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3 Common Mistakes when Conducting UX Research in Japan

UX Research

Japan is not an easy market for international companies to conduct research in. The language barrier, lack of Japanese participants on international research panels, and unique processes of local research companies can make it a difficult market to access. After working with many different global companies conducting research in Japan, I've identified three mistakes that companies often make when planning a research study in Japan.

1. Recruiting the wrong people

It can be difficult to recruit Japanese users for UX research studies due to the language barrier and underrepresentation of Japanese people on international research panels.

I have had several clients ask to recruit for studies themselves, using tools like UserTesting or UserZoom, which claim to have Japanese respondents. The problem is that these panels do not have Japanese language websites, meaning that all respondents must be comfortable using English websites.

Only 2~8% of Japanese people speak English fluently(1) - conducting research with English speakers in Japan can lead to results that are not representative of the general population.

I have also found that these platforms recruit English speaking expats who live in Japan, who have very different experiences and backgrounds to the average Japanese person.

Recruiting representative Japanese users through a local research panel is a great way to ensure that you are speaking to the right people.

I offer affordable recruitment of Japanese UX research participants through the nation’s largest domestic research panel. Learn More

2. Doing Research in English

I often have clients that are conducting a study in multiple markets at once, and prefer to conduct studies in all countries in English for consistency.

While it is possible to find English speaking respondents in Japan, they are very rare, and often have very different life experiences and backgrounds to the average Japanese person.

Some clients also request live interpreting of interviews, to allow their English speaking moderator to interview a Japanese respondent through an interpreter. This can work for in-person methods like contextual inquiry, however it is ineffective for online interviews due to the difficulty of building rapport and the need for long pauses in the conversation.

Conversations in Japanese are very interactive, and it is polite for the listener to say aizuchi, short interjections during a conversation to show that they are listening and understanding. This is not possible when interpreting interviews, making it difficult for the interviewer to create rapport with the respondent.

I recommend using a local moderator who understands the local cultural context and can help you get the most out of interviews.

I can work with you to adapt research plans to Japanese audiences and conduct interviews and focus groups in Japanese. Learn More

3. Using a Poorly Translated Prototype

Some companies want to test their product or service concept in Japan, and start by auto-translating their landing page or app into Japanese for testing.

As English speakers, we understand that English is an international language and generally don’t mind if there are some grammatical or spelling errors, as long as we can understand the meaning.

However, Japanese people are not used to seeing grammatically incorrect or unnatural looking Japanese. This can give a very negative impression that affects their overall impression of your service.

Poor translations lead respondents to make negative assumptions, such as “this service must be untrustworthy” or “this service must have no Japanese employees or Japanese language support”

It is inexpensive to get pages professionally translated, and is definitely worth the effort to ensure that research respondents focus on the service concept itself, and not the poor translation.

I can have your prototypes translated, localised and reviewed by professional translators prior to testing. Learn More

When done right, Japan UX Research can be highly effective at identifying the ways that your product can succeed in Japan. To get the best results, ensure you are talking to the right people in their language, with a prototype that has been translated and localized well.