From Dancer to Product Localization Lead: Meet Takanori Kawaharada

Our Product Localization team lead had quite an unusual career path. We spoke with him about theatre, cultural differences, and the importance of listening to users everywhere


At 22, the Product Localization team lead in Wix’s International Growth group, Takanori Kawaharada, was deep into his almost inevitable future in the Japanese corporate world. He was a chemistry student at the Kyushu University near his hometown of Kumamoto, and his plans after graduation seemed clear: being accepted to a “serious” corporation, working his way to a managerial position and retiring after a few decades. His parents were delighted. They thought he was on the right path. But Takanori didn’t.


As it frequently happens, a chance encounter changed his life. “I ran into a fringe theatre group from Israel that was performing and giving workshops in Fukuoka. While I was sitting in the front row at their show, I suddenly understood what I wanted to do in life, and that was to be a performer and a dancer. I remember that right after the show I enrolled in one of their workshops, and when I started dancing they told me I had absolutely no technique, but that ‘there was something about me’ and that if I wanted to develop it, I should come to Israel and study”, he recalls.

Takanori and his wife, Shani Ben Haim, performing "Salt" in 2015. Photo: Gadi Dagon

Takanori took the advice seriously. He stopped going to school, and for a few months worked at a Sake factory to save for a flight ticket to Israel. His parents knew nothing of his plans. He told them that he was working hard for a trip to Europe, not for a career changing adventure in a Middle Eastern country.


The beginning wasn’t easy. “When I first arrived in Israel I couldn’t speak English or Hebrew and during the first month of my stay I lived in the second floor of the theatre. I was asked to paint costumes in order to pay for my bed”, he laughs. “Nevertheless, I loved it, and after finishing a few workshops I was asked to join the theatre in its upcoming tour in England, about 6 months ahead”.


Takanori returned home and informed his parents of his plans, but they tried to change his mind. “My father, who was a police officer for 40 years, took his first day off of his career, sat next to me with a big bottle of Sake, poured it into our glasses and tried to convince me to finish school and stay on course and maybe even become a cop. I didn’t agree”, he recalls


Takanori and his father practicing Kendo

After arriving in Israel again, Takanori immersed himself in theatre life. He learned dancing and improvisation techniques and performed with the group in England. Upon his return to Israel, he felt that he had found his true calling. He officially joined the theatre and stayed with it for 5 years. At the same time he was invited to join the Israeli Kendo (a modern Japanese martial art) team, and represented it in international competitions.


When he felt that he needed to change something about his life, Takanori returned to Japan for a year, performed in his hometown and in South Korea, and finally received his parents’ approval. Neither of the three knew that when he’d return to Israel at the end of that year, he’d make yet another career changing move, this time to tech.


Soon after his arrival in Israel, Takanori performed a lot, but also looked for a steady job and found one as a freelance Japanese content writer in a large international tech company, and then at an ecommerce company. He started working at Wix about 4 years ago.


Why Wix?

“To be honest, I always wanted to work at Wix. I knew people who worked here and they always had great things to say about the company. I got the impression that Wix was a company that likes to hire interesting people from different backgrounds, as long as they’re talented and interesting, and as you know, I had a background in the arts”, he laughs.


And?

“It worked! As soon as I arrived I knew that this is the place for me. People here are open. They say things to one another without sugar coating them. I appreciated it”.


What exactly do you do at Wix?

“For a couple of years I was a Localization Specialist, localizing content to Japanese, and also creating the Japanese versions of different Wix products. The first challenge was to enable our Japanese users to write vertically, but there were other things we dealt with that were specific for this market and culture. Here’s an example - in Japan, accepting responsibility and apologizing for mistakes is very important, so we were asked to develop a feature tailored for the Japanese market: an apology email format that allowed a business owner to apologize for any cancellation or rescheduling of booking services. Another feature was developed for a specific business owner and allowed them to manually confirm any booking done by a user, in order to avoid any errors. On top of all that, we've added over 1,000 Japanese original images in the Media Manager; we've localized email marketing to Japanese; added 20 Japanese web fonts and a local payment method which is unique to the Japanese market.



Why did you put so much effort into it?

“We want users to feel as if Wix was built for them, meaning that we want all our users - no matter where they’re located across the globe - to feel at home from the first moment they land in Wix. To do that, we need to deeply connect to their culture. We’re constantly looking at users' needs in each country to add and support features, payment methods while improving the writing so they’ll feel that they are in a familiar environment. For example, in Japan, users wanted to add ‘Sama’ - a honorific suffix (like ‘san’) in each email they receive from Wix Stores. If you want to understand the reason for these needs, you must have a cultural connection to your users”, Takanori explains.


The Japanese version of Wix.com. Some features were tailormade to this market

After two years as a Localization Specialist, Takanori was promoted to lead the Product Localization team. “We’re a team of 24 Localization Specialists for Russian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese and more, and 22 Localization Managers for all Wix products. We translate ALL content in Wix products (menus, help files etc.) to the languages we support and we constantly add new localized versions of our existing products as they roll out. On top of it, I’m the Japanese market group’s point of contact and I map users’ needs, new feature requests etc. Since we’re growing very fast, there's lots of work, but it’s all worth it when I get positive feedback about our products from users across the world. That’s when I feel rewarded”.


What is it like to lead an international team?

“We have one writer in Ukraine and one in San Francisco and the rest of us are in Tel Aviv, but we all have very different backgrounds, cultures and mindsets. “I’m learning to be more flexible, to listen a lot and to be less interested in discipline. This past year of WFH taught me a lot about management and I worked fine: the team substantially grew and now we’re looking for 5 more positions to fill”.


What kind of people are you looking for?

“I like creative people with a passion for writing. I’d like them to understand our products even if they don’t have a tech background, and to love learning new things and diving into new projects”.


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