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It may seem counterintuitive for a country that is universally recognized for its tech savviness, but social media channels, and the tactics companies find so successful in western markets, can be viewed as very suspicious by Japanese consumers.

The reasons are embedded in the culture of formality and propriety in Japan. We sat down with Translation and LQA professional Akagi Kobayashi to get her take on the LQA considerations to be aware of when engaging in social media in Japan.

A snapshot of Japanese Social Media Trends

While the percentage of social media users (82.7%) is higher than the global average (77.8%), Japanese people spend just 51 minutes on social media per day – far less than the global average of 2.5 hours per day. This means you are competing for a preciously small amount of attention from each user and need to choose your apps, and your tactics, wisely.

Online Anonymity And Why Facebook is Not #1 in Japan

Western businesses are often surprised to learn Facebook is not the undisputed king of social media apps in Japan. In fact, it ranks a distant fourth on the list. Akagi points to some social reasons for this.

“Facebook requires you to use your name,”  she notes. “I think it’s a fear of losing privacy.” In fact, it’s reported that Facebook had real difficulty persuading Japanese customers to use their real names when they first launched. And that may have cost them the lead in the social media race.

“A lot of other social networks would ask you to set a handle, a name by which you appear,” Akagi points out. “Even bank apps ask you for your pseudonym. So in general, people are scared, wary of exposing their true identity.”

This leads back to a fundamental concept in Japanese culture of not drawing undo attention to yourself. “The aura or the veneer of privacy is very important in Japan as opposed to perhaps a Western viewpoint, which is far more open with identity,” Akagi adds. “People are scared about privacy and guarding their identity. I think there’s a sort of a general phobia about that.”

Respecting Cultural Boundaries to Create Social Media Growth

Akagi points out the opportunity for social media success certainly exists. “I think social media has come into the Japanese field a lot. It’s used a lot, in fact,” she remarks.

But the most successful apps and companies respect Japanese norms. Not surprisingly, apps that allow for that sense of anonymity have been far more popular. “X is very popular,” Akagi points out, “but I’m not sure how many people like to use their own name.”

Cultural Understanding and The Local Advantage

“There are sort of local brands of social media like LINE,” Akagi tells us. Part of LINE’s success is its Asian roots (it was first created by Korean search engine company Naver as a communication tool for their Japanese staff after the 2011 Tohuku earthquake and tsunami). The app makes extensive use of Anime-style stickers that users and advertisers can share and modify.

And, of course, it doesn’t require your real name. “It’s used by local retailers to attract shoppers in the area with bargains and news and so on and so forth. It may be used most in sales where retail may be involved.”

Akagi also points out that smaller social media apps focused on convenience are popular. “Restaurant search apps are extremely popular”, she says. “There are many of them.”

Even the largest convenience retailer is not immune to local competition. “Amazon is also very popular,” she says. “It’s used a lot in Japan, but there are many rival sites as well.”

Modifying Social Media to Culture: Local Apps for Local Stores

Akagi has also noticed that, while online shopping has grown and social media is popular, the Japanese tradition of shopping in person, the need for discretion and the importance placed on long-term relationships have made a particular type of app far more popular in Japan: store-specific apps.

Akagi fills in the background on the topic. “In Japan people still tend to shop in person,” she says. “Especially in towns, there’s a huge density of population, which means that there’s a density of small shops, like those convenience stores at every street corner. And you can get almost anything.”

Akagi goes on to explain how store-specific loyalty apps have flourished as a result of this personal contact. “My experience is that each shop in the mall has its own little app. So you go in there and you’re encouraged to download the app. Then once you get it, you get your marketing messages and loyalty promotions through that app.”

It’s the personal relationship dynamic, but built into the tech-blended world we all now inhabit.

Ready to Learn More?

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series. If you want to learn more about the overall philosophy of Japanese LQA, check out Part 1. And, for Some of Akagi’s best tips on Japanese LQA, see Part 2.

Still Trying to Make Japanese Social Media Work on Your Own? You Don’t Need To

As you can see from Akagi’s comments, Japanese social media has its own special formula for success. We’ve got the LQA expertise you need to evaluate your messaging and make sure it’s building the right kind of relationships. And we’d love to put that experience to work for you!

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Doing Business in Japan is equal parts opportunity and challenge. And with each challenge solved, the opportunity to gain business increases. Which is why we sat down with translation and LQA specialist Akagi Kobayashi to learn her best tips for success in Japanese localization.

#1: Strive for “Beautiful Japanese”

For Akagi, a translation is more than the conversion of information. A proper translation also encapsulates the cultural understanding and conveys a connection. “This idea was born from conversations I had with an old manager about some of our translation frustrations,” Akagi says. “We found many of the translations, especially in the technical field, were gauche. They read like translations. It’s literal. It doesn’t really convey what the writer wants to say. And sometimes it is incorrect grammatically.”

The end result of this type of translation is predictable, Akagi recounts. “The clients may be very critical. They’re sensitive. They want a translation to sound as though it had been written in Japanese. So this phrase ‘beautiful translation’ or ‘beautiful Japanese’ sets the ideal to have a translation that is turned around so that it feels like genuine Japanese.”

