5 Strategies for Startups to Successfully Navigate the Japanese Market

For startup founders looking to expand their business into Japan, there are a number of unique challenges to navigate. From language barriers to cultural differences, there are many factors to consider when trying to enter the Japanese market. However, with the right mindset, strategies and approach, founders can successfully navigate the tough Japanese market and find success. In this article, we will explore some of the key strategies that startup founders can use to navigate the Japanese market.

Understand the Japanese market

To successfully navigate the Japanese market, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of its economy, culture, and business environment. This involves conducting thorough research to identify the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in Japan and tailoring your approach accordingly.

Staying up-to-date with Japanese business trends can be achieved through various means, one of which is joining the Business in Japan LinkedIn group. However, one of the most significant challenges for foreign entrepreneurs in Japan is the language barrier. While many Japanese businesspeople speak English, having a basic understanding of the Japanese language and culture is essential for building strong relationships and conducting business effectively.

Fortunately, there are numerous online resources available to help you learn Japanese for free. Additionally, if you are based locally, you can immerse yourself in the local community, especially if you enjoy socializing over drinks. Alternatively, if you have the financial means, you could enrol in a Japanese school or hire a private tutor to accelerate your learning curve.

Build relationships

In my previous article, I wrote about how to build relationships to do business. Japanese culture values long-term relationships and loyalty, and it is important to build strong connections with potential partners, investors, and customers. This means taking the time to understand their needs, priorities, and goals, and finding ways to align your own business objectives with theirs.

Networking is also important in Japan, and founders should take advantage of opportunities to attend events and meet potential partners and customers. It is also important to be patient and persistent, as building relationships in Japan can take time and effort. As a startup founder, you can take advantage of some of the local hubs available, depending on the city where you live.

Especially in Tokyo, there are many networking events like Venture Café’s weekly Thursday Gatherings’. Also, Founder Institute Japan – (FI) is a pre-seed accelerator program with a strong presence in the local startup community. They organize online and in-person events to help founders connect with the local ecosystem. Check out their website or LinkedIn for more info.

Focus on quality

Japanese consumers place a high value on quality and innovation, and startups that can deliver on these values are likely to find success in the Japanese market. This means focusing on developing high-quality products or services that meet the unique needs of Japanese consumers.

For example, Slack (The communication platform) has been successful in Japan by providing a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for teams to collaborate and communicate. Slack has also worked to integrate with other popular business tools in Japan, such as chat app LINE, to better serve the local market.

In addition to quality, it is also important to understand the cultural values that underpin Japanese business culture. This includes a focus on teamwork, respect for hierarchy, and a preference for indirect communication. By understanding and respecting these cultural values, founders can build stronger relationships with Japanese partners and customers.

Salesforce is a company that has been able to establish strong relationships with Japanese customers and partners. They have done this by respecting local business customs and building a team that understands and embraces the local culture. Salesforce has also established a Japanese subsidiary with a local management team to further solidify its presence in the market.

Leverage local resources

To succeed in the Japanese market, it is important to leverage local resources and expertise. This may mean partnering with a local distributor or hiring a local team to help navigate the market. It is also important to understand the regulatory environment in Japan, which can be complex and challenging for foreign businesses.

One valuable resource for startups entering the Japanese market is the government-supported startup ecosystem. The Japanese government has invested heavily in creating a supportive environment for startups, including providing funding, mentorship, and other resources. We have listed some of the local support available through the city governments in a recent article.

One popular trend in the country is the startup visa. It’s a program that gives a 12-month period for aspiring entrepreneurs to prepare for their official “Business Manager” or “Investor Visa.” To qualify for the latter, they need 5 million yen in savings, a detailed business plan in Japanese, relevant experience and skills, an office lease, and a document showing their residence in Japan. The startup visa makes it easier for foreign founders to enter the Japanese market, with hubs located across the country. To learn more, check out our article on the top cities for entrepreneurship.

Shibuya Startup Support, supported by Shibuya City, provides services for entrepreneurs. This includes support for the startup visa program. Plus they also help aspiring founders to find housing and office space, and opening bank accounts.

Embrace agility with a growth mindset

Finally, it is important to be adaptable when entering the Japanese market. The Japanese market is constantly evolving, and startups that can adapt to changing market conditions are more likely to succeed. This means being open to feedback from partners and customers, and being willing to pivot or adjust your approach as needed.

Netflix entered Japan in 2015, they faced challenges when entering the Japanese market, including content localization and pricing. To overcome these challenges, the company invested in content localization by partnering with local studios. They also acquired the rights to popular Japanese anime and dramas, while also offering a range of pricing plans to suit different budgets and preferences. They also launched a massive marketing campaign to build a strong brand image in Japan. This enabled them to establish themselves as a major player in the Japanese streaming market.

In addition to being adaptable, it is crucial for startup founders to adopt a growth mindset when entering the Japanese market. Embracing agility and a growth mindset means being open to learning, embracing challenges and seeing failures as opportunities for growth.

With this mindset, founders can be better prepared to handle the unique challenges of the Japanese market and continuously improve their strategies and approach. It also means being willing to take risks, experiment with new ideas, and pivot quickly when necessary. By approaching the Japanese market with a growth mindset, founders can turn challenges into opportunities and create a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within their startup.


In conclusion, entering and succeeding in the Japanese market requires a deep understanding of the country’s culture, business environment, and consumer preferences. By taking the time to build strong relationships with local partners and customers, focusing on quality and innovation, leveraging local resources and expertise, and embracing agility and a growth mindset, foreign entrepreneurs can overcome the challenges of the Japanese market and find success.

With the support of government-backed initiatives, local hubs and resources, and online language learning tools, startups can gain the knowledge and connections necessary to thrive in this unique and rewarding market.

Remember, building a successful startup is a challenging journey that requires continuous support and guidance. Our startup coaching service is here to help you navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship in Japan. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for ongoing support as you build and grow your business. We’re committed to helping you achieve your goals and succeed in the competitive startup ecosystem.