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B2B in Japan: How to enter the Japanese market

Updated: Jan 16

With a population over 120 million and nearly 5 billion USD in GDP, Japan ranks as the 3rd largest economy in the world after the US, and China. For your business to grow globally, it is clear that Japan is one of the countries you don’t want to miss. But if you are coming from a western country, the cultural gap is quite large. You might wonder, “How can I even get started?” Nate Kawasaki, founder of Appury, has over 6 years of experience providing business solutions for western companies in the mobile apps and IT technologies gain access to the Japanese market. Here is what he has to say about how to do business in Japan.


A Japanese-language approach


If you are approaching a potential client in Japan, it is highly recommended that you do so in the Japanese language. Japanese people rarely have business-level fluency in English. They are actually hesitant to communicate in English, which may deter them from responding to your sales email, even if it was relevant.

If you don’t speak Japanese, what can you do? The most practical strategy is to work with a business development specialist who speaks native Japanese. Hiring a bilingual person or finding a partnership should be your first goal if you want to succeed in Japan. Having your company website, products and services translated and online in excellent Japanese also is essential prior to speaking to Japanese companies.

Having said that, there is one strength a westerner often displays relative to a Japanese person – icebreaking. There is a certain level of admiration for western culture from the Japanese perspective. It will be difficult for a Japanese person to say no to you when you meet him/her in person at a conference and present yourself with a bit of western swagger. Following up on the initial meeting a very simple and short email, wherein you introduce your Japanese colleague, is an ideal flow of sales strategy. Consulting the communication in Japanese is a must for, and key to a long-term successful relationship.


Communication gap


There are significant differences between Japanese culture and western culture(s). The communication gap is one such stumbling block. Japanese people prefer indirect approaches and go to great length to avoid confrontations, while westerners tend to be more up-front and emotionally expressive. These differences often cause frustration on both sides. While it is relatively clear when a Japanese person agrees with you, their “no” can be nearly invisible. Sometimes their “no” might be expressed in the form of slow response rate. Over times, it might be glimpsed when a debate is prolonged to the point where it might feel strange and redundant. It is crucially important to catch such hits and address the hidden problem. It might sound difficult, but this is the key to long-term success in Japan.


Expectation is high


Japanese people are accustomed to what they view as the excessive level of detail for western business standards. They expect to get a response to an email within no more than 1 business day. It may seem daunting to adapt to these expectations, especially at the beginning. However, if you can satisfy their demands, you will gain access to a game-changing revenue stream for the long term, as Japanese companies are usually well funded and loyal to their partnerships.


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