— 10 Jun 2024

ASO & Design Guide to Japan: Localization & Seasonality

Gabriel Kuriata

Japan is a beautiful country. Home to many natural and man-made wonders, rooted firmly in its rich history and tradition but full of high-end technology. 

For mobile app developers, Japan is a lucrative, much-desired market. Its average revenue generated by a user (ARPU) is ostensibly higher than in the United States. According to Statista, ARPU in the United States is projected to reach $11.79 in 2027, compared to $13.72 in Japan, a value that has not historically been its highest. Japan has a high share of iOS devices (over 67%, according to Statista) and a colossal mobile gaming market worth approximately $14bn in 2023, according to Sensor Tower.

A developed market with a powerful iOS share (64.82% according to Statcounter), a reasonably accessible one with an average TTR of 8.75%, CVR of 58.29%, CPT at $0.70 and CPA at $1.20 (compared to TTR of 9.98%, CVR of 65.85%, CPT at $1.97 and CPA at $3.00 in the USA in 2023, all according to our data for 2023, collected for the latest SplitMetrics’ Apple Search Ads Search Results Benchmarks Report). According to Global Data, Japan also enjoys a high ARPU, ranking 3rd globally in 2021, with the mobile gaming segment responsible for this high position.

Success in Japan requires a powerful ASO-driven growth strategy due to cultural differences and unique customer preferences. Even though in 2024, Japan and the West are culturally closer than ever (especially among younger generations), a different language, alphabet, and cultural norms can inhibit many developers from building a meaningful and noticeable presence there on the App Store or Google Play.

ASO & design are fundamental to building a true connection with a foreign audience. From localization through seasonal promotions and in-app events that captivate and engage users with relevant imagery, ASO specialists and designers have a lot of work before their colleagues launch their first paid user acquisition campaigns.

While fostering adequate cultural sensitivity might be challenging without professional support, we hope this article will point many app and mobile game developers (especially their design teams and ASO specialists) in the right direction and encourage them to explore this market more effectively.

Why is localization so important?

International expansion and scaling require a genuine understanding of the target audience. Many values, goals, and aesthetic preferences are shared across all markets. Minimum Viable Localization (MVL) is grounded in that fact, allowing app developers to reach outside familiar territory on a budget.

Minimum Viable Localization (MVL) for a mobile app involves adapting essential elements such as language, currency, imagery, and cultural references to target specific international markets while minimizing costs and development time. It ensures basic usability and understanding for users in target regions.

MVL should be good enough in terms of ROAS, ROI, and other key benchmarks, such as tap-through rate (TTR), conversion rate (CR), cost per tap (CPT), and cost per acquisition (CPA). 

However, this article will show you how to go beyond that. So, how can we localize our app’s product page on the App Store to reflect what Japanese users are looking for?

Audience characteristics and universal app product page design guidelines for Japan

An image is worth a thousand words. Plenty of research and articles are available on marketing in Japan, but we figured it’s best to show the Japanese mobile app and game market as it is and see how well it reflects theory.

On the one hand, we wanted to see how much effort Western (or global) apps put into localization and seasonality. On the other hand, we wanted to show how native apps fare in this field. To do this, we browsed the App Store itself, relying heavily on our Market Intelligence features:

  • SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence: CPP Intelligence in SplitMetrics Acquire is a tool where a user can select a competitor’s app and view all ad variations using custom product pages from that competitor. CPP Intelligence allowed us to access and easily compare default product pages of apps (present, active ones, and those utilized in the past) but also all custom product pages that app developers used for seasonal promotions… or testing their localizations, trying out various color schemes, elements, screenshots order and more.
  • App Radar’s extended competitors’ insights, such as Localizations and Timeline features, for an easy overview of how apps present themselves in the USA and Japan and to track metadata updates and in-app events.

To better understand the capabilities of CPP Intelligence in SplitMetrics Acquire, we recommend setting up a demo and just trying it out. App Radar also has a free trial that can be used to check out all its market intelligence features!

All analysis contained in this article is based on publicly available information: live product pages, custom product pages and events. First, let’s discuss key insights into the minds of Japanese consumers that will greatly influence design & ASO tips collected in this article.

Access next-level market intelligence
Custom product pages, brand protection, semantic analysis & more!
Book a Demo

Comfort risk-averting audience with testimonials & credentials

A collection of first screenshots provided by apps on the App Store in Japan, with No. 1 heavily promoted.
Whether it’s finding the love of your life, choosing a healthy diet, investing money, or traveling – apps with an important, focused task need to prove their worth. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Uncertainty avoidance is one of the most impactful traits of Japanese culture. According to data from the Cultural Factor Group, a cultural analytics and strategy advisory with a global reach, Japan scores exceptionally high in this dimension, with 92 points out of 100, signifying a tremendous preference for predictability (country scores are sourced from various scientific journals, aggregated and analyzed by the company).

