Foreigners in Japan’s business community

April 30th, 2009By Category: Starting a Business

There are several advantages of being a foreigner in Japan when attempting to start your own creative business. It grants you special privileges and allows otherwise unbreakable rules to be bent a little bit. A classmate of mine was successful in achieving a meeting with a large electronics firm and able to pitch their idea solely due to the fact that they were “gaijin”.

Through the companies website they found a contact e-mailing address but also a statement saying that it was explicitly for inquiries and that e-mails from job seekers and thereof would be disregarded. My friend ignored this warning and sent an e-mail requesting a meeting anyway. To his surprise they received a response and were invited to hold a presentation with the firm. After the meeting they learnt that the only reason they received word back from the company was because they were gaijin, a Japanese person or group would have been unsuccessful.

It is important to be aware of these types of advantages when in Japan, however, it is at the same time equally important not to let them get to your head and abuse them. The Japanese are extremely competitive and clever businessmen, the one mistake you do not want to make is to underestimate them. In regards to the business that my associate and I are trying to start, there are unfortunately very many foreign parties, which disables our impact as gaijin. This makes perfect sense considering that we are attempting to import foreign products to Japan, hence other companies that are doing the same will obviously be in touch with a foreign party.

On the flipside, we have also found that many of the Japanese companies we have contacted are very familiar with dealing with foreigners making it a lot easier to talk business and make progress. So we have once again been shocked and stumped by the international aspect of the business community in Tokyo. There has been a gaijin under every stone and it looks like the language and cultural barrier will not be as hard to break through as we thought. On the other hand, we are not as special as we thought with our “unique” idea. In fact, we are one of hundreds of companies looking to do exactly the same thing. Never underestimate the size of Tokyo nor its international community! Things to do:

  1. Still get out on the web
  2. Re-fine presentation and mission statement
  3. Market research!

Author of this article

Jakob Edman

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  • n/a says:

    Me and my associates are also trying to pitch some companies into doing business with us and I have to say the extreme lack of flexibility and willingness to “open their mind” is just unbelievable. Especially since we are also on the purchase side (import-export). Funny enough response we get from elsewhere in Asia – HK, SEA etc. is completely different and it is usually a pleasure doing business negotiations with them as opposed to Japanese. I generally agree with your article, however for the part “The Japanese are extremely competitive and clever businessmen” I am sorry to say but I am hesitant to agree based on my experience. If nothing else it never takes a single person to make a fast decision. I don’t know but imo inflexibility is the worst thing for business. So I ask you, do you think Japanese business environment is flexible…?

  • Kenji says:

    Quite good, but be a bit more specific, what exactly do you plan to import that makes you unique?