To expand into the Japanese market with your iPhone application, it is extremely important to have a “Japanese localization”. When browsing for apps in the iTunes Store, most people automatically dismiss the screen upon seeing an English description. It doesn’t matter even if the app is free!
Also, if you only market your application in English, your chances of getting “covered by the bloggers” — an important aspect of marketing in Japan — becomes very low. Just think about it. If you come across an absolutely amazing application only available in Japanese… would you buy it?
If it isn’t in English …
For the record, you can clearly tell how proficient (or not) Japanese generally are with the English language by looking at their TOEFL (an international English language proficiency test) results. 29th place out of a total of 30 Asian regions. Although most Japanese understand the need to know English, many are strongly allergic to it. It is said that the English education industry in Japan is the largest in the world, estimated to be around US$30 billion. Could this not also be an indication of how difficult it is for the Japanese to master the English language?
Difficulties of Japanese localization
It is unfortunate that many are holding back from diving into this large app market because of a reluctance to invest in Japanese localization. Then again, there’s no denying that localizing an application into Japanese is no easy task for English-speaking vendors (especially personal and small ISVs).
One cannot translate an application naturally without background knowledge in iPhone controls and technology. (And for those already translated apps that are not seeing sales, “unnaturalness” could very well be the reason why.)
For example, do you or your translator know what the appropriate Japanese terms for things like “distribution”, “configuration”, “file menu” or others? These terms may have several Japanese equivalents, but only one that is acceptable in context. Without proper knowledge about the application concept, you may end up with a translation that devalues the user interface you have taken so much effort to put together.
The app is not the only thing you will need to translate. There’s also the iTune Store, support site and press release, amongst others, to worry about. You may incur quite a bit of cost if you engaged a professional translator to handle all of these.