Japanese word 実務 (jitsumu)

By | January 18, 2019

Whereas many of this blog’s posts are about Japanese words that I use myself in daily life, in this article I’d like to talk about a word that I had some difficulty understanding and the research I did related to that.

The word is 実務 (jitsumu) and I saw it used in the name of a translation course: 実務翻訳コース (jitsumu honyaku koosu). In case you are curious, I saw the word used in this ad, in this magazine.

I knew the meanings of the component parts of 実務:

  • 実 (jitsu): real, actual
  • 務 (mu): work, business

Based on this, the meaning of “実務” would be something like “actual business” and this roughly matches the definition in one dictionary:

  • Japanese/Japanese dictionary: 実際の仕事 (lit: “actual work”)
  • Japanese/English dictionary: business

However, this doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in what the “実務翻訳” course is about. In particular, the “actual” part is a little odd-–is this contrasting to some “fake” work? Another dictionary refers to 実務 as “practical business affairs”, which doesn’t help clarify much.

Sometimes it is hard to understand a word without looking at it in context. So I decided to search for the phrase 実務翻訳 in Japanese. I found this link that describes the phrase as:

実務翻訳とは、あらゆる経済活動や政治の現場で発生してくる文書を翻訳する仕事。「産業翻訳」「ビジネス翻訳」などとも呼ばれています

From this we can see that 実務翻訳 is about translating documents in various economic or political settings, and is also referred to as “industry translation” or “business translation”.

This definition is pretty broad; so what, you may ask, is not included? Later on the page it is compared to the fields of 出版翻訳 (“published translation”) and 映像翻訳 (visual translation), so these two would not be included in 実務翻訳. (By the way, 出版翻訳 is another tricky word, but it refers to translations for things like novels and poetry collections that are published in E-book or paper form)

Now it is more clear that the “actual” nuance of the word 実務 is not really relevant, at least in this context.

Based on all this, I think “business translation” is the best translation for 実務翻訳. Just to double check, and did another search and found someone’s profile written in both Japanese and English. I was happy to see it translated this word as “business translation”. Similarly, I think in the majority of cases translating 実務 as “business” would be safe.

Having said that, I still have seen at least one case where the “actual” nuance of the word is emphasized. It is the phrase “実務経験” (jitsumu keiken), which means something like “actual (real world) experience”, to contrast with studying or doing other activities that are not performed during a formal job.

So at this point I’d say we have 一件落着 (ikken rakuchaku): case closed.

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