Personal translation service is going through a boom as tourists rush in Japan

Published on : Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Without his pocket translator, Takehiko Fujita would not succeed in selling eye drops and pain relievers.

 

In place of an app, the clerk in a Japanese drugstore uses Pocketalk, a 25,000 yen ($230) device developed by Sourcenext Corp. that looks like an oval puck. The gadget translates phrases to and from 74 languages, assisting Fujita to talk with customers from Sweden, Vietnam and other countries.

 

Tourists are coming to Japan in huge numbers with 31 million people coming to the archipelago last year; triple the number six years earlier, as per the Japan National Tourism Organization. Businesses are trying hard regarding visitors interested in shopping, eat and move around – a situation that will probably deteriorate during Tokyo Olympics next year. Looking to tap into the demands, electronics maker Fujitsu Ltd. and office supplier King Jim Co. are challenging Pocketalk’s 94% market share with their own products.

 

“I’m not worried anymore,” said Fujita, who works at a Takeya store in Tokyo’s Okachimachi area. To talk to customers, he used to depend on Google Translate. However, now he picks up the Pocketalk dangling from his neck to talk with people. “I can speak to people who, at first glance, come from foreign countries and might not understand me.”
While apps in various smartphones remain popular as well as common – translation tool, Pocketalk has carved out its own niche. The gadget features a sensitive microphone, and accesses machine translation and voice-recognition software from Google, Baidu and others, improving accuracy. Since it debuted in 2017, over 500,000 Pocketalk units have been sold.

 

Previously a developer of greeting-card design software, Sourcenext partnered with Dutch startup Travis, which had by now launched a translator prototype, to create Pocketalk. Additionally, Sourcenext used expertise from Rosetta Stone Inc.’s Japan unit, which it bought in April 2017.

 

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