbs up from the project manager and was drafted on to the team. The next step was just waiting for them to secure the bid, which they won! But, by some cruel twist of fate, the project was swiped by the American branch of the company, meaning that I couldn’t work on it at all in the end.
Perhaps I’ll have a chance to work on another entry in the series in the future. Only time will tell, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that one!
Otherwise, I’d also love to do some novel translation in the future. In particular, I’d love to translate some of Yutaka Kouno’s work. He has a tremendous flair for creating really fleshed out characters that you can’t help but care about and then plopping them in fascinating settings and scenarios. Nailing the character voices would be an exciting challenge.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
A lot of my initial translation practice came from translating some Haruki Murakami and checking them against Jay Rubin’s translations.
His work is pretty much the reason I grew to love Murakami as a teenager. It’s also why I became interested in Japanese novels enough to want to learn the language. I had the pleasure of meeting him and attending a seminar he held in Kyoto a couple of years back, and his wisdom helped form the foundation of my translation skills and technique.
As for inspiration on the games front, I think it’s really hard to talk about high caliber game localization and role models without a nod in the direction of Alexander O. Smith. His work on Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII in particular have stuck with me from childhood. I hope that I can someday put out something even half as momentous.
Check Out Daniel Here!
You can find me as @Clidante_D on Twitter.
I tend to share Japanese novel and gaming news there and interesting articles regarding translation and (occasionally) language acquisition.
I’ve also just finished putting together a small personal site tentekisenseki.net that I’ll be using to recommend Japanese books, games, manga and dramas for people looking for some Japanese media to enjoy.
I have a few posts in the works, but there’s currently nothing on there (maybe this public declaration will push me to wrap them up quicker). Will have some posts on there from February though. So feel free to swing by then and check it out if it sounds like your cup of tea.