Japan - Country Commercial Guide
Selling Factors and Techniques

Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.

Last published date: 2022-01-08

As in the United States, sustained personal contact with customers helps any market entry strategy in Japan. Having a visiting U.S. company representative accompany the firm’s Japanese agent or distributor on calls to existing or prospective customers demonstrate a commitment to clients and provide excellent opportunities to obtain market feedback.

Learning to negotiate and maintain relationships with Japanese face-to-face can significantly increase a U.S. company’s chances for success. Japanese language skills and familiarity with the nation’s culture and etiquette can be invaluable.

Initial contact between Japanese firms is usually formal and made at the executive level, with more detailed negotiations often delegated to the working level. Typically, the point of an initial meeting is to allow the parties to become acquainted, to establish the interest of the calling party, and to allow both sides an opportunity to size each other up. A series of meetings with a large number of Japanese company representatives is common, as part of the “sizing up” process.

While some Japanese business executives speak English, one should expect that an ongoing relationship will require the use of Japanese. To that end, a skilled and well-briefed interpreter is essential to prevent communication problems. Translating documents into Japanese is also a basic investment in communication.

The use of written contracts between U.S. and Japanese firms is a normal and accepted practice. Contracts satisfy tax, customs, and other legal requirements. Japanese companies generally prefer shorter and more general contracts as opposed to lengthy, detailed documents spelling out every right and obligation in detail. Personal contact and relationships are important in Japan, and a contract should be viewed as just one element of a broader effort to create a mutual understanding of obligations and expectations.