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Guide For Professional English to Japanese Translators

Posted by Ethan N. on October 27, 2023.

Translation is a delicate art, and translating between English and Japanese is a journey packed with distinct challenges and rewards. Because English and Japanese are from very different language families, the translation process is challenging yet fascinating. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the history of English and Japanese translations, examine the obstacles faced by English to Japanese translators, and provide useful recommendations for effective English to Japanese translation.

The History of English and Japanese Translations

The history of English and Japanese translations is one of cross-cultural exchange and adaptation. It dates back to the late nineteenth century when Japan opened its doors to the rest of the world during the Meiji period. The demand for translations of Western scientific, technical, and literature into Japanese has skyrocketed ever since. The advent of Western concepts and technologies necessitated the need for skilled translators between English and Japanese.

The “Iwakura Mission” (1871-1873), in which a group of Japanese intellectuals and diplomats travelled to the United States and Europe to learn from Western countries, was one of the most notable translation undertakings during this period. Their journey was accompanied by interpreters, who played an important role in enabling conversation and knowledge gain.

The post-World War II era saw a new wave of translation, particularly in business, diplomacy, and entertainment between the two languages. During this time, American and British English had a growing influence on the Japanese language. Notably, the advent of international enterprises in Japan and the export of Japanese products to the worldwide market needed high-quality English and Japanese business and commerce translations.


Challenges in English to Japanese Translations

It takes a lot of effort to translate between English and Japanese. A lot of challenges need to be addressed and resolved during the English to Japanese translation process. Here are some of the major problems that specialists in the industry face:

Linguistic Differences

  • Grammatical Structures: The grammatical structures of Japanese and English are essentially different. English is a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) language, whereas Japanese is a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) language. This necessitates extensive sentence reorganisation in translation.
  • Honorifics and Politeness Levels: The Japanese language employs a variety of honorifics and politeness levels. In English and Japanese translations, selecting the appropriate amount of formality is critical for conveying respect and cultural awareness.
  • Kanji Characters: Japanese has three writing systems, including Kanji (Chinese characters), which present a unique translation challenge. The meaning of a word might completely alter depending on which Kanji characters are utilised.

Cultural Nuances

  • Contextual Understanding: To express the intended meaning effectively, translators must have a thorough awareness of the cultural environment in which the work is produced. This involves knowledge of historical events, conventions, and societal standards of Japan and English-speaking countries.
  • Idioms and Cultural References: The Japanese language is rich in idiomatic phrases and cultural references. It is difficult to translate things into English while keeping their cultural importance.

Technical Terminology: Translating technical documents or industry-specific information between English and Japanese necessitates a thorough understanding of the relevant vocabulary in both languages. This challenge is especially prevalent in industries like medicine, law, and engineering.

Ambiguity in Japanese: Because of its great contextuality, Japanese content can sometimes be ambiguous. Translators must determine the intended meaning based on context, which can be difficult at times.

Tips for English to Japanese Translators

To achieve a cost-effective English to Japanese translation project and vice versa, it’s worth taking a look at some tips drawn from our team’s own experience in handling English to Japanese translations over the years:


Mastery of Both Languages: To produce high-quality English to Japanese translations, translators must be proficient in both English and Japanese. A solid understanding of the nuances, idioms, and syntax of both languages is required.

Cultural Sensitivity: It is essential for translators to understand the cultural subtleties and norms of not only Japanese but also the target/source English-speaking country. This is critical in determining the right level of politeness and accurately expressing cultural references.

Work with Subject-matter Translators: You need to make sure the translators you work with have a solid background in the industry of your business. More accurate and contextually relevant translations will be possible with specialised knowledge. For instance, if you need to translate Marketing content between English and Japanese, it will not make sense to work with a legal specialized translator.

Pay Attention to Context and Ask Questions: It is critical for translators to have as much context as possible when translating. The more they know about the subject, the better their translation will be. Thus, continuous communication is key. You should encourage your translators to ask for clarification in case they come across any unclear sentences or concepts.

Best Online English to Japanese Translation Tools

While human translation is still necessary in the business context, online translation technologies can be useful in certain circumstances. Some of the most helpful digital English to Japanese translation tools are as follows:

  • Google Translate is a popular tool for quickly translating between English and Japanese. It may not, however, always capture subtle meanings.
  • DeepL is well-known for producing quick translations. It’s especially useful for general text and documents, and it provides English to Japanese translations.
  • Professional translators can benefit from translation memory programs such as SDL Trados and MemoQ. They contribute to consistency by storing previously translated sentences for future usage.

Nevertheless, it’s worth emphasizing that online translation tools should only be used for references or for getting an overview of a document. If you want to have high-quality and accurate English and Japanese translations, it’s highly recommended that you work with a professional Japanese translator or Japanese translation service provider.

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GTE Localize is your reliable translation partner when it comes to high-quality English to Japanese translation services. To provide precise, contextually relevant Japanese translations, our skilled Japanese linguists combine language proficiency and cultural understanding. Whether it’s business, legal, technical, or creative material, our Japanese translation services ensure that your message reaches the Japanese audience successfully.


To get your Japanese translation project started today, drop our team a line and we will quickly get back to you with a quotation and a free 1:1 consultancy.