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The Deposition Interpreting Goldfish Bowl in Japan

(Posted December 29, 2012)

Please give us an interpreter living in Osaka. This request, not at all uncommon, shows a lack of understanding of the demographics of qualified and experienced deposition interpreters in Japan. There are simply not enough of such interpreters in Japan to make it reasonable to ask for one living in either Tokyo or Osaka. The few qualified interpreters working normally in the Tokyo area travel to Osaka for depositions all the time, and travel around Japan to assist US counsel in discussions with—and preparation of witnesses from—their Japanese clients. The statistics showing where we have provided litigation interpreting demonstrate this clearly.

The rather unreasonable expectation of an interpreter living in a particular location is probably a result of the situation in the US, where a large number of depositions are taken of Japanese witnesses every day all over the country, and you can probably find interpreters living in most major cities who would at least say they can do depositions.

There are only three deposition rooms in all of Japan, one in Tokyo (at the US Embassy), and two in Osaka (at the US Consulate). They are booked almost 100% but used at a considerably lower rate (because of settlements, cancelations and other non-interpreting aspects of litigation). In such a small goldfish bowl, the population of goldfish (deposition interpreters) that are able to survive is naturally limited.

Even without the condition of city of residence, the number of experienced and highly qualified deposition interpreters in Japan drops to a tiny number, perhaps no more than five interpreters.

Technical subject matter: not a laughing matter. Patent litigation inherently requires discussion of technology, sometimes extremely complex technology. Just as is the case with translation, the interpreting process is not one of blindly replacing words in one language with those in another. The interpreter needs to understand what is being said. This should be a given, but you still hear some potential clients (albeit almost always court reporting firms or translation brokers attempting to broker to law firms interpreting services of which they have no knowledge) say things like “technical interpreting experience would be helpful.” Helpful? Certainly, but without it, the interpreter and everyone in the deposition room is likely to drown in a sea of confusion.

If you need deposition interpreters and care about the quality of the interpreting, you should keep in mind the situation described above and realize that, if you fail to get one of that small group of qualified and experienced deposition interpreters working in Japan, you are likely to have an interesting "deposition experience," as some people might describe it, or have unexpected trouble discussing complex technical subject matter with your Japanese client prior to depositions.