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No. 1 — May 1983

The purpose of this newsletter is to fill the need for better communications in the field of Japanese-to-English and English-to-Japanese technical translation, to disseminate useful facts and figures about translation and related areas among professionals, to combat boredom, etc. Issues will be published occasionally, whenever there is anything to report. The publication is free and uncopyrighted. Reduplicate it and distribute it as you wish. Contributions are welcome.

Translation in Japan appears to be big business. A two-billion dollar business to be exact. According to a survey by the Japan Electronic Industry Development Association, headed by Nihachiro Katayama (president of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation) the amount of money paid out by industrial circles in Japan to translation companies during fiscal year 1982 amounted to approximately ¥500,000,000,000 — that's five hundred billion yen (gosenokuen). At a recent exchange rate of ¥236.35, that amounts to $2,115,500,000, or something like $176,292,222 a month. (From an article on p. 8 in the April 25, 1983 issue of the Nihon keizai shimbun. More about this article later.)

Information about the translation industry in Japan can be gleaned from the 1982 edition of Honyaku jiten (date of publication is December 2, 1981), a sort of catch-all encyclopedia of miscellaneous information about translation and translators (mostly English to Japanese) published by The English Journal. Most of the publication deals with non-technical work, but there is some interesting information about the economics of the business in Japan. There is a list of translation agencies in Japan (pp. 168–172) and an article which gives results of a survey of translation fees charged by Japanese translation agencies (p. 88). The amount paid by the clients to Japanese translation agencies per page for translations from Japanese to English ranged from ¥1500 to ¥8000, and the average was ¥3957. These are rates for one double-spaced typed page on A4 paper. Remember, these are the amounts which the Japanese agencies charge their clients. Japanese translators (in Japan), according to the article, can make a monthly income of about ¥300,000 to ¥350,000 (according to a recent exchange rate $1,269.30 to $1,480.85) if they average a monthly output of 40,000 to 50,000 words, which boils down to 2,000 to 2,500 words a day (some 10 double-spaced pages on A4 paper).

A rough calculation shows that it would take some 119,048 such translators to earn the $176,292,222 a month paid out by Japanese industry to the translation agencies — or 59,524 translators if the agencies pocketed half.

Even if these figures, or my calculations, are wrong, there can be no doubt about the fact that a tremendous volume of translation work is being done in Japan.

Were you one of the many who were turned off by the San Francisco newspaper ads in May 1982 which started "DO YOU SPEAK FLUENT JAPANESE? WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIVE IN LOVELY LA JOLLA?"

The ads were placed by Systran, Inc. (P.O. Box 3011, La Jolla, CA 93038), "a co-developer of the world's highest quality operational machine translation system." Systran was in the process of "reaching out" for Japanese-English linguists who would "perform analysis of Japanese-English syntactic and semantic structures and their interaction," dictionary coders who would prepare dictionaries for the automatic translation system, linguistics programmers who would "communicate with the computer in a special, high-level computer language (easily learned)," and "technical specialists of terminology" who would "give English and Japanese eauivalents for technical terms (full or part-time)."

Well, your chuckles may have been premature. The news is that the efforts of Systran, and of another competitor, in the field of machine translation have been attracting much attention in Japan lately. An article in the April 25, 1983 issue of the Nihon keizai shimbun says that Nippon Systran (located in Tokyo, president Setsuo Kawasaki, capitalized at ¥40,000,000) and another company called Brabis (sorry, that's phonetic) International (located in Tokyo, president Takehiko Yamamoto, capitalized at ¥47,500,000) will both begin marketing their computerized Japanese-English and English-Japanese translation systems this autumn. Furthermore, large-size computer manufacturers such as Fujitsu and Nippon Electric Co. are also following suit and developing their own systems.

The Systran system is one developed by the World Translation Center (WTC) of the U.S., and the Brabis system was developed by the Widener company of the U.S. The Systran system works on large mainframe computers, while the Brabis system can work on either a minicomputer or a personal computer, and may therefore be more useful to a broader range of business applications.

The Nihon keizai shimbun article states that Fujitsu is using a computerized system for translating technical documents about software at its Numazu Works and is also working on a general-purpose translation system at its Research Laboratories. The C&C System Research Laboratories of NEC is working on an English-to-Japanese translation system, and Toshiba is also developing a system. Besides, Japanese government agencies such as the Science & Technology Agency and the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of MITI are doing fundamental research. It is only a question of time, concludes the Nihon keizai shimbun in its article, before some of this research spills over into practical application, especially in view of that whopping 500 billion spent in fiscal 1982 by industry on translations.

According to other sources, a group at Kyoto University is working on using computers to translate abstracts of scientific papers (see Nihon keizai shimbun April 1, 1983 and The Economist December 4, 1982, p. 91–92)

Some New Publications

JIS kogyo yogo daijiten [JIS large dictionary of industrial terms) has been published by the Japanese Standards Association. The first edition came out on December 6, 1982 and has been received here. It contains altogether 46,000 words and has 1788 pages. The words have English equivalents and definitions in Japanese, and many of the entries are illustrated. There is a good English-to-Japanese index (pp. 1521–1788). The dictionary costs ¥22,000 (or $93.08 at a recent exchange rate).

