– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
Hello! I’m Kevin Ishizaka, a freelance Japanese-to-English translator based in Tokyo. I come from Washington, USA and have been in Japan for about six years now.
I began translating part-time a few years ago but have only been full-time since late 2020, so I still have much to learn!
How did you get into localization?
Back when I was doing my undergrad in Japanese Language, I was super into this trading card game called Force of Will. The small company that made the game had to let their their English translator go due to an incident and they needed someone who knew passable Japanese and, more importantly, all the relevant game terminology. I took my shot and passed their test, and that became my first taste of localization!
I later branched out and got into game and light novel translation. Light novel translation in particular has been really fun as I’ve always been more of a reader than a gamer!
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you in your career?
As weird as it is to say, I really wished I’d practiced English writing more while I was studying Japanese. The type of writing taught in high school and college isn’t the kind of writing people like to read, plus there’s sooo many translation-specific writing knacks that need to be learned through trial and error. I’m pretty sure I failed half my translation tests early on because of poor syntax and awkward writing. I’d even go out on a limb and say English proficiency is twice as important as Japanese proficiency for a translator.
– Your Loc Work –
What do you enjoy working on most?
Light novels and music lyrics are probably my favorite things to work on.
I’ve dabbled in games and manga, but it takes practice to write good text in limited spaces—plus you have to do that funny dance with lines split between text boxes, and I really don’t like that.
With light novels, you can mend sentence structure to model English more, add explanations, cut excess repetition, w/e as you see fit; and music lyrics tend to be pretty open to interpretation from the get-go, meaning they’re incredibly malleable translation-wise.
What have you been most proud of?
From recent memory, I really liked my work on Haunted Bookstore Vol.2 (which came out 2/24/2022). The text lends itself to expressive writing, and it involved a lot of research. I think I did pretty okay on both ends there.
It’s got Ayakashi (youkai and the like), history, mystery, romance, and somehow wraps that all around its main theme of literature without feeling congested in the slightest.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
I spent a good hour or so on a haiku once for flavor text in a trading card game, but the spacing got altered after I proofed the final check, ruining the 5-7-5 syllable line spacing… That devastated me.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
I’d like to try game work outside of visual novels and mobile games. Just to try and test the waters a bit. My ideal would be a story-focused indie game I could communicate with the developer on!
– Study and Inspiration –
What tools/resources do you use (or have used) to learn new things and improve your skills?
I read a lot of manga, light novels, and books; both in English and Japanese. It’s mainly for personal enjoyment, but when reading translated works you also get to see what translations work and what translations don’t work, so that’s a big plus.
I also referred to the “Books for Translators” section of Jenn’s website (the one you’re on now!) when I was getting my start.
Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You by Jay Rubin was also utterly eye-opening. Everything in the book is pure gold. I don’t think I’ve sped through a non-fiction book that fast before, ever.
This five minute video called “The Hidden Rules of Conversation” by youtuber Tom Scott has proved surprisingly helpful in improving my translation quality. It doesn’t have anything directly to do with translation itself but is about the broader, less-apparent rules of languages. Realizing those rules are different between languages itself has kind of tightened up my translation and made it more fluid (or so I’d hope!).
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
I respect Meru (@merumeruchann) a lot! I feel she’s something of a community leader for localizers, holding localizer meetups and such before Covid hit. A lot of the connections I have now wouldn’t have been possible without her. She also offers great pointed advice and gave me one of my first projects!
– The Industry in General –
What do you think people don’t know about localization that you wish would?
I wish people understood that localizers can’t satisfy everyone! Some translations will be the bee’s knees for some while simultaneously being disappointing or unfaithful for others. It’s sad to say, but everyone has their opinions and preferences, and we can’t match them all!
Catch me on Twitter @translating_cat
And on my portfolio/website: https://tsubasacat-translations.com/