Here is an important piece of information that will help you work with Japanese colleagues here and at HQ.
If you have ever seen PowerPoint slides created by Japanese you will have noticed 2 points:
1. Every slide has an extremely dense layout.
This is owed to a very detail-based approach in Japan that states that “for a total overview, one complete story needs to be visible on one slide”. We will cover the thinking behind that in another article.
2. There many instances where ✖, 〇 and △ are used.
In the Japanese language, the ✖ or “batsu” literally means “false/cancel”. So naturally, the ✖ icon refers to an outlook or probability being “negative” or to something “not being available”.
You may have observed Japanese colleagues either make the ✖ sign with either 2 index fingers or with 2 hands to signal that something is “not possible” or “out of the question”.
The opposite term in Japanese is the word “maru” as written using the character 〇, meaning “to correct/confirm”. Shown in lists or tables, it is used as the Japanese equivalent of a Western-style tick mark such as ☑.
Many non-Japanese will have seen this iconography on countless PowerPoint slides, e.g., connoting a “negative/✖” or “positive/〇” outlook. Often two ✖ or 〇 are used next to each other, analogous to using “++” or “–“.
The last icon of this group is △ which refers to the “place in the middle”, in other words often it is used for “neither especially good nor bad”.
Case study: Presenting a useless device?
There has been at least one instance where a Western company tried to pitch something to a Japanese customer but, listing the merits of their proposal, inadvertently were using bullet point icons that looked like an × to Japanese eyes.
Of course, the Japanese side was surprised to see that according to the slide shown, almost all of the interesting functions of the new device were marked as “negative” or “not available”.
Fortunately, a Japanese participant did ask about it and so they could clarify the misunderstanding…
Usage outside of the workplace
There is an interesting use of these icons that are not connected to business and work.
If you play computer games, you might be aware that, for example, Sony’s PlayStation console also has ✖ and 〇 buttons on its controller to navigate through the menus.
In Japan, the meaning of ✖ and 〇 are equivalent to their use on slides. In the Japanese language one might casually even exclaim “batsu”, analogous to the English slang term “Fail!”.
One big difference inside and outside of Japan
Here comes the catch, the usage of 〇 and ✖ within the PlayStation ecosystem has always been the exact opposite inside and outside of Japan.
So, pressing the circle is “to cancel” while choosing the ✖ means “to confirm” an action or option.
The reason behind this decision by Sony that goes back to 1995 is shrouded in mystery as far as we know.
It may only be conjecture, but could there be a connection to the 〇 resembling a “stop sign” and the ✖ usually being used as a checkmark as in “X marks the spot”?
A big change ahead
As this has been the standard for over 2 decades, it came as a very big surprise to Japanese gamers that with the new PlayStation 5, from launch onward even Japan will be switched over to using the non-Japanese way of canceling and confirming.
While many non-Japanese may not care about this change, in Japan this basically means that “batsu/✖”, in other words, “no”, now means “yes” and vice versa.
Also, the traditional colors associated with the buttons are now gone with a new all-white design of the controllers, possibly to support this global standardization.
While it is not clear whether this is the new way forward only for the menu in which gamers navigate between games and not in the actual games, this marks a very big shift towards standardization across all regions. Idiosyncrasies like the one described above do not seem to have a place in an ever more global marketplace any longer, even if it means asking the Japanese audience to accept major change. In a sense, globalization may finally be “circling” back around to even the Japanese market.
It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues in other areas too!
To add to the complexity of Japanese icons we need to add that ▼and ▲ before a figure often indicate a negative value or decrease (as in an arrow pointing down)!
Learn more about this and many other current developments in our public and in-house sessions, online and offline in many languages and time zones (CST, CET, JST, SST!