JAPAN: 3 keys for Success

Left out or confused?

You would like to go deeper into the Japanese market but feel you are wasting precious time? You have a Japanese partner but it is not working as it should be? Deals have gone nowhere, or emails remain unanswered? Are you stuck in some way?

In Japan already but…

You are lacking confidence and trust? You are not performing as well as you would like? The clock is ticking and there are no results yet? You find the culture off-putting and oblique?

Here are a few keys for Success …..



Wanting to wrap up everything quickly? Aiming for quick decisions, signed and sealed contracts? Thinking you can sign off and leave the rest to the team or partner? Forgetting that business in Japan is PERSONAL?

Involve yourself and Keep a Long-term approach!!

“Money grows on the tree of Persistence.” (Japanese Proverb)

The key questions for Japanese potential clients are:

Can I do business with you (the “gaijin” or the outsider) in the long-term? Can I introduce you to my network as a credible business partner? Are you someone that understands our rules and ways of doing things? Will you stick out or come over as excessively pushy? Will you stand by in tough times?

So how can you fulfill these requirements?

  1. Be present and show patience and commitment
  2. Have a constructive attitude at all times: do not show anger or frustration during meetings.
  3. Pay attention to “how you say it” as much as to “what you say”.
  4. Build business relationships over time in a Long-term approach.
  5. Build networks of obligations, trust and respect
  6. Watch the doors open when you adapt to the local customs & culture



  1. Japanese retain a wealth of information on people and maintain, through an extensive network of friends, colleagues, customers/suppliers, close personal relationships
  2. Invest in relationship building (socialising after work) to become an insider. For sorting out problems in a constructive way, face-to-face discussions are always preferred. Don’t discuss something delicate over the phone!
  3. Entertainment: Business does not stop as soon as the meeting is over: « wining and dining » still play an important role. So do not avoid it and try to enjoy it!
  4. Gift-giving: Essential for the development of goodwill and trust: it expresses the wish to keep the relationship going

What’s the difference with Western networking?

  1. Westerners build up organic relationships usually AFTER contract is signed. Contract is first stage in completion of other relations
  2. In Japan, social network building come FIRST
  3. Strong personal relationships and obligations lead to deals. Indirect communication and relationships-based business style are key elements
  4. (Tea/alcohol) drinking and non-business topics are also part of the assessment process.
  5. Build your own local network!!


Many foreign companies neglect to localise their brand and operations but the Japanese Market is different: new entrants need to adapt to local specificities like, for example, the high-level service expectations.

“Okyaku-sama wa kaki-sama desu.” Or “The Customer is God.”

Especially for foreign retailers and B2C merchants in direct contact with Japanese consumers, it is important to understand and adopt a Customer Service Mindset specific to Japan called “Omotenashi”.

Solutions are:

  1. Adaptation,
  2. Commitment,
  3. Competitive intelligence and
  4. Local knowledge.

Competitors are local and regional players :

  1. Have their own Competitive intelligence
  2. Understand local consumer behavior better
  3. Have lower cost bases and more customer feedback
  4. Have long experience of targeting to local Japanese tastes

” It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. ” (Charles Darwin)

How can you compete with local Japanese companies?

  1. Find out everything you can. Immerse yourself in customs, etiquette & culture of your target market (s).
  2. Partner with strong local partners. Leverage their knowledge of local tastes and of medium-tier growing cities
  3. Think globally but operate locally
  4. Adapt your Marketing Mix to the local requirements
Hoping this post has been helpful, I wish you the best in your business “Kaizen” process! For questions or enquiries, please feel free to contact me.

Philippe Huysveld

www.gbmc.biz, info@gbmc.biz

Countries: Japan
Topics: Market Research, Operations, Product Development, and Sales & Marketing
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