Translating and WritingTranslating and Writing
in Japan:in Japan:
A Foreign Reporter’sA Foreign Reporter’s
By Eric Johnston
Kansai Gaidai University
April 16th, 2008
Getting Started:Getting Started:
Tools of the TradeTools of the Trade
Nelson Japanese-English Character DictionaryNelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary
(Classic Edition)(Classic Edition)
The New Nelson Japanese-English CharacterThe New Nelson Japanese-English Character
Kenkyusha Japanese-English DictionaryKenkyusha Japanese-English Dictionary
A 15 year old, many-times-photocopied selectionA 15 year old, many-times-photocopied selection
from the ‘from the ‘ ’和漢ローマ字代’和漢ローマ字代
The InternetThe Internet
--No, I don’t have an electronic dictionary--No, I don’t have an electronic dictionary
My JobMy Job
To report, when possible, on major
news events in the Kansai region and
west Japan (to Okinawa).
To do on-location reporting and write
feature stories on a range of social and
political issues affecting Japan.
To work with Tokyo reporters on the
Political, Social, and Business desks
on stories of interest.
The Japan Times: Basic FactsThe Japan Times: Basic Facts
Celebrating our 110th
anniversary this year.
Owned by NIFCO Co., a Japanese manufacturer of auto parts.
President: Ms. Yukiko Ogasawara, a 44 year old Japanese-American
Circulation: 50,000 copies daily.
No. of people in Editorial Dept: About 30 full-time, plus a number of
Member of Nihon Shimbun Kyokai: Have reporters stationed at press
clubs with: the Prime Minister’s office and the Diet, as well as the Foreign,
Finance, Justice, Trade, Health, Welfare and Labor, and Defense
Ministries, as well as the Tokyo District and High Courts, the Tokyo
Government, among others.
OSAKA OFFICE: Staff Reporter: Yours Truly. I cover Osaka city hall,
Osaka Prefecture, Osaka District and High Court, as well as the Kansai
Economic Press Club and the Kansai Energy Club (nuclear power). Have a
separate part-time translator for events listings, plus an intern.
The Top Ten Most Difficult Things About TranslatingThe Top Ten Most Difficult Things About Translating
and Writing for the English News Media in Japan:and Writing for the English News Media in Japan:
10. Translating and shortening official titles.
9. Translating and quickly summarizing court cases.
8. Translating the direct quotes of politicians.
7.Determing the sex of the person just by reading a newspaper account.
(Do I use he’’ or ``she’’ for second reference?)
6. Ensuring that titles on the business card match the officially approved
5. Ensuring large numbers have been transposed and translated
4. Ensuring Japanese personal names, especially surnames, are
translated correctly. (Is 俊一、 ``Shunichi’’ or ``Toshikazu’’? Is 正
一 pronounced ``Shouichi’’ or ``Masakazu’’?)
3. Getting the correct English spelling for the name of a foreigner.
(Um, what’s the spelling of the Romanian panelist カトクヌブイ
ス・リヴェンスキャネーフー ?) 。
2. Ensuring that kanji names for Koreans or Chinese are rendered into
the correct English spelling.
1. Listening to a speech in a third foreign language with
simultaneous Japanese, but no English, interpretation,
and then turning that into English.
The Top Five Most Difficult Kinds ofThe Top Five Most Difficult Kinds of
People To Interpret into EnglishPeople To Interpret into English
5. Senior politicians from the ruling parties
4. Local politicians and bureaucrats
3. Certain NGO types who don’t know how to
deal with the media
2. Lawyers and academics who use specialized
language and speak very vaguely
1. Anybody who has something to hide!
From Idea to Story:From Idea to Story:
1) Straight News Stories (Official-type `just-the-facts’’ reporting
of news events that I cover directly.)
2) Feature Stories (Ideas for feature stories come from:)
A) The Japanese Mass Media –stories that have
already appeared in Japanese newspapers, magazines.
Initial work involves translation and confirmation of
basic facts, doing additional research.
B) The Press Clubs: Official announcements,
statistics, surveys, notices of upcoming symposiums,
conferences, or meetings. Work involves translation
C) Personal Contacts
The Japan Times Editorial ProcessThe Japan Times Editorial Process
For the News Dept.For the News Dept.
STEP I: Agreed upon story is written by the reporter and sent to the
editor-in-charge of politics, society, or business. Length of stories
is usually worked out with desk editors before we file. Usual length
is between 400 and 1,000 words.
STEP II: Japanese editor fact checks story and cuts, or adds, for space.
Questions about the facts presented, necessity of additional
information or background, or the meaning of unclear sentences are
then raised by the Japanese editor with the reporter by telephone,
and, sometimes, e-mail.
STEP III: Once those questions have been answered and the
Japanese editors have finished making initial changes, the article
is passed off to a Native Speaker Editor, who checks for grammar
and overall comprehension.
STEP IV: If Native Speaker Editor has questions, they either raise
the question with the Japanese desk editor, who may then call the
reporter. Or, they may call the reporter themselves.
STEP V: Once the final version has been agreed upon by the desk
editors in Tokyo, it’s usually FAXed to the reporter for a final fact
and grammar check. Depending on the deadline, the editors will or
will not agree to changes in style.
