Our familiarity with Japan is mainly due to its unique culture, popular symbols, and architecture, among other things. When people hear words such as "sushi," "sakura," or "samurai," they immediately associate them with Japan.
However, this country boasts many other qualities that make it an ideal market for various businesses. As such, localizing to this region is a wise decision. Is your product still not talking Japanese? Let us convince you why fixing this brings success.
The facts about the Japan market
So, why localize to Japanese? There is a list of reasons. Firstly, Japan is one of the strongest economies in the world. It ranks third after the USA and China.
At the same time, the people in Japan are deeply involved in the tech world - Japan is well-known as the motherland of different technology companies like Nintendo, Sega, and others. As a result, the mobile app industry in Japan is thriving with high annual installation and usage rates, making it one of the most important markets worldwide.
Another reason for Japan's attractiveness for businesses is its robust economy. In recent years, Japan has kept third place as the strongest economy after China and the USA. Also, it has one of the world's largest e-commerce markets, with $144 billion in annual online sales projected to reach $156.30 billion in 2023. Based on these figures, Japan appears to be a promising market for entry. However, to succeed in this country, it is essential to understand the cultural context thoroughly and possess professional language knowledge.
Top challenges for Japanese localization
Localization involves translating and adapting an entire product, which can be challenging for your team when it comes to the Japanese language. The challenges range from bridging the gap between grammatical structures to using correct honorifics and idiomatic expressions, changing layouts for new fonts, and many more. Let's look at the main points of this question:
- Linguistic differences and loan words. Japanese have significant differences in terms of grammar, sentence structure, and writing systems from the other languages. At the same time, the Japanese language is constantly enriched with new words borrowed, including from English, and sometimes these terms replace the Japanese words. One of the examples is the word "hotel." Besides the Japanese word 客舎 (kyakusha,) often you can hear/see ホテル (hoteru.) Using the wildly popular loan words in your content indicates that you are talking with the audience in the same language.
- Honorifics and politeness levels. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics and different levels of politeness, which can be difficult to translate accurately. The polite language (丁寧語, teineigo); respectful language (尊敬語, sonkeigo), and humble language (謙譲語, kenjōgo.) Using the appropriate honorifics when addressing someone is crucial to avoid unintentional offense or disrespect. These honorifics vary based on the person you are speaking to.
- Cultural nuances. The Japanese culture and view of the world differ from the Western world. For instance, taking coffee-to-go, usually to the USA or Europe, would be considered rude in Japan. When localizing your product, it's essential to ensure that the text content and visual elements, such as signs, icons, emojis, photos, and illustrations, are culturally appropriate for the Japanese context. Additionally, be mindful of local figures, holidays, national celebrations, and other details.
- Writing system. We have only 26 letters in English, the Japanese writing system kanji includes 4,400 characters. Of course, some are less used, but a person needs to know around 2,000 to become a good translator. But this is not all challenges. In the Japanese language, three different writing systems exist. In addition to kanji, there are katakana (for foreign words) and hiragana (for particles and other things). The katakana/hiragana function like the alphabet, with each character representing a syllable that combines with others to form words. However, kanji is more complex and challenging because each character represents a meaning or entire word.
- UI localization. In the Japanese language, both horizontal and vertical scripts are used. Although the horizontal script is more commonly used nowadays, you can still incorporate vertical text for certain elements. It's essential to keep in mind that your design will be significantly impacted during localization, regardless of the script you select. This is primarily because of the variation in length between Japanese and other languages. For example, your text may be shortened by anywhere from 10% to 55% when translating from English to Japanese.
At first glance, these things may seem complicated, but we have compiled the best practices to assist you.
Best practices for localization of your product to the Japanese market
Build a strategy. Before any localization actions, the main thing is creating a clear plan and understanding the required efforts, your target, audience, budgets, etc. Creating a localization strategy will require deep market research from the marketing, sales, and business sides.
Hire the native expert. One notable aspect of European countries is their intertwined cultures because of open borders and proximity. This means that, for instance, French teams can somehow adapt their products for the Spanish market without hiring local employees. In the case of Japan, you couldn't do the same. From the first stages, you need a person to manage digital communication with your user. From style guide creation to design approval - local experts can save your business from failure. Also, the best thing will be hiring local linguists who can translate the content in the best way. Lingohub knows finding the perfect linguists for the project can be hard, so we offer to order translation or proofreading just inside our application.
Provide as much context as you can. So, you successfully prepared everything above and are ready to start the translation. When it comes to Japanese text localization, it is essential to provide additional information for linguists. A simple example is pluralization. In Japanese, there is no concept of plurals like in English. Instead, multiple objects are indicated by using a number and a counter or by understanding the context of the conversation. To give our users more overview Lingohub team prepared a list of features that aim to provide the context for linguists:
- Style guide. Provide information regarding the audience, including their industry, geographic location, age range, and the best tone of voice for contacting it.
- Context images. Lingohub allows uploading context images for each segment using the Figma plugin or API to understand better how the text will look on the final product.
- Term base. Forget about incorrect proper names or other words' spelling. The Lingohub term base suggests the correct option when recognizing entries during translation. If you have untranslatable terms, you can also specify them.
Take care of the QA stage. Allocate sufficient resources and time for quality assurance (QA) testing. Thoroughly test the localized product for linguistic accuracy, functional integrity, UI/UX compatibility, and cultural appropriateness. Engage native Japanese speakers for QA to ensure the highest level of quality.
We hope this article gives you more overview of Japan, its market, and possible ways to localize your product for such a promising region. From our side, we at Lingohub are precisely targeted to provide the best user experience for customers to make the localization smooth and effective.
To get more information about how Lingohub can help your team and business, schedule a quick demo call with our team or sign-up for a free 14-day trial and use all the abilities of the application!