Thank you for sharing your experiences, it is really interesting to hear about it because I wanted to become a translator at some point as well and didn’t know how to get there. The profession I used to work for is very secretive and that makes things quite difficult sometimes for newbies.
Now I gave up on the whole idea but for younger people with this dream I would like to add something,
because I realized that often people in the forum have the concern that it is absolutely necessary to live in Japan to learn Japanese and it is possible to make a massive step forward in doing so but:
Living in Japan is not necessarily a good place to learn Japanese!
That sounds strange, but if you live in Japan you will feel:
- Overexposed to the language to a degree making it difficult to really concentrate on studying besides to what else you are doing (living, work, university etc.). Japanese becomes a method for survival rather than a study with a clear structure and defined goal. Even if you want to study you don’t know where to start at some point (Keigo, Kanji, Accent, conversation…) It is much easier to act structured with a certain distance from Japan. The more you already know before you go to Japan the better.
- Japanese culture is very different from the “West” so if you experience it for the first time it is 100% likely that after a certain time you will experience a massive culture shock and suddenly everything Japanese is not cool anymore and this also is not helpful in your motivation towards studying.
- Next point is, Japanese adjust their level of speaking to yours in order to be polite (or rarely they speak normal, and in this case most likely you will not understand a lot) so even if you live in Japan you have to manage to level up by yourself - this happens more natural when you are in your home country because you know it is necessary to do the effort by yourself. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing just living in Japan makes your Japanese better.
- You cannot directly ask people about Japanese like in this forum and you will receive very strange tips on how to improve your Japanese. This is distracting because in the beginning you will believe people because they are native and you think they know what they are talking about.
- If you are visually sensitive you might loose your love for Kanji if you live eg in Tokyo. The hole city is plastered in three dimensions with text (in weird fonts) that competes for your attention making it difficult to navigate even if you can read already. Until this point (living in Japan for about ten years) I am still looking for the toilet flush button sometimes because there is also an emergency button and for some reason a lot of text explaining what is what and it is everything else than easy to understand.
There is really a visual information overkill. With this level of overexposure it is not the first thing you might want to do when you are at home to read a Japanese book which seems to be the most important thing after all.
- The brain works best when you feel calm and safe. This is a condition difficult to achieve when you live in Japan for the first two years.
- If you go to a language school in Japan you will be surrounded by other foreigners, this condition does not improve your abilities. Eg I started to develop a Korean accent during my last time in a language school.
- The method in which languages in Japan are taught are questionable looking at how successful they are. (This also applies to universities).
- Japanese people (also teachers) are very discouraging because they (sometimes but not always unconsciously) perpetually transmit their opinion that a westerner can not become good at Japanese.
In order to learn to speak and to get a feeling for “real” Japanese culture (somehow it seems to me the cultural aspect is very important to translate Japanese) that is not covered in the mainstream media (there are some misconceptions and it is often depicted very superficial) it is necessary to live for a while in Japan (and suffer).
But if the goal is to become a translator maybe most of the work that is necessary towards becoming one can be (better) done from outside of Japan.
(I don’t want to say that living in Japan is just suffering but being exposed to an entirely different way of thinking automatically leads to a mismatch between expectation and reality and that hurts, whatever people may say on social media)
Finally I recommend to stop watching Anime even if you love them, especially if you love them. They do help for learning the language and to learn casual Japanese but to understand the culture (as a whole not only seen from a young persons view) better I recommend to watch eg 深夜食堂, it is on Netflix and I think it gives a quite broad cultural insight. Or movies like おくりびと, たそがれ清兵衛 or 猫のタキシー something not so mainstream entertainment is best for that purpose because these stories of antiheros take a closer and more precise look at society than an idealized movie or drama. Even if you don’t understand a lot just watching it helps to get the atmosphere. A manga useful for that is わにとかげぎす by 古谷実 but it is a bit extreme underground.
To understand Japanese thinking better I found the book もう、怒らない and I think it was 仏教対人心理学読本 from 小池 龍之介 very useful.
And be very careful about which exams or qualifications you are trying to get (or better avoid). I think the N1 is useful for translators (maybe only for translators and people who need it for their job hunting) because it teaches a lot of sentence structures you don’t need in real life. Something like double negations appear a lot and if you want to translate getting a good feeling for such structures helps I think.
But eg you don’t need to take the Kanken exams (it takes an incredible amount of effort to pass the upper levels), they are good at expanding your vocabulary and for handwriting Kanjis but studying them you don’t learn any context so for a translator it might be better to study vocabulary while reading making flashcards with whole sentences or at least a part of it.
In the end it also depends on what you are planning to translate, I had novels in mind but maybe that is not what you are interested in.
Btw. with your attitude I am sure you will learn Japanese fast and efficiently because you know what you don’t know. It is more difficult for people who cannot admit to that. (Speaking from own experience, I had to change my attitude quite a lot in order to improve things)
(Sorry that the whole text is a bit off topic, but I thought I would like to take out some pressure from the idea that is is absolutely necessary to go to Japan based on the experience I had in Japan so far. And most of the foreigners I know in Japan just surrender at some point because learning seems so overwhelming. In this forum there is an entirely different level of enthusiasm compared to the foreigners community in Japan btw. and this helps me to regain some momentum )