I actually received a number of inquiries on getting translation work and decided to write a post on it.
First and foremost, is there such a thing as a certified translator? Yes, there is. Japanese people are crazy about certifications, so you can bet there is some kind of certification test for most kinds of jobs (including non-technical roles like administration and answering of phone call kind of work). That aside, if you’re interested in getting yourself certified, you can take a look at TQE (Translator Qualifying Examination). The exams are broken down into various categories by fields of expertise and if you take a look at the website, you can see that it says all who are certified Grade 3 and above will be qualified to register with SunFlare Co., Ltd., one of the largest translation agencies in Japan.
The next question is, is it necessary to get certified to become a translator? No, it’s not. Most translators here are not certified that way. They (or maybe I should say “We”) simply take up jobs along the way by virtue of us being native English speakers (or native speakers of any other languages). This is where Japanese language qualifications and trial translation tests come in. Most agencies will require you to do a trial translation to test your skills because there are a lot of shitty translators out there. To be honest, some of these shitty translators sometimes pass these company trial tests too because I-don’t-know-why. In any case, if you want to get translation jobs the easy way, just register with tons of translation agencies bearing in mind their rates are not very good and because they’ve got a huge database of translators, it’s hard to tell when you might be contacted for any work at all. But if you are willing to put in the effort, you can attend events organized by the JAT (Japan Association of Translators) to meet people in the translation industry or even companies looking for freelance translators. These direct companies typically offer much better rates than translation agencies because no one is there to siphon off any part of your pay as commission. Keep in mind to prepare name cards specifically for your translation work to give them out at these events. Remember, it is important to network with other translators too. Don’t think of other translators as your competition because some of these translators may actually think of you if they receive too much work they can’t handle or if they are asked to do something not in their field of expertise but is in yours.
If you majored in something related to the industry you want to translate for, it is good to mention it since industrial knowledge is very highly valued. Heck, you can even take random documents off the web and translate them as samples of your translation skill, but remember to clarify that these are not actual jobs because we don’t want to be classified as cheats.
Some of the more established translation agencies in Japan are Honyaku Center, SunFlare, Interschool, Dynaword, and Simul International. There is also the SBC (Simul Business Communications) under the Simul Group. However, SBC is a top-of-the-class agency and they only register people with high levels of translation skill, office skill, current affairs knowledge, and critical thinking skills. You can also get yourself registered on Proz.com, one of the largest portals for freelance translators. Agencies who receive ridiculously large amount of work to be completed in a ridiculously short time typically broadcast it to all registered members to divide up the work so that it can be completed in time. Of course, since there is a large community of translators, you can also ask questions and see what others do.
One of the biggest translation startups called Gengo is also worth getting yourself registered to. Like most startups, they’re completely online and being one of the biggest speaks for itself.
The difficult part is getting that first job, but once you get it, there’s a good chance the flow will keep coming since companies usually prefer to use the same person again and again for obvious reasons. In case it’s not obvious, it’s less work to find a new translator and the existing translator already know the company’s requirements (i.e. terminologies to use, writing voice, etc.). Translation is not just about putting the language of one text into another language. It’s also about writing style, so if they find someone whose voice fits their company, it’s less work to stick with the same person than to find someone else who writes the same way.
I don’t know any particularly bad agencies as yet, so I can’t give any advice on that. But one last thing I would like to offer is, translation and interpretation are not the same thing. Many new translators assume that if they can translate, they can interpret. I think it is important to realize that the skills required are very different and there are various types of interpretation services as well. I’m not going to go into that in detail since that is not the main point of this post but as a closing note, I wish all of you the best.