Japan market entry strategy for B2B company

Yuichi Ishino

While foreign B2B companies can reap many benefits by expanding into Japan, they face numerous challenges. According to World Bank data from 2023, Japan is the world's fourth-largest economy with a GDP of $4.23 trillion, and its corporate culture values quality, reliability, and long-term relationships. However, proper preparation can only make overcoming the unique cultural norms and regulatory environment easy. We have created a comprehensive strategic blueprint guideline to help you enter and thrive in the Japanese B2B market successfully.

Understanding the Market 

Landscape When doing business in Japan, you must pay attention to the complex industry-specific regulatory compliance requirements governed by ministries such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. For example, the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law (Yakki-hou) applies in the pharmaceutical industry. In some cases, certifications such as ISO 9001 may be required. We strongly recommend partnering with a reliable legal advisor who is well-versed in the nuances of your industry.

Japan has a strategic geographic location that enables an advanced transportation network and efficient domestic distribution. However, the multi-layered distribution system involving trading companies makes direct sales difficult for new entrants. 

Bridging the Cultural Divide 

When doing business in Japan, it is essential to understand and adhere to the corporate culture. This includes following the hierarchy, being aware of subtle non-verbal cues, and exchanging business cards in a ritualised manner. According to research by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede and others, decision-making in Japanese companies tends to be top-down and consensus-driven. To ensure success, it is crucial that you and your team fully comprehend these complex norms.

While English proficiency is improving among younger business professionals, communicating in Japanese is still essential for building solid relationships. In the 2023 EF Education First survey, Japan ranked 87th out of 113 countries in English proficiency, indicating low English skills. A bicultural support team that can bridge the linguistic and cultural gaps is indispensable for achieving success in Japan.

Crafting a Localised Strategy 

Collaborating with an established Japanese company through a joint venture, reseller agreement, or strategic alliance can provide immediate market access, boost credibility, and offer valuable guidance for navigating the nuances of Japan. Joint ventures and strategic alliances are common entry strategies for foreign companies in Japan. For instance, Renault formed a joint venture with Nissan in 1999, establishing a foothold in the Japanese market.

One-size-fits-all solutions rarely work well in Japan. Therefore, it is essential to customise your products and services to cater to unique customer specifications, niche demands, and Japanese industrial standards.

Intelligent Marketing 

With almost 90% of the population using smartphones, according to 2021 data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, digital marketing is necessary for any business in Japan. To succeed in this market, a mobile-optimised Japanese website, active social media utilisation, and content tailored to the preferences of Japanese viewers are essential. In addition to Google, local SEO strategies are essential to ensure your business is easily discoverable on search engines like Yahoo! Japan, which still commands around 15% of the user base.

Offline events such as trade shows and industry exhibitions still hold significant influence in B2B marketing in Japan. By participating in these events, such as CEATEC (electronics/IT), Tokyo Motor Show (automotive), and JIMTOF (machine tools), with a strategic approach that includes localised branding and messaging, companies can unlock valuable networking opportunities that can lead to growth and success in the market.

With meticulous preparation, exceptional cultural adaptability, and an intelligent localisation strategy, ambitious B2B companies can overcome the barriers to success in the Japanese market. The potential rewards make the challenges well worth undertaking. At TAMLO, we support foreign companies entering the Japanese market through content marketing. Feel free to contact us for consultation.


Yuichi Ishino

Managing Director


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