Missing the Most Important Message
With a relatively low number of immigrants compared to other industrialized countries, Japan is a place where most people speak Japanese, and, sharing much of the same knowledge, they're used to communicating amongst each other without much confusion. That's why problems usually arise in communication for Japanese people when they're trying to write a message in English for non-Japanese people, so let's take a look at what's wrong in this photo of a fire extinguisher we found in Tokyo.
"A Fire Extinguisher"
The Japanese language doesn't have any definite or indefinite articles like many European languages do. Thus, many Japanese struggle to use the appropriate English article at the appropriate time, and since English is a language that frequently breaks its own grammar rules, you can understand why non-native speakers like Japanese people would make the mistake of adding an indefinite article here where it doesn't belong.
The next line says "Hinan-jo (Temporary Shelter)," but they actually left out an important detail in the English translation -- which isn't even a direct translation -- since it's so obvious to a person who's grown up in Japan. That's the fact that "hinan" actually means "evacuation" in the context of an emergency, and "jo" literally means "place." If you properly localize the Japanese term "hinan-jo," it's an emergency shelter to take refuge during a crisis, such as an earthquake or typhoon.
In addition, the word "neighboring" is used as "nearby" due to it being used like the Japanese word "付近 (fukin)," which means "close" or "adjacent;" however, in English, "close/nearby" and "adjacent" are two distinct terms. In fact, there was no school next to this fire extinguisher. The next issue would be that the foreign person reading this would basically have to be a local and familiar with the area, but if a foreign tourist were to come across this, there's not enough information for the person to know where to go.
This is why it's important to understand the reader's point of view when you're localizing, and that's where we at Globalize Consulting can come in to help. We’re not only professionals at Japanese->English and English->Japanese localization, we’re linguistic and cultural experts. We can also bridge the gap between Japanese and Western marketing with a high level of understanding of the different cultures. If you’re interested in expanding your business or helping your failing business in Japan, feel free to contact us for a free consultation!