Another two-volume dictionary has been announced for publication on April 25, 1983. The title is Kagaku gijutsu 25-mango daijiten (Scientific and technical dictionary of 250,000 words], and the publisher is Interpress (handled by Nippon Shuppan Hanbai K.K.). Advertisements claim that the dictionary contains 250,000 words from more than 240 areas, centering in the JIS technical vocabularies, and that it is a two-way (English-Japanese, Japanese-English) dictionary. 50,000 terms are on computers, 33,000 are plant terms, 20,000 are military terms, and technical jargon and compounds are also included. The dictionary is in two volumes (presumably an English-to-Japanese volume and a Japanese-to-English volume) and has altogether 3,800 pages. The prepaid price is ¥80,000 ($338.48) until May 31, but after that date the price goes up to ¥88,000 ($372.33).

NEWTON, a Japanese science magazine published by Kyoikusha, issued a separate magazine-format book about Japanese word processors in May, 1982. The title is Waado purosessaa no subete. The title notwithstanding, it deals exclusively with Japanese-language word processors. The book is beautifully printed in color and costs ¥2,000 (in Japan). (Copies are available at Kinokuniya in San Francisco.) It seems to be about the best source of information about how Japanese-language word processors made by various manufacturers work, although many newer systems have been made available since the book came out last year. See below for more facts and figures about Japanese word processors.

Two issues of Gijutsu honyaku were published in summer and winter of 1981 by David Govett, P.O. Box 4592, Berkeley, California 94704. The issues contain lists of dictionaries and reference materials, patent information, and a directory of technical Japanese translators. The editor promises to supply free copies of back issues.

OCS America, Incorporated, 1684 Post Street, San Francisco CA 94115 (931-0396, 931-0397, 931-0398) takes subscriptions to any Japanese newspapers and magazines and also will supply books. All of the publications are airlifted to the OCS office on Post Street and are then sent out by first class mail or UPS. A three-month subscription to a daily newspaper like the Nihon keizai shimbun (daily, both morning and evening editions) costs $278.70, or something like $93 a month. I have found their service to be very reliable. The persons working in the office are eager to help but do not speak Japanese.

I would like to find out more about an organization called the Japan Information Center of Science and Technology (JICST). It has databases from which information can be retrieved on-line by keywords or by classification codes. One JICST database is a file listing about 3,200,000 scientific and technical documents from about 10,000 Japanese and foreign periodicals and publications. Another is devoted to medicine and lists articles from about 700 Japanese medical publications; it currently contains about 80,000 listings. A third file lists research being carried out at public testing and research institutes in Japan; it currently contains 23,822 items. The databases are called, collectively, JOIS, which stands for JICST On-line Information System. The Japanese name and address of JICST is Nihon Kagaku Gijutsu Joho Senta, 5-2, Nagata-cho 2-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100 (phone 03-581-6411). Does anyone know whether these databases could be used by translators based in the U.S.?

Here is some more information about Japanese word processors, based partly on an article in the March 25, 1983 issue of Nihon keizai shimbun. Their history begins in September, 1978, when Toshiba brought out the first Japanese word processor. The price was more than ¥1,400,000, and sales were poor, no doubt because of user unfamiliarity with the machine. Beginning in 1982, however, word processors began to spread rapidly on account of the mounting interest of businesses in office automation, and less expensive products were marketed, including some low-cost machines selling for less than ¥1,000,000 each. This year, some miniature Japanese word processors costing less than ¥500,000 have been marketed (such as Sharp's WD-800, selling for ¥498,000, and Pentel's LETA-CON, marketed as a "Japanese electronic typewriter", priced at ¥468,000). According to a survey by the Japan Business Machinery Manufacturers' Association, the sales of Japanese word processors in 1980 amounted to only 3 billion, but in 1982 this had grown to 36 billion, and this year the volume is expected to increase further to some 64 billion. Manufacturers of electrical machinery and office machinery have been entering the market one after another, and now there are nearly 30 companies manufacturing Japanese word processors, including those marketing products on an OEM basis. Here is a list giving the expected sales (in units) of some of the major manufacturers of Japanese word orocessors for 1982 and their anticipated sales for 1983:

Sales of Japanese Word Processors by Main Manufacturers

Expected 1982 sales Anticipated 1983 sales
Fujitsu 15,000 (233)* More than 30,000
Toshiba 14,000 (400) 40,000
NEC 11,000 (267) 20,000 – 25,000
Canon Sales 7,000 (–) 14,000 – 20,000
Sharp 6,800 (240) More than 14,000
Ricoh 5,000 (669) More than 20,000
Hitachi 3,200 (220) Unavailable
Oki Denki 2,000 (11) 4,000
Matsushita 1,700 (–) 3,000
Mitsubishi El. 1,500 (88) 2,500 – 3,000
Casio 1,000 (–) 2,000

* Numbers enclosed in parentheses are the percentage increases over the numbers sold in 1981.

Let me know if you turn up any information which might be of interest to professionals working in the field, and I will incorporate it in another Newsletter.

Donald L. Philippi
715 Tenth Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 752-7735