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The Challenges of Japanese Transcription

Japanese, the de facto national language of Japan, is spoken by around 129 million people, mostly within the country itself. Japan’s prominence in the global marketplace has made Japanese an important international language and, in turn, created demand for Japanese transcription services.

Japanese transcription can be tricky. English and Japanese have entirely different writing systems, grammar, and idioms, so this poses many challenges for transcribers. If you need your audio or video content transcribed in Japanese, contact the experts at, who can use their understanding of Japanese (and English, if you seek a translated transcript) to produce accurate written content.

What are some of the challenges that transcribers face while working with Japanese audio and video files?


Kanji is the established Japanese character system. The characters are written with particular strokes to create specific meanings. They can also have different meanings, depending on the context. For example, 上手 can mean jōzu (skilled), uwate (upper part), or kamite (stage left/house right). Because this type of context-specific meaning is not found in English, a non-native Japanese speaker will need extensive training and practice to learn how to transcribe Japanese.


While English has formal and informal ways of speaking, the Japanese language takes status and respect to another level. Japanese uses many honorifics called keigo, which are specific parts of speech used to show respect. In order to accurately transcribe Japanese, the transcriptionist must fully understand the vocabulary and grammar rules of keigo.

Determining tenses

Japanese does not have a future tense. While there are adverbs that can describe the past, present, and future, there is not a specific pattern that determines the tense of the verb. This is particularly important to understand when transcribing directly from a Japanese video or audio file into English text.

Grammar differences

In English, the word order is subject-verb-object; in Japanese, it is generally subject-object-verb. However, word order is much less important in Japanese than it is in English, and not every sentence has to have a subject. In fact, Japanese is considered a null-subject language. If you were to translate a subjectless Japanese sentence into English, you’d have to add the subject and know the context of the overall sentence in order to do so.

In addition, there are striking differences in the way that English and Japanese speakers refer to themselves and address other people. While English has only a handful of pronouns, Japanese has multiple words for each pronoun, depending on the formality of the relationship and respect required by the situation.

We offer high-quality Japanese transcription services

These are only a few of the challenges that our Japanese transcriptionists are trained to handle. For professional, accurate Japanese transcription, contact us today to receive a free quote for your Japanese-to-Japanese or Japanese-to-English transcription project.


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