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The Interpretation Industry in Japan: Market changes, challenges, and new opportunities over five decades


This article examines the current situation of the interpretation industry in Japan. To aid the post-war reconstruction efforts, the Japan Productivity Center organized missions to the US. The interpreters needed for the missions were trained at the US Department of State. Upon their return to Japan, many of these interpreters became professional conference interpreters. Agencies were then set up to provide interpreters for the rapidly growing demand from the government and business. The interpreting agencies played a crucial role in establishing interpreting as a profession. Around this time, the business of conference interpreting also emerged with English as the main language. During the economic boom, interpreters had increasing opportunities to play an active role in the economy as demand from the private sector increased. As foreign companies began to expand into Japan, the number of in-house interpreters increased. Today, interpreters are employed in the government, private, academic, and media sectors, with approximately 80% of the interpretation being English-Japanese. According to the available statistics, the industry as a whole is dominated by small proprietorships that appear to be operated by individual interpreters. In addition to the large comprehensive agencies, a number of niche agencies have appeared in recent years that provide interpreting services for specific industry sectors. Regarding the career path of an interpreter, it is common for English interpreters to attend training institutions run by interpreting agencies and then become freelance interpreters. When training began in the mid-1970s, the courses were mainly attended by female university students. However, increasing numbers of men are now participating in the industry, many of whom are older and have experience in other professions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for interpreters dropped significantly. Although this was only temporary, the pandemic hastened the shift towards online interpreting using IT. Today, interpreters have further opportunities to utilize machine translation tools. Making active use of the technologies available, the interpretation industry in Japan is becoming more diverse and fulfilling its roles in a more diversified setting.



interpretation, conference interpreting, interpretation industry, interpreting agency, interpreter's career path



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