Japan has been mired in recession and asset deflation, on and off, for over twenty years, its population has peaked and is now in decline, and everyone’s talking about China.
But, Japan is still the world’s third largest economy, with numerous world-leading international companies; it’s a great exporting nation, but readily imports vast quantities of many kinds of products and services; it possesses a highly educated workforce, prepared to move to where employment opportunities arise; and it has a long history of innovation, along with the ability to improve on existing ideas.
In short, it’s well worth a try, both as a country to sell into and buy from. Following are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when considering an entry into the Japanese market:
1. Local tastes
There’s a huge amount of internal trade within Japan. Local manufacturers and suppliers know what their compatriots like and want. The Japanese are fussy buyers, expecting to be able to obtain specifically what they want. Yet they are open to new products, designs and ideas, so long as these also match their established tastes.
2. Do the research
Research into the suitability of any new product in Japan is essential, before introducing it. Don’t presume because it’s popular in other industrialised economies it will also be there. Look at designs, sizes and level of quality accepted as normal.
3. Visit Japan
At an early stage of the research process a product study tour of Japan can be very beneficial. At the outset, this might be just to check out what’s available of a similar kind of product, how the prices, sizes and quality compare. This initial trip could decide if the proposed export or import project might be a goer.
4. Get professional assistance
Used wisely, JETRO can be a useful aid to entering the Japanese market, particularly when seeking to be matched up with a prospective business partner. Your own government’s trade office might also be able to supply useful leads.
5. The language
Interpreting assistance, arranged through JETRO or your government representative office, might be necessary – English-speaking ability among Japanese businessmen shouldn’t be presumed. Learning a few useful phrases will be seen as a sign of serious intent and go down well.
6. Local business customs
Make some effort to be familiar with these. The practice of handing out and receiving business cards is quite ritualised – they must never be written on or placed in a trouser back pocket. Seating positions around a meeting table, in an elevator or taxi are also clearly defined. Some general knowledge about Japan, culture and customs, can also be useful, especially as this impacts on product types and styles.
7. After hours imbibing
Be readily available for any such invitation, but be sure to remain reasonably sober and have your wits about you.
© Copyright 2014 SJ Peterson