Localising Japanese requires some insider knowledge
Japan is currently the third largest economy in the world, with a GDP of around $5 trillion and according to researchers and experts in the field, the most difficult country to localize, when it comes to exporting or just to advertise western products.
There are a few challenges a localisation expert faces when dealing with the Japanese market, and the complexity of the language is actually not the most evident. Unlike Europe, a continent that counts more than 20 countries and markets, but where a sense of “common identity” is widespread, Japan is an isolated archipelago in East Asia characterized by a monoculture identity. This “uniqueness” reflects itself not just on social and cultural levels, but it becomes important also in the business environment.
In fact, when localising Japanese products, companies have to consider the behavior of consumers. Despite the fact that Japan is the world’s third largest economy, Japanese consumers tend to spend money wisely, researching beforehand what they are looking to purchase, usually getting information via the internet and social media. Another important feature is their willingness to know the specific item in depth, not only the characteristics, but also the alternative use of an item or how to use it practically. For this reason, websites in Japan tend to give more space to design, advertisements and images, rather than a list of features, which is more than enough for a western consumer to know. Design, using the right colours and an appealing slogan is the first right step to enter in the Japanese market, as in this country there is a totally different way to communicate. For example, there are two concepts Japanese tend to rely on when choosing a product rather than another one: shibui and kawaii. Shibui is the quality of the beauty, whereas kawaii is the “cuteness” of a product. This simply means that for this market the aesthetic aspect is crucial.
Another few aspects to take into consideration are the tendency to rely on manga and anime characters connected to a product and the differentiation of a single product. Regarding the first aspect, as Japanese consumers are savers and tend to build familiarity with a brand, using a character can make it easier building an emotional connection, together with excellent customer service, to seduce the market.
Differentiating the products is another way to win over the Japanese consumers. If we take as an example KitKat, the chocolate bar produced by Nestlé, we can observe a case of undeniable localisation success in Japan. In fact, KitKat has easily become a best selling souvenir for tourists, thanks to the large variety of flavours, such as Matcha Green Tea, Chocobanana, Edamame soybeans, Sake and many more sold uniquely in Japan. But what made KitKat extremely popular was the slogan: “Have a break, have a KitKat” which became “Kitto Katsu” which in Japanese means “Surely win”, becoming a good-luck charm for students about to take university entrance exams.
Of course, as with the US, Europe and other Asian countries’ markets, the Japanese market tends to think globally as well, but keeping at the same time a strong individualism. Like Korea, Japan is not considered an “English-friendly” market, because the use of English is not widespread to every aspect of society, and consumers usually tend to skip English contents that they cannot easily understand when using Internet. For this reason, using and localising Japanese in a carefully thought out way is fundamental, easily important as being updated with the day-to-day developments of the language.
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