Stories of Success in Japan

by Nobuo Yoneyama


Japan is the third-largest economy in the world and the second-largest consumer and brand products market in the world. Japan is a pro-U.S. country with sophisticated consumers and a large potential opportunity for non-Japanese suppliers to compete and thrive.

Recently, our Global Chamber® Tokyo team had the opportunity to host and help U.S. companies that are members of Global Chamber Albuquerque, New Mexico, to find partners and distribution channels in Japan. All the companies that came to Japan are successful small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in their home country, including a Native American jewelry maker who manufactures traditional, hand-woven beads; a lavender essential-oil-based body care products manufacturer; a rehabilitation tape supplier for medical and athletic purposes; and a water treatment services engineering company.

As the executive director for Global Chamber Tokyo, I asked these companies about their capabilities and opportunities, and then began to help them navigate their next steps to organize individual meetings, helping them to find potential distributors or retailers, and gather and understand critical market intelligence. Our help at Global Chamber is quite customized and unique.

The key words I found during their visit were “vision,” “value” and “stories” — local stories that appeal to Japanese affluent consumers. Fortunately, the Japanese companies we met shared the same or similar vision and value as the American visitors. These U.S. companies told their own stories. For instance, the jeweler shared his Native American success stories and the other business founders told stories of local lifestyle and business styles — all of which sounded unique to me and certainly to potential Japanese consumers. These stories became the foundation of mutual trust on which new business began across borders. We are all people — Japanese, Americans and executives on every side.

So, would the results have been different between the U.S. and Japanese businesses had this visit occurred after the now likely demise or delay of TPP? Surely, the government of Japan and major industries are hoping that the United States stays committed to the TPP.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe met in person with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to gain some visibility in the Japan-U.S. relationship for both security and economy. But there is still a great amount of uncertainty for the destiny of the TPP.

It is noticeable here in Japan that the series of domestic debates of pro- and con-TPP brought some public attention to vested interest groups such as the Agricultural Coop and so forth. It used to be politically correct for Japanese politicians to support the Agricultural Coop, which could have funneled the votes for individual local politicians who are committed to supporting the coop.

But, now, a sort of national consensus was made to liberalize its agricultural market to some extent thanks to the TPP debates, and its liberalizing trend is now irrevocable regardless of the uncertainty of the TPP.

So, despite the fact that political uncertainty is here and there with regard to the free trade agreement, the trend in Japan to a more open and deregulated market in order to welcome foreign investment and people continues to be strengthened. Multi-national corporations are on their own to ride on the trend, while SMEs still need good sources of intelligence to navigate for their international business exploration. The Global Chamber® network and local hands-on support has (and will continue to) help U.S. businesses and positively impact global business. Learn more by contacting any of us.

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