Business for foreigners: Language services for the Japanese market

January 17th, 2011By Category: Work Tips

With an increasing number of patent applications, mergers & acquisitions, there is a growing demand for translation companies that offer industry expertise as well as language services. One of those is SunFlare Co, which offers comprehensive translation services in over 50 languages. SunFlare, which was established 40 years ago, has more than 7,000 translators worldwide in its database and in 2009, handled more than 16,000 translation orders.

Overseeing the marketing and production units at SunFlare is Executive Managing Director Shunichi Hagihara, who has been with the company for eight years. GaijinPot, together with our sister-site Japan Today, visited Hagihara at SunFlare’s offices in Yotsuya to hear more.

Was 2010 a good year for SunFlare?

Yes, it was. We finally recovered from the effects of the Lehman shock and got back on the path to growth. Currently, we are the second largest language service provider in terms of sales volume in Japan, and getting quite close to the top due to this growth, I believe.

What spurred the growth?

There are two main reasons. One of our biggest departments is patent documentation and translation. Across all industries, applications for patents started increasing again. The other reason is that for the past three years, we have been putting a lot of effort into our life sciences department and developing many new types of services for pharmaceutical, medical devices, and cosmetic companies. That sector has finally started to grow.

Which languages are most in demand?

70% of our business is translations from Japanese to English and vice versa. The rest are mostly Asian and European ones. In terms of growth, demand for Chinese language-related services is increasing rapidly; in addition to translations, we provide various consultation services for companies looking to establish a stronger presence in the Chinese market.

What are SunFlare’s strengths?

Our main strength is that our scale and experience allow us to cater to all major industries. We have language expertise as well as industry expertise. These days, everything is merging, and it is difficult to separate industries in a clear-cut fashion. A multidisciplinary approach is critical. For example, one of our major focus areas now is medical devices and when you are translating legal documents for an application for a new medical device, you need expertise in medical devices and legal documents, as well as language expertise.

Another strong point for SunFlare is that, aside from translation, we provide other forms of support to clients, be it through IT solutions or document consultation which requires a lot of market knowledge and expertise. We can offer customized solutions based on a customer’s needs.

Tell us about your translators.

We have a dedicated department with bilingual managers who are constantly looking for expert resources in all countries. We have more than 7,000 translators worldwide in our database. Of those, about 4,000 are in Japan. A lot are doctors, scientists, university professors and those with experience working at regulatory authorities and in the private sector.

Do you sometimes get tight deadlines?

We often have rush projects. Much like firefighters whose training is for a fire that may come up at any time, we are always on our toes and ready for such occasions. No matter how chaotic things may be, we have to provide a stable service to our clients so that they can feel reassured, especially when the matter is urgent.

What is your workflow system?

After we receive an order, a project manager will review the text, consult in-house specialists and engineers if needed, then decide the procedure to get the best translation for the case – i.e., a special glossary or guideline is made prior to the actual translation, or engineers work to embed definitive translations for the client—and then the text will be assigned to the translators who are considered to be the most suitable for the topic at hand. That is followed by editing and a final check before we deliver the translated documents to the client.

There are still many clients where translations are often assigned to whoever among the staff speaks the best English. Is this practice changing?

If you give the translation to your secretary or someone else, you still need to get it checked by an expert. So from the perspective of lowering the total cost, a lot of clients realize the value of outsourcing their translations, especially when the document is a highly specialized one. With patent documents, we can translate the documents as well as perform market searches in, say China, to see if a patent already exists. We strive to add value by performing peripheral services in addition to the core translation work.

What software do you use?

After consulting with the client and evaluating the needs of a project, we select the appropriate tool from the host of software available in the market – for example, TRADOS and WorldServer are commonly used. When no product on the market matches these needs, our dedicated technology division steps in to provide customized IT solutions which help expedite the documentation process.

Do you think machine translations will replace human translators?

We are getting close to machine translations but we see it as merely a device that a human will need to operate. Some documents will be more suitable for machine translation; other cases where you need to specifically translate a certain nuance or bridge the cultural gap will always need a human.

What does the SunFlare Academy do?

Think of the whole company as a sports team with the company in the major leagues. The academy is something closer to a farm team system where we are training resources with translation and writing skills. Simply having industry or linguistic knowledge isn’t enough to provide what would qualify as a product to sell to a client. Writing style, tone and terminology are all important to make a translation into a product. The academy has about 1,500 trainees, including some who take online courses.

What happens after they graduate?

After graduating, they receive credentials, take the TQE (Translator Qualifying Examination) and become registered SunFlare translators. However, they are under no obligation to register with us, and many do register with other language service providers as well.

Does SunFlare have any overseas offices?

We have two in Paris and Dalian. In the future, we would like to be in the U.S.

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Additional photo credit: Helen Cook / Flickr

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GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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