How to Localize Your App for Japan

Sarah B. Touimi by
ASO Manager at AppTweak

Last updated: 8 min read

Japan has become one of the largest markets for mobile revenue. Localizing your apps and games into Japanese then becomes an increasing priority. So, what do you need to take into account when localizing your app/game for the Japanese market? We’ve gathered for you all the information and tips you need to know to localize your app/game successfully.


How to localize your app for Japan?

Many Japanese people are not fluent in English and tend to prefer local apps to “foreign” apps. In order to rank well in either the App Store or Google Play, it’s critical that your app is localized in Japanese. Not only will this lead to greater conversion from impressions to downloads, but optimizing your app store listing will also increase the discoverability of your app. Localization can also increase your chance of being featured and ranking for more relevant keywords.

However, making your app/game visible and attractive to Japanese users is more challenging than just making it available in Japanese. The Japanese are very specific when it comes to their mobile app/game design, and it is important to be aware of the Japanese culture, sensitive topics, and language rules in order to break into this market. To help you, we have listed the different elements to keep in mind when localizing your app/game into Japanese.

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Language

  • Japanese is a very concise language – its grammar does not require spaces between characters, and words consist of sometimes only one or two characters. This means that for the same amount of characters, you can fit in more Japanese words than you could for English words.
  • The Japanese language consists of three distinct alphabets – hiragana, katakana, and kanji that have a high search popularity. That means that for any given English word, there might be several ways to say the same thing. We recommend putting the relevant high-volume keywords that are written informally in the keyword field. For example, in Candy Crush, there is both “きゃんでぃくらっしゅ” in hiragana and “キャンディクラッシュ” in katakana.

Title & subtitle

  • Put a space between each keyword like with English as it helps with keyword indexation and lowers the risk of rejection for keyword stuffing. For example, the title “キッズ無料ゲーム,” which means “kids free games” has a high risk of rejection as it seems to be just adding keywords and not forming a sentence. So, adding some postpositional particles such as “や,” “が,” and “の” or one predicate will make your title seems more natural in Japanese and ensure clarity. For example, in this case, it is better to have “キッズ向けの無料ゲーム” meaning “free games for kids.”
  • Use relevant keywords that are written formally regardless of search popularity. In a few cases, depending on how you want your brand to be perceived and your targeted audience, you can use everyday words that the user is more likely to use when searching. For instance, for a more friendly app or game, it’s better to use the Japanese version of the English word “chat” (チャット) rather than “communication” (コミュニケーション).

Note: For long app titles, Japanese developers tend to create an abbreviation to increase brand presence. For instance, the popular app Puzzle & Dragons uses “パズドラ,” meaning “Pazudora” as an abbreviation.

Keyword field

  • Even though Japanese words need no space, it is important to separate each keyword by a comma in the keyword field to maximize exposure in the Japanese app market. For example, “video editing” has no space in Japanese “動画編集” unlike in English. Still, it is better to separate the two words by a comma in the keyword field like this “動画,編集”.

Discover how you can make app localization easier with AppTweak’s Auto Translate feature

Creatives

When it comes to creative assets (including icons, screenshots and videos), Japanese prefer the “Japanese look” for games – the manga and anime style are highly popular in Japan. As for apps, it is important to localize UIs and models. Having anime elements or Asian models in your creatives make them more appealing to the Japanese users.

Icon

  • Kawaii, meaning “cuteness”, plays a big role in Japanese culture and makes cute mascots or visual elements very appealing. In Japan, icons are usually used to mark special occasions, milestones, and big updates using overlaid text on top of the design. The text is bolder, more aggressive, and more colorful than in the West. Mixing colors and textures is also an important part of Japanese culture.

Different ways in which games use icons to mark special occasions on the Japanese App StoreDifferent ways in which games use icons to mark special occasions on the Japanese App Store.

  • Also, localizing your icon according to specific seasonal events (Cherry Blossoms, Golden Week, White Day) is a good way to make your app/game feel more relevant to Japanese users. Thus, it is very important to understand seasonal events and use them to your advantage by tweaking your icon to mark those seasonal events. Phiture has gathered a list of seasonal events to help you keep track of these events when entering the Japanese market.

