How to Effectively Localize Video Games For Japan

Voice-Over Pitfalls to Avoid
April 22, 2020
Subtitling vs Dubbing: What’s the Best Choice?
May 6, 2020

Japan is the third largest video game market in the world following the U.S. and China. However, Japanese gamers spend the most money per user at about $371 annually. These figures–along with Japan’s strong mobile game market–make the country an ideal target market for video game creators. The best way to reach Japanese gamers? Video game localization.

In this blog, we will go over some linguistic/cultural tips and localization best practices to keep in mind when localizing a game for a Japanese audience.

[Average read time: 4 minutes]

black and gray bicycle beside white wall

photo by Franck in Japan

Linguistic and Cultural Fluency

As mentioned in a previous blog, translation and localization are different: translation deals with translating the text from one language to another, whereas localization adapts the whole user experience to fit the local audience. That means taking into consideration cultural as well as linguistic nuances when adapting a video game.

For instance there are a number of topics that are censored and taboo in Japan.

  • Violence: murder, torture, gore, and other depictions of violence are censored in Japan. Players are advised not to take on the role of a murderer and children and innocent people are not to be the victims of violence.
  • Drugs: drugs are highly taboo in Japan and carry strict penalties, including drugs that are legal in other countries (e.g. cannabis). This taboo carries over to video games where drug use depictions should be avoided or removed.
  • Religion: the two major religions in Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism, but the general public is fairly secular. Therefore, games that depict or promote a particular religion are generally avoided.

Another thing to keep in mind is that register is incredibly important in the Japanese language. There are various levels of polite and honorific speech that change based on the relationship/social status of the characters engaged in conversation. Imperative speech, such as giving a command like “You need to finish this,” may come off as too direct and rude when directly translated into Japanese.

Gender also needs to be taken into consideration as the personal preferred pronouns (I, me) are different for males and females. Other key things to keep in mind:

  • Singular vs plural: With the exception of counting people, Japanese nouns do not have a plural form. For people, the word “tachi” is added to indicate more than one person: 1 person (hito), people (hitotachi).
  • Idioms: translating an English idiom like “the quarantine had her climbing up the walls” literally into Japanese will sound ridiculous. It’s better to find a similar expression in the target language that captures the same meaning (this is not limited to just Japanese localization).
  • Truncated text: Text generally expands from English to Japanese and if there’s not enough space in the text window or graphic in the game, it can be cut off. To avoid this, it’s important to leave some space in the window for text expansion.
  • Name/Date Formats: Names in Japanese are given with the surname first, followed by one’s given name. Dates follow the year/month/day format.

One more tip to keep in mind: Japanese is constantly evolving and the official spellings for words are being revised each year by the Japanese Ministry of Education using all three Japanese writing systems (kanji, hiragana, and katakana). Therefore it’s best practice to have a native Japanese team located in Japan handle the translation and help with the localization.

city photo

photo by Ryo Yoshitake

Localization Best Practices

A good best practice is to have the Japanese localization in mind as early in the video game production process as possible. This will help avoid some of the taboos and text window complications mentioned in the previous section. Additionally, American game companies are now looking to emulate a common practice used by Japanese game companies when localizing a game into English–having a representative of the original game involved throughout the entire localization process.

The text that appears in the game–such as on the user interface or subtitles–should be prepped with translation and localization in mind. For instance, a list of all of the unique items that appear in the game should be prepared for the localization team and it should indicate all terms and synonyms used to describe each given item (e.g. gun = handgun, pistol) as well as what similar terms refer to separate distinct items to avoid confusion. Also, a special note should be added for the localization team as to when to use a specific synonym for an item, if applicable, and the difference in connotations.

Localized versions should also follow strict linguistic quality assurance (QA), particularly for the Japanese market in which perfection and attention to detail is of the highest priority. QA should be done by a native Japanese speaking team ideally located in Japan. Native speakers would be better able to catch distinct linguistic inconsistencies such as if a female character starts using the male personal pronoun “boku.”

When a character speaks in slang or a particular accent in a game, it would be appropriate when doing the Japanese voice-over for that character to use a corresponding local Japanese slang or accent. For example, the Kansai dialect–spoken in the region southwest of Tokyo–is a common go-to substitute for characters that have a regional accent such as a New York or a Southern accent in American English.

Another best practice is to make sure that the localization team plays the video game from beginning to end at the start of the localization process. This practice familiarizes the team with the tone of the video game, how text appears, and any special localization considerations. It’s best to understand the full scope and tone of a project early, as this can significantly affect the localization strategy and the success of the localization.

person in gray hoodie sitting on brown wooden dock during daytime

photo byJezael Melgoza


Before the localization process, it’s important to do some research about the Japanese market: role playing games are the most popular type of games in Japan with many gamers playing on their smart phone or tablet. Many games that become popular in Japan are made available through Google Play and the Apple iOS App Store. How you’d like to roll out your localized video game for the Japanese market is up to you; however, if you keep in the mind the recommendations and best practices above you’ll be well on you way to successfully localizing your video game for a Japanese audience.

Have a video game or video content you’d like to localize for Japanese audiences? Click below for a free quote!

For more information on video game translation and voice-over,

  contact JBI Studios today.