– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Hey, Maisy! Please tell us about yourself.
Afternoon! Well, Tokyo is my current home, south-east England is my heart’s home, I did a bunch of growing up in Germany, I love rabbits so much I’d delete cheese from the world if I could keep one as a pet again, and I dabble in pretty much any extreme sport I can manage (currently it’s contortion!)
I didn’t think I would even make it through my Japanese degree but now I’m here and translating games like there’s no tomorrow–sometimes literally because deadlines <3 I rely on people and friendships and without them I wouldn’t be a happy little blanket translator.
Nice to meet you!
How did you get into localization and board game translation in particular?
With a bunch of determination, disappointment, luck, and friends. My first post-uni job was a comms specialist at Pole to Win in London, for £16,500 a year (minus the £200 train ticket and £100 car fees, that left me pennies a month), but I thankfully made some good connections and learned how different people made it to the fabled translator position.
I needed to up my Japanese level after that, so I got any old job I could to come out here to Japan and ended up working in JINS, a glasses shop, for about 18 months. Great for my Japanese.
Then I wanted to do games, so I worked for a mobile games place for 16 months, but didn’t have any chances to translate or speak Japanese. So I started doing some work on gengo.com to practise.
In Nov 2018 (3 years after I graduated) a friend of mine asked me to help their friend at a board game market booth, and there I suddenly made loads of contacts and clients! I still got a full time job in-house at Digital Hearts for a while to work on translations in a team and learn bunches, but after 6 months or so I went freelance for more money and time.
As I worked on more board games, more came my way really, and I have found this little corner to be fast-paced and rewarding, so I haven’t changed it up for a while now!
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you?
It has been a real challenge to balance my mental energies for things. Some days I have all the chores energy but no work energy (I’m a master at productive procrastinating; in fact I’m putting off some work right now by writing this interview! >.<).
Sometimes bills and paperwork doesn’t bother me, sometimes I can’t even think about arguing with Softbank again without wanting to tear at the back of my neck. 2020 was especially difficult for things like doing my expenses receipts and looking into visa renewal. I did it, but at the cost of a very hectic start to 2021.
How do you balance your hobbies and work-life?
Especially since the pandemic, I haven’t really managed to have set the work and end-of-work times of the day, so everything is a bit mushed into one.
Apart from my contortion classes that require me to be 100% not in work mode, most other things are related to work somehow. My brain feels like it’s melting.
What do you enjoy working on most?
Games with good story or flavourful text, but on the lighter side! Also anything with puns.
What have you been most proud of?
This is a tough one actually! I am really pleased with Tokyo Sidekick–it’s an absolute behemoth of a game and I think I did some really neat translations that kept the hero references as well as the very specific cultural things, as well as making sure there’s more inclusivity/sensitivity in the English version. (Also I’m a promo character in it, and wrote some story for myself and the other 3 promo characters!!)
But at the same time, there’s a couple of smaller games that never made the light of day that I worked really hard on specific words for, so I want to give those ghosts honourable mentions <3
How does translating board games differ from other types of translation you’ve done?
It’s very technical! I actually realise more and more how it’s a little like the stricter loc fields like medical or legal, because there are so many fine adjustments you have to make to make sure the wording is exactly right. Consider the difference between: “Cards that have the Summon power are negated” and “Cards that have been summoned are negated.” It’s a small but important difference.
There’s also a lot of specific jargon, but on another layer, sometimes you have to figure out if the jargon will be too technical or not. I also think there’s a lot more editing passes than other things I have translated. I go back and forth with editors about 3 or 4 times when I have them.
There’s generally less dialogue and story in board games, which is sometimes a blessing as it’s not my favourite thing to translate, but also I do miss getting fancy and creative!
You translated Miyamoto Musashi’s famous work Five Rings, and wrote an excellent breakdown of how you approached the translation, emphasizing how you wanted to make it accessible to a modern audience. Was the approach to the translation decided in collaboration with the publishers or something you proposed? What was the process that led to that?
Aw, thank you! The publisher told me straight up that they wanted a more modern and readable version with noooo footnotes, and they were hoping my background in games would lend a more creative angle to the text.
I would actually take the reins a little harder on that now, and remove redundant phrases or things that don’t quite work in English, but that confidence in knowing where to change a text takes time to build, and I imagine in a few years I’ll have different opinions again!
