I recently said a few words about “Working with Japan” at a “Japan Scotland” Networking reception at the Scottish Parliament, co-organised by the Cross Party Group on Japan, the Japan Local Government Centre, London and the Japan Exchange and Teaching Alumni Association (JETAA) Scotland Chapter. It was great to see so many existing links & Japan related interests there. The audience included MSPs, the Japanese Consul General to Scotland, JETAA members, representatives from local councils & universities with links to Japan, local businesses including some who have succesfully entered the Japanese market plus Hitachi Rail Europe, who have just signed a contract with Scotrail.
With such a mixed audience and with such a short time slot, it was quite challenging to encapsulate what “Working with Japan” means. For those looking to break into the Japanese market, naturally a good USP and knowledge of market is needed. For those looking to attract Japanese investment, reliable partners and workforce plus attractive financial incentives are paramount. However, the key to working with Japan in any sense is successful relationship building, nurtured with integrity and patience (frustrations abound in most cross-cultural transactions) and trustworthiness. Some may argue these are out of date values in a fast-paced global world with instant access to information. Structurally, barriers to market entry are falling and Japan is becoming much more open with Abe’s globalisation strategy. I totally agree that now more than ever before, Japan offers so much potential for working with foreign partners. Still within this, relationships, which culturally form a backbone to Japanese society, are key.
There is sometimes a misunderstanding as to what constitutes a successful business relationship with the Japanese and how to maintain it. Although it is not a deep, dark mystery, it can seem significantly different to our more individualised methods and can at times seem impenetrable and a lot of hard work to those preferring a “quick fix” or to those who believe that “business is business” wherever you go. Many Japanese ex-pats who have lived long enough overseas have become very skilled at adapting to Western methods but there is still very much a default position of preferring to deal with Japanese suppliers/clients, mainly because the many facets of Japanese relationships are implicitly understood. Reciprocal obligations, risk aversion, face saving, consensus building and hierarchy still feature heavily in Japanese culture and although Japanese society is changing and becoming less group orientated, these are all still elements that need understanding and navigating within long- term business relationships.
There are many viable options out there to help you work with Japan-Japanese speakers who can connect you up with their language skills and effectively build the relationships for you, researchers who have immense knowledge of the market but in some cases no real connection with their contacts or agencies with business matching capabilities that leave you after the matching has been done. I prefer to help companies and organisations understand how to form successful relationships and give them opportunities to network, using carefully nurtured relationships. If this appeals to you, I would love to work with you.