– Discussions with people in the Japanese media localization industry –
Please tell us about yourself!
Hi, there! I’m Kristi, a NYC resident and Japanese to English translator.
I’ve only been freelancing for about two years now, but so far I’ve translated two light novels, one short story, five TV shows, one movie… and I plan to translate much more!
I’m also passionate about editing and hope to make translating/editing a full-time (in-house) career someday.
I’m a fan of greyhounds, old JRPGs for the PS2, and the large stack of manga and Yukio Mishima books sitting in my office. It’s lovely to meet you!
How did you get into translation?
Before there was translating, there was a ton of studying. But why did I start studying Japanese in the first place? I bet you’re thinking, “It’s because you thought anime and manga were cool, right?” However, my story is actually a bit more… random than that.
I was 18 years old with nothing to do, so two of my best friends and I went to Border’s (the now extinct bookstore, RIP) to kill time. I had wandered off to the foreign language section, perused the language books, and then opened a Japanese phrasebook on a whim.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt mesmerized as soon as I looked inside. Everything about the language—the grammar and kanji (Chinese characters)—was new and fascinating to me. Learning Japanese seemed like a challenge, but that $8 phrasebook somehow inspired me to rise to that challenge… and even dared me to master it.
“I’m going to be fluent in Japanese someday.”
That’s what I actually said to my friends that day. I’m pretty sure they just laughed it off (who wouldn’t?). But now, eight years later, I can say I’ve been studying ever since.
Fast forward to 2015, when I came back to the US after living in Japan for two years. By that time I’d already passed the JLPT (Japanese Language Placement Test) N2, found a job at a Japanese company, and had been studying night and day for the notorious N1.
I was elated that I’d passed the N1 on the first try (thanks to a year’s worth of studying), but I also felt stuck. I wanted to be a translator, I knew that. But I had no connections to the industry and didn’t know where to begin.
That’s when I’d heard about a seminar called “Manga in America: How English Editions are Born.” To make a long story short, professionals gave a behind-the-scenes look at how manga is translated and edited—and it was awesome. Seeing that finally motivated me to dive into translating.
It took a few months of emailing various publishers, but I eventually passed Vertical’s test and the rest is history from there!
It’s crazy to think that so little time has passed, yet I’ve been so fortunate to work on some fantastic titles. It’s honestly been amazing journey so far.
I know you also edit, how has editing other people’s translations shaped your own work?
Editing business reports and students’ essays has helped me “tighten” my own writing. It’s shown me which errors are most common and how to avoid them.
Most of the English texts I’ve edited were originally written by non-native speakers—a large portion of them being Japanese. It’s always interesting to see how cultural ideas about certain words affect one’s writing. Editing English works written by Japanese students has also taught me how different phrases are commonly perceived.
I won’t give away too much information, but I may write about that on my blog someday. :o
What did you wish you’d done differently before becoming a translator and editor?
If I were trying to make it as a translator all over again, I would make sure to keep reading in English.
It might sound obvious, but writing in your first language is like any other skill: if you stop writing completely, you are going to get rusty. Understanding the nuances of Japanese is important, but so is the ability to eloquently translate into one’s target language.
I don’t have too many problems with grammar specifically (I think), but I’ve enrolled myself in UCSD’s copy editing certification program to make sure my editing skills are top notch. I’m also thinking of signing up for a creative writing course online. (If you have any you would recommend, please contact me!)
While we’re on the topic of education, I also wished I’d have gone to a school that specializes in the Japanese language.
Although I aced all of my intermediate Japanese classes in the US, I could barely understand basic sentences when I got to Japan. I was pretty shocked. I had no idea just how limiting my previous education had been, and I ended up paying for it by playing years of language “catch up.”
Anyone who’s serious about studying Japanese might want to look for a program that focuses on listening or speaking—I guarantee that it will help in the long run.
What’s been the biggest challenge becoming a translator and editor?
One of my biggest challenges was to stop comparing myself to others.
Sometimes I would see incredible translators, who have long, impressive portfolios, and feel like I’m not doing enough.
This seems to be normal in the word of translators: everyone feels self-conscious or doubts their abilities, especially at the beginning of a budding career. I’ve been translating for two years now and don’t get these “feelings of inferiority” anymore.
What helped me was to take a step back, reflect on how far I’ve come, and simply know that I’d never let self-doubt prevent me from pursuing my dreams.
Another challenge for me was overthinking.
“Did I translate that phrase right?” “Does this sentence capture the nuance of the original?”
Those questions wouldn’t leave me alone. Like the feelings of inferiority, this was really just a matter of feeling confident about my writing skills.
