How to Tap into the Japanese Market? A Localization Guide
After the United States and China, Japan is the third largest economy in the world with a $5.08 trillion GDP in 2020. It also makes it a lucrative market for companies looking for new business opportunities. Japan is a country open to all sorts of innovations and foreign products, which makes it an ideal choice for businesses that want to expand internationally.
Because of Japan’s distinctive culture, and language, it is not so easy for Western brands to penetrate such a marketplace. So, localizing your brand is relatively challenging for Japan and is not easy to combat through translation tools. To capture the Japanese marketplace effectively, you must have a robust localization strategy in place along with the latest tools and an expert team.
In this post, we’ll have a detailed analysis of the Japanese market, its challenges, opportunities, and best practices to enter Japan smoothly.
Business Opportunities in the Japanese Market
From the admiration of technological products to the emerging consumer economy, Japan indeed has a lot of business opportunities. Following are some factors that make Japan a profitable market to enter for businesses.
- Consumers in Japan have a high purchasing power, and they also admire innovative products and services. So, the population is more welcoming and shows less resilience to buying something new.
- Japanese are tech-savvy people and they have a great passion for technological goods, so it is an opportunity for tech companies to try their luck in the Japanese market.
- Japan has a low birth rate and has an aging population. If you are a business providing products and services to old age people then Japan is an ideal market for you to expand.
- Japan mostly imports its natural resources which increases its dependency on other states to fulfill the demand for energy, food, and other commodities. Any business dealing in these domains can make a good profit in the Japanese market.
Is Japan a Hard Market to Enter? What Are the Challenges?
If you are a foreign business, you may have a hard time localizing your product and services to the Japanese market for many reasons. Here are some key challenges of entering Japan as a foreign company.
Linguistic & Cultural Barriers
One of the biggest challenges that a business might face while entering the Japanese market is its complex language and culture. For businesses, it is important to communicate in the local Japanese language for clarity and negotiations. Similarly, in Japan, you have to build good relationships with your business partners through trust, and for this, resonating with their local culture is also significant.
Getting a license to operate in Japan can be time-consuming and costly. The country has a well-regulated business environment, and you must follow industrial policies for every sector including agriculture, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, etc. When it comes to protectionist policies they are mostly in favor of domestic companies. It can also put some barriers for foreign companies to enter the Japanese market.
Japan is a mature market with intense competition. There are many domestic companies with well-established businesses in the market, which makes it even hard for foreign companies to capture a high market share. Similarly, Japanese customers are loyal to their brands and they may take time to put their trust in a new brand.
Complex Distribution Channels
Foreign companies may find it challenging to cope with the complex distribution channels in Japan. Distribution channels may have various layers of wholesalers and retailers that make it hard to navigate through the system. Foreign companies have to enable smooth coordination with local suppliers to ensure high-quality standards of supply chain operations.
Understanding Japanese Market
The Japanese market is full of challenges, yet it has plenty of opportunities for businesses if you have a good knowledge of customers, language, culture, and all emerging industries. Getting the right understanding of these key aspects will help you effectively navigate through the complexities of the Japanese market.
Knowing your target customers’ behaviors, psychologies, expectations, and interests is essential for any business that wants to enter a market. Here is a quick insight into the Japanese customers and their preferences.
Japanese customers tend to buy from the same companies that have built long-term trust. They are most loyal to their brands and don’t go for any new products unless they are 100% sure. Your Japanese customers pay attention to quality, reliability, and the value that a brand adds to their lives. So, establishing good relationships with your Japanese audiences is essential to be successful in the market.
In Japan, you will have a more mobile-centric audience, and they have a developed mobile culture. For any business, it is important to optimize its digital appearance and invest in mobile marketing strategies to enhance its visibility to more customers.
Social Media Influence
People in Japan are quite influenced by social media. They actively consume different social media platforms that have a huge impact on their buying decisions. Businesses can also use influencer marketing to get more people to buy from them on social media influencers’ recommendations.
To ensure seamless communication between brands and customers, foreign companies must break the language barrier and translate their content into the Japanese language. Here are some language challenges that foreign companies have to deal with.
Japanese is a complex language with a very unique writing structure and grammatical rules. The writing systems used in Japan are Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. In grammar, they follow a subject-object-verb pattern, which is quite different from English which uses a subject-verb-object pattern. The level of formality used in the language is also important because formality shows respect and politeness. Translators have to understand the complicated nuances of the Japanese language to fluently translate business messages to the audience.
