When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
We’ve all heard this term before. If you visit Japan for the first time, I am sure you will get shocked by how different the culture is from any other country. Food, people, rule….and most importantly, language. When you are entering the Japanese market, cultural consideration is often ignored, yet a very important fact of having a successful business.
Transcreation, Not Translation
Transcreation is a term created in the marketing industry to differentiate from normal translation and highlight the importance of cultural consideration. It means adjusting and adopting a message from one language to another while maintaining the desired intent, style, tone, and context. It’s heavily used by the marketing industry when a product or service is ready to launch in foreign language-speaking countries.
This is extremely important if you are promoting an international product in Japan because Japanese context type is different from English. In linguistics, English is considered a low-context language, and Japanese is a high-context language. When using Japanese, you must rely on many factors other than what the sentence simply means. We need to consider the cultural background in Japan to understand what it really mean in that sentence.
Companies struggle to succeed in marketing their product in Japan because they don’t realize the importance of transcreation.
Although the number of English speakers in Japan is increasing, it is still rare to find people who understand content written in English. “English is a world language” is not true in Japan.
But why is transcreation so important?
Let’s thinking about opposite situation. Suppose you are trying to buy something from a Japanese company website.
Scenario 1 (No efforts): The descriptions are available only in Japanese which you don’t understand at all. Even if the photos on the website are appealing to you, would you buy them without knowing what it actually does?
Scenario 2 (Translation): Now the website is translated in English. The description is in English and you can read it. However, they use many direct translations from Japanese that don’t make sense in English. Would you purchase it?
Scenario 3 (Transcreation): Now, how about they use minimum direct translations and adopted some explanations so it is easy to understand in English without knowing the Japanese cultural concepts?
There are a lot of Japanese terms that we cannot translate into English because there is simply no such term or concept in English. We need to know how to transcreate things to adopt in Japanese culture while we keep the same concepts and color of the brand.
A lot of foreign companies miss their opportunities in Japan by underestimating the power of transcreation. Knowing the difference between one culture to another and localizing by adopting the contents of the website, campaign, and advertisement properly in Japanese is one of the keys to having a successful business in Japan.