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I am about to design a site in Japanese and don't actually speak Japanese myself. I'm aware that the Japanese website interfaces differ from European somewhat and was wondering if anyone had any tips/insights/cautions/best practise guidelines to offer?
My other issue is that the site contains an auto Japanese to English transalter (a bit like a babelfish) so i would assume that this would present a whole set of issues in itself regarding layout and content?
The overall effect can appear a bit gaudy to some, but I would say that among Asian websites the Japanese sites are the most subdued. When you take a look at Chinese and Korean sites they can be overwhelming. I'm surprised that some of those pages don't carry warnings for people prone to epileptic seizures. ;)
It's really hard to summarize Japanese web design without some examples. You can get a good feel for the design by checking out some of Japan's popular sites. The Google Japan Zeitgeist [google.co.jp] is a good place to start. You can also check out your target keywords in the SERPs to see what others in your industry are doing.
My other issue is that the site contains an auto Japanese to English translator (a bit like a babelfish) so i would assume that this would present a whole set of issues in itself regarding layout and content?
If you're going to do a Japanese (or any other language) site you must hire a professional translator. Machine translation just isn't at a usable level yet...it may never be. After you've had the content translated then it is a good idea to get it looked at by a local copywriter who can re-write the content to appeal to the local audience. Translation alone is often not sufficient.