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Localization & translation in Japan: firms hoping to compete in Japan have come to realize that the path to globalization is not a simple one. Fortunately, there is a growing group of companies that has the road map and know exactly what needs to be done.

IN AN INCREASINGLY globalized corporate marketplace, commitment to localization and internationalization has become fundamental to maintaining an effective worldwide presence. This is particularly the case in Japan, where local companies hoping to compete internationally--and foreign companies looking to break into the world's second largest economy--have to be able to adapt their language platform significantly. But while internationalizing products by modifying the language is often the first step to giving a business a worldwide audience, the task of seamlessly adapting the actual management and production of such products across multiple languages and cultures demands ah in-depth globalization strategy that effectively localizes marketing, communication and management. Though the Internet and emerging e-business models have become an integral part of localization, such innovations also have to be managed and implemented effectively. Fortunately, Japan is home to a diverse range of dedicated localization firms that are increasingly facilitating a highly globalized corporate domain.

Globalization services including translation, interpretation, Web localization and multicultural brand management are what Bill Sullivan, IBM's program director for globalization, calls "global architectures." In a recent issue of The LISA Globalization Insider, the leading localization industry newsletter, Sullivan wrote that "global architectures ensure our products will perform planet-wide." IBM's software developers are therefore "trained to think globally," he says. "In our view, globalization is an imperative; a non negotiable customer expectation," he continues. "It cannot--and should not--be treated as an add-on feature. It is a condition of participating in the e-business marketplace. Instead of asking themselves how much they will earn by investing in globalization, companies should ask how much they will lose if they do not."

Speaking my language

For Sam Luu, director of the international division of Creer Corporation, a Tokyo-based translation and communications services firm that provides communications support (including advertising, direct mailing and telephone marketing) for companies throughout Asia, Europe and America, "speed, precision and cost performance" are crucial to the current localization environment. Creer translates a broad range of communication tools such as pamphlets (corporate brochures and homepages), catalogues (instruction books, introductions for new products, specification sheets and operating manuals) and sales and marketing tools (project books, presentations) from Japanese to English and Chinese and all related combinations of language, Providing the service is one thing; ensuring a fast turn-around is another. For this reason, Creer is investing heavily in the newest localization technology, utilizing many different kinds of software and DTP applications in addition to the latest XML file innovations.

All this is typical of the recent progress made by the localization industry in Japan. Hajime Matsumura, president of Navix, which for 10 years has offered localization services not only in Japan but also in the UK, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, describes a quantum leap in the translation bussiness. "In the past, localization/translation services in Japan were cheap and low-quality. But lately they seem much improved because of new technologies such as the broad introduction of Translation Memory."

Thomas Haeussler, president of SDL Japan KK, a specialist localization firm with 33 offices worldwide, agrees that Japanese companies have become prodigious users of localization technologies. "Japan is well advanced in the use of professional translation services to manage the delivery of corporate communications, software products, documentation and Internet content in the world's languages. Sony, for example, translates its materials into more than 40 languages worldwide." This advancement has accelerated with the expansion of the Internet--"Japan is now the second largest user of such communication networks, for applications such as extranets, intranets and Web sites," he notes--since information is instantly available to a global audience. As a result, and despite the current economic downturn, localization has helped maintain Japan's global competitiveness.

Yuko Hamaguchi, general manager for the localization company SunFlare, agrees that since the rapid expansion of the Web in the late 90s the localization business in Japan has seen rapid growth. SunFlare has recently expanded to 150 employees and new performs translations in some 30 languages. The work is becoming increasingly diversified, says Hamaguchi, with SunFlare performing translations in a number of fields including computers, electronics, machinery, medicine, pharmaceuticals, chemistry, economics, finance, patents, law and contracts. But to stay competitive, translation quality needs to be constantly improved, she says. To this end, SunFlare "uses a wide range of dictionaries and reference materials, skilled translators and prepares terminology lists for individual fields."

