№4 – Talking the Talk in Japanese Design: Adobe Illustrator Decoded

Japanese Language for Designers

An English guide to the Japanese edition of Illustrator

For this month’s vocab article Ash looks at one of the most highly used pieces of software in Japanese design studios – Adobe Illustrator. While in the west Indesign is used more frequently, here in Japan Illustrator is used for the majority of design work. We’ve translated the interface for you so that you can find the tools you need, and communicate with your colleagues when working in Tokyo.

There may be times when you find yourself working on a company computer where everything is installed in Japanese or maybe you need to talk to a colleague about the best way to create a certain style of artwork or layout. . This look at Illustrator in Japanese will be a great help for just those times.

Before we dive head first into long lists of words, I want to discuss some of the differences I found quite interesting when comparing the localisation of the two editions.


I was surprised to see that the order of effects had been changed. It didn’t take me long to realise that the effects had been put in alphabetical order in their respective languages. It might seem like a minor point but I think that it shows care for the user experience in both markets. Subconsciously, a product is easier to use when there is some kind of organisation. It would have been really easy for the localiser of this product to keep the effects in their original order, but rearranging the order shows great attention to detail and consideration for the user.

English, Katakana or Kanji

A large percentage of the words in here are katakana ‘loan-words’; ズームイン (Zoom In), ウィジェット (Widget) and ツール (Tools). Personally, I’m a little conflicted by the wide use of katakana as I love the beauty and elegance of kanji, but I can’t deny the convenience that it provides.

The use of Katakana in modern programs actually allows the available tools and functions to sound more natural in the context of the Japanese language. There is often a conceptual gap between a Japanese word and what is taught as its equivalent in English (or other languages). Although a user would probably end up making the connection, if Katakana is used it reads more naturally and facilitates smoother use of the product.

There are some words that have been left as English such as Bridgeで参照 (Browse in Bridge). This might seem counter-intuitive for English speakers but there are good reasons to do this. One is that each Japanese character takes up double the amount of space of Latin letters and loan words can become long and cumbersome when katakanaised.

Another reason, and one that is more relevant, is that the words Bridge, Illustrator, and Typekit are all software names themselves and keeping them in Latin letters allows them to be more readily recognised as that product. I’m not quite sure why ‘Line and Sketch Art’ became ‘Sketch and Line Art’ in the Japanese edition but my guess would be that it was a matter of reading more smoothly and naturally for Japanese speaking users.


There were two items that I found particularly interesting; these are 自動選択 (Magic Wand) and 句読点の自動調節 (Smart Punctuation). When translated more literally, 自動選択 means automatic selection and 句読点の自動調節 means automatic adjustment of punctuation, which tells the user immediately what functions these tools perform. I think this was a good localisation choice over using Katakana because: マジックワンド gives the user no clue as to what it actually does and the term “magic wand” may not be culturally appropriate; and スマートパンクチュェーション is a bit of a headache to read due to its length.

Take a look at the following PDF to find out what certain functions are in Japanese.

TGD present: Japanese Adobe Illustrator Decoded (PDF 2.5MB)

So that’s it for this month. Now with these words under your vocab belt, you’ll be better equipped to deal with talking with your Japanese co-workers Adobe Illustrator. Join us again next when we will be talking about Japanese vocabulary for print design!