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Why Localization Is Crucial for the Japanese Market


No matter what type of products or services your business is going to launch in the Japanese market, keep in mind that localization is more important for Japan when compared to other locales. This article is for individuals and businesses who wish to expand their services and/or would like to increase their presence in the Japanese market.

Japanese Interface Is a Must

Many Japanese people are quite reluctant to use apps/services/products that lack a Japanese interface. As a whole, Japanese consumers tend to avoid using non-Japanese apps and tools as much as they possibly can. 

For example, let’s say that there are two competing applications: App A and App B. App A is ranked at the top of the downloads chart, has more users, and has more favorable reviews compared to App B. At the same time, App B’s competitive strength is that it offers a user interface that’s been localized into Japanese—something App A does not offer. The app which gets more Japanese users in this market is clear: App B. Why? Because App B has a Japanese user interface.

One of the main reasons for this is because Japanese people as a whole generally don’t speak English. The percentage of people who speak at least one foreign language fluently in Japan is only 1% or less of the entire population. According to EF EPI, a leading English proficiency index, Japan ranks 55 out of 100. In contrast to their English proficiency score, Japan has the third-largest economy in the world.

The Japanese Market Is Massive

Japan has 126 million people and is known for having the third-largest economy in the world. One thing most businesspeople may not know much about, is the size of Japan’s digital content market. Whether it’s mobile apps, games, or any other digital content, Japan has one of the biggest digital content markets in the world. That means, people in Japan are more willing to pay for good content. That of course, means content that comes with a Japanese localization as mentioned above.

Machine Translation Won’t Work for English to Japanese Translations

Localization is a must and pays off, but don’t jump to a machine translation for a solution. Machine translation is rapidly evolving and is a wonderful piece of technology. However, when it comes to English to Japanese translations, it simply is not effective. It sometimes ends up doing more harm than good, especially for UI and message translations.

A linguistic distance is how different one language is from another. The Japanese language is very far from the English language (This may be one of the reasons why many Japanese people do not speak English). This distance also makes it difficult for machine translation to work properly. 

For example, translating the word “unavailable,” which is used in many digital interfaces in varying types of contexts, into other European origin languages may be relatively easy. It can be translated as “No disponible” in Spanish and as “Indisponible” in French. However, allowing a machine to translate “unavailable” into Japanese can lead to disastrous results. 

There are many, many ways “unavailable” can be expressed in Japanese. See some examples below:

For example, if the support staff is not available because they are out of the office, the correct Japanese phrase for “unavailable” is : 営業時間外 or 対応不可, (lit. outside of office hours, cannot respond)

If an item is out of stock and users cannot purchase it: 在庫切れ, 在庫なし or 売り切れ, (lit. out of stock, sold out)

If there is no data to display in a statistic dashboard: データなし, lit. (no data, there’s no data to show)

If a specific feature is not available for some reason: 利用不可, 利用できません (lit. cannot be used)

The list goes on and on….

The Japanese language does not have an exact word for the phrase “available,” so translators need to research the specific context for what sorts of words are being used in what sorts of ways. This requires translators to actively check context and seek out screenshots where needed. This is something machine translation cannot do.

The word “available” is just one of countless examples. There are many other words and phrases which require translators to check the context that would otherwise be unnecessary for other European origin languages. Another thing to consider is animacy. The Japanese language pays special attention to whether the subject is human, animal, or a non-living thing, and ultimately, translations will change depending on animacy.

Context information is even more essential for UI/message translations. Even the most effective (and often, most expensive-to-use) machine translation technology available today cannot produce good results.

A poorly localized services will not attract the users but may give them a negative impression on your brand altogether.


With 126 million people living in this region who are willing to pay for good digital services in their mother tongue, human translation surely increases the ROI of your investment.

Choosing the Right Translation Agency

The next step is choosing the right translation agency for you. Not every human translation guarantees your success. We recommend agencies based in Japan who actively monitor market trends in real time.

Check to see if a prospective agency is frequently working on digital content translation projects and if they understand the technical aspect of how UIs and messages work.

At AYUTAS, our translators have honed their skills over many years and can work with application resource files such as .strings for iOS and strings.xml files for Android. In addition to a completely localized string file that you can put in a resource directory, we can also deliver localized data in a cloud-based translation management system such as Memsource. A cloud translation management system is very convenient tool that not only allows you can download the localized file from the system, but you are also able to upload new files as versions progress. We only need to translate the delta changes, saving you time and money, while also keeping previous content intact for consistency.

Launch your apps and services in a potentially vast market with sophisticated localization that people appreciate.

Contact us today.