Peter Durfee, deputy director of the Japan Echo magazine editorial department, highlights the fact that localization in Japan remains key even in the present economic recession. "In the Japanese-to-English field--our area of specialization--high-quality communication in English is central to the efforts of Japanese companies wanting to expand their business in foreign markets," he says. With services including the organization of international conferences, media relations, translation and publication work for a range of private and public sector clients, the international magazine recognizes the increasing relevance of localization in Japan. "The Japanese are avid consumers of foreign culture and products," says Durfee. "While government and international organizations are, of course, always interested in communicating their positions to a global audience, individual politicians too are beginning to present their views to broad audiences in English," he says.

It is a fact that the majority of localization and translation work around the world is performed internally rather than by localization and translation companies, notes Michael Shannon of Bowne Global Solutions, the world's localization services company with over 2,000 full-time staff and worldwide access to 15,000 qualified linguistic resources covering more than 80 languages and dialects. "However," he adds, "Japanese multinationals and subsidiaries have increasingly realized the value of outsourcing non-core competencies over the past five years. There is more demand from Japanese multinationals and subsidiaries not only for Japanese to English, but also for Japanese to European and Asian language solutions." In addition, the level of customer requirements such as the number of languages, speed and the need for more sophisticated solutions has also "markedly increased," notes Shannon. "We expect this trend to continue," he says.

Despite Japan's stalling domestic economy, many segments of the Japanese market are continuing to remain attractive to foreign firms. John Machonis, vice president of sales and marketing at the localization firm Basis Technology, whose initial focus was helping US technology companies such as, Google and Lucent Technologies enter Asian markets, argues that the size and sophistication of the Japan market makes it an "extremely important" target for many technology companies. "The Japanese market is often the first target for international expansion," he says, "and the challenge for many foreign companies is that their software needs to be significantly re-engineered to operate properly in the Japanese language." But it's important for prospective companies to realize that in order to be successful in Japan their products need a lot more than just translation.

The recent expansion of Web localization has been pivotal to an increasingly globalized corporate culture. Mark Attaway, vice president of Asian operations at Lionbridge, a global localization firm with 1,200 employees worldwide, notes that though localized software and hardware products had, by the middle of the last decade, become standard in Japan, the trend has been ingrained since the expansion of the Web. "By the mid-90s, a company could no longer expect to sell any significant quantity of technology products without first localizing the products into Japanese. With the explosion of the Web, mobile Web access and, now, the rapid acceptance of broadband in Japan, localized online content is simply expected." In fact, "there is so much localized [and local] content now available on the Web," says Attaway, "that potential customers will simply jump to another site as soon as they realize there is no localized content available."

Such reasoning has inspired leading generators of localization technology such as Trados Japan to heavily invest in and expand Web-based technologies. "Recognition of the importance of globalization/localization services has been increasing with the propagation of broadband networks of new technology such as so-called Web services," notes Trados's managing director Kiheita Kawasaki. He says the company has been forced to "step up to a higher range by launching new products, especially client-server type products and Web-based products merged into our portfolio from Uniscape (the company Trados acquired last year)."

A number of globalization-related businesses have been spawned out of the emerging symbiosis between localization and the Web. International Internet Systems (IIS), originally incorporated in Canada in 1997 and opened in Japan in 2000, is a leading multilingual localization company that was created to deal with the emerging Internet trend in business, says president Kenny Sembokuya. "With the increasing need to become more internationally recognized, many Japanese companies have come to the realization that in order to remain competitive they need to be more 'foreigner-friendly.' What this entails is that the methods of doing business on the Internet will need to evolve to make the experience more personal--in terms of doing face-to-face business in a virtual world." Sembokuya says that, in the past, the Internet was used chaoticallv, with many companies trying to do everything online. "But when the bubble burst, many found that they overspent and were left with fairly impersonal business practices."

Many Japan-based localization firms continue to offer a more personalized and customized translation/ internationalization service. The Word Works, for instance, has been providing what its vice-president John McCreery describes as "fine translation that is also fine writing" for over two decades. With extensive experience in advertising and marketing, fine arts, financial services and digital technology, The Word Works offers a broad range of hands-on localization and translation services for Japanese companies looking to communicate effectively in English in the business environment. "A growing number of Japanese business people have some command of English, but can still use help when vital presentations, research reports, PR or advertising materials require the polish that makes them persuasive," says McCreery.

