If I am asked to share one key lesson that I have learned for developing and sustaining a successful business with Japanese industries in the more than two years that I have spent in Tokyo, primarily promoting trade and investment between Pakistan and Japan, I will say “Standardization” without giving it much thought.
Everything in Japan operates in accordance with a predetermined procedure that is flow-charted to show the various steps or stages. The secret is to fully comprehend and adhere to every requirement listed, leaving nothing out. Whether you think a standard or step is less useful or redundant is irrelevant; if it is in the necessary flowchart, make sure to cross it off your list.
As Pakistan and Japan recently held successful High Level Joint Business and Government Dialogues in Islamabad, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about some fundamental aspects of Japanese business culture and economics that we should keep in mind as we prepare to enter the Japanese market, which is notorious for being difficult and challenging for foreign businesses to enter.
In the traditional but crucial Japanese business environment, building and maintaining trust relationships is crucial. Of course, this takes time and calls for persistence, patience, and conviction. However, once a relationship is established and put to the test with a Japanese company, it endures for a very long time, and all that is required of you is that you maintain standardisation.
Second, I think the business culture in Japan is empathic, expecting partners to put forth an equal amount of effort to ensure the viability of a business transaction, putting the emphasis on the product or service first and revenues second. A mismatch in this strategy could lead to either more time spent thinking through a business decision with lower probability or just one transaction. Most of us may not be aware that Japanese consumers place a high value on a product’s ingredients, manufacturing methods, and even history. Even cookies are sold in Japan with a backstory detailing how they were made and how far they travelled.
Pakistani exporters and manufacturers were unable to attend trade shows in Japan over the past two years due to COVID-related travel restrictions. However, now that Japan is welcoming foreign tourists, we anticipate seeing our brands at a range of events promoting goods related to textile, leather, food, surgery, sports, information technology, and more. I must share some lessons I’ve learned from watching these shows as an observer over the past couple of years in order to adequately prepare for that.
First, have as much printed material available as you can so that visitors can read about your product and its history. These handouts must be bilingual and printed in both English and Japanese because language is the main barrier. Japanese consumers will be curious about the production process in detail and any industry standards that were followed, if any were suggested as good manufacturing practises, in addition to the finished product. Alternately, you could simply encode all of the information in a QR code and be prepared to distribute it.
Second, do your homework thoroughly. Nearly every major exhibition in Japan offers a free service called the Business Matching Program, which, if subscribed to, disseminates information about exhibitors and their products to a larger audience anticipated to attend the event. Attendees then identify the exhibitor who best suits their needs and make appointments in advance. This helps both the exhibitor and the visitor save time and resources, and it also gives the exhibitors a realistic idea of their potential clients.
Based on the keen interest displayed by Japanese businesses that came to Islamabad for the High Level Joint Business Dialogue, Pakistani businesses interested in starting or growing their operations in Japan, as well as those looking to secure Japanese technology and funding for new endeavours, are encouraged to connect with all of the public and private networking resources that are available in both countries.
The author works as a trade and investment counsellor at the Pakistani Embassy in Tokyo.