As the world becomes more globalized, professionals recognize that reaching an international audience is more important than ever. While it can be tempting to think of English as a worldwide language, relying on English is often not enough to connect with foreign clients or customers. This is particularly true for countries like Japan, where learning English is not as common as it is in European countries and, as such, Japanese clients, partners, and consumers can be a difficult audience to communicate with.
A Western company may struggle to communicate effectively with its Japanese audience due to a highly contextual system of decorum and an emphasis on subtlety within the culture, and more frank communication styles may come off as alienating or even insulting.
For this reason, it’s a smart choice to hire a Japanese translation company to help you communicate with potential clients, customers, or even employees. But it can be difficult to know where to start. We did extensive research and after evaluating 50 companies based on factors including accuracy, price, speed, and diversity of industries represented, narrowed the list to our top six.
Read on to find out which might work best for your needs.
The 6 Best Japanese Translation Services
Best Overall: Day Translations
With consistently positive reviews and almost fifteen years’ experience, Day Translations is our best overall Japanese translation service. Notable clients like HBO, Tesla, and Fujifilm rely on this U.S.-based company for English-Japanese translation. Offering a diversity of services such as translation, localization, interpretation, and transcription, they also hire linguists specializing in all major industries from finance to gaming, automotive, and e-commerce.
Clients praise Day Translations for their accuracy and punctuality of delivery, along with friendly and 24/7 customer service (found through their email contact form) and prompt revisions when requested. Surprisingly, we found this combination of strengths quite uncommon, making this company stand out as the best in our review.
Day Translations does charge higher-than-average prices for basic work, and you must upload your document to request a quote rather than finding pricing information directly on the website. However, this is not uncommon, and the level of quality they produce is worth the price.
Best Online/App: SDL Machine Translation
For businesses looking for a machine translation service, SDL Machine Translation is our choice for the best service that's online or app-based. It’s intuitive and easy-to-use and provides cost-effective, high-quality translating service for low-visibility work like social media posts and emails, as well as high-volume content like data sets and reports. It also has a solid reputation and was used by the European Commission to overhaul its translation infrastructure in 2013. It’s also used by many translation firms and freelance translators to supplement their manual work.
In addition to producing accurate translations at a competitive price, SDL Machine Translation integrates directly with the computer and allows employees to instantly translate any content, from documents to videos, with an option to specify industry for increased accuracy. It’s also possible to create a translation memory, meaning that translation pairings can be standardized if the company prefers consistent word choice.
Best In-Person Interpretation: Japan Communication Consultants, LLC
There are times you might need an in-person translator, or interpreter, to attend a meeting or conference and translate for you. We chose Japan Communication Consultants, LLC, as the best in-person interpretation due to their specialization in Japanese-to-English translation as well as their extensive experience, vetting process of each translator hired, and fair and competitive pricing. Japan Communication Consultants, LLC, is a small group with 20 years of experience and a client roster including the United Nations, The Museum of Modern Art, and Sony.
They provide other services including document translation, and Japanese Communication Consultants states they can keep their prices low in comparison to multilingual firms due to their focus on one-language pairing, allowing them to maximize quality.
While their website isn’t as easy to use as some, pricing guidelines are clearly indicated. However, to get the most accurate price for your project, you will need to request a quote, a common practice among all translation services.
Best Free Option: DeepL
When considering free translation services, the most well-known choice is Google Translate. However, while Google’s artificial intelligence excels with common language pairs like Spanish and English, with rarer combinations like Japanese and English we found that DeepL, another free machine translator, provides a more grammatically and semantically accurate translation. According to their website, they hosted a blind test with Japanese translators to evaluate machine-translated texts from Google Translate, Microsoft Bing, DeepL, and others, and DeepL was voted the best, an endorsement echoed in reviews on impartial sites. For these reasons, we chose DeepL as our best free option in Japanese translation.
One drawback to this service is that it uses the text you enter to train its AI. While they promise this information is not shared with third parties, if you’re translating sensitive or personal documents, you might want to consider using another service that doesn’t connect with third parties. It also does not differentiate between polite forms of Japanese, an important aspect of the language.
Given these issues, we recommend this service for quick information exchanges rather than sensitive or confidential documents.
Best for Quick Turnaround: Gengo
Our choice for the best quick turnaround, Gengo was acquired by Lionbridge in 2019 and is one of the most well-known Japanese translation companies in the Western world. We picked it as our choice due to its pricing, which is often lower than its competitors, as well as its speed and reputation with clients including Airbnb, Amazon, and Rakuten.
