Japanese has become a very popular language at colleges and universities, with consistently more students enrolled than for other languages.
Two Paths of Translation: Freelance and In-House
1: Freelance Translation
Freeland translators receive their work from agencies and private clients: it’s your job as a freelancer to find your own work sources and maintain good relationships with them. Freedom is the main advantage of working this way.
Very rarely would you be required to meet your clients face-to-face; and in fact many translators work for years without ever meeting the person or business they’re translating for. This is because in today’s age everything can be done online. So, you can work from home or anywhere you choose to work from: you can work on holidays, at the beach, and so on – basically anywhere you can take your laptop you can work. It all comes down to speed and productivity, so the time differences between you and your client might make for some inconvenient working hours. You still have to be on-call for your regular customers, and reply (almost) immediately if they need to speak to you.
So, if you value your freedom; you’re organized and disciplined, and you’re cool, calm and collected if your income suddenly drops from time to time, then freelance translation should be an ideal fit for you.
As previously mentioned, the Japanese to English translation market is quite a lucrative one, so if you’re a good, experienced translator you’ll probably be turning work away rather than begging for it. It might be a little slow at the beginning as you try to make a name for yourself and find clients, but with good social skills it shouldn’t take too long.
2: In-House Translation
In-house translation means working for a company. In the past this was a common scenario but it’s now quite rare for most languages. Many companies just hire a project manager whose job it is to contact agencies or freelance translators and outsource the work. It’s a lot cheaper for them this way than training new people, providing benefits, and so on. That being said, there are still quite a few in-house positions for Japanese (both in Japan and the United States) and if you can get these jobs they’re ideal for those who choose not to freelance.
You’ll get on-the-job training, benefits, and a steady income; but you probably won’t get to choose the work you do and you could be working quite rigid hours. On-the-job training is invaluable if you can get it: you’ll be learning while getting paid, and having a mentor and someone to help you out can be the difference between success and failure as a translator.
Generally, for in-house translators they’re looking for people with experience, or an advanced translation degree. You should also note that a company hiring for in-house translation in the finance industry will usually only hire people with actual experience in (or a background in) business and finance, regardless of their qualifications. This might also apply to science-related translation positions; but these restrictions won’t be so tough with doctors or lawyers.
It can also be quite lucrative specializing in one subject only; (say) patents, or automotive-related products, and so on; providing there’s sufficient demand in that particular field. If you do have a specific field in mind, then start working on your background knowledge.
Regardless of whether you decide to become an academic or a professional translator, any path worth following is going to take a lot of time and work; but the job satisfaction and financial rewards will be there.