Among foreign businesses looking to set up in Japan, many are looking beyond bespoke translation services for a broader management consultancy strategy. To this end, Action Japan, established as a boutique consulting and training company in both London and Japan last year, focuses on "increasing the efficiency and productivity of employees in a multi-cultural work environment," according to chief executive Victoria Bolam. "In the beginning, having product material translated into Japanese was as far as many companies went in 'localizing' their products," she notes. But she also says that this doesn't go far enough. "Western companies continually struggle to run efficient operations in Japan. Why?" asks Bolam. "It is because they overlook the crucial issue of localizing their management techniques," she says. Bolam cites the example of a Japanese partner building its own business model and brand image with little connection to the head office. As a result, "non-localized employee management is often the cause of conflicts within organizations that directly affect the bottom line," she says.

Global Village

The support that companies like Creer offer foreign companies is largely administrative. "We put our communication skills and specialist knowledge that we have built up over time to full use for that company," notes Creer's Luu. "This includes performing local market surveys, offering interpreters and secretaries to accompany on-site inspections, assisting in all kinds of applications and registration procedures as well as contacting, corresponding, negotiating and dealing with local firms." Creer's core competence is "total solutions relating to communication." In order to put this into practice, the content of its work is divided into interpreting and translating, temporary staff placement and business support.

Similarly, Basis Technology offers everything from consulting on how to make a company's product viable in Japan to helping companies re-engineer and localize their technology to operate in the way the demanding Japanese user expects. "We couple that with highly scalable linguistics software that many of the major information retrieval companies incorporate into their products," says Basis vice-president John Machonis.

The promise of the convenience of a complete one-stop shop underlies the strategies of a number of localization firms. Thomas Haeusser of SDL Japan, for instance, says SDL "can deliver simultaneous release of software into any of the world's languages." This can be achieved via a Web-based "simple proposal translation" (, a globalization management system (GMS) that integrates closely with clients' content management systems (such as Microsoft or Interwoven) or even a free, automated translation support facility ( To achieve this, SDL has employed its own GMS software--"SDLWorkFlow"--which combines the capabilities of TM (automated reuse of previous human translations) with real-time translation software.

IIS has also entered the Japanese market with a comprehensive service that includes content translation, multilingual design and Web application creation. "With the union of our design and systems teams, we are able to roll out very complex, but very user-friendly, sites that can include future expansion of other languages as needed," notes IIS' Sembokuya. IIS also employs a multilingual mobile communication technology that allows users of any mobile device (cellular or PDA) to view virtually any Web site on the World Wide Web.

Producers of advanced localization/translation technologies such as Trados are a central cog in the globalization wheel, employing advanced technology to create integrated multilingual services, or what Trados's managing director Kawasaki calls "globalization consulting." "We offer large global companies and service providers real scalable language platforms for desktops and servers to protect their linguistic assets and maximize re-use," he says.

Mark Attaway of Lionbridge notes that the ability to swiftly produce localized content brings companies a distinct competitive advantage. "When content is localized as it is generated, corporations can reach their global base of customers with the latest information more quickly and also keep their employees around the world synchronized," he says. During the last few years, however, companies have aggressively trimmed their workforces and are focusing solely on their core competencies. As a result, "they no longer have the internal head-count to manage this growing need for content localization manually," says Attaway. Working with technologies such as LionAccess that automate the localization process for clients, the company can directly detect changes made to content residing within a content management system, and automatically route the new, or changed, content to production teams for localization. "Once the content has been localized," notes Attaway, "LionAccess will automatically insert the localized content back into the content management system."

The search for a seamless, streamiined localization service has been taken up by Bowne Global Solutions, which promises to "consolidate spending and disparate processes under one contract, affording you one point of contact and accountability while improving turnaround times and production quality." Bowne's Michael Shannon describes a "custom globalization program for firms that integrates internal production systems and teams with one or more of our core capabilities, including: internationalization, technical writing, translation, localization and TestingElcano, a translation portal that enables clients to instantly engage Bowne's linguistic resources via the Internet." ( Responding to the pace of international business today, Bowne "recognizes that clients often need a streamlined approach to doing business," says Shannon.

