Someone asked me.

“How do you say “CHANGE”  in Japanese?”

The Japanese word is “Henkaku” and is written below:

henkaku1

For the sake of argument, let’s say Obama were to implement the presidential campaign in Japan.  Should his keyword “change” be translated to the Japanese characters above for key messaging in the campaign?

From marketing perspective, the answer would likely be NO. It should stay in English, as “CHANGE,” and not be translated into the Japanese characters “henkaku.”

The English word “change” is a very common in Japan, and it brings the same attributes as it does in the United States.  It immediately clicks with everyone, similar to how the word “OK” clicks across languages and regions of the world.  Whereas “henkaku” implies mechanical innovation or methodological improvement, “CHANGE” implies something fresh, pro-active, a significant departure from what went before, and even, something better to hope for in the future. 

Below is a graphic that has became popular in Japan.  You can see the attributes in play:

obama-card

When you go into the Japanese market, it is critical how you communicate your own tagline. In many cases, direct translation does not necessarily communicate your message in the market.  Sometimes,  Just like “CHANGE,” a simple, universal term can effectively resonate outside the United States as well.  Knowing the difference can spell the difference between successful localization and not.

Special thanks to Mikal Anderson of LakeOMedia and TokiOMedia for his contributions to this article.