Four Essential Tips for Localizing for the Japanese App Store

tom leclerc

Tom Leclerc is an App Store Optimization consultant and the ASO Manager at Wooga, one of Europe’s biggest game developers, located in the heart of Europe’s start-up capital, Berlin. He works to support developers of Wooga’s mobile and social games – from the fun, cuddly Jelly Splash to adventure titles, such as the story-driven Pearl’s Peril – with day-to-day keywording, testing and uploading. Hit him up on twitter @TomLeclerc2, or via email for all things ASO.

The Japanese App Store

There are two important things to know about the Japanese App Store as a Western app publisher. Firstly, it’s huge. The biggest App Store market out there. That’s no secret. However, what does seem to be a mystery is how Western developers can crack the shell and get to the deliciously lucrative center. Few have been able to manage it thus far, and those that have are either heavily branded super-IPs, such as Spider-Man Unlimited or Frozen Free Fall, or the very largest players in the Western market, namely Candy Crush and Clash of Clans.

One of the biggest, but by no means only, obstacles to success in the Japanese App Store is effective App Store optimization. It seems this is something that is only reluctantly accepted by most Western app developers.

But where do you begin? Optimizing for the Japanese App Store requires far more consideration than any other in my experience, and it can be daunting to tackle. Fear not though, as the following four tips should help you get a better grasp of how to approach localization, and give your app the best possible chance on the Japanese App Store.

1) Transcreate, don’t translate.

Word-for-word translation is a sure-fire way to failure. Transcreation isn’t about paying more for fancy translation, it’s about understanding the cultural differences between App Stores. The first key element of this is to translate concepts, rather than words. App descriptions are all about delivering your USPs as precisely as possible, no matter what the language. From a functional point of view, I would suggest that instead of giving your translator the optimized English from your US app store, it’s worth filtering down your text to the essentials before you pass it on, then giving them free reign to tailor the text to your audience.
In general, Japanese app descriptions should be shorter, and more efficient than other stores. This might sound a bit airy, but in practice, it means refining (but not necessarily changing) your core message. With games, for example, this means a short, exciting story, a description of the main mechanics, and that’s it. Where elements such as testimonials and feature bullets are a key part of app descriptions in the US, these are surplus to requirements in Japan.

2) Design with culture in mind

Icons and screenshots are obviously a hugely important part of the app store, not to mention videos. One of the key problems with designing these for the Japanese App Store is that Western design sensibilities are geared toward cleanliness and stark, simple messages. That doesn’t sit well with Japanese marketing aesthetics. These screens, by way of example, say a lot more than I could about how to design for theJapanese App Store.

Simple messages delivered with unadulterated gameplay images suits the US store


Source: US App Store Screenshot

Note the tilted game board, multi-colored flash text and background flair to appeal to Japanese users.


3) Start from scratch with keywording

One of the most commonly overlooked facets of localizing for app stores is keywording. Personally, I think looking at the App Store as one entity in this respect is a bit of a mistake. I prefer to look at each one as a separate store, with its own foibles and trends. This has two main implications when it comes to keywording.

Firstly – and this goes for every language – build your keyword lists from the ground up. Taking the easy route and simply translating your default region’s keywords is definitely sub-optimal. Using a more data-driven technique is far better for your visibility. The great thing is that you don’t necessarily need to be a native speaker of each language to do the legwork here. With so many great keyword suggestion tools out there, as well as a bunch of data on keyword traffic and competition, you can create far better performing keywords than using simple translation. Of course, it makes sense to have a native speaker check the keywords before you deploy them, but this is a far better way of optimizing your keyword lists.

Secondly, and specifically for the Japanese store, it’s worth bearing in mind that Japanese has three different scripts: Kanji, the ‘official’ script, for want of a better term, as well as Hiragana and Katakana, the two more phonetic varieties. This means that to optimize in any search (including titles!), you need to consider which variety to use. This can often mean using different scripts for the same keyword in your keyword lists. For this, you need a translator that’s really on the ball, and fully aware of the issues surrounding App Store keywords.

4) Optimizing for luxury

The biggest caveat to the aforementioned three elements of optimization is that, as in many cultures, luxury is often something associated with the exotic. If you have a luxury app, or want your app to feel foreign, little (or no) localization can be an avenue to seriously consider. However, be warned, as this is reserved for the very cream of the crop.

Conclusion: Localizing for success

It’s worth noting that effective ASO doesn’t automatically mean success. What it does mean is that you’re making sure your app has the best opportunity to succeed. As I mentioned previously, this is just one element of a successful app. After all, going into such a competitive market without every advantage you can muster is unlikely to yield results.

Thanks to Tom Leclerc and Wooga for sharing such useful insights and you can check out more of Tom’s thoughts on App Store Optimization here