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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Fung

A Hoodie is not a Hoodie in Japan? Lost in translation - Sports Clothing Edition

Avoid direct translation pitfalls - by thinking about the end consumer first.



Too many times have seen brands and companies try to enter the Japanese market with the approach of "Just translate the website as is, word for word." The result? Japanese consumers not knowing what your items are, because in Japan, that's NOT what the items are called.


"You mean a Hoodie is NOT a Hoodie in Japan?". Correct.


You cannot expect (and many do) that common item names are the same across countries, languages and cultures. Direct Japanese translation will only lead to confusion, a lack of trust, feelings of "you don't know us as consumers" and the obvious costs in terms of sales lost, wasted ads and costs of having to localise and translate items again.

All can be avoid if some simple steps (below) are considered from the start. This article will mainly focus on sporting item name differences between the US, UK and JP (as those item names are fun!)

So, before going on.... What IS a Hoodie called in Japan?

It's called a Parka (パーカー) in Japanese, which in turn was borrowed from the UK English word "Parka", the name of a thick hooded jacket.

The Cultural Twist and Not Getting Lost in Translation

So, why are the names of clothing items different in the first place? Surely a hoodie SHOULD be a hoodie all over the world, especially if it's for a famous brand, or it's a hugely popular item, or it was never originally native to Japan? Why are there differences in naming? Well, firstly, it's not always just a Japanese translation or linguistic variation. Different item names are examples of how the word or language is adapted and evolves within different cultural contexts.

For example, "Which country introduced the item to Japan first? And which language was what in?" Or, "Who or how was the item popularised in Japan? What term was used at that time?" These twists and turns underscore the necessity of going beyond direct Japanese translation (including machine translation) to capture the spirit of loan words in Japanese culture.


Are we ready for some more examples then?

Here are some more common sporting item names which may often be lost in direct translation:

  1. Jumper:

    • UK: Jumper

    • USA: Sweater or sometimes Pullover

    • Japan: ジャンパー (Janpa)


  1. Sports Shoes? (Not that we even say that):

    • UK: Trainers

    • USA: Sneakers

    • Japan: スポーツシューズ (Supotsu Shuzu)


  1. Football Boots (Soccer type football.....not American Football):

    • UK: Football Boots

    • USA: Soccer Shoes or Cleats

    • Japan: サッカーシューズ (Sakka Shuzu)


Ok, names are different. We get it. What can we do about getting the names right?

Tailored Messaging by localising

In this age of tailored advertisements, understanding the nuances of sporting clothing names is pivotal for Japan. Direct translating, dubbing or subtitling of content would only lead to confusion is terminology isn't culturally appropriate. This is where localisation becomes extremely important, adapting not just the content but also the terminology to resonate and make sense for the Japanese audience's expectation and pysche. Personlized content and tailored ads based on local knowledge please!


Research and Compare

This would be part of tailoring your messages. Immerse yourself in the linguistic landscapes of the US, UK, and Japan to appreciate the terminology and cultural variations. Japanese phrases, what those terms are in other languages, more relevant results on Google searches and ads. And if you're not sure how, ask those in the Japanese market that know.


Card Sorting would help too

Another way would be Card sorting. Card sorting is a technique, often used in UX, User Research, Information Architecture for organizing and labeling items based on cultural perceptions, linguistic rhythms, and user preferences. This is to ensure that your translations or localisations aren't just random guesses or direct translations, and instead feel like personalized content, which would of course translate well, feel crafted and add to audience engagement.


Use a localisation agency

How to write this without sounding like a plug (advertisment)? There's no use in guessing when it comes to localisation of names and terminology. Collaborate with an expert agency, discuss past activity, share guidelines, insights of the market, to ensure cultural alignment and messages that translate and resonate with the Japanese audience.


Keep reviewing to keep up with local trends

New items, terms, brands and terminology will keep appearing, evolving and be folded into the Japanese language. Keep reviewing your contents, translation of labels and what you're calling your products. As an example, your webpage. A well-localised web page doesn't just prevent misunderstandings. It becomes a bridge that connects diverse cultures across your different markets. By infusing the terminology with the correct cultural relevance, web pages offer seamless navigation, familiarity and increased audience engagement.

The opposite of not localising your translation or terminology, contents or website? Frustration, mistrust, high drop off rates, negative impact to both brand and sales.


In Conclusion? Craft a Localised Cultural Symphony. A fancy way of saying "Localise all your items"

The landscape of sports clothing items across the US, UK, and Japan reflects the intricate tapestry of language and culture. Not only does it reinforce the need of tailoring to each culture (localisation) but also embracing the cultural symphony that defines our global community. The phrase of "Think Global, Act Local" as we so often hear nowadays.

Remember that behind each localised item name lies a story, history of language and a shared human connection. To put in bluntly, you won't be sharing that human connection if your item name doesn't translate or connect with the local audience. We want the feeling of personalized content, and that is something that can instantly translate.

By acknowledging the linguistic differences and embracing effective localisation strategies, you, your brand, your new services and items can craft a global dialogue that celebrates the shared love for your items (in this case, sports!) while respecting the local language and the Japanese culture.

So remember, it's not just about direct translating of words, and remember a Hoodie isn't always a Hoodie (even if it is...)

P.S. What other names might be different for well known items in your language and it's Japanese?

If you found this article helpful, please like and share.


If you want to know more, our expert team for Japanese translation and localization (localisation) services are ready to help.


Sloane Japan | Translation Localization Interpretation

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