Japan, often seen as the land of the rising sun. It is a country with strong innovation but also with a lot of tradition. Japan presents with its 127 million inhabitants an alluring and complex market for international businesses. With its high internet penetration rate, advanced infrastructure, and consumers who are increasingly tech-savvy, Japan offers immense opportunities for online businesses. But, as with any market, there are intricacies and nuances to understand before one can truly thrive.
1. Understand the Japanese Consumer
a) DIGITAL MATURITY
Japan boasts one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world. In 2021, had an internet penetration rate of approximately 93-95% [Source: Datareportal’s Digital 2021: Japan report] Most of its residents are online, and they are not just passive consumers. They actively buy online, engage with brands, share their experiences, and influence others. As of 2021, approximately 84% of Japanese internet users had made a purchase online within the past month, which shows the e-commerce culture in the country [Source: Datareportal’s Digital 2021: Japan report].”
b) MOBILE PREDOMINANCE
With the majority of users accessing the internet through smartphones, any online strategy must be mobile-first. This means ensuring that websites are responsive and apps are of high quality. Almost 78% of Japanese inhabitants had a smartphone in 2022.
c) VALUE FOR QUALITY
Japanese consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality. They expect detailed product descriptions, high-resolution images, and impeccable customer service. Want to know more about quality permits in Japan? Check the website of the Japanese external trade organization
2. Navigating Regulatory Landscape
Before diving into the online market, familiarize yourself with Japan’s regulations regarding e-commerce, data privacy, and consumer protection. Japan’s Act on Specified Commercial Transactions provides guidelines on online advertising and sales tactics.
3. Localize Your Platform
While many Japanese understand English, they prefer content in their native language. Ensure that all content, including customer support, is available in fluent Japanese. It is best for this to work with a two step verification process. So one person of Japanese descent translates the content and another person checks it. In this way you make sure to get right quality translations.
b) PAYMENT GATEWAYS
Credit cards are popular, but Japan also has unique payment methods like “Konbini” (convenience store payments) and bank transfers. Incorporate these into your platform.
c) CULTURAL SENSITIVITY
From website design to advertising campaigns, ensure that your content resonates with the Japanese aesthetics and values.
4. Mastering Digital Marketing
a) SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Google is popular in Japan, but don’t ignore Yahoo! Japan, which holds a significant market share. Optimize for both. The search engine market share in Japan is split 75.34% for Google, 13.83% for Yahoo! Japan, and 9.8% for Bing.
b) SOCIAL MEDIA
While global platforms like Facebook and Twitter are used, Japan has its platforms like LINE and Mixi. Engage users where they spend their time. Almost 83% of Japanese inhabitants use Line for example for messaging. Line is an app like Whatsapp.
c) COLLABORATIONS & PARTNERSHIPS
Collaborate with local influencers or brands to gain trust and visibility. Want to work with local influencers Japan Buzz can help with that. If you are looking for local bloggers to work with, Seeders can also help you and has a big database of local bloggers and media.
D) DIGITAL PR
In Japan, digital PR has emerged as a pivotal component in the landscape of modern communications. Leading online newspapers like the “Asahi Shimbun,” “Yomiuri Shimbun,” and “Mainichi Shimbun” play significant roles in shaping public opinion and are often the first port of call for businesses aiming to secure widespread coverage. Companies have tapped into the nation’s robust digital infrastructure, leveraging platforms like LINE, Twitter, and local influencer networks to craft tailored messages that resonate with the Japanese audience. Furthermore, Japan’s appreciation for aesthetics and design translates into visually rich and engaging online campaigns. In terms of journalist outreach, while global tools like Cision are recognized, there’s also a preference for local platforms and databases that cater specifically to the Japanese media landscape. Yet, even amidst this digital revolution, the core principles of Japanese PR—building trust, maintaining harmony, and ensuring long-term relationships—remain unchanged.
5. Handling Logistics
a) FAST DELIVERY
infrastructure allows for quick deliveries. Partner with local logistic companies to ensure timely deliveries. Big delivery companies in Japan are Sagawa, Japan Post and Yamata.
b) EASY RETURNS
Offer hassle-free return policies. This not only builds trust but also encourages consumers to make a purchase.
