by Michel Lopez, President, e2f translations, inc.

A few days before the Localization World conference in Santa Clara, GALA Board Member Aki Ito visited our head-office, conveniently located across the street from the Convention Center. During the conversation, I told him that my company, e2f translations, was now well known by most MLVs in the US and Europe, but that I felt we needed more exposure in Asia in order to keep growing.

When I asked Aki about the possibility to attend trade shows in China or India, he stopped me: “Would you like to accompany me to the JTF and KIGO conferences late November-early December?”

I gave him a blank stare. Of course I had never heard of them. He patiently explained that JTF is the Japanese Translation Federation, and KIGO the Korea IT Globalization Organization. He was going to attend both conferences on behalf of GALA, and thought my SLV viewpoint could be interesting to both audiences.

Hmm, I figured that I couldn’t justify a trip to East Asia for those two conferences only, so I was about to decline. But Aki offered to introduce me to other GALA members in both countries. This started to sound promising! A few email exchanges later, he had helped me secure appointments with 4 of the largest translation companies in Japan, and 3 of the largest in Korea. I couldn’t refuse anymore. The conferences were about a week apart, perfect timing to squeeze in a few days of vacation with my girlfriend Jenny in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. The trip was going to be packed with appointments and visits, hopefully not with snow!

Tokyo Tower

As soon as we arrived at Narita Airport, we realized that we had forgotten one of my suitcases at home. We looked at each other, stunned. Without suits, shirts and ties, it would be hard to make any kind of impression in the Japanese business world. We had expected to visit Tokyo museums on Sunday. Instead, we started hunting for formal clothes in Ginza, the upscale shopping district, hopping from store to store, stung by the cold and the price tags. Over 1,000 dollars for a replacement suit? My accountant would never accept that as business expense!

Neither my height nor my weight is usual by Japanese standards, but their combination is only available in a few stores in the largest city in the world! By the evening, after talking to hundreds of pedestrians lost in translation, we were exhausted but had managed to find decent clothes that fit me, and I was looking again like a businessman and not a tourist!

On Monday, things improved notably. I had very productive appointments at two of the largest Japanese MLVs. They both explained to me that most Japanese LSPs are vertically integrated from content production to translation and even printing and distribution. The usual model is to first develop technical and/or marketing content in Japanese for the end-client, then to translate it in English, and from there to have it translated into all other languages. This clearly offers partnership opportunity for SLVs. In the current strong yen environment where Project Management time becomes very costly for Japanese LSPs, it can easily become cheaper for them to work with SLVs rather than freelancers.

In the evening, we gathered in a nice Irish pub for a GALA event organized by Aki Ito. Employees of many of the largest Japanese LSPs and foreign LSPs established in Japan were there, as well as visitors, such as Arturo Quintero, CEO of Moravia and GALA Board Member; Matt Armey from CSOFT (we coincidentally sported the same jackets… did he also get stranded in Tokyo without clothes?); and foreigners working for Japanese LSPs, such as Rachel De Palma.

As is the case at any other GALA event I have attended, the conversation was very animated, informative, multi-cultural and multi-lingual, until the jetlag finally sent us back to the hotel. Jenny, who is an attorney, explained that she had discussed with a senior employee of a Japanese LSP planning to open a sales office in the Bay Area. As he was coincidentally looking for a lawyer for incorporation and visa issues, he might well retain her for such services. And I thought I was the one on a business trip!

Fish Market

Tuesday was a big day: the JTF conference. Surprisingly, with over 700 attendants, it’s larger than even the Localization World conference. The reason is most likely the large concentration of LPSs in the largest urban agglomeration in the world. The local offices of many large American translation companies were exhibiting next to Japanese translation agencies. Business cards were exchanged, although foreigners tended to stay together due to the language barrier.

Then came the moment I had been waiting for. Arturo, Matt and I discussed on a GALA panel moderated by Aki. We talked about the evolution of the translation and localization market outside of Japan. Arturo shared his insights about Europe, Matt his knowledge about the US and China, I focused on SLV strategies. I especially enjoyed the way Arturo kept reminding us that we are human beings making human decisions and captivated us with anecdotes from his private life. This panel was the only session in English. However, to our surprise, there were a lot of attendants, and some even asked questions towards the end. Japan is changing!

The conference ended on a well-attended and celebrated closing ceremony. The food was absolutely excellent, nothing like I have experienced at other localization conferences, and the conversation lively, but jetlag once again forced us to leave a bit early.

After one more day of meetings in Tokyo, including a very interesting conversation with Ikuo Higashi, president of Honyaku Center, nicely interpreted by Rachel, it was time to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. After experiencing the amazing bubbling energy of the 21st century in Tokyo, we were back in serene 19th century Japan, sipping tea in kimono on a tatami. A busy schedule of meetings, rushes in the metro and taxis had been replaced by slow walks in parks and ancient geisha houses alleys.