For all the high-tech innovations that define contemporary localization practices, a number of firms continue to focus on more hands-on, specialized translation services. The Word Works, for instance, offers customized Japanese-to-English and English-to-Japanese translation, copywriting, copy-fitting in PowerPoint and other presentations. "Our presentation consulting services range from presentation planning to feedback when our experience suggests possible improvements. The underlying strategy here is quality and experience," says vice-president John McCreery. With principals that are both published authors in their own right, The Word Works blends advanced writing skills and long-term experience to offer research skills that save clients what McCreery calls "time and hassle by avoiding unnecessary questions."

"We use state-of-the-art broadband Web connections combined with the research skills mentioned above," McCreery says, "to compare what our clients are asking us to write with what they and their competitors have already made public--both ensuring consistency and looking for fresh angles."

The recent influx of diverse, globally focused localization companies into Japan has greatly improved the quality of localization services here. Navix, for instance, is able to draw on its production sites around the world--Navix Europe, Thailand and Singapore, among others--to support Japanese companies and their affiliated companies abroad. For Navix president, Hajime Mastumura, an effective globalization service demands international staff, and Navix employs staff from eight countries in its Tokyo office alone. Matsumura says this global perspective is essential if consultation for the construction of translation databases is going to be effective. "But it's not just about technology; it's also about people," he adds. "Though many companies are trying to realize automatic documentation, this is only a tool. Such tools are used by human beings, and in this sense human resources are very important," he says. To this end, Navix promotes the fact that its translators have professional expertise in the fields they translate.

Despite the emphasis on Web-based technologies, translation companies are continuing to promote their ability to offer expert human translations. "Our large pool of highly skilled translators/localizers means we can rapidly recruit any kind of resources at anytime," says SunFlare's Hamaguchi. In addition to running a translation school, Hamaguchi notes that SunFlare provides extensive on-the-job training. But technology remains key in terms of speed and ease of delivery of translation services. "We have excellent technology for the easy management of tagged structured documents like an XML," notes Hamaguchi.

LISA, a leader in the field of Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation (GILT), was founded in 1990 as a non-profit association. Since then it has blossomed into a firm with over 225 leading IT manufacturers and solutions providers. It works in more than 40 countries and with over 60 Japanese companies, and has pioneered the use of several technologies. Its client list includes government and educational organizations.

As LISA's director, Michael Anobile points out, Japan is also typically the first Asian nation that U.S. and European organizations enter, prior to doing business in other Asian nations." The organization believes that what makes it unique is that other groups in the GILT community tend to be narrowly focused on specific aspects of translation and software localization, while "LISA cooperates with these organizations in areas of mutual interest."

In terms of the company's ability to adapt to the changing environment, Anobile points out that " the return on investment in localization is becoming increasingly clear as more companies understand that only by becoming more local can they become truly global!"

In addition to these high volume corporate translation services, a number of organizations offer more specialized, high-end, research-based localization solutions. "Our emphasis on quality ensures that clients will come to us for the highly targeted presentation of key information," explains Japan Echo's Durfee. He notes that though JE translates Japanese texts into English and provides editing and publication services for English documents (including corporate documents ranging From IR materials to pamphlets and Web site content), "the main focus is on the written word, and our expertise is in political, cultural, academic and diplomatic fields. Our clients come to us with the documents that the), need done perfectly, and our focus on intellectual dialogue at the high end of the translation market allows us to provide that level of service. A talented editing staff and a deep knowledge of business and public policy developments ensure that clients will continue to come to us when they know their work cannot be done effectively by that low-priced service provider they found on the Web."

Also at the research-based, boutique end of the localization service chain, Action Japan, which acts as a globalization management consultant, has evolved a "hybrid approach" based on "localizing non-native staff and globalizing local staff," says CEO Victoria Bolam. "As an objective third party, Action Japan depoliticizes the people management issues through its comprehensive consulting, coaching and training service that allows companies to focus on the real root of internal conflict," explains Bolam. This applies not just to different national cultures, but also to different corporate cultures. "A resultant hybrid culture, which benefits from the best of all cultures involved, is often the best solution for an effective multi-cultural workplace," she notes. To this end, Action Japan employs executive coaching programmes to offer solutions for operating in a non-native culture and consulting & training programs that align hiring profiles, compensation, performance evaluation, career paths and communication strategies. Such solutions are designed to assist non-Japanese managers of Japan-based foreign firms that are "frustrated by the confused decision making processes, lack of accountability and sometimes resistance in their organization, yet overlook the fact that many Japanese employees simply do not understand how to operate any differently," says Bolam. "Such localization of management skills is becoming increasingly important as the pressure is on to make operations in Japan actively contribute to the financial success of the global firm," she says.

