Japanese localization projects represent a set of unique challenges for translators thanks to the inherent complexity of the language.
Getting the right style and tone is obviously important for any translation, but capturing the natural flow of Japanese sentences is very difficult, as directly translating some informal words or phrases from English to Japanese can end up coming across as casual and possibly even rude. Not ideal for business!
This, coupled with the high levels of expectations from Japanese businesses, means localization agencies need to plan carefully. In order to avoid these pitfalls, follow our top tips for smooth Japanese localization.
Get text samples approved
Feedback is critical, as it will help translators to develop an understanding of exactly what the client’s expectations are. By providing sample Japanese text that has the right tone, style and voice, the whole process can be sped up. This not only saves money, but also helps to develop a positive working relationship between the parties. As an extension of this, you should also give a representative section of the entire project to the vendor to look at, as the glossary, style guide and translation memory can be updated based on the feedback.
Be wary of subjectivity with grammar
The high variability of vocabulary and spelling, coupled with different writing systems, means linguistic errors can be high in Japanese translations. For example, individual affixes are used to specify tense, plural and politeness and whether a sentence is negative, passive, causative or a question, which gives an indication of the scale of the challenge facing translators. If issues persist, firms may even decide the project does not have the necessary aesthetic quality and deem it insufficient for the Japanese market.
The cultural nuances of certain languages do not lend themselves to direct translations. In order to avoid an embarrassing cultural faux pas, or risk an important message being lost in translation, it is a better idea to transcreate marketing materials. This process adapts a message from one language to another, but maintains the original work’s intent, style, tone and context. While English retailers may often use the tagline ‘Buy this’, it would be considered too strong in Japan. By transcreating, such pitfalls can be avoided.
Don’t be afraid of feedback
The subjectivity of Japanese means that feedback is going to be a big part of the process. By getting the client on board early, it’s possible to limit the scope for unnecessary mistakes slipping through, but changes will still be requested. Remember, Japanese firms are going to be looking for perfection, rather than just accuracy. The important thing is to learn from the feedback and collate all of the findings to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated with the client further down the line.
Draw up a specific budget
As already mentioned, there are unique challenges when carrying out Japanese localization, which means more time and money than usual has to be budgeted to ensure a high-quality final product. By agreeing expectations beforehand and factoring in the need for context-dependent reading, grammar structures and manual sorting, localization agencies can put together a package that is achievable and acceptable in cost. Above all, firms should make sure they embrace the challenge offered by perfecting Japanese localization.