Top tips for Doing Business in Japan

dos and don'ts in Japan

dos and don’ts in Japan


In this post, I would like to share a few Recommendations/Tips for Doing Business in Japan.

From the feedback obtained from the analysis of over 50 EU Success Stories in Japan, we can list up the following general recommendations for business executives doing business with Japan::

  • Adopt a Long-term approach, show commitment and perseverance
  • Plan regular visits to Japan in order to establish personal contacts and understand customer needs better
  • Appoint/hire Japan dedicated, committed and trained staff
  • Choose carefully your market segments
  • Cope with the demand for high-quality and customised products. Everything should be perfect: from product and communication to packaging and delivery.
  • Show some flexibility towards requests to adapt the product. Supply both standard and tailor-made products.
  • Provide a first-quality service without compromise!
  • Find the ideal local partner with a well established distribution network in your field.
  • Adopt a step-by-step approach: if a first project is successful, a new project in a different field may be considered.
  • Demonstrate your commitment to your client’s interests and needs. Invest time in developing business.
  • Face patiently the long cycle of questions and answers
  • Supply as much detailed product information as you can
  • Keep your word and promisses made to customers
  • “Do not let your Japanese partners be bothered by minor problems: as much as possible, try to smooth the path for them” (Dissaco GSS, logistics, 2002)..

Further, when entering the Japanese Market, here are a few do’s and don’ts:


    • When entering, devote time to research / planning / preparation and have a long-term approach and business plan. Think of your competitive/key strategic advantages. Adapt or customize your products if necessary.
    • When setting up business in Japan, especially in the case of Joint-Ventures, Investments, Acquisitions involving entity issues, seek appropriate legal/professional counsel. Hiring an experienced third party provider simplifies the entire process, improving the communication with the Legal Affairs Office and the Japanese banks.
    • Set realistic hiring expectations: there are limitations in finding competent bilingual employees! Some staff with less English ability turns out to be better professionals than some of their colleagues speaking fluently English.
    • In order to have your Japanese website run by your subsidiary, make arrangements as soon as possible to register your domain name in Japan (“” domains or “.jp” domains are preferable)
    • As companies in Japan are contractually committed by their corporate seals or “hanko”, only allow access to company corporate seals to trusted and authorized individuals.
    • Initial resistance to change from outside disappears when Japanese are convinced of the need for this change. Therefore, prove and convince at each level of the organisation. After that, execution can be very quick.
    • When going for Indirect Sales (Agents/Distributors), carefully select the right partners, who are ready to prioritize your products. The dedication and the great focus of the distributor can be equally essential to the success of a product release
    • When going for a M&A, beware of Human Resources Management issues: the previous boss of the bought back company sometimes becomes the new boss of the subsidiary
    • When going for a Joint-Venture, keep the Japanese cultural touch of the operation: what counts most is to be local, that is, to be a Japanese company in Japan.


  • Don’t rely too much on second chances (rebuilding or starting over), as Japanese businesses and consumers are hard on “losers”. Try to get it right from the start by carefully planning.
  • Don’t close an operation/office and re-open it later. Be consistent in your actions and directions.
  • Don’t neglect localization of your products: it is partly responsible for the high cost of conducting business in Japan!
  • Don’t adopt a “Sales push” approach (pushing your existing products sold on other markets, without analyzing the Japanese market first) instead of a “Market-driven” approach.
  • Don’t rush into an exclusive distributor or Joint-Venture agreement, only to find out later that the agreement is difficult to end when circumstances change.


To conclude, here are a few inspiring quotes of successful Belgian companies in Japan, as well in the B2C as in the B2B business areas:

DMV Comelco: “A commercial relationship is seldom short-lived in Japan if you can keep up well-defined quality standards.”
Interbrew:Rombouts: “A zero percent defect is expected by suppliers.”“Only the best is good enough for Japan”
Innogenetics: “A key difference is the precision and the strictness of the Japanese towards product specifications.”
UCB: “At an early stage a few people were chosen whose main mission was Japan.”
BARCO: “In order to get information in Japan, it is essential to speak Japanese”
IBA: “Another important element to succeed in Japan is the after sales service.”
Magotteaux: “Looking back at our experience, finding the right partner was the key element to our success.”
LMS: “In Japanese business, commitment bears a direct relation to time allocation.”
BEKAERT: “Extravagant? Yes, the cost of winning loyalty in Japan can be very high.”
Cortina: “Even if 98% of an order is supplied, Japanese will consider it as an incomplete delivery.
Sources:PS>: “For us, the Japanese market is a benchmark – in terms of functionality and quality. Most innovations in the photography market originate in Japan. Products are being launched in Japan months before their introduction in other part of the world. A continuous relationship with our Japanese partners is therefore important with respect to our product strategy.” (Agena/Delsey) 1) Get to know your client and adapt, Philippe Huysveld, Market Report (60 pages) for the EU-JAPAN CENTRE FOR INDUSTRIAL COOPERATION, October 2013.2) Japan Entry Strategy, Philippe Huysveld, Market Report (60 pages) for the EU-JAPAN CENTRE FOR INDUSTRIAL COOPERATION, November 2013.3) Export to Japan: 20 Belgian success stories, BJA (Belgium Japan Association), 1997 & 2003.Hoping this post has been helpful, I wish you the best in your quest for the Japanese Market. Would you need more help, please feel free to contact us at coaching@gbmc.bizfor coaching sessions, at for cross-cultural seminars, at for consulting or other enquiries. Thanks.

Philippe Huysveld, GBMC,

To support your business plans in Japan, I have written “The Ultimate Survival Guide for Business in Japan”. You can find it on various e-commerce sites. More details are available from our website :

If interested in the History of the Japanese Economy, I also recommend another eBook (in French): “Lecture Economique de l’Histoire du Japon”


About GBMC

GBMC (Global Business & Management Consulting): Based in Paris area, we are a proactive Professional Service Provider and Consultancy specialized in the following three domains: 1) EU-Japan Business Consulting (Consultancy, Import-Export, Training & Translation). 2) General Business Consulting (Business Coaching, Technical Markets Consulting) 3) Management Consulting (Interim Management, Transition Management) Please check for details View all posts by GBMC

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