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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions that I get asked quite regularly. If you have a problem that isn’t mentioned here, please let me know. Click on a question to scroll down to the answer.

  1. Translation
  2. Your Name in Japanese
  3. Typesetting
  4. Learning Japanese
  5. Employment

1. Translation

Q. I just need to get a few word(s) translated into Japanese. Can you do this for free?

A. You might find a free translation of your name on this website. Otherwise, try using the Babel Fish translation tool at altavista.com or Jim Breen’s excellent WWJDIC Online Japanese Dictionary at the Monash University website. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, try asking at the Japan Online Forum.

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2. Your Name in Japanese

Q. What are all those extra vowels doing in the Japanese version of my name?

A. When English words are written in Japanese, they have to be assembled from the 60 or so syllables that make up the Japanese language. Unfortunately, except for “n”, all of these syllables end with a vowel. As a result, it is impossible to prevent stray vowels from appearing. For example, the Japanese for “McDonald’s” is makudonarudo.

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Q. My name doesn’t appear in the dictionary of names in Japanese. Can you add it please?

A. I can send you a picture of your name in Japanese if you don’t mind paying for it, but I had to stop accepting requests for additions to the online database because it was starting to take up far too much of my time. Try using the online Japanese name generator at the Monash University website instead.

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Q. Whenever I look up my name in the dictionary, all I get is an error message saying “This temporary image is no longer available.” What’s going on?

[Error message]

This is what the error message looks like.

A. Are you using Internet Explorer by any chance? The images produced by this dictionary are kept in a temporary folder and deleted after 24 hours. To prevent browsers from trying to access deleted images, the web pages containing the dictionary search results are flagged with an “expiry” date that tells browsers to reload the page from the server if it is more than 24 hours old. For some reason, Internet Explorer often chooses to ignore this information. Fortunately there is quick fix: just hold down the “control” key on your keyboard and click the “Reload” button in your browser window.

Q. I copied the picture of my name to my own website, but now all I get is an error message. How do I prevent this?

A. This is probably because the image has been deleted from this server. If you want the image to appear on your website, you’ll have to upload the image yourself. If you just link your image tag to this website then it will stop working after 24 hours (see above).

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3. Typesetting

Q. I need to get the following initials typeset in Japanese…

A. I don’t know why I get asked this so often. Initials on their own don’t really mean anything, so they can’t be translated. If they’re for something like a monogram, then you should leave them as they are — the Japanese are all perfectly capable of recognizing letters from the Roman alphabet. And although it’s possible to represent the characters phonetically in Japanese (i.e., A=EI, B=BII, C=SHII, etc.), there are very few situations where you would need to do this.

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4. Learning Japanese

Q. Do you have any advice on the best way of studying Japanese?

A. Many Japanese textbooks try to keep things simple by avoiding any discussion of the writing system. I think this is a mistake. The writing system is such an integral part of the language that skipping over it would be like trying to do maths without any numbers. And if you ever travel to Japan, you’ll soon find that a little literacy goes a long way. Make an effort to learn hiragana, katakana and kanji right from day one. I found that making my own flash cards helped a lot, but do whatever feels right for you.

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Q. Can you recommend a good Japanese language school?

A. I can thoroughly recommend the Tokyo School of the Japanese Language (also known as Naganuma School) in Shibuya, Tokyo. Their one-year intensive Japanese courses move at a swift pace, but their teaching methods are highly effective.

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5. Employment

Q. Do you have any vacancies for Japanese translators?

A. No, but I do maintain a list of other experienced translators to send clients to when I’m unable to take on a job. If you’re just starting out as a translator, you might be better off working in-house for an agency until you’ve gained some experience. Emails such as the following are unlikely to get a reply:

Respected sir, i’m aMCA student having the knowledge of japanese language seeking a job in your company.i’ve secured 80%in JLPT Label-3 .i’m waiting for quick responce.

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Header image: The sacred bridge (神橋) across the Daiya river at Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社) in Nikkō. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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