With the world’s third largest economy (around $5 trillion GDP) and a high percentage of Internet users, Japan is not a marketplace that you can afford to ignore. Website localization and globalization for Japan requires careful consideration for cultural and linguistic factors. This blog gives you an overview of seven major areas to consider in order to achieve optimal Japanese website localization.
Japanese Market Statistics
- The Internet population of Japan is approximately 91 million, which is almost 71% of the Japanese population. Approximately 28.3 million people in Japan access the Internet (web) by broadband. (Internet World Stats, 2008)
- Japan has the distinction of having the highest mobile saturation of any country, at 65%. According to a MIC Report the Japanese access the Internet more through mobile devices (69 million) than through PC (66 Million).
- The average Japanese online consumer spends $527 annually, second in the world to the US consumer who spends $692 a year online.
- Only about 1 percent of the Japanese population has enough foreign language skills to completely understand the content on foreign websites, and they tend to skip content they can’t read (intelbridges.com).
(1) Insights into Japanese Consumer Values
- Respect: Japanese consumers demand respect and in return are very loyal to the company or brand. Therefore, Internet retailers not only need to translate the websites for the Japanese audience but also show respect and provide exceptional customer service.
- Culture: While Japanese consumers are very appreciative of western products, western lifestyle and western celebrities, they are also very sensitive to their own culture (Shih) and want western brands, ideas, and products, but presented on a Japanese platter.
- Shibui and Kawaii: The Japanese love for beauty and aesthetics is captured in two words, shibui, which refers to the quality of the beauty. Kawaii is a Japanese term which means “cute.” Cuteness is a highly valued aesthetic quality in Japanese society. Make sure that your Japanese website content is harmonious and aesthetically pleasing to Japanese consumers.
(2) Japanese Culture and the Online Consumer
- 100-Yen Shops: Japanese consumers generally buy products for either status or functionality. They usually buy merchandise at the high or low end, not in the intermediate price range (intelbridges.com). As a result, Japanese malls and cities are lined with both brand name designer products and 100-Yen Shops, which are analogous to the “dollar store” in the US that sell items at the lowest price range. Daiso is one of the largest 100-Yen Shop chains with more than 1,300 stores across Japan.
- Celebrities: Japanese advertisements continue to use western celebrities to promote their products and stores. However, this phenomenon which was at its peak in the late 1990s is now slowing down in favor of Japanese talent.
- Anime: According to McKay (2002) “Japanese people have a tendency to build an emotional connection with an animated figure.” Animated figures like “Hello Kitty” are an integral part of Japanese popular culture.
(3) Japanese Consumer Purchase Decisions
- Japanese consumers often buy in a “feel-to-learn” fashion. They will go to a store if they feel good about it or feel they have a relationship with it, buy the product and then learn whether or not the product is good.
- The logic of Japanese advertising is:
- Make friends with the target audience.
- Prove that you understand their feelings.
- Show that you are nice.
- Consumers will then want to buy, because they trust you and feel familiar with you (i.e., the brand and the company).
- After the purchase, consumers find out if the product is good or what the benefits are.
(4) The Japanese Language
The Japanese language is an agglutinative language and is spoken by over 130 million people. This language uses a complex system of honorifics which reflect the hierarchal nature of Japanese society by verb forms and particular vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the members of the conversation or communication.
- Japanese uses a Double Byte Character Set (DBCS) as it is a symbolic language that takes 2 bytes of computer memory to store.
- The Japanese writing system uses four different character sets: Kanji, which is made of almost 2,000 Chinese characters, Latin which is used sometimes to represent brand or personal names, and Hiragana and Katakana which are two syllabaries of 46 characters each and together are called Kana.
- Kanji represents a meaning rather than a specific sound and poses difficulty sorting as it has multiple pronunciations.
- Japanese can be written both horizontally called yokogaki or vertically called tategaki.
- Text in the Japanese language does not have spaces between words. To achieve proper formatting, avoid line breaks and let the end user’s browser manage where lines break.
