Abbreviations of Japanese Government Department Names

Posted in November 2020 to translation

While translating a text from Japanese to English recently, I encountered the following issue. There was a long sentence containing a list of items, with each followed by an inline reference in brackets to a document from a government department, like this:

one (link one), two (link two), ...

The references looked something like this: 平成17年9月16日付薬食審査発第0916001号. Translating this into English presents two challenges. The first is elucidating what 薬食審査発 refers to. This alone can be difficult. In some cases, the references are to 40-year-old documents produced by the defunct departments of long since re-organised agencies. There is little information about the documents online, or about who produced them. The second issue comes when you find out that the reference refers to the Evaluation and Licensing Division of the Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau. In Japanese, these references don't look particularly out of place, but when I translated my problem sentence into English, the result was quite unwieldy.

Searching online, I found various treatments of this problem. This issue is touched on by translators on this page. I also tried searching for some actual examples of these references, and found unsurprisingly that they are handled differently in different documents. For example, this JPMA page translates department names in full, but abbreviates agency names:

Notification No. 0922001 of the Evaluation and Licensing Division, PFSB dated September 22, 2005

while this translated local government page uses the format:

December 15, 2000, PMSB/ELD Notification No.1334

Given that I was translating an inline reference, I decided to make it as brief as possible.

While I was translating the references for this document, I made a list of department names and corresponding English abbreviations that I came across. If I encounter any more in the future, I will add them to this list. Of course, try and confirm these for yourself, I'm just some guy on the Internet.

Reference English Abbreviation
厚生省 MHW
薬発 PAB [No department name given]
薬食安発 PFSB/SD
薬食審査発 PFSB/ELD