6. Continuous Engagement
a) FEEDBACK LOOP
Japanese consumers value their relationship with brands. Create a feedback mechanism and engage with your consumers regularly. Also make sure your company gets positive reviews. Some platforms where Japanese inhabitants place and read reviews are Vorkers.com (Japanese), Jobtalk.jp (Japanese), En-hyouban.com (Japanese) and Xkula.com (English).
b) ADAPT AND INNOVATE
The digital landscape is ever-evolving. Keep an eye on trends, technologies, and consumer behaviors to stay ahead of the curve.
A STEP BY STEP APPROACH
1. MARKET RESEARCH
Understand the Japanese Market: Determine the size of your target audience in Japan, growth potential, and key Japanese players in your sector.
Consumer Preferences: Understand the preferences and habits of Japanese consumers. Japanese consumers often have distinct preferences compared to Western markets.
Competitive Analysis: Study your Japanese competitors (for example with tools like Ahrefs, Moz and Semrush, both domestic and foreign, that are currently operating in Japan.
2. CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING
Language: Although many business professionals in Japan speak English, it’s beneficial to have some level of Japanese proficiency within your team.
Business Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with Japanese business culture, including gift-giving, bowing, and communication styles.
Consumer Behavior: Recognize the importance of trust and reputation in the Japanese market.
3. REGULATORY AND LEGAL CONSIDARATIONS
Business Structure: Determine the best legal structure for your business, e.g., Representative Office, Branch Office, or Kabushiki Kaisha (joint-stock corporation).
Data Privacy: Understand Japan’s data protection regulations, especially if your digital company handles user data.
Intellectual Property: Ensure protection for your intellectual property.
Website/Platform: Localize your website or platform to Japanese language and culture.
Payment Systems: Implement payment methods popular in Japan, such as convenience store payments or bank transfers.
Customer Support: Offer local customer support in Japanese.
5. PARTNERSHIPS AND ALLIANCES
Local Partners: Collaborate with local businesses or distributors that can help you navigate the market and reach customers.
Joint Ventures: Consider joint ventures with established Japanese companies in your sector.
6. MARKETING AND BRANDING
Brand Image: Ensure that your brand resonates with Japanese values and aesthetics.
Digital Marketing: Use popular Japanese social media platforms and search engines for marketing, like LINE, Twitter, and Yahoo! Japan.
Engage with Influencers: Collaborate with Japanese influencers to promote your brand.
Make sure to get local press releases with Digital PR
Make sure to get company reviews on local platforms
Start advertising SEA on local Google and Yahoo and Bing
7. TALENT ACQUISITION
Hiring Locally: Consider hiring local Japanese talent who understand the market and can bridge the cultural gap.
Training: Train your team on Japanese business etiquette and culture.
8. LAUNCH STRATEGY
Soft Launch: Test the waters with a soft launch to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments. You can use Google Ads to drive local traffic.
Feedback Loop: Create mechanisms to gather user feedback and iterate on your product/service.
Promotions: Offer promotions or discounts to attract initial users.
9. CONTINUOUS MONITORING AND ITERATION
Monitor KPIs: Regularly track your key performance indicators to gauge success and areas of improvement.
Stay Updated: Keep up with market trends, regulatory changes, and competitive landscape.
10. LONG-TERM COMMITMENT
Build Trust: Building trust with Japanese consumers and businesses is crucial for long-term success.
Reinvest: Continually reinvest in the market, be it in marketing, partnerships, or product development.
Remember that every company’s situation will be unique, so it’s essential to adapt this plan based on your specific circumstances and business model. Consulting with experts or hiring professionals with experience in the Japanese market can provide valuable insights.
Entering the Japanese online market is both an opportunity and a challenge. With meticulous planning, cultural understanding, and a strong digital strategy, international businesses can not only establish themselves but also flourish in the Land of the Rising Sun. Seeders is there to help you out with all your questions.
Dennis Akkerman is CEO of Seeders Group. He has built up the company from one, small office in the Netherlands, to an international marketing agency with offices across the globe. Dennis specializes in link building, SEO, SEA, Digital PR & leadership.