Aya Kato is a senior localization specialist at HubSpot and holds a Master’s degree in translation and interpreting from RMIT University in Melbourne. She helps the HubSpot brand voice shine in Japanese across a vast array of content types and formats throughout the customer journey. She has a background in translating children’s literature, business and marketing content and transcreation. An avid yoga enthusiast, her translation approach is based on yoga philosophy.
Translating into Japanese can be tricky, especially when it requires cultural adaptation. Often, content that is intuitive, or part of American culture, simply doesn’t translate well for Japanese readers without additional explanation.
One piece of content that my team and I localized into Japanese at HubSpot was a blog post from our CEO Brian Halligan called, “Experience Disruptors: A New Breed of Growth Leaders.” The English article was written to be exciting, fascinating, and impactful. My goal as a Japanese localization specialist was to get the same message and impact across to our Japanese readers.
The voice of our CEO really matters in Japan. Not only did he live there for many years before co-founding HubSpot, but he also has a deep fondness for the country and its culture. We have a large and fast-growing office there, which was opened up in 2016. Halligan is also the author of a bestselling marketing book, Marketing Secrets of the Grateful Dead, which sold more copies in Japan than in the United States, its home market.
Here are some noteworthy examples of how we went beyond the words and brought the Japanese reader closer to Brian and his writing.
Disclaimer: I back-translated some of the Japanese localization into English as seen on the following pages. If it doesn’t sound as smooth in English, that’s because it’s a back translation and is meant to sound this way in order to communicate the verbatim meaning of the Japanese. The text you see highlighted in green is new, and added to bridge the cultural gap.
Leaning Into Brand Messaging
In Japanese content, we often talk about “smart growth” (“スマートな成長”), as an equivalent of “grow better” in English. This is clearly articulated in our mission statement in Japanese: “Be a partner, for the smart growth of Japan.” It’s a central part of our local branding. So I decided to lean into our mission statement and brand messaging by adding “smart growth” into the Japanese title of the article. Here are the results:
Experience Disruptors: A New Breed of Growth Leaders
Customer Experience Disruptors: New Leader Companies Who Lead the Smart Growth
Guiding the Japanese Reader
Brian used examples of various services to illustrate how they’ve disrupted the customer experience. However, some of these services are unfamiliar to the Japanese reader or simply aren’t available in Japan. So I added short explanations about each service, allowing Japanese readers to imagine them without the use of Google. The goal was to bring the Japanese audience closer to the writer and make the reading experience smoother for them. Major caveat: explanations can’t be too long, otherwise the original point gets lost. My challenge was to make the explanations succinct and to the point.
HubSpot is dog friendly, so everyday I bring my dog Romeo to the office and then, at day’s end, we ride home together in a Lyft. At home, we fire up the Grateful Dead on Spotify. I head to the kitchen and Romeo goes directly to where he keeps his stuffed dog toys and the new treats he got in from Chewy. We put our paws up and order some Thai food from DoorDash. We fire our favorite movie up on Netflix. Then we crawl into our Casper bed and catch up on some reading. In the morning, we wake up, and I shower and shave with a razor from Dollar Shave Club. Then we begin the cycle again.
夕食はフードデリバリーサービスのDoordashでタイ料理を注文。夕食後は、動画配信サービスNetflixでお気に入りの映画を観賞しながらソファーでくつろぎます。眠くなったらオンライン販売で購入したベッドCasperにもぐりこんで、本を読みながら眠りにつきます。翌朝、目が覚めたらシャワーを浴び、Dollar Shave Clubの定期購入シェーバーで髭を剃ります。そして、また新しい1日がスタートします。
Every day I bring my dog Romeo to the office (HubSpot’s headquarters in Boston encourages employees to bring their dogs to the office) and then, after finishing my work, we ride home together in ride sharing service app Lyft. At home, we fire up the Grateful Dead on music streaming service Spotify and I head to the kitchen. Romeo goes directly to where he keeps his stuffed dog toys and the new treats he got in from Chewy.com.
We order some Thai food from food delivery service DoorDash. We fire our favorite movie up on movie streaming service Netflix. Then we crawl into our online-purchased Casper bed and catch up on some reading. In the morning, we wake up, and I shower and shave with a subscribed razor from Dollar Shave Club. Then we begin the cycle again.
Extra Dose of Politeness
American and Japanese cultures are very different. One striking example is the Japanese emphasis on politeness. Even in a business context, they tend to say “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry” a lot more than in the US. To conform to the Japanese cultural norms, I added an extra dose of politeness at the end of the article.
This is how we hope to grow as a business, today and in the years and decades to come. Today at INBOUND, HubSpot announced a slew of features and enhancements sourced directly from the customer base. Take a look, perhaps see something that you’ve requested, and keep sending feedback to make us better. Thank you.
This is how we hope to grow as a business. Today at INBOUND, HubSpot announced a slew of features and enhancements sourced directly from the customer base. Perhaps one of them may be the idea you’ve suggested. Feedback from our valued customers is the most important for HubSpot. Please keep sending feedback.
Again, thank you so much for using HubSpot products as usual. Thank you very much for your kind support.
Translation for business purposes in Japanese, especially for marketing content, cannot be achieved by simply converting words into another language. It’s all about getting the message across properly. That usually means there is a need to add cultural context so that the reader can fully understand what the author wishes to convey. For Japanese translators, this work can be a bit of an art form, and often goes outside the scope of what is typically asked of translators. It adds an extra layer to the work but is no less necessary for it.