New world order

With both the Japanese and global economy continuing to lose ground, the demand of localization and internationalization services will grow as companies look to maximize market potential globally. "The industry itself will continue to evolve and expand as more and more companies come to the realization that in order to survive, they must speak your client's/user's language," says Kenny Sembokuya of IIS. To this end, companies like Creer are trying to find more seamless, integrated technological solutions for their clients. "Through various database translation support toots that can make effective use of past translations, and in the near future a document creation tool that can cope with each character code without being dependent on the computer's OS, Creer is investing in maximizing the latest translation technology," says Luu.

But the question remains over whether quality will be sacrificed in the push to offer cheaper, faster services. Teething problems are inevitable in an industry still finding its feet amidst relentless recent expansion and growth. Whatever happens, the continued implementation of what IBM's Bill Sullivan calls "global architectures" through rapidly improving localization and translation services in Japan will ensure the inevitable globalization of the Japanese market.


When calling from outside Japan please dial the country code (81) first, then 3 for Tokyo (omitting the 0), followed by the number.

Action Japan Ltd.


Fax: (03)3478-6003

203 Minami Aoyama,

4-15-28 Minami Aoyama,

Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062.

Contact person(s): Victoria Bolam

ACTION JAPAN IMPROVES corporate performance by focusing on internal cultural diversity as a catalyst for growth rather than an agent of inefficiency. Services include consulting, training and executive coaching.

Basis Technology


Fax: +1-617-386-2020

150 Cambridge Park Drive,

Cambridge, MA 02140


Fax: (03)3-3511-2948

9-6 Nibancho, Chiyoda-ku,

Tokyo 102-0084 Japan

Contact person(s):

Noriko Takezaki (Japan)

BASIS TECHNOLOGY HELPS companies successfully introduce their products into foreign markets by providing comprehensive professional services covering all aspects of software globalization and sophisticated software products designed for applications that analyze and process the world's languages. Our customers include, Google, PeopleSoft, and Overture.

Bowne Global Solutions


Fax: (045)640-4206

42nd Floor Landmark Tower,

2-2-1-1 Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku,

Yokohama 200-8142

Contact person(s):

Michael Shannon, Kenji Ozawa

BOWNE GLOBAL SOLUTIONS (BGS) is the leading provider of translation, localization, technical writing and interpretation services that enable businesses to deliver locally relevant and culturally connected products, services and communications anywhere in the world. Companies throughout the world use our solutions to help grow their businesses in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Creer Corporation


Fax: (03)3470-8633

3F 1-4-1 Kita Aoyama,

Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0061

Contact person(s): Sam Luu

IN JAPAN AND overseas Creer Corporation provides a wide range of services covering interpreting, translation, temporary and permanent professional staff placement, and management services, at competitive market rates. Founded within the service industry, Creer Corporation continually strives to improve customer service and satisfaction, coupled with regular training and continual research in order to build the finest structure in these areas.

IIS International Internet

Systems Inc.


Fax: (03)5766-5052

Suite 606, 4-11-7 Nishiazabu,

Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0031

Contact person(s):

Naoko Ohira

INCORPORATED IN 1997, IIS has become Vancouver's leading Multilingual Localization Company. Since our inception, we have served many clients such as Toyota Japan, Hewlett Packard Japan, Fuji Xerox Engineering, Bio Discovery K.K., Saito Shoten and TD Canada Trust. We specialize in multilingual Web/print design, multilingual Web application development, localization, translation, interactive multimedia development, consulting, and marketing.

Japan Echo Inc.


Fax: (03)5215-7318

1-3-13 Hirakawa-cho, Chiyoda-ku,

Tokyo 102-0093

Contact person(s): Peter Durfee

SINCE 1974 JAPAN Echo magazine has presented Japanese observations on Japan to foreign readers. We do translation and publication work for companies and government agencies, producing print and Web documents focusing mainly on politics, economics and society. We also provide organization and liaison services at international conferences and consulting for foreigners who need deep knowledge on Japan.