ADVANTAGES OF THE SYSTEM:ADVANTAGES OF THE SYSTEM:
It allows a very thorough process for fact-
checking by Japanese editors when
translation from Japanese to English has
been made (as is usually the case).
It minimizes the risk of
miscommunication and lengthy
clarification time by phone between
foreign editors and Japanese reporters.
DISADVANTAGES OF THE SYSTEM:DISADVANTAGES OF THE SYSTEM:
The end product can sometimes appear similar
to what free news web sites on Japan are
offering. (Do readers buy newspapers for ``just the facts’’,
or for background, analysis, and sharp and witty prose that
can’t be found elsewhere?)
It can mean sentence structures appear strange
or stilted because deadline pressures meant
editorial concentration was on basic
grammatical structure and fact-checking, not on
style or sentence structure.
PARTICULAR CHALLENGESPARTICULAR CHALLENGES
OF WRITING FOR AN ENGLISH NEWSPAPEROF WRITING FOR AN ENGLISH NEWSPAPER
IN JAPANIN JAPAN
Writing For Two Basically Different Sets of Readers,
Japanese and Non-Japanese.
Often See an English paper as, first and foremost, a
Often want an English newspaper that focuses less on
Japan and more on the outside world (they get their
Japan news from vernacular papers).
See a newspaper as a source of news and as a good read.
Non-Japanese residents often want more news on Japan
than Japanese readers.
Foreign Media in JapanForeign Media in Japan
No. of Japan-based foreign journalists registered with
the Foreign Ministry: approx. 400 (down from over
1,000 in 1991) (Foreign Press Center Japan)
Estimated number of foreigners working at least part-
time for overseas media: 1,000 nationwide (includes all
print and broadcast media, Westerners and Asians, but
not Internet bloggers) (unofficial FCCJ estimate)
No. of foreign journalists currently working full-time
for a major foreign news media organization who are
highly fluent in Japanese: between 50 and 100 (my
THE GREAT DEBATE:THE GREAT DEBATE:
Is Japanese Fluency Necessary For WorkingIs Japanese Fluency Necessary For Working
as a Foreign Journalist in Japan?as a Foreign Journalist in Japan?
YES: How can you possibly report and understand what
Japanese people are saying and thinking if you don’t speak
and read Japanese? Fluency in Japanese allows a foreign
reporter to not only understand the country better, but also to
work more easily, efficiently, and accurately.
NO: A foreign journalist is an outside observer of the
particular country he or she is stationed in for a few years,
during which there is not enough time to become highly
fluent in Japanese. Of course, it’s important to get the main
facts right, or, rather, the facts most interest editors back
home. But a minimal amount of Japanese is sufficient for
Those Who Say ``YES’’. . .Those Who Say ``YES’’. . .
. . .Point out that one cannot possibly
understand what one is reporting on without
. . . Note that although all Japanese study
English, relatively few speak it well.
. . .Argue that basic common sense dictates
one has both a practical and a moral
obligation to become as fluent as possible.
Those who say ``NO’’. . .Those who say ``NO’’. . .
. . . Point out that fluency in Japanese takes years of
study that make attaining it financially, and
. . .Note that, given English is Japan’s second
language, one can cover the country (i.e. Tokyo)
sufficiently in English, and that most official
government agencies and major corporations have
sufficient English materials, and English-speaking
. . .Fear spending too much time becoming fluent will
raise concerns in the head office that the reporter
has gone native or has lost his or her ability to
explain things ``to the folks back home’’.
And One More Excuse…And One More Excuse…
``Many Japanese, especially those in positions
of power, don’t like foreigners, especially nosy
foreign journalists, speaking their language.
The most important thing for a journalist is to
get information, and you can’t get information
if top sources don’t like you.’’
How The Foreign Media in JapanHow The Foreign Media in Japan
Deals withDeals with
Translation/Interpretation IssuesTranslation/Interpretation Issues
Wire Services (Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg Business News,
AFP) have ``local hires’’, bilingual people who live in Japan who
serve as reporters and, often, editors.
Major Newspapers: (New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times,
Times of London, Financial Times) often, but not always, have
Japanese assistants for their expatriate correspondents,
whose levels of fluency vary.
Other correspondents (full-time and freelance, newspaper and
magazine) have no assistants and various levels of fluency,
ranging from basic conversational Japanese only, to close-to-
native speaker ability in speaking and reading.
Television (ABC, CBS, BBC, CNN) has some correspondents who
are bilingual, but many have Japanese assistants.
EAST ASIAN MEDIA BY AND LARGE HAVE BILINGUAL
CHINESE-JAPANESE, OR KOREAN-JAPANESE REPORTERS
STATIONED IN JAPAN.
In Conclusion . . .In Conclusion . . .
1) From Print Only To Print, Blogs and Podcasts –
Technology is changing the way journalists worldwide do their
jobs. Traditional print journalists must now find time for on-
line articles as well as stories for their print editions. What will
this mean for accuracy in J-E translations?
2) ``Punditocracy’’ vs. ``Reporting’’
-- How can traditional journalism compete economically if
everybody gets their information from Website or TV pundits
who tell you what you need, or want, to know for free? Will
people still care enough about the checks and balances, both in
reporting and translation/interpreting, that newspapers like
The Japan Times have in place? Will they care enough to
either subscribe or take out advertising?