Let’s get a little corny: it wasn’t about ability, but believing I was good enough. Okay, sorry. Got that out of my system. But it definitely had to do with my confidence.
Reading books on translation, like The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation (thank you for the suggestion, Jennifer!), has also boosted my confidence. Not sure if “practice makes perfect,” but I don’t think practice can hurt!
What are the differences between translating novels and translating movies/dramas?
Translating and subtitling are two completely different activities in my head.
When I’m translating a novel, my first priority is to preserve the author’s voice, style, and tone; I need to choose words that will make the audience react in the same way that the original text would.
My latest light novel translation, 5 Centimeters per Second: one more side, is dark, poetic, and emotional. So my main mission was to capture and express the author’s style as best as I could.
Now, novel translators are always trying to lower the word count, but this becomes an even bigger deal when subtitling.
Subtitles flash on the screen for mere seconds, so the words that appear must be short and impactful. Creating dialogue for movies and shows is extremely creative (and fun!).
In fact, I might be translating dialogue for anime/video games in the near future and I am uber excited!
What have you been most proud of?
On February 26, I spoke at my very first panel!
It was at Vertical’s launch event for my translation of 5 Centimeters per Second: one more side.
It was surreal speaking at Kinokuniya NYC when I had just gone there to watch Kanae Minato’s panel a few months back. I remember sitting there, wishing I could be in her shoes, and a few months later I actually was! I was incredibly nervous beforehand, but the event went really well.
Having 5CMS fans come up to me, telling me that I inspire them, felt wonderful. I truly appreciate Vertical and Kinokuniya NYC for the opportunity, and I’m grateful to all the people who came out to support me.
I hope I have the opportunity to speak at more launches soon!
What do you think people don’t know about translation that you wish would?
I used to think that freelancing meant that I was part of a dog eat dog world, where translators brag about their work and keep clients all to themselves; but that’s not the case at all.
Every translator I’ve ever talked to has been more than happy to meet fellow translators and offer advice. It’s important to make real connections and friends in the community more than to “network.” (Sometimes synonymous with “just being nice to someone to get work.” Yuck.)
Reaching out is a big part of freelancing. There are so many lovely people in this field. Go to conventions and meet them!
Speaking of which, I just got approved to attend Anime Expo 2019 as an industry professional. I hope to see you all at the convention this year!
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
My ultimate goal is to edit or translate on video games, specifically JRPGs. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy, Digital Devil Saga, and Xenosaga series.
I would also love to translate anime… and honestly any other medium I haven’t gotten to yet!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Advice/studying techniques for aspiring translators:
My advice? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
I used to feel awkward reaching out to translators or editors, but it’s the only way to make genuine connections and hear about new opportunities.
If you fail a translation test, ask for feedback so you know how to improve. Criticism can be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s one of the only things that’ll really help you grow.
Oh, here’s a studying technique (kind of)!
When I practice translating, I try to come up with three to five translations for common Japanese phrases so I don’t render them the way every time. For example, “shikata ga nai” literally means “it can’t be helped,” but there are a lot of situations where this translation is deemed “novice” or “unacceptable.” Depending on the context, this expression can be translated in many, many different ways ( “it is what it is” or “that’s life” just being two of them).
Discovering these different ways can be quite challenging but fun! I’d love to hear feedback from anyone who gives this method a try!
Tips on learning Japanese:
For speaking: Textbooks are fine and dandy, but they certainly have their limits.
I would suggest watching Japanese movies or dramas with the subtitles on. It’s true that you might not use every word you hear on TV, but I can guarantee that your listening skills will skyrocket.
There are cheap courses online that can also help you with speaking!
You can also speak Japanese with your friends… but don’t use them as your constant language teacher. If friends teach you a little Japanese, always thank them and ask what you could do for them in return.
For reading: Reading a manga in Japanese with its official translation can do wonders (if you’ve got a great translation on your hands)! Try translating a manga you like and then comparing it to the official English translation.
This strategy may be difficult for beginners, but it’s a super fun way to learn more about the Japanese language and culture. Let me know if you give it a try!
Check Kristi Out Here!
I’m actually back on the market and have been applying to full-time light novel/manga editing positions. I’m also looking for new translation opportunities, so feel free to email me with inquiries if you feel so inclined ^^
If you have questions or comments about this interview, feel free to contact me on Twitter!
My website is still a wee baby for now, but you can see my portfolio on there if you’d like to check it out. I plan to fill my website with posts about translating, editing, and video games, so stay tuned ^^