#2 Talor Translation to the Expectations of Each Customer Group

Akagi tells all her clients that the translation quality measurements depend on who the audience is. “So for example”, she says, “in the gaming industry, the audience is a young one and they are very willing to approach things in an American way. And so, in a way, you can throw a lot of things at them and they’ll come with you.”

This demographic shift affects translation in ways that are unmistakable to a native Japanese customer. “They (the Japanese game users) are casual, colloquial, and of course there is that particular style of colloquial language that is again Japanese; it’s gender specific, generation-specific,” says Akagi.

But, Akagi also points out that if you’re speaking about a more sophisticated company or topic then the reverse of that is true. “So you have to be careful about what degree of politeness you’re going to use,” she says.

A Real Life Example

Akagi cites a recent case where the style created a translation challenge. “So when I was translating a bot recently, the first message that you come across is ‘Hi there, or hi visitor’” she recounts. “In Japanese, you don’t have to distinguish between miss or mister, that’s great, but you can’t just call somebody by the first name – so you have to put a little honorific at the end of it.”

The English fix for Akagi is straightforward. “People,” she says, “are much more informal I think in English, particularly Americans, so ‘Hi everyone,’ is how you talk to your customer, your partners or your students. Whereas in Japanese that would be different. If you’re translating a video of a presentation, you have to be aware of who’s speaking to who in order to translate it correctly.”

#3 Technical Writing and Specification in Japan Require Precision

As a culture in the forefront of technology, the Japanese have high standards for technical communication that often might be even more precise than the source material. “Japanese customers,” she says, “tend to be more techie in the nitty gritty. They like to have descriptions, precise process diagrams, and the way things work.”

This is even reflected in the language, Akagi points out. “Japanese language is not that great in conveying abstract concepts like, say, the use of pronouns they’re not very good at.”

Akagi cites a recent example from her work. “I did a little research of websites of peer companies of a security firm,” she says, “and we discovered that American companies go for a more flashy image to show how wonderful they are and then skip some of the details. The Japanese companies tended to be more subdued visually, but they contained more details and helped the person understand better what they were trying to do.”

#4 Use Your Translation Memory With Caution

Because of the unique structure, context-dependent nature, and nuances of Japanese, Akagi cautions clients about relying too heavily on a Translation Memory (TM) for non-technical text.

“Of course, it’s extremely useful, but that’s not the end of it,” she says. “I simply tell clients not to rely on it. You simply must have a human editor, with appropriate knowledge of requirements.”

Akagi points out an example where the message may be lost or even offensive if relying only on the TM. “If you use it alone, you may mistake somebody who was a great customer for a kind of a partner or a lesser status. There are lots of subtleties to be aware of.”

And Akagi has seen the result of trying to work with TM actually increasing the total workload. “The review,” she says, “may require as much time as translating from scratch.”

Ready to Learn More?

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series. In Part 1 we discuss the 3 biggest translation mistakes Akagi sees. And in Part 3 Akagi shares the specific challenges of using social media for business in such a unique culture.

Still Looking for More Tips to Boost Your Japanese LQA? We Can Help

Our experience with Japanese LQA, and our relationship with experts like Akagi, have made us the go-to choice for clients who want to gain and maintain the high translation quality the Japanese market demands. And we’d be happy to help you too. Drop us a line anytime to see how we can help you break the borders of Japanese LQA.

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The Japanese language and culture are both some of the most complex in the world – which makes localizing for Japan very challenging. But for those that can succeed, there is tremendous business potential. Here are just a few of the key metrics:

  • Japan is the world’s third-largest economy with an industrious and well-educated workforce
  • The country’s large and affluent population of 125 million makes it one of the world’s largest consumer markets
  • Advanced infrastructure means nearly the entire population has internet access and shops online
  • Japan’s eCommerce market is forecast to reach US$ 3.4 billion by 2025

With this in mind, we sat down with translator and LQA professional Akagi Kobayashi to talk about why LQA is so essential in Japan and the most common problems she sees in translation efforts.  Akagi has been collaborating with Chillistore for several years, and acts as Lead Reviewer for one of our accounts.

LQA is Essential in a Culture Where Quality is a Matter of National Pride

Akagi is quick to point out that, while some countries may be more understanding of lapses in grammar, Japan’s formal culture makes quality an essential. “LQA is very important in that it reflects on the quality of the organization. Think of how branded goods are popular in Japan, as proper presentation is seen to symbolize quality and reputation.”

Akagi also tells us that the cultural emphasis on formality and continuous improvement adds to the pressure on LQA for companies. “Japan is a highly competitive space. There seems to be a huge market for everything and a huge number of providers. So people are very choosy. Anything that may represent quality and give a good impression of the company will count”

High LQA Standards are Universal But Emphasis Changes by Industry

Akagi also likes to explain to clients that the definition of LQA, or perhaps more precisely, the emphasis on different areas of quality, shifts depending on the business sector. “Being trendy may be more important in the game industry,” she points out, “but precise technical details mean more in the tech industry than being swish or expensive looking.”