- Japanese names should be written surname followed by the first name. Middle names are rarely used.
(5) Japanese Website Customization Considerations and Symbols
Adopting Western foreign language brand names without cultural consideration might lead to marketing blunders. For example, the Japanese translation for “web and sweepstakes” was thought of by some Japanese to mean “buy meat or steak online” (Kemper, 2004). Alternatively, the Japanese travel agency, “Kinki Nippon Travel Agency,” appealed to a different crowd than originally intended.
An ancient culture like Japan has accrued a long list of symbols and icons that convey special cultural meaning. It is important to be aware of these cultural connotations to avoid any cultural blunders and inadvertent use of offensive symbols.
- Fish are an integral part of the culture of Japan. Tai (Sea bream) fish are considered lucky as the word rhymes with “medetai,” the Japanese word for auspicious. Koi have been developed for their beauty and are considered a symbol of strength, courage, and patience.
- A white carnation symbolizes death.
- The word “four” in Japanese sounds like death and items packaged in fours are unpopular.
- Black cats are considered unlucky.
- Chopsticks should not be stuck into rice as that symbolizes death.
(6) Color Connotations in Japanese Websites
Colors with positive meanings:
- Red: the color of luck.
- Yellow: the Japanese color of courage.
- Blue: symbolizes peace, calm, stability and loyalty among other things. Indigo blue is a very common color used in Japan as it symbolizes the color of the ocean surrounding the Japanese islands.
Colors with negative meanings:
- Black/White: the mixing of black and white stands for mourning and a cheerless occasion.
- Purple: the color of danger in Japan.
(7) Japanese SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
It is recommended that companies plan on and conduct some form of global search engine marketing (SEM) in order to drive traffic to their Japanese websites.
This may include global search engine optimization (SEO) of your Japanese website content, submission of pages to key Japanese search engines, and a pay-per-click (PPC) marketing campaign through services like Google Adwords.
For more information on Global SEM Services, see GPI’s SEM Services webpage on Global Search Engine Marketing.
The key to promoting your website in the Japanese market is to create localized content, Japanese keywords, register Japanese domains and then promote through Japanese search engines, affiliate marketing, online and offline branding and promotions.
To effectively tap the online market in Japan, it is important that your website not only be translated, localized and culturally customized for the Japanese audience, but also effectively marketed to them. In order to effectively market a website in Japan it is important to acquire a Country Code Top Level Japanese Domain Name (ccTLD:.jp) which allows a site to have Japanese characters in the domain name label. This is important for several reasons:
- As most Japanese are not proficient in English, a Japanese character domain label will help to successfully reach this population.
- Higher search results in local search engines.
- The domain can be used in online and offline advertising.
- The Japanese consumer can easily remember the domain in their own language.
- The Japanese will know that the company has a long-term interest in the Japanese market and may stimulate more trust.
- From a strategic point of view it is better to be proactive and get the ccTLD before it is taken. In addition, early entry and acquisition of ccTLD will give a company first entrant’s advantage.
Popular Japanese Search Engines
According to Japan.Internet.com, some of the most popular shopping sites in Japan are Rakuten, Amazon, Yahoo! Shopping and Netprice.
The top search engine choices for Japanese users are:
The top Japanese search engines are an excellent starting place to promote your Japanese website when targeting the Japanese online market. It is crucial for a website to get listed on these Japanese search engines to achieve visibility. Companies should explore key word development, paid submission, manual submission, paid inclusion to top search engines and directories like Rakuten.
Goal: Getting top search results using Japanese SEO and Japanese SEM
When localizing your Japanese website, it is important to research cultural and linguistic issues specific to the Japanese marketplace. Keyword list localization is a very different process from standard Japanese translation; you should make sure that your SEM and/or localization agency has the experience and understands the requirements for performing this service so that they can provide you with appropriate Japanese keyword localization. This will ensure that your Japanese website localization optimizes your content for Japanese search engines to produce maximum results.