Lionbridge Technologies, Inc.


Sales: +1-508-960-2400

Fax: +1-781-434-6034

950 Winter Street, Suite 2410,

Waltham, MA 02451 USA


Sales: (03)5950-2830

Fax: (03)5950 2262

Otsuka FT Bldg. 4F,

3-20-6 Minami-Otsuka,

Toshima-ku, Tokyo 170-0005 (US)



(Sales and service inquiries)

Contact person(s):

Ben Sargent (US)

Mark Attaway (Japan)

LIONBRIDGE PROVIDES GLOBALIZATION and testing services to Global 2000 organizations in technology, consumer, industrial and life sciences industries. We focus on translation quality and customer service--the issues that matter most to our customers. Lionbridge project managers, translators and engineers have deep, hands-on experience adapting products and content for Asian markets, With worldwide resources and advanced language technologies, Lionbridge speeds adoption and reduces maintenance costs for global applications and content.

Localization Industry

Standards Association (USA)


Fax: +41-21-821-3219

7, Rte du Monastere,

1173 Fechy, Switzerland

Contact person(s): Mike Anobile

FOUNDED IN 1990 as a non-profit association, LISA is the premier organization for the GILT (Globalization, Internationalization, Localization, and Translation) business communities. Over 400 leading IT manufacturers and solutions providers, along with industry professionals and an increasing number of vertical market corporations with an international business focus, have helped establish LISA best practice guidelines and language-technology standards for enterprise globalization.

NAVIX Co., Ltd.


Fax: (03)3493-1690

TK Gotanda Bldg. 8F, 8 chome,

3-6 Nishi-gotanda, Shinagawa-ku,

Tokyo 141-0031

Contact person(s):

Hajime Matsumura

Yoshiaki Murakami

WE HAVE THE experience and know-how for multilingual production. In the past it was very difficult to produce multilingual products with both one-byte languages, English and others, along with two-byte languages, Japanese, Chinese and others, in the same product. We can produce these materials with ease in the complete range of output products, including documents and electronic media.

SDL International


Fax: (03)5720-2592

Meguro Higashiyama Bldg., 4F,

1-4-4, Higashiyama, Meguro-ku,

Tokyo 153-0043

Contact person(s):

Thomas Haeussler

FOR MORE THAN a decade, SDL has worked with numerous blue chip companies in defining and executing un their global business strategies, including Rockwell, Hewlett-Packard, Adobe, Kodak, Robert Bosch, Toshiba, Siebel, Microsoft, Audi AG, Sun Microsystems, 3Com, Canon, GE Medical Systems, IBM, Oracle and Volvo. With more than 1100 staff, SDL maintains 33 offices across Asia, Europe and North America.

SunFlare Co., Ltd.


Fax: (03)3355-1814

Shinjuku-Hirose Bldg., 4-7 Yotsuya,

Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 106-0004

Contact person(s): Jiro Toyama

WE OFFER LOCALIZATION/translation services for cutting-edge technologies in every industry and field, including software localization, translation of patent specifications, IT-related manuals, contracts, Web pages as well as marketing, medical/pharmaceuticals, financial, and legal documents. We also offer a wide range of home study and classroom based translation courses in order to develop professional translators in the fields mentioned above.

Trados Japan K.K.


Fax: (03)3568-7073

Shuzan Bld. 6F, 5.5.13 Akasaka,

Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052

WITH OVER 65,000 licenses representing the vast majority of the current translation technology market, TRADOS is the global leader in providing language technology solutions. The technology is the industry standard among translation and localization companies, professional translators, enterprise solution providers and worldwide multinational companies. TRADOS solutions include TM technology, terminology management, sourcing management and global content management systems.

The Word Works, Ltd.


Fax: (045)316-4409

55-13-202 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku,

Yokohama 220-0006

Contact person(s):

John or Ruth McCreery

DON'T YOU NEED words that work as hard as you do? For fine translation that is also fine writing, plus help with reports, presentations, PR, and advertising materials that your customers, clients, partners--and even headquarters--will find compelling, we are the place to turn.
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Author:Braun, Stuart
Publication:Japan Inc.
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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