In these conditions it is important to design a bespoke quality program that takes into account industry and content specificities.

A Philosophy of Quality that’s True to Principle, But Flexible to the Needs of the Sector

Armed with the understanding that quality is paramount but the definition varies, Akagi’s personal approach to LQA comes down to communication with the client to understand the intent of the project:

“Being mindful of the client’s intention,” she says, “helps inform the appropriate communication to the target audience and judge if the presentation is clear. You also want to know what the audience may be looking for. This all helps you understand the true purpose of the communication.”

There are two important points that you will need to be aware of and follow when going into the Japanese market.

1. Long-term Relationships Yield Higher Quality

Akagi stresses that “long-term relationships between companies and quality specialists help guide the LQA considerations as familiarity is at the base of this.” While it’s not always practically possible, Akagi’s experience has been that it’s essential to research and query the client first to determine how the content will be communicated in the target language. “The difference in intent means I may use different expressions altogether.”

Once that’s defined, documenting the brand’s tone of voice and preferred terminology is essential to ensure consistency. A style guide and a glossary are your best allies to achieve that goal.

2. Understand the Intent, then Dive into the Details

With the intent clear, Akagi can then get down to the details of LQA. “This is where we get into checking the p’s and q’s if you will,” she says. “The key ingredients for a quality project are accuracy, particularly in the technical sector. But even where brand image is the important consideration, it must be based on accurate information.”

And, as with all languages, Japanese is ever-changing. “You want to research the trend in that marketplace in Japan,” says Akagi “What terminology, what expressions are used by the industry leaders in that industry? And if it’s something new, then what sort of terminology are the public bodies and academic institution’s research analysts using?”

The details of translation quality also go beyond word choice. Akagi adds, “checking the layout for appropriate line breaks and word wrapping and choice of font is a key in Japan as Japanese consumers are very visually driven.” Adding an in-content check to the workflow allows the LQA specialist to make sure the document’s layout is on-point and translations are correct in context.

Akagi’s Top 3 Most Common LQA Problems For Japanese

#1 Mistranslation

“I’m afraid,” Akagi reports, “the first errors that I notice are mistranslations. I have been told time and time again how the quality of translation is poor in Japan. And there are many, many aspiring translators whose grasp of language may not be so good.”

The reason for the errors comes down to a fundamental difference between Japanese structure and most other languages, Akagi adds. “It’s a very contextual language and understanding that you’re walking into a very different structure to the language changes how you’re translating and the errors that are going to be made out of those translations if you don’t understand that.”

As a result, Akagi often sees a lack of coherence between sentences, due to sentence by sentence translation. “Syntactically the translation loses the connection,” says Akagi, “and once that happens the translated piece loses readability.”

“For example,” Akagi explains, “in an English ‘because statement’, you have the result and you have the reason. But in Japanese the reason usually comes first and then the because statement.” Not understanding this fundamental difference in standard structure can lead to awkward translations when working sentence by sentence.

The fix for this particular error? “Text must be reviewed in paragraphs,” she says. “Translators can be translating so hard, they overlook the fact that it is the conveying of the meaning that matters, not translation.”

#2 Spelling: And Why Spell Checking Isn’t Simple in Japanese LQA

After translation errors, Akagi mentions spelling can be particularly tricky in Japanese LQA. “Japanese has got a fairly complicated writing system,” she explains, “and it is not a matter of getting the spelling right. It’s not as simple as that. There could be several versions of how a word may be spelled or written.”

Akagi expounded on the problem. “The expression may depend on the meaning of the word, or the context. And so normally, in Microsoft Word, a spellcheck is not available. None of the C.A.T. (Computer Aided Translation) tools like X-bench and others that I have used have had a Japanese spellcheck either.”

Akagi recommends investing in a Japanese-specific tool to aid in spelling and, of course, relying on the experience of a seasoned LQA professional who specializes in Japanese.

#3 Over-Reliance on a Centralized Localization Strategy

Because the Japanese language and culture is so unique, Akagi feels the more standard centralized approach to localization that many companies use for other languages can actually lower Japanese LQA.

“It’s so important to understand and serve the specific cultural needs in Japan,” she says. The unique nature of Japanese market and its competitive nature, Akagi points out, has made it a specialized case – and many companies have learned that lesson the hard way. “If you’re serious about opening up the Japanese market,” Akagi says, “you can’t just throw a world universal standard product at the Japanese. You have to consider their needs and preferences.”

Ready to Learn More?

Check out Part 2 of our conversation where Akagi shares some of her best tips for achieving LQA success. And read Part 3 to learn about some of the unique challenges Akagi sees in using social media as a business tool in such a unique culture.

Not Sure if You are Ready for Japan? We Can Help

Our experience with Japanese LQA, and our relationship with experts like Akagi, have made us the go-to choice for clients who want to gain and maintain the high translation quality the Japanese market demands. And we’d be happy to help you too. Drop us a line anytime to see how we can help you break the borders of Japanese LQA.

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