Japan

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Current Market Opportunities

– Consumer goods

– Fashion products and distribution

– Machinery parts and components

– New materials

– Fine chemicals

– Pharmaceuticals

– Niche markets for new technologies like water treatment (desalination, purification, etc.)

– Parts and components

– Renewable energy equipment

Business Culture

1. Timing

In general basis closing a deal with Japan happens slow. Sometimes it requires attending fairs and/or visiting clients several times before getting any successful agreement. Keep track on your clients, be attentive and persistant in put effort on building a long-term business relationship which will bring you about other benefits: Exporters remark that japanese clients are among their favourite since in most of the cases they will respect the contract and pay you on time. The commercial relationship will probably extent in the long-run since japanese business culture lies on the bases of loyalty and compromise. A closed deal in Japan may bring to your business an steady and secure flow of income for a long time.

2. Punctuality

Yes, you should be punctual but just as you should do in any other market, this depends on what kind of image you want to project to your clients. From my social experience there, in general terms Japanese are not as punctual as many may expect, but most probably they will be on time when it comes to business matters. Being present the standard 5 to 10 minutes prior to the meeting will be enough.

3. Communication

It is not to be missed to read at least basic information about a countries’ habits prior to conduct business activities or having business encounters, nevertheless we should not forget that the other part may do the same as well. In the case of Japan it all will depend on the industry you are entering. Generally speaking Japanese do not excel at communicating in English but in many occasions dealing in English will be possible. Of course this all will depend on the size of the company, the industry you are entering and some other factors. For that matter it is recommended to count with translation/interpretation services but not in all cases will be this needed.

Note: You will be probably surprise to hear that Japanese do not excel at speaking English. It can be assumed that being Japan such an advance and wealth economy it would not be rare that they are proficient in other languages but nothing further from reality. Japan is in a sense a closed and protective land and culture. Along the 80’s and the 90’s there were a wider openness and interest of youngsters for other countries and for studying abroad but nowadays according to some surveys among university students the interest has diminished. According to a recent survey conducted at the university of Tokyo, the percentage of students interested in taking exchange programs is worryingly low. Somehow they find anything they need within the country. (Politeness, cleanness and customer service in Japan is probably the best in the world and usually overpass oneself’s expectations. As soon as you leave the island you can experience the huge gap in service quality and other plains of human behaviour. To certain extent it´s comprehensive that they don´t want to dispense with these cultural unique characteristics).

4. Business cards

Bring always your business card with you written in English and Japanese if possible. The correct way of presenting it is holding it from the wide ends of the card with both thumbs and showing your name to the recipient while bowing slightly. When receiving the card, take it with both hands, do not fold it, show interest for what is written on the card, make some comment about it and save the card gently. This will be appreciated it by Japanese since shows an interest from your side to participate in their customs but just as much appreciated will be in other  markets that you try to follow their specific business habits. Be relax and keep in mind that you are not a Japanese person.

5. Closing a deal

It is a usual practise and part of the business culture to deal business issues while eating and drinking. Most probable at a certain point either your client or provider will invite you to a dinner. The regular japanese restaurant is called “izakaya” it is a traditional place where you can eat almost anything from fish to meat, pasta, vegetables, etc. Nevertheless do not be surprise if they take you to an Italian or other western style restaurant, they are  trying to be polite and respectful and may not expect you to want to try raw fish. Make this sure in advance if you want to try so.

Drinking alcohol is a wide spread practise and it will be ok to do so. Alcohol in Japan is a way of getting rid of that layer of politeness and strict conduct that all japanese follow as a mixed heritage from confucianism and local traditional culture for preserving a collective social harmony. When drunk, japanese would enter in a social state that can be defined as “honne” in Japanese where they would be more sincere and expressive about their feelings, concerns and real opinions. Most of the time and specially within the company Japanese procure what they call “tatemae” which is like a cape of social standard behaviour that preserves respect, tradition and hierarchy among peers.

Recommendations

– Be more than patient.

– Do not lose track of your clients. Do not abandon your business relationship with your clients even though your business is going well with them. It is appreciated to keep visiting from time to time as a sign of closeness, confidence and respect.

– Do not always follow what is written about Japanese traditional business culture. Japanese companies and businesses are well spread all around the world, they count with money, expertise, technology, know-how and even though they may seem week and polite, during a business deal they will be tough and still at negotiating prices. What I intend to clarify is that they also may adapt to other´s business habits so do not be afraid of behaving as what may be considered as standard practises in international business.

Socializing & Other useful information

– At the restaurant

Do not tip: It is not a common practise. If you do so they will think you are mistaken and will bring you back the money or it may be taken as disrespectful. Generally speaking Japanese consider they are paid for their job and there should not be an extra.

Cross your fingers making an X to ask for the bill. You can also say “Sumimasen, Okaike kudasai”.

– Most ATM´s do not accept foreign cards. You will have to look for Citibank or Seven Eleven (this won´t work with certain cards either).

– Tokyo and Japan in general are probably the safest place on earth when it comes to crime, not to mention the risk or earthquakes. This responds mainly to cultural reasons more than an effective police.

Note: Behave, Japanese policemen may be tough and they can detain you up to around 40 days without charges. They can also fine you pretty high if you do not carry your ID documents with you.

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