Managing Japanese Localization Projects

With some precautions in mind, localizing into Japanese can be a smooth process. Find out more.

Both measurable and intangible elements affect the outcome of Japanese localization

It is generally taken as common knowledge that Japanese localization is different - it takes more time, involves more steps and costs more than other languages. Japanese is also frequently considered to be the most difficult - and expensive - language to localize into, but it does not always need to be this way. With some precautions in mind, localizing into Japanese can be a smooth process. So what makes for a successful Japanese localization project?

Components Of Success

The key success components of a typical localization project normally include factors such as quality, schedule, cost or communication. For Japanese projects, all the usual rules for project success apply, but in addition, Japanese clients normally expect that their vendors share their business values. While most of the other success components involve an element of measurability and therefore objectivity, business values are intangible and hence less apparent.

For those of us who are non-Japanese, an understanding of the practical application of Japanese business values is further complicated by the fact that we often need to guess at them. This is attributable, at least partly, to the inherent preference of the Japanese people for the concept of wa (literally meaning peace), of maintaining a peace and harmony rather than a candid exchange of opinions, arguments or confrontation.

Wa, often considered to be the most important of Japanese values, is a concept that baseball fans might know from the popular book You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting, in which the author pictures the landscape of Japanese baseball and what it takes for expatriate players to succeed there. In a business context, wa may prevent an unprepared non-Japanese from finding or exploring the root cause of a problem or an issue.

Why Should Japanese Localization Be More Difficult?

The most common issues are that Japanese clients are considered to be very demanding - with high requirements for quality - and that project costs and schedules are worse than for other languages. For many North American or European companies, working with Japanese clients requires extra efforts to satisfy their requirements, which would often go far beyond those of other languages. But this is, of course, not unique to localization.

The general level of just about any service in Japan might be considered as extremely high by most standards, and this is what Japanese customers, or consumers, expect. One only needs to enter any Japanese shop and enjoy the extreme politeness of shop assistants and their care and maximum effort to please you to understand this. Localization makes the differences more striking because by definition it involves crossing between cultures and languages.

The key issues to do with Japanese localization can be classified as being linguistic - to do with language and the localization process - and human/cultural - associated with relationship expectations and the values of clients and vendors. The Japanese language poses unique technical issues that change the linguistic and engineering process relative to European languages - even relative to a number of, if not most, other Asian languages. But human issues - cultural or business value issues - have a much larger impact on managing Japanese projects.


To continue reading, please download the full PDF version of this article, published in MultiLingual Computing magazine #76.

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