Gengo states it can produce professional translations “within hours” which is possible based on its model that allows freelance translators to claim gigs and get started in minutes. This means that the number of Japanese translators available at any given time is higher than with other services, resulting in even faster order completion.
However, this business model favors the customer at the expense of the translator, attracting fewer highly trained translators. This tradeoff between quality and speed is a question for Gengo in reviews, but if you need a document translated quickly, Gengo is a solid choice.
Best for Businesses: Japanese Connection/TJC Global
Based in Oxford, UK, Japanese Connection/TJC Global boasts notable clients such as The Body Shop, Vodafone, and the Home Office of the UK government. We picked this service as best for business due to its extensive experience in translation, interpretation, and localization for businesses and governments, with specializations in industries as varied as agriculture, business, education, publishing, and manufacturing. The company has an impressive global network of Japanese translators available in several cities for in-person, telephone, and court interpretation. Additionally, they offer urgent services for time-sensitive projects and are currently limiting their work with individuals to focus primarily on business and government requests.
Japanese Connection/TJC Global's website is simple and navigable, although it should be noted that their localization services are hidden under “translation.” Pricing information is not immediately available and you must request a quote, which, although free, can add another layer of uncertainty to your project. When we requested pricing information, they did not reply for several hours, which made us question the availability and attentiveness of their customer service.
What Are Japanese Translation Services?
Japanese translation services are companies that specialize in translating written work (document translation), spoken language in real-time by an in-person translator (interpretation), and recasting marketing material to appeal to a foreign demographic (localization). Large multinational companies, companies looking to expand their global engagement, and importers and exporters are most in need of translation services, as well as individuals needing translation of official documents like diplomas or marriage licenses.
How Do Japanese Translation Services Work?
The best translation companies will receive your request and quickly assign it to one of their translators. This translator should remain in touch with you throughout the process, to clarify terms or to specify your word choice preferences. It’s smart to be as specific as possible with your instructions; most translators prefer this clarity, so don’t be shy.
You will also be able to work with the company to establish a deadline, which the best companies will honor, even if it’s a rapid turnaround. If you don’t need a translation immediately but you do need it by a certain date, remember to leave wiggle room in your deadline in case your translation comes back and needs edits.
Ideally, we recommend sending the completed translation to a native speaker to proofread, if you know any. Good companies will be happy to do prompt revisions if requested.
How Much Do Japanese Translation Services Cost?
Because of its complexity, attention to cultural nuance, and lower demand than other translation services like Spanish or French, Japanese translation tends to be expensive. However, most Japanese translation firms offer tiered pricing based on the level of quality requested.
For example, standard quality can be requested for social media posts, emails, and less formal communications and will cost less, while premium work more suitable for legal and official translations and industry-specific work will have a higher price tag. Other services like interpretation and localization will have different pricing, often coming at a premium due to the training and experience needed.
Who Can Benefit From Using a Japanese Translation Service?
For the past 20 years, the translation industry has been experiencing a sharp increase in demand. This is because companies have a greater understanding of how, thanks to qualified translation companies, a globalized business model and an expanded audience can increase sales and engagement.
Companies hoping to begin manufacturing in Japan, expand operations to Japan, or reach a Japanese audience would benefit greatly from hiring a translation service. With the third-largest economy in the world, Japan represents a valuable potential market, but this demographic is a particularly difficult audience to reach in contrast to many European countries.
Japanese consumers and businesses are best reached in their native language, and cultural discrepancies are also important to note. This is especially important when deciding between paid services and free online translation tools, the latter of which tends to skim over the important subtlety of Japanese decorum. Missing these key details can negatively impact the company trying to reach a Japanese audience.
How We Chose the Best Japanese Translation Services
We combed through a list of about 50 translation companies based in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region. We placed special emphasis on companies with extensive experience in Japan, and customer reviews made it clear we should focus on the following factors: accuracy of translation, industry specialization, customer support, and website clarity and appeal (i.e., a good heuristic for cultural flexibility, an important factor for a translation firm working globally).
All of the companies we picked offered accurate, reliable, and quick translation services at fair and competitive prices. They had easy-to-use websites, offered quality customer service, and a variety of translation services available in multiple industries.
DeepL. “DeepL’s Translator Learns Japanese and Chinese.” Accessed October 28, 2020.
SME Japan. “Lionbridge Acquires Gengo, a Tokyo-Based Translation Company.” Accessed October 29, 2020.
Tough Nickel. “An Overview of Working as a Translator at Gengo.” Accessed October 29, 2020.