A collection of first screenshots provided by apps on the App Store in Japan, with awards visible.
Never miss an opportunity to use social proof to gain the trust of new users. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

The impact of this trait reverberates throughout several design principles that many apps present in Japan adhere to. Notice the prominence of “No. 1” badges on the first and most crucial screenshot on an app’s product page. This design element is visible across all mobile app and game categories.

Additionally, notice how eager mobile games are to display their time on the market. It’s a parameter especially vital to those with long lifecycles. Celebrating anniversaries showcases a healthy ecosystem with steady updates and a satisfied player base.

A collection app icons from Japan, celebrating anniversaries for their games
Many, if not almost all, mobile games in Japan are free to download and rely on in-app purchases, kept alive through updates and events. A longer presence on the market indicates a popular, frequently updated product is worth players’ time. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Embrace high information density to deliver all critical information

A comparison of screenshots shown on Hopper on the App Store in Japan and the USA.
A comparison between product pages of Hopper for the Japanese and American markets. Notice the annotations on larger mockups and different selections of information. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Risk aversion is inherently tied to the need to make informed decisions. Those call for more facts, insights, and proof that your app can deliver what it promises.

The source of this trend goes beyond the need for certainty, motivated by high pragmatism and the quest for the best solution (not merely good enough), but is deeply rooted in the aesthetics of the language itself.

The written language itself is space-efficient and compact. While Western design is object-related and placing a single message or feature front and center is the most common practice, East Asian viewers are generally able and willing to process more information holistically. Design Theory, a fun Youtube channel focusing on the principles of creativity and design, has a great YouTube video on this topic, which helps to explain why images on Japanese product pages look the way they do:

A quick comparison of screenshots from American and Japanese app product pages shows that although there is a difference in information density, it’s not as pronounced as with traditional online ads. Many mobile apps and games are global and strive for a relatively consistent look while maintaining a cohesive brand identity and reducing costs.

An example of two apps in Japan, to highlight information density on them. Source if from the App Store.
An example of Japanese apps utilizing available space to deliver all key information. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

It seems more likely to encounter such differences in Shopping, Lifestyle, Travel, and Financial apps – wherever more information is needed to process all the special offers, discounts, or benefits available.

While it’s common for Western and Japanese apps to embrace a clean aesthetic that focuses on a single message, apps in Japan aren’t shy about using space more efficiently, delivering key details on promotions, special offers, customer reviews, etc.

Invest in reviews & ratings management for long-term benefit

A collection of first screenshots from various apps, showing how they highlight good reviews. Source is from the App Store.
Some app developers proudly display their high ratings on the first screenshot. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

App ratings tremendously impact an app’s product page conversion rate, with three-digit differences between 3.0 and 4.0 ranges not uncommon. A long-term, pragmatic approach to review management may be especially important in the Japanese market.

Such an approach is advisable in all markets, but pay extra attention to courtesy in Japan. Tokhimo, an HR & recruitment company, has an excellent article about this subject: Omotenashi: How Japanese Treat Their Customer with Extra Care.

Reviews and ratings aren’t under your direct control but should be within the scope of work (or at least concern) of the ASO team. Allocate time and resources to communicate with your audience and study what they say about your app.

Reply to all reviews (positive, negative, and updated ones), showing that you care and understand that even criticism can be a growth point for your app. According to data released by App Radar, developers who reply to users’ reviews have increased their star rating by 0.7 points. If you’re going from 3.5 to 4.2, this will mean a three-digit CVR uplift. App Radar’s AI-driven review management features will tremendously help you accomplish this task.

Be ready for different color preferences & associations

A comparison of screenshots of Amazon on the Japanese and American App Stores.
Be prepared to embrace different color schemes for your product page images. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Comparison of American app product pages and those targeting Japanese customers reveal examples of different color utilization. In general, color associations are very similar in both markets, but we’d like to highlight two of them:

  • Red is frequently and perhaps more boldly used to evoke a sense of vibrancy and dynamism, attracting attention to critical features or promotions.
  • Pink is the color of Sakura, the cherry blossom flower. Mobile games with the themes of love and romance are used frequently, just like fashion apps targeted at women.
An example of financial apps in Japan (and shopping) boldly utilizing intense red color to draw attention on their screenshots.
An example of bold use of red to draw attention to special offers. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Our own research with SplitMetrics Acquire and CPP Intelligence confirmed research published by academics from Tokyo, Berkeley, and Wisconsin-Madison:

“Reliable differences were present in preferences for brightness/saturation levels, however. In particular, Japanese observers had a greater relative preference for light colors, rating light colors higher than Americans did and rating dark colors lower than Americans did. Japanese observers also liked desaturated (muted) colors less than American observers for warm colors (chartreuse, yellow, orange, red, and purple) but not for cool colors (green, cyan, and blue). Males in both cultures tended to prefer saturated colors more than females, whereas females in both cultures tended to prefer desaturated colors more than males.”