When we started the project, I asked to call the publisher to really get an idea of what they wanted and their vision for the book, to both get on the same page (ha). I had a very jovial chat with the guy organising the translation and then I sent a sample of the first few pages to check direction. They essentially okayed everything and I went on a bimble through samurai Japan for a couple of months.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
Oh gosh, yes. I do a bunch of stuff outside of just translating, like the EN version cards and rules, and I often wonder if people know how long I spend re-editing text and so on to fit into boxes!
But in terms of translations, I wonder if people notice my puns, or the name choices for things that have to cleverly include all the cultural references as well as just the straight meaning.
However, I do love to tell all the people all the things, so a bunch of stuff that’s less obvious I like to post on Twitter!
If you could do anything, what would you love to do or try out?
I’d love to delve more into digital games. That’s really where my entire journey started; learning about translation and then realising I could one day work on Pokemon games!
So I really want to be part of a triple A team one day, working on a childhood franchise like Pokemon or Zelda.
– Study and Inspiration –
What tools/resources do you use to learn new things and improve your skills?
Is it bad if I include Twitter?! And Discord??
Though I do also listen to industry podcasts (10 Minute Design Chat, An Aye for Games, The Serious Games Pod, Smart Habits for Translators), have a very part-time job in a board game cafe for Japanese and game exposure, read translation-related books and articles, watch videos…
I haven’t studied Japanese in a formal sense for a while, other than adding words and phrases I learn to a list, or noting down great example translations, but I use Fluent Forever’s app for learning German and it works well for vocab.
I really want to make some time for some creative writing courses (send me recommendations please!!), as well as Adobe program courses via sites like Udemy.
Other than that though, I just do as much in Japanese as I can when I’m feeling up to it. From the usual reading manga and watching funny YouTube stuff, to doing as much of my sport as I can in Japanese. Did you know it’s way cheaper to take Japanese skiing lessons and interpret for your non-jp speaking partner than it is to take English skiing lessons in Japan?!
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
I have met a bunch of incredible people via the small loc industry in Japan and they all inspire me buckets! This site is actually what I spent a long time reading when I had downtime at Digital Hearts, and really helped me build a picture of what similar people do and how they think.
Meru at Love Lab inspires me with her passion and steadfastness.
Gavin is so very creative and kind.
My friend Iridium back in the UK got me started on gengo.com and they’ve always been the most encouraging linguist.
Mercedez is so determined and has the biggest heart. Jess moves countries with the family she’s raising and it gives me hope I can do the same one day.
Danni is a total boss with the same love for board game puns and inclusivity that I have.
Irina speaks so many languages and has the patience of a saint.
SO MANY PEOPLE. I see bunches of people on Twitter and Discord doing awesome things, and I love that.
– The Industry in General –
What do you think people don’t know about localization that you wish they would?
I wish that the people getting shirtier than an upside down badger about translation choices knew that we are almost all pretty much from the same background as them! I actually wrote my dissertation about how fan-subs might actually be helpful for the visibility of translators by being so literal, using obvious/arty fonts and by being “popular” in that people like different subbers more than others.
There’s a place in my nostalgic heart for the kinds of translations that the “Japanese-as-an-exoctic-language” fans prefer, but they’re just not feasible in mainstream situations. I wish that these fans could see all the time we spend agonising about nuance vs literal meaning, and the style guides we have to adhere to, and the character limits, and the fact that we are working for the mass market instead of the niche fan.
I too, would have once yelled that “nii-nii” was special and shouldn’t be translated, but the fact is that it really isn’t untranslatable. We love that you’re just as passionate about Japanese and anime/games as we are, but we also gotta balance all the things and can’t get bogged down in badger warrens.
What is your vision for the future of localization?
Everyone gets credited, everyone gets paid well, and the entertainment loc industry as a whole catches up to the perceived market value.
I hope that globalisation really brings with it a sense of translators being integral and necessary for businesses to grow, rather than somewhat of an afterthought. I am excited to see us, the next gen of localisers, reach the point that people like Corinne Mckay are chillin’ in right now; hefty salary, good reputation, no worries about the next job coming in.
You can find Maisy here!
Japanalog Blog (my blog about indie games)