Make your online presence fit in with the Japanese market

A guide to localisation in Japan

1 Overview

We’ve created this guide to help you get closer to your Japanese customers. A web presence that is in tune with Japan’s culture will make your customers feel well disposed to you, and give them the confidence to do business with you. By understanding these little yet important details, you'll be in a good position right from the start in your new market.

2 The main language

Japanese is the main spoken and written language in Japan.

3 Formality

Should you be formal or informal when addressing your Japanese customers?

When communicating with your customers, you should be formal. The customer in Japan is always treated with respect and formality.

The old saying “the customer is always right” should be kept in mind when dealing with your Japanese customers.

Use the term “sama” to address your customers. It is the equivalent of “sir” or “madam.”

Even though Japan is at the centre of many technological innovations, always remember that it is an ancient, formal, traditional culture. If you have a financial product, a legal service, or are talking about money, you should always adopt a formal tone and style.

Ease of doing business in Japan

The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2019 report ranked Japan as 39th out of 190 countries.

4 Numbering systems and formats

The Arabic 1, 2, 3 numbering system is mainly used in Japan. The traditional Kanji characters may occasionally be used.

Numerals

Decimal separator
  • This is a dot or full stop (.),

    • e.g. 1.5 hours
Thousand separator
  • The thousand separator is a comma (,)

    • e.g. 1,524 people
Telephone numbers
  • The country code is +81. Telephone numbers are usually in the format of (area code) xxxx-xxxx or xx-xxxx-xxxx,

    • e.g. (+81) 1234-5678 or 12-3456-7890.
  • Numbers are nine digits long including the area code, but not including the first 0.

  • Freephone numbers have the prefix 0121.

5 Currency format

Japan’s currency is the Japanese Yen. This is represented by two symbols 円 and ¥,

e.g. 123,456円 or ¥123,456.

Its trading three letter code is JPY.

The yen note denominations are ¥10,000 ¥5,000 ¥1,000. The yen coin denominations are ¥500 ¥100 ¥50 ¥10 ¥5 ¥1.

6 Date format

In Japan the date format is YYYYMMDD,

e.g. year month day.

Alternatively Japanese characters meaning "year," "month," and "day" are also inserted after the numerals,

e.g. 2008年12月31日 (水) for "Wednesday, December 31, 2008."

7 Hour formats

The 24-hour clock is used in Japan.

The characters for “hour” (時)and “minute” (分) are added after the numerals,

e.g. 8:42 would be "8時42分.

It is also perfectly acceptable to write 8:42 with the hour separated by the minutes by a colon.

For extra clarity you can add 午前 to mean “before noon” or 午後 to mean “after noon”,

e.g. 午前11時 for 11 a.m.

The 24-hour format is favoured on all railways, digital devices like PCs, phones, tablets, and is the standard format on Android where the separator is a colon,

e.g. 14:24.

8 Working Days

The standard working days are Monday to Friday.

9 Things to avoid in the Japanese market

Every culture has different superstitions and traditions which are always worth noting, especially when entering a new market.

The Japanese consider the number 4 to be unlucky because when spoken it makes the sound “shi” which sounds the same as the Japanese word for death.

Never write a customer’s name using a red typeface because this can have negative associations.

10 Important localisation tips

Here are the top five translation tips that will make you sound like a local in Japan in no time:

  1. Provide as much context as possible for your translators. Give them visuals where your text should appear, tell them the purpose of the communication and who the intended audience is.

  2. Avoid stringing together a dictionary translation of individual words because this can sound stiff and unnatural. Instead write Japanese from scratch to convey the meaning.

  3. It’s always a good idea to make your translator feel comfortable in asking you questions, and get your translation just right.

  4. Be cautious about literal translations, and avoid putting a Japanese sentence into an English sentence structure, as this will sound unnatural.

  5. Use a native speaker to write your communications where possible, and make sure it is double-checked by a native speaker.

11 Additional guidelines

Discover how to ensure your website is local in tone and language in our localisation guide.