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Rebuilding Japan

Expanding in the Japanese marketplace with localization.

One year ago this week the world looked on in shock as northeastern Japan was devastated by the fourth largest earthquake on record. Japan’s industrial base, its production capacity, and even its very economic status were compromised. As the world’s third-largest economy with an unrivaled commitment to research and development, Japan’s recovery was crucial not just for its own sake but for the sake of market economies everywhere.

What challenges can US companies expect in this market, and how can they prepare to meet them?

Exporting to a new country and communicating successfully with this new audience in their own language involves the deconstruction and reconstruction of a culture, not just a language.

Our translators have a “global” view of the project, understanding how each inflection or nuance impacts the overall message. The truly effective translator will be bicultural as well as bilingual, equipped to completely rebuild the client’s message for maximum credibility and goodwill with the target audience.

In the Japanese language, the future tense doesn’t exist. The present tense is used to describe future actions and when a Japanese native speaker says they are drinking coffee, they might be describing the action of the moment, something they do every day, or something they plan to do in the future. A skilled translator will recognize their meaning from the context, but the inexperienced will flounder. We’ve heard too many “horror stories” from clients who tried to cut corners with Japanese partners and caused irreparable damage.

It is important to understand the protocols of modesty and respect in any culture, and nowhere is that more true than in Japan. Failing to take into account a person’s age or social status will immediately compromise any business relationship, and these errors can be glaring or subtle. Changes to the structure of a language in translation can be “obligatory” or “non-obligatory”. Obligatory changes occur because of the differences in grammatical structure between one language and another. Non-obligatory changes can be less obvious. They occur because of differences in culture and style. People who take pride in their national culture might be deeply offended by a failure to recognize these non-obligatory changes, and Wolfestone clients agree that it simply isn’t worth the risk.

If the penalties for poor preparation are severe, the rewards for good work are excellent. Outstanding opportunities exist for exporters across many sectors, and Japan’s commitment to an eco-friendly future is opening many doors in the renewable energy industry. Over the past year, Japan has begun a major restructuring of its energy mix, reforming the electricity sector and working towards a target of deriving 25% of all power from renewable sources. Offshore wind, solar PV, and biomass services are thriving, and there’s increasing demand for Smart-Grid and Smart metering technology from utility service providers.

A country that has 2% of the world’s population is responsible for a massive 20% of the world’s research and development spending, with an increasing emphasis on greener products.

Rebuilding a client's message in a new language can be challenging, but rebuilding society in the face of a natural disaster is a challenge that most of us will never have to face. Japan’s social and economic reconstruction over the past year has taken patience, discipline, and hard work. The Japanese client will expect American trading partners to show the same qualities, and for those who do the opportunities are clear. You simply need to approach this market fully prepared, with a localized service tailored to earn the respect and trust of your target audience.


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