Finding experienced and professional linguists for the Japanese market is also challenging. You must hire someone who is not just good with the linguistic part but also has a solid cultural understanding to generate more resonating translations. It is recommended to hire native Japanese translators who are not just fluent, and culturally aware but also have good know-how of the industry.
For any business, it is important to respect the cultural and business norms of Japan because culture has a huge role to play in business practices and overall customer behavior.
Trust & Loyalty
Japan has a relationship-oriented business culture that pays more attention to long-term commitments and trust. A foreign company should invest time in building good terms with local partners, suppliers, teams, and other stakeholders. Japanese also follow proper business etiquette like greetings, gift-giving, and exchanging business cards for developing long-lasting relationships.
Unlike Western individualistic societies, the Japanese believe in collective social harmony. That’s why in the business setting, they prefer consensus-building and group decision-making. Understanding this aspect of Japanese culture can help foreign companies effectively do their negotiations and have long-term partnerships.
In Japan, companies follow a hierarchical structure. So, seniority and authority have more importance and dominance in business settings. Knowing such organizational dynamics will help businesses have more smooth and more positive interactions.
The Japanese market is quite known for its innovations and emerging industries, which makes it a lucrative market to tap into. These are two emerging industries in Japan that come with great opportunities for foreign companies.
Tech & Robotics
Japan is one of the leading markets in technological innovation, especially in the domains of robotics and artificial intelligence. If you are collaborating with businesses in these domains, it will be profitable. Healthcare technologies are also emerging in Japan because of the rapidly aging population. So, if you are a business providing valuable technological solutions for old people, it is the market for you to target.
Japan is really conscious of sustainability and eco-friendly business practices that are good for the environment. They are focusing on renewable energy sources and sustainability, it opens up huge opportunities in the solar, wind and other renewable energy sectors.
Best Practices to Localize for the Japanese Market
To expand your business into the Japanese market, you must focus on building robust and well-researched localization strategies. Businesses have to perfect the art of adapting their product and services in a way that resonates with local Japanese culture. The following are the best localization practices that businesses can follow to get away with localization challenges smoothly.
Plan a Well-Researched Localization Plan
Start with developing a comprehensive localization strategy backed by detailed market research. Through market research, you will be able to understand customer preferences, cultural nuances, and other potential challenges in the Japanese market. While planning your localization strategy, make sure to analyze the competition and identify the gaps that will help you stand out from the rest.
Work with Native Translators & LSPs
Japan is a culture-rich country, so working with local language service providers and linguists will help you fill the cultural gap. The native translator will help you generate more fluent, relevant, and culturally appropriate translations. By hiring local translators, you can significantly reduce the inaccuracies, and linguistic errors from your content. Your local LSPs can also provide expert consultations about market penetration and cultural nuances to successfully navigate the Japanese market.
Use Advanced Technological Translation Tools
To ensure agile localization project management, you can use a professional localization platform with advanced features. Using such tools will streamline your localization operations and help you avoid errors caused by excessive manual intervention. You can use a professional TMS translation tool for managing translations for multiple projects without compromising on consistency. To speed up your translation process, you can use the machine translation post-editing method. So, you can accelerate your translation operations, and post-editing improves the quality and gives your translations a human touch.
Localize your Marketing Campaigns
To capture the attention of the maximum number of people in the Japanese market, you must also localize your marketing campaigns. For this, you have to translate your website, brand taglines & slogans, marketing material, and visuals to improve the understanding and engagement of target customers with your brand. It will also significantly increase your marketing campaign’s reach, and you may have more leads turn into customers.
Optimize For Local SEO
Local SEO helps foreign companies target local search traffic and make themselves more visible on local search engine results. Search engines mostly show local businesses on top of search results because customers are interested in looking for brands that are near them. Local SEO optimization gives your search engines the impression that you are a local business, it will automatically rank you high. For this, you have to conduct local keyword research and find the appropriate keywords that go with your brand’s demand in the Japanese market. You can also use a professional translation project management system to manage your local SEO-friendly translations.
Understanding the intricacies of the Japanese market and effectively designing and executing your localization strategy can help you smoothly enter Japan. Similarly, you should have the tools and resources to keep your localization processes agile and efficient. Businesses can invest in localized marketing and local SEO to increase their global visibility and enhance their chances of success in a foreign market like Japan.