Collect These Jewels

Reviewed by Anna Husson Isozaki

Translator Perspectives: Honyakusha no mesen 2015. Tokyo: Japan Association of Translators, 2015, 137 pages. ISBN 978-4-906408-11-5.
Translator Perspectives: Honyakusha no mesen 2016. Tokyo: Japan Association of Translators, 2016, 59 pages. ISBN 978-4-906408-13-9. 

“The essays are to inform and inspire both translators and translation clients. This is the work we do. This is why it is important. This is how to get better. These are the things clients should be looking for. And more.”

The above is from the 2016 Introduction to Translator Perspectives: Honyaku no mesen. Since 2012, the Japan Association of Translators (JAT) has been compiling annual anthologies of members’ collegial advice, thoughts on their craft, and many-faceted analyses of new trends affecting the field. Particularly because of the languages involved and the distance between them, having these little volumes at hand can be invaluable.

The entries are brief: mostly two pages, roughly alternating between Japanese essays and English ones. As mentioned in many of the essays, translation tends to be solitary work—especially for freelancers—and these readings seem to convey the most pressing thoughts of a year, distilled, from the contributors. Nakazawa Kanna opens her Hanoi no hirusagari (Thoughts on a Hanoi Afternoon) with a beautiful, meditative query found during a past translation project that has taken on new life for her: “A good day is, at its conclusion, measured by . . .” (2016, p. 36).

Some entries articulate the stances the authors have decided to take on the shifting ground of this field. In “Beyond the Manual,” Fred Uleman (2015, pp. 123–125), from long experience, discusses some of the philosophical issues that motivate us in the translation community, validating our carefully thought-out choices in translation (see also “A Few Thoughts,” 2016, pp. 54–55). Others are pragmatic, yet similarly take the long view, such as Terry Gallagher’s essay on taking care of our health and well-being, and how that carries over to better professional output (2016, pp. 14–15).

Each volume has a nice balance of philosophical approaches and practical tips on ways to improve and grow. Tony Atkinson, for example, explains how important it is to get feedback (2016, pp. 3–4). Concrete business advice on why we should consider certifying ourselves with ISO 17100 in Andrew Migita-Meehan (2016, p. 33) and more on ISO 17100, by Sato Akiko (2015, p. 94 and 2016, p. 43 for an update from the same author), can be helpful for those of us for whom these developments are new. Also businesslike and essential is the article on “Cyber Security Advice for Freelancers” (2016, p. 9), in which Cathy Eberst summarizes information from a presentation by security expert Catriona Watson and adds further tailored advice, presenting a manageable bulleted list specifically for translators.

There is advice, too, on specialized translation areas: medical translation, litigation translation, and the inside scoop on getting involved with the upcoming Olympics.

Points that often come up when translators (all too rarely) get together are addressed in essays like that by Benjamin Tompkins (2016, p. 47), who in “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” encourages translators to dispense with unnecessary verbiage and suggests practical approaches for handling items like the star-like komejirushi (asteriskos). Wendy McBride settles issues in what to do about punctuation battles (2015, p. 60). Thanks to this kind of practicality in addition to their breadth, the series is likely to be highly useful for translation teachers as well. Marion Kinoshita’s contribution, “JAT’s 30-year-old Mission Still Rings True” (2016, p. 22–24), as with similar historical articles about SWET, provides perspective to balance the fast-disappearing foundations of our hyper-updating times. Meanwhile the implications of advances in artificial intelligence discussed from a number of viewpoints, such as that of Yanagidaira Masatoshi (2016, p. 58-59), are all thought-provoking.

Reading these yearly booklets can be like sitting down for a translation workshop, with tips to be gleaned that are not written up in the agendas and with stories to be shared during coffee breaks; but these come with enduring benefits, because we can turn back to these pages to enjoy and learn from them again and again.

One final note: From 2016 the editing of JAT member essays has been abandoned, without any noticeable diminishment in quality. Conversely it may be a relief for contributors and readers both: the writers can share directly, and readers can observe, “What you see is what we got” (kikōsha no ari no mama no genkō o keisai shimashita) (2016, pp. iv, vi).

Related reviews

Translator Perspectives 2014

Translator Perspectives 2012