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  • Writer's pictureFrancis Fung

Your daily business in Japan - Overcoming day to day Translation and Localization challenges


Before we start, I'm not talking about occasional official news articles, PR or press releases. This is about the day to day materials, documents and the Japanese challenges you'll face with those in your business. All the regular items you'll need and use; business communications (emails, messages, letters), presentation decks, and sales materials etc which machine translations can do "well" but not great.

A quick note - machine translation software helps and goes a long way, as well as saving so much time, but ultimately, regular translations of business communications, presentations and sales materials which will end up being client facing, need quality translations. Not just for making sense, but for sounding like it's written by and for a native audience, in order to build professional trust.

In this article, we'll dive into the pain points and simple solutions of tackling these challenges and ensuring your documents, sales materials and communications resonate effectively with your Japanese audience.


So, what are the (main) pain points?


Language Complexity, even for day to day items:

Japanese is a nuanced language, heavily reliant on context. Direct translation, machine translation, sub par translations can misinterpret the subtleties, leading to confusion or unintended meanings. As expected, this may cause misunderstandings, take time to fix or lead to distrust. To put into context, think back to times you've seen presentations with strange grammar, unclear sentences, typos, and then imagine that being a regular occurrence. Don't let that happen, even if you feel these are "just day to day comms and emails".


Cultural Nuances - yes, add that on top of language complexity:

It's not always just about language. Embracing Japanese cultural values and etiquette is paramount, especially in your comms, documents and sales materials. Overlooking this can result in cultural missteps that tarnish your image and trust (again). It almost gives a sense of "Did X company really not consider the Japanese audience when creating this?"


Idioms and Humor - getting lost in translation

Humor, phrases, sayings and idiomatic expressions don't always cross linguistic borders. Jokes or idioms, even if used with great intentions in materials, can derail your intended message and again lead back to the classic feelings of confusion, mistrust and "it was not intended for us (Japanese clients)".


SEO, Keywords and Terminology - you can't just turn everything into Katakana

Successful comprehension by the client, great SEO or simply being able to explain and persuade the audience demands accurate keyword translation and localization. Especially if your documents contain industry specific language and terminology. You cannot simply convert product names, non-Japanese industry nouns and terms into Katakana and hope they make sense for the audience.


Sure, the Japanese audience will be able to read the Katakana, but either it won't mean anything, won't make sense, or worse, no one will ask what it means and simply ignore or gloss over it. You'll believe the reader or audience gets it, only to find out later in the project that you have to re-explain these basics.


Not wasting time and money doing the work twice


A usual process of getting business communications, presentations and sales materials translated might be like this: run it through DeepL or Google Translate, ask team members who are somewhat bilingual to "go over it" and assume that it's acceptable enough.

Or, from the start, ask members who are somewhat bi-lingual (but those whose main role is not translation) to translate the documents, and expect the quality to be good enough. In what other roles would you usually ask someone to do something they're not experts at?

The issues the above lead to are not just a question of consistency and quality. Although that is actually a key point. As a company, as a tone of voice, it's not always best to have differing and fluctuating levels of quality and speech, especially within the same documents or slides.


Proofreading, consistency and quality aside, another main issue is taking up time and money to do the work twice. Once for using machine translation or non professional translators, and the second time for needing someone qualified (professional translators) to check, amend, re-do the materials. Why not just get it done properly the first time? Because it costs more to hire a translator?


You have to questions what costs more in the long run?

Paying once to translate and localize materials properly, or paying to get it done twice as well as risking loss of revenue due to lack of language credibility?


So, what are the supposed simple solutions?

You may have guessed these a few paragraphs earlier.

  • Collaborate with native Japanese translators who can grasp contextual subtleties and express what you really want to say in your documents. Or truly understand what's in the business communications.

  • Prioritize transcreation over literal translation to capture nuances accurately. Transcreation means adapting the content as well as translating, to ensure it "makes sense" the audience.

  • Ensure the professional translator is briefed and caught up on the industry specific terms and expressions. Provide glossaries or commonly accepted technical terms for consistency.

  • Maintain open communications with translators for alignment and asking any questions. Or have clear guidelines on how you want to handle your tone of voice, any humour or phrases, and be prepared that these may be altered or removed for the Japanese market.

  • For proofreading and quality assurance, work with the translator to implement a multi-step quality assurance process, which involves them doing checks for linguistic, contextual, and formatting accuracy.


The conclusion?

By implementing these simple solutions (and they are!), your company can navigate the intricate landscape of translation and localization in the Japanese market with confidence, ensuring your message reaches your intended audience accurately and effectively.

Remember, effective translation and localization isn't just about words; it's about creating a cultural connection, building trust and understanding. Why risk your message being sub par, even if these materials are all day to day tasks?


I hope you found this article helpful. Please like and share to those who might benefit from this.

If you want to know more, our expert localization team for Japan localization services are ready to help.

Sloane Japan | Full Service Agency Tokyo

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