Words Versus Characters: The ratio of Japanese characters (kana and kanji) to English words is about 1.95, with the ratio of English words to Japanese characters at about 0.52. These ratios are strongly influenced by such factors as the number of foreign words (in katakana) and the subject matter. Legal materials generally have a slightly higher word/character ratio compared to economic materials. Despite their drawbacks, these ratios serve as a useful rule of thumb when comparing translation rates. If a company charges 20 yen per Japanese character but you are used to using the word count, just multiply 20 x 1.95 to get the word-based rate of 39 yen.
Translation Agency Rates (before tax): The table on the right shows rates charged by translation agencies for Japanese-English translation in business, law and finance, including proofreading by a native English speaker. Yen values are based on the character count of the Japanese source text and do not include consumption tax. Nor do these rates reflect the many charges which translation agencies impose for assignments which are urgent, require background research or involve Excel or Power Point files. Translation rates vary considerably within the industry, but the Japan Translation Federation benchmark rate for native-level Japanese-English business translation (law and finance) is 25 yen per character in the source text. My own research shows that the actual industry average is slightly lower, or around 22 yen per character.
How do my rates compare? The above table of translation rates shows that the rate under a Monthly Agreement is 44 percent lower than the JTF benchmark and 36 percent lower than the industry average even before addition of consumption tax. However, Japanese tax law does not require individual translators who meet certain conditions to add consumption tax. Thus as shown in the table on the right, after the 8 percent consumption tax rate is taken into consideration, the effective (after tax) rate under a Monthly Agreement is actually over 48 percent lower than the JTF benchmark rate and 41 percent lower than the industry average.
The Cost of J-E Versus E-J Translation: Before the age of computers, documents were submitted for translation in hard-copy form. Many documents also contained tables, figures and graphs, and the work of translating these had to be factored into the charge as well. Perhaps for this reason, most translation service providers charged for translation based on the number of pages. As software with word and character count features came into use, it became possible to easily count the number of words or characters in the translated text. Some translation service providers therefore began using the word or character count rather than the number of pages. As time went by, more documents were submitted for translation in the form of electronic files. This made it easy to calculate the number of characters or words in the source text. Perhaps for this reason, there has been a general trend toward using the word or character count of the source text. Until recently, JTF calculated its benchmark Japanese-English translation rate based the number of words in the English translation. In 2015, however, JTF switched to using the Japanese source text (25 yen per character). The rate which JTF used immediately prior to making this switch was 45 yen per word. The ratio which JTF used to convert words into characters for J-E translation was therefore 0.5556 (45*x=25, x=25/45, x=0.5556). Expressed as characters-to-words, it is 1.8 (45/25=1.8)(. JTF's character-to-word ratio ratio is thus slightly lower than that based on my own calculations. For present purposes, I will use the JTF ratio.)
Japanese-English Translation is 50% More Expensive: We can use the above conversion rate to compare the cost of J-E versus E-J translation. As noted above, the JTF average market price for Japanese-to-English translation in finance and law is 25 yen per character. Expressed as English words, it is 45 yen per word (25*1.8=45). Meanwhile, the JTF average market rate for English-to-Japanese translation is given as 30 yen per word. Expressed as Japanese characters, it is 16.668 yen (30*0.5556=16.668, or about 16.67 yen per character). The table on the right summarizes these findings and shows that J-E translation is about 50% more expensive than E-J, since (25-16.67)/16.67=49.97% and (45-30)/30=50%.