– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Tell us about yourself!
I’m Liz Bushouse, a freelance Japanese to English video game translator. I started translating professionally in 2016 when I was 26, so I’ve been at it for about three years now.
I’ve worked with Lapin Inc., Aksys, Lionbridge, KINSHA, and most recently XSeed. The games I’ve worked on that have been released include Bad Apple Wars, 7’sCarlet, and Death Mark, with more on the way.
How did you get into localization?
I got into games and anime a lot as a kid and I eventually became interested in learning Japanese. Especially after I came to the realization that we always got things much later than Japan due to the time it takes to translate. So I thought I’d pick up Japanese so I could consume the media directly without having to wait.
I studied Japanese a bit on my own in high school, memorizing song lyrics and trying to learn basic grammar through the internet. But I didn’t start formally studying it until I got to college, where I eventually decided to major in it since I was enjoying my classes so much.
With Japanese as my new focus, it seemed only two careers were open to me: teaching or translating. I had no desire to get up in front of a class, so I vaguely decided I’d be a translator and hoped to pair that ambition with my love of Japanese media.
What led you to video game translation?
I applied to a bunch of different translation jobs of various fields after graduating. Basically anything I could find. But with only four years of Japanese, no other experience, and no connections, I wasn’t getting anywhere.
I decided I needed to brush up on my language skills and that I definitely wanted to narrow down my field to creative translation; preferably video games since that’s always where my passion has been.
So I went and got my Master’s in Japanese at UMass Amherst (more on that later), and applied to an intensive year-long study abroad at IUC in Yokohama. That’s where I finally got the language skill I felt I needed to operate professionally.
And it just so happened that one of the teachers there knew the head of a translation company who was looking for game translators. So I applied and managed to get registered with Lapin Inc. as a freelancer and started translating mobile otome games for them.
IUC is also where I met Stephen Meyerink, who later helped me get my first job with Aksys. Everything’s slowly snowballed after that.
How was your experience pursuing a Master’s degree in Japanese?
I initially decided to go to graduate school to improve my Japanese skills, while also getting some translation courses on the side.
Unfortunately, there weren’t as many Japanese classes at the University of Massachusetts as I’d hoped. So my language ability didn’t improve as much as I’d wanted… But in exchange I was able to take a lot of other helpful courses including an introduction to classical Japanese and some translation theory courses.
My thesis was focused on video game translation as well. This allowed me to learn absolutely everything I could about the process without ever actually having done it.
The resources I had access to at UMass were invaluable, and the translation theory courses really opened my eyes to what all goes into the process of translation.
We read up on the history of translation; how scholars have classified different translation strategies over the years; ethics in translation and interpretation; talked about what it means to be bilingual; and discussed short translation assignments with classmates.
There was also a course focused specifically on Japanese to English (and vice versa) translation, using The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation by Yoko Hasegawa, which was very practical.
Being a graduate student also allowed me to apply to the program at IUC, which is what really did wonders for my Japanese.
So all in all, I think it was definitely worth it. You don’t need a Master’s degree to get into translation work, but it could provide you with the opportunity to get a better grasp of the skills you’ll need professionally.
What did you wish you knew before becoming an established translator?
Before getting a job, I might have tried to push myself to take creative writing courses in college. Especially now that I known what my current career entails.
I’ve always kind of put that off though, since the thought of showing my creative work to others is a little nerve wracking. I think my writing’s improved as I’ve gone along, at least. And reading books in general helps a bit with this as well.
Consume Japanese Media
I also might have pushed myself more in college or grad school to read/consume more media in Japanese. Just to help speed up the language learning process a little more.
Seeing words and grammar used in context makes them a lot easier to remember than just memorizing their standard translations.
(Though as other translators have noted, it’s good to consume a balance of both English and Japanese media, to make sure your English writing skills aren’t falling by the wayside either.)
Is there anything you’d have done differently when you started working as a freelance translator?
More Translators Comments
For things I would’ve done differently at the beginning of my career, I wish I had made more comments as I translated.
I was told to do this for translation tests and such, and others had told me it was a good idea to do in general, but I always got so focused on translating that I never did it.
It’s really helpful to do especially when you run into a line you’re not 100% sure about. You can say what’s tripping you up and what your best guess is. That sort of thing helps the editor try to puzzle it out too.
It’s also good to just generally note your reasoning for more complex lines to help editors get a better feel for it. Or if you just can’t think of a good turn of phrase at the time. Then you can note the general vibe of the line to help the editor come up with something better.
You can also leave reference or video links if you needed to look up anything to help lend context to the line.
I would also want to go back and rearrange my schedule so that I had weekends completely off.
When I started out, I thought it would be easier to spread the work out more such that I didn’t have to do as much in a given day. But I eventually realized that having to work every day of the week, no matter how small the amount, was kind of draining.
I felt much better when I started giving myself one whole day or the whole weekend off.
What’s been the biggest challenge establishing yourself as a translator?
It honestly seems like I’ve lucked in to all the jobs I’ve gotten.
Connecting with people is definitely the best way to get your name out there, but I’m always too shy to reach out. And sending resumes or applications to random companies is always a huge shot in the dark.