Japan seasonal events for appsA list of the seasonal events in Japan for apps and games looking to localize in the Japanese app market. Source: Phiture

Screenshots

  • Screenshots in the Japanese app stores tend to have more text and to be more crowded than in the West. Native publishers use lots of small elements in their app store screenshots, adding special effects and emotional captures all over the image.
  • In games, anime or manga characters are placed in the foreground to put emphasis on them as Japanese users are fond of comic/anime style elements.

Angry Birds Dream Blast has magnified the cute characters in its screenshots in the Japanese App StoreAngry Birds Dream Blast has magnified the cute characters in its screenshots in the Japanese App Store.

  • Also, the choice of colors for screenshots is very specific. Apps, especially games, use the RGB color scheme. RBG consists of bright colors that are used to make the visual exciting and pop. This is very popular as Japanese users are fond of the complicated and crowded visuals, which is very different from the Western’s minimalistic approach in design.

Additional tips

Font styles & colors

The font style selection is crucial to the message being conveyed in Japanese as fonts can be associated with different purposes. There are three types of fonts that are mostly used: Gothic, mincho-styled, and handwritten or textured fonts.

  • Gothic font is recommended for normal expressions and thicker font can be used for emphasis.
  • Mincho-styled font can be used to emphasize fantasy, historical, or surreal context and also to reflect emotion.
  • Handwritten or textured fonts are usually used for short and sharp sentences or exclamations and also to express confusing situations. It does not go well with long sentences.

The font color selection is crucial as different colors are used depending on the message conveyed, the interlocutor, and the emotions transmitted. For example, for female interlocutors, pink fonts are used. To convey emotions, red is used to express motivation and purple to express mystery.

Also, to put emphasis on sentences depending on the font color, the use of a white or black outline is the norm. But in general, Japanese tend to use bright colors with manga and anime elements, especially yellow and orange.

Font style and color for app screenshots in JapanChoose font style and color wisely when designing your app screenshots for Japan.

Speech bubbles

The text/speech bubbles selection is effective and important as different drawing styles are used to express different things.

Text bubbles in Japanese app screenshotsText bubbles in Japanese app screenshots.

Social proof

Social proofing happens to be very effective in Japan. Japanese users are positively influenced by social proofing arguments when deciding whether to download an app/game. So, social proofing should be something to strongly consider when designing your screenshots and when writing the 3 first lines of your long description.

Include social proofs when localizing your app screenshots for JapanIncluding social proofs is desirable when localizing your app screenshots for Japan.

Sensitive topics

Some topics are negatively received in Japanese culture, especially in games. It is recommended to avoid promoting any religion, images of tobacco products and drugs. Also, when using cultural elements, it is important to make sure that these are Japanese and not Chinese, as Japanese users won’t tolerate the mix-up. Finally, when it comes to violence in games, it is better to remove or tone down the blood. The player should not take the role of a killer, and children/innocents should not be killed.

Read these tips to successfully localize your app or game in any chosen market


TLDR

Japan is the go-to market for apps and games that are looking to expand worldwide. To successfully localize your app in the Japanese market, here are some valuable tips for you to keep in mind:

  1. It is advisable to put a space between each keyword for the title/ subtitle, as in English, to lower the risk of rejection due to keyword stuffing.
  2. For the keyword field, it is important to separate each keyword by a comma to maximize exposure.
  3. Japanese have a preference for manga and anime characters, so include cute mascots and Asian elements in your creatives to make your app/game visually appealing.
  4. Keep in mind the font style and color choices in Japanese depending on the purpose of your message.
  5. Consider social proofing when designing your screenshots for the Japan app market.

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Sarah B. Touimi
by , ASO Manager at AppTweak
Sarah is an ASO Expert at AppTweak, helping apps increase their visibility and downloads. She has experience in digital Marketing and is passionate about new technology. She is a born entrepreneur!