Have a great business idea for Japan?

March 15th, 2010By Category: Starting a Business

At some point, most expats in Japan have a rare moment of inspiration; “Now that would definitely be a hit in Japan!” we say confidently, or “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” Indeed, great ideas abound but few of us have the courage to bet our livelihood on them. This article is written for those of you who have come up with a business idea and want to see how good it is. Be warned, this article asks some difficult questions to challenge your idea. But if you still have confidence at the end, then you might just be on to something! So let’s start with a reality check.

Reality Check : Japan is different!

Even though this is the reason why so many of us love Japan, we often forget this in business. Very odd things become popular in Japan (…my favourite is the ganguro “panda” girls…) and some things that should become popular just don’t. Japan is a notoriously difficult market to penetrate and Japanese consumers are more diverse and fickle than ever. Just ask eBay, Carrefour and Prêt a Manger, who brought successful concepts from overseas to Japan and failed. To succeed in Japan, a foreign entrepreneur needs to really understand the Japanese consumer’s needs and wants, which may be very different from his own.

Go back to basics

So what business ideas stand a chance of succeeding? Let’s go back to basics. A successful business does 3 things namely i) it identifies a need ii) it creates a solution iii) it sells the solution. If any of these key elements are missing, then the business will not be successful. So here are a few exercises to test whether your business idea has got what it takes.

So what?

This is a simple but revealing exercise to find out what your unique selling point is. Be careful, it can be extremely humbling! Write down your idea in a short sentence or two. Then ask yourself honestly “so what?” Then write down why it is such a good idea. Then ask yourself honestly again “so what?”. Try to write down the essence of the business idea. Then ask “so what?” one more time. Try it and you will find that seeds of doubt will appear in even the best ideas. If you can answer convincingly 3 times, then you probably have a good idea!

Read more on Japan Today Insight by Marcus Yeung, CEO, Smooch Japan K.K.

Author of this article

Marcus Yeung

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  • surety bonds says:

    Japan has really a great business industry. They are very nationalistic that’s why they are venturing their success today.

  • In creating a business idea, you should understand what is the culture of a particular location especially like Japan. Japan is a small country with many cultures.

  • http://www.rewriter.jp says:


    I have a business in Japan. That's not the issue. The issue is securing clients.

    Can you email me.


    Gregory Greer

  • n/a says:

    Forgot to mention, your business looks nice. Nice way to get your name out there (nice banding too). I sure want some Smooch now and you got yourself a new potential customer :).

  • n/a says:

    Hey Marcus, nice post and very relevant indeed. All that however you didn’t touch the most important of the all: Transitioning you idea into reality. Like yea many people (especially those with average monthly income) comes up with ideas like: “franchises”, “doughnut shops” and all kinds of “funky” ideas and they are already seeing themselves breaking into big cash.

    Before they start seeing themselves behind the steering wheel of yellow Lambo they should answer the most important question: A. How am I going to finance this? B. Even if I finance the business am I able to generate enough cash flow to last at least 2-3 years? (Since marketing band new idea or product in competitive market such as Japan is extremely costly and require very good market strategies experience. C. Are the banks as a gaijin in Japan going to back me up? And last but not least D. Am I able to comply with all the local regulations to make this happen?

    If you are confident in all that… congrats you guys got it made! Good luck!