Thankfully, recommendations from my friend Stephen have really helped to get my foot in the door. I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise. I just hope I can also pay it forward to other hopeful translators or editors someday.
My advice to others is often to have more translation/writing samples to send to companies. Though I myself even struggle to do this, not knowing what’s viable under NDAs and also feeling like my editors are really the ones making the text shine.
But agencies do sometimes ask for a sample in addition to having you take a test, so having something ready from school or a hobby project would be good. Preferably within the same medium, but not necessarily.
I’ve used translations I did in grad school of a handful of Japanese folktales, for example.
I’ve been wanting to do more with my website too to help get my name out there a little more.
I did a little write up on the first Kingdom Hearts game with this intention. But since then work has heated up a lot and I haven’t had time to make it into a series.
Once things cool down it’d be nice to go back to that. Or even branch out to other series and possibly get a better website to post it all on.
What do you enjoy working on most?
I do enjoy writing dialogue a lot, even though I’m still not entirely confident about my ability to write good, distinct character voice. In any case, dialogue usually goes the quickest, which is great.
I also like writing descriptions/flavor text on occasion because there’s sometimes an opportunity to spice it up with humor/snark. There’s just something satisfying about a well-written, fun blurb.
Coming up with unique world-building terms can be incredibly satisfying when you hit on just the perfect word, but otherwise frustrating when you just can’t think of anything that fits. Also, looking stuff up and researching terms is fun in a way, if time-consuming. I especially like stuff related to myths/folklore.
What have you been most proud of?
The projects I’m currently involved in, actually. I can’t talk about them in detail, but I’ve been working with some awesome teams of people on things that I’m super excited about.
It’s something that’s really been making me feel like I’ve made it. I’m just proud that I can be counted among such talented people. Being able to work together and discuss translation strategies is the absolute best.
I’m also proud of the work I’ve done on an indie occult adventure game called Zelle.
Zelle is out on Steam now and is the first project that I handled entirely on my own, which was a really cool experience.
I feel like I especially nailed the Moon-faced Man’s dialogue. He’s an entertaining character.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
For my current project, I’ve been working on behind-the-scenes context research, adding to the style guide, and trying to keep the glossary updated.
It’s the kind of thing that (hopefully) improves the text greatly, but that consumers wouldn’t really know about. Thankfully I’m not the only one shouldering it either; we’ve got some fantastic teamwork going.
And as mentioned earlier, there’s the indie game Zelle that I worked on. It hasn’t gained too much attention yet, but I hope people enjoy it when it’s released.
Did you have any misconceptions about localization that have changed over time?
When I decided to be a translator in college, I thought I wouldn’t need any writing ability because I’d be working on texts that already existed. But my translation theory courses in grad school taught me that it’s a much more creative process.
As a lot of other translators have said, there’s no such thing as a one-to-one translation really. So you’re always needing to think about word choice and how to properly convey what’s trying to be said.
There’s so much that goes into the decision making process; like the audience you’re trying to reach, the main intent and overall tone of the work, and various restrictions you may have to comply with. And even if another translator approaches a text the same way you do, there are a million different ways in which they could end up with something different; because each person has their own voice.
There are infinite possibilities and that’s what makes translation so exciting I think. Communication is inherently messy, but there’s something beautiful about that. Each mind is like a melting pot of ideas.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
It would be mind-blowing to work on series that have been a huge part of my life, like Pokemon, Zelda, KH, FF, Tales, Persona etc. Though I’d be intimidated to take any of those on, I’m sure they’d also make for fantastic work experience.
If I had the time and energy, I might like to try studying game translation more or do more comparison projects. Seeing how translations have evolved or changed over the years is always fascinating to me.
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
Like with most people (I imagine at least), I draw a lot of energy and inspiration from the media I happen to be currently hooked on. Most recently that’s been Critical Role for me. But more generically LotR got me into worldbuilding a lot when I was younger. I also admire Rick Riordan and Terry Pratchett for their snappy, humorous writing. Also Fullmetal Alchemist is a work of pure art.
One game that always sticks out to me is The World Ends With You. The dialogue is perfectly slangy while keeping the “set in Japan” feel. And the message of striking a balance between ignoring society completely and being a total sheep really resonates with me. I feel like it’s a lot like translation actually, where you’re taking other’s ideas but putting your own spin on it. (Also it’s just a really good game.) I admire the kind of Shakespearean, old English flair that’s used in games like FF Tactics: War of the Lions, FFXII, and FFIV DS, too.
Listening to music (mostly game soundtracks) while working also helps inspire me. I try to pick music from the project I’m working on or otherwise similar music to really boost the mood. It feels a lot better than just sitting in silence. Though I do avoid music with lyrics so I don’t get too distracted.
Seeing how hyped fans are for a particular project is inspiring too. Knowing that other people are excited about what you’re working on (or have worked on) is a huge motivational boost. Doubly so if they actually compliment the translation. And of course, working alongside friends and a good team of people makes it a lot easier to keep up the grind every day.
You can find Liz here!
And though I retweet and like more than I post, my twitter is: https://twitter.com/LizBushouse