An example of photo-video apps in Japan usitng nice pastels to appeal to their audiences.
Pastels are popular in Japan, especially with apps targeted at women – an important demographic for Photo & Video apps. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Establish familiarity and show respect with relevant imagery

An example of Picsart app changing their screenshots in Japan, compared to the USA.
A different approach to presenting the same functionality. Notice that the majority of people in screenshots are women. The images above were acquired with App Radar’s Localization feature.

Familiarity is crucial for engaging users and fostering a sense of connection. Incorporating recognizable Japanese elements like Torii Gates, Sakura flowers, Mount Fuji, traditional temples, and Koi fish can evoke a cultural resonance and appeal to Japanese users. These symbols enhance the visual appeal of screenshots and icons and create a welcoming atmosphere, instilling trust and credibility. By integrating such elements, app developers can create a more immersive and memorable user experience, increasing the likelihood of user engagement and retention.

Fashion & food preferences also play a key role here, which applies to the world of many causal mobile games and apps from categories such as Travel, Food, Lifestyle, and even Photo & Video.

A collection of screenshots of Japanese apps showing off cute kawaii mascots.
Japan loves mascots, even for serious tasks. You don’t have to look deep on the App Store in Japan to find all sorts of bunnies, puppies, or… pillows (we’re not sure; it might be “slimes”). Doing all sorts of jobs. A variety of images originating from the App Store, fetched either with App Radar of SplitMetrics Acquire.

Be ready for surprises, testing & experiments

The case of Skyscanner localization optimization. The Japanese screenshots are very different from those shown in the USA.
An interesting case of Skyscanner, with the blue design faring better in the USA (the default for that country). The opposite is true for Japan. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Despite the differences, creeping globalization impacts Japan too. Many apps that originate from the West do well enough by merely changing calls to action on their screenshots, with the power of their brand obviously being a factor (and probably a hefty marketing budget).

This has two effects: many growing apps emulating their minimal localization efforts, and Japanese users becoming more accustomed to Western aesthetics.

Google Meet app also utilizes very different screenshots for its app in Japan than in the USA -a comparison.
Both have people, but they seem to have a stronger presence in Japan. While such a color palette decision could have been driven by the company’s internal design specifications, their choice of gray creatives for Japan aligns well with the region’s benchmarks. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to pinpoint why an app has a different set of imagery for its Japanese product page. In other cases, changes are more subtle or technical, showcasing a history of possible A/B testing that considered more factors affecting the conversion rate, like demographics, which can be slightly between two markets and different marketplaces.

Top to bottom: the current default product page for the US, a custom product page with a current majority in impression share for the last 90 days, and the default page for Japan, with an overwhelming majority of impression share.
Top to bottom: the current default product page for the US, a custom product page with a current majority in impression share for the last 90 days, and the default page for Japan, with an overwhelming majority of impression share. Image source: the App Store, fetched with SplitMetrics Acquire’s CPP Intelligence.

There’s only one logical conclusion to these considerations: be ready to explore your options with A/B testing, which will be cheaper than wasting precious work hours of your designers on a page that fails to convert by an order of magnitude.

Important holidays & seasonal trends on the App Store in Japan

Each market has unique holidays and festive periods, allowing app developers to connect better with their audiences. Japan offers many such opportunities. Japanese App Store is teeming with in-app events. Mobile games are especially likely to release time-sensitive updates, referring to important festivals or seasons of the year, but frequently celebrating in-game lore, characters, or their ever-evolving stories.

The list below includes selected holidays or festive periods that Western-based app developers may want to explore while launching their apps in Japan or running seasonal campaigns for them.

We’ve included those holidays that can be considered easy & safe to celebrate and most importantly – have a wide appeal. They are heavily ingrained in popular culture without difficult undertones or meanings. Therefore, they don’t require high cultural sensitivity and considerable preparation to employ in an inoffensive and appropriate manner.

This is premium content
Share this article
Gabriel Kuriata
Gabriel Kuriata
Content Manager
Gabriel is a professional writer with more than a decade of experience in bringing advanced b2b tech solutions closer to the people - with content in all forms, shapes and sizes.
Read all articles
Apple Search Ads Optimization
Cut CPA by 50% and double campaign ROAS with our free AI-powered automation solution.
Create Free Account
Share this article