Once a client told us that Japanese language looks too complicated to appeal to the audience, especially when the product is targeted for children. The product is translated into several languages in the app store, and the results from it showed less preferable in Japanese. When you think about the possible cause, it is easy to blame this unique writing system that Japanese language employs. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the letters in the regular Japanese web page might look lacking a sense of unity, compared to any other languages.

JapaneseLanguage

There are three different sets of orthography in Japanese. For example, “Please have a wonderful time at our hotel” would be something like “当ホテルでごゆっ くりとお寛ぎください” which consists of Kanji (Chinese characters that contain meanings), Hiragana (for functional part of the word) and Katakana (for foreign-origin words and onomatopoeia).

Firstly learning, then later using those 3 sets seems too much; however, combining the different orthographies actually is quite economical. Hiragana and katakana are almost equivalent to Upper/lower case alphabet, so there is the same number of letters in each set and both are groups of phonological units.

That means, instead of having to remember the spelling of each word, you can write practically anything you say with these letters. As for Kanji, although there exist more than three thousands characters used in daily life, they help us grasp the idea of a word or even sentence at a glance because each character has a “character”, i.e., sense/meaning. And when all three orthographies are combined in a sentence, parts of each set stand out by each other and tell us where the meaning boundaries are, which leads us easier and faster understanding of the entire sentence.

Compare the following 2 sentences:
1) ははははははとわらった。
2) 母はハハハと笑った。

In 1), the first 6 Hiragana letters are identical and hard to tell where the boundary is, on the other hand, if it’s written with 3 orthographies combined as in 2), it takes just a second to skim that it’s about the mother(母) laughing(笑) out loud (ハハハと).

Therefore, this writing system works perfectly for Japanese audience and nothing is complicated, rather very well organized. Although, one of the concerns that the client had was a good point; this system works well only for those who have learned all the sets. Each of the orthography is introduced to the Japanese-native children in the order of Hiragana first, then Katakana -> Kanji.

So, most of the children books are written either only in Hiragana, Hiragana/Katakana mix, or all three mixed with an aid with hiragana on top of Kanji or Katakana in small font. If the client wants to sell their app targeted young children, it would be better that no Kanji is included for them to play.

Nonetheless, the explanation of the app in the app stores can be written in the regular style, in all three orthographies mixed, as this is aimed for the parents to read and decide what they want for their children, not for the children to read and ask their parents to buy the app.