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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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