• Yukiko Sakata

Japan Market Insight - What To Know To Start Business In Japan

Starting a company is easy, and is getting more so these days especially for those who are from outside of Japan and are non-resident. However, this country with high context culture, can be tough for those who are from the countries with different cultures. I am listing below what I feel have confused those who were new to Japan and would be valuable to them.

Education that's mainly based on comparison 

The education takes a significant role in this culture to form by building the foundation, and is different from market to market, country to country. Japan is not an exception, and does have its own original education. It is not just about the textbooks but also about how the students are evaluated. Most of Japanese schools have relative assessment system that puts students in order from the best to the worst and give them scores according to it. The upside of it is that students will learn to compete with their rivals and try to get ahead of them. They will also gain organizational skills and get to keep up with others. On the other hand, their self-assessment and self-esteem can be built in the way that they always need someone to co-depend upon. Also, the education that relies a lot on relative assessment might make it difficult for the pupils to be out of box thinkers because how other people see themselves is always what they have to take into consideration to gain what they want in the society system.

2. Age hierarchy 

Japanese people are taught to respect others and to be nice to elderly people. It might sound familiar to you, too, but there is a slight and quite firm difference. For example, salary and promotion at companies. Until a decade ago, it was their norm that as they age, they automatically get promoted. In sport clubs at school, junior students are taught to learn from the senior ones and be obedient to them no matter what. The senior students are called "sempai" and are usually scary authority for them. Such tendency is severer among male students than female students. Such Japanese systems have been invented by the top samurais and royal families since the ancient Japan. Beyond what is right or wrong, it is important for the younger ones to understand, to learn, to support and to follow the older ones. If you ask to be a junior learner of someone with special skills, you have to give up all the others but the job that you want to learn from.

3. So humble that they almost disappear

It is considered to be virtue to stay humble in Japanese society. It is thought to be wiser to hide what ones what to show off that to do so because they believe that that what is real is beyond themselves. The bottom line is that the world (or God, Buddha) is so great that we shouldn't understand. By only seeing the superior greatness in others, one may see what they really have for you.

4. Protective rather than Adventurous

This is not just about how they are to their children, but to anything that they want to manage and to take care. For example, their own culture. Changing habits and mindsets wouldn't make sense even if they are logically explained the benefit of it. They tend to believe something beyond any human beings can understand, and try to remain what has been thought to be good. Indeed, according to the comparison data, Japanese people tend to avoid anything uncertain like events, concepts, elements and materials, far more than those who are from China or the United States.

5. Love for food and craftsmanship

Japan is well known for her mountains, and 70% of the land is covered by forests. Their main industry long time ago was agriculture and the crops they take is rice. Rice fields are green in spring and summer, golden in autumn. It is said to be why Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant, thought that the country of Zipang (Japan) is a country of much gold. That said, many of the people used to be farmers, and for them good food worked like money to present to the top samurai of the regions. Similarly, good materials have been praised and complimented. In the old society system, they have been put beyond the social class that entertainment artists like dancers and singers belonged.

6. Behind the rest of the world in terms of gender equal opportunities 

Needless to say, in samurai world, women are something that follow and support the men. Since the society is built tight with less rooms for diversity than many other countries, it is hard to disrupt for those that have been treated to need protections than to be independent.

7. Hard to disrupt

The ones that do things differently can be considered to be the dangerous matter that ruins the harmonious society. They are thought to be weird and be eliminated rather than to be respected for their originality. When creating a business that will eventually disrupt the norm of something Japanese whether it is an industry or a system, it is necessary to first think of the ways to get merged into the ones that already successfully play the similar roles in the same field. Anything revolutional doesn't usually work. The key is to find the best compromising point with the existing players because they will be better at market penetration. Indeed it sounds like I am recommending to you to be swollen up by the competitors, but what is tested is not that you are happy to be merged but that you are faithful or not. If your idea is feasible by others, they will like to take it and have power on you and the business around you. They see what is good now and before, and don't like to invest anything to what's not real yet.

8. Lack of internationalization in mind

Although Japan is a strong economically successful country, their system and mindset are not internationalized yet. Rather, they prefer maintain their own and keep transforming it by taking in what are foreign to them. The people have lived in this islands for many years and they feel blessed with the ocean surrounding the nation that prevents the enemies to invade into their land. In short, they tend to like their own world more than getting new vibes from outside.

The common criticism and frustrations I have got to know are like, they are too nice, they are sticky, too much, sad, illogical, conservative, old, mean..and I believe they can be felt so mainly because of the above points. Their evolving style, development speed and prioritization might be very different from yours but they try to be nice first. The country is safe and peaceful, and the people like to be polite and kind. Their daily hospitality mindset might make you feel like you are made to feel like an outsider, but it is their way to show respect to others. I hope this article will help you get easily accustomed to your business life in Japan and that it is useful for you.


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