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Standardisation: the key to success in Japan

In more than two years that I have spent in Tokyo – primarily promoting trade and investment between Pakistan and Japan, if I am asked to share one key lesson that I have learnt for developing and sustaining a successful business with Japanese industries, without thinking much I will say “standardisation”. Everything in Japan works according to a set process with a flowchart demonstrating steps or stages involved. The key is to fully understand and enforce all listed requirements, missing none. It is irrelevant that you consider any step or standard less useful or redundant, if it is in the required flowchart make sure you check that on your list.

As Pakistan and Japan just successfully concluded High Level Joint Business and Government Dialogues in Islamabad, I will take this opportunity to discuss some fundamentals of Japanese economy and business culture that are important to keep in mind when we plan to target Japanese markets, which are known for their difficult and tough entry to foreign companies. Establishing and nurturing a trust relationship is very important in Japanese business environment – quite conventional but quite critical too; and of course, building these relationships takes time requiring patience, perseverance and conviction. However, once a relationship is built and gets tested with a Japanese company, it lasts long, very long, all you need to make sure is maintaining standardization. Secondly, in my opinion, the Japanese business culture is empathetic – expecting counterparts to make equal effort to ensure feasibility of a business transaction, focusing on the product or service first and revenues later. A mismatch in this approach can either result in more time to make a business decision with less probability or just a single transaction. Most of us might not know that Japanese customers attach a lot of importance to a product’s ingredients, processes involved and even history. Every single item sold in Japan, even a cookie, has a story of its creation and the journey involved.

In the past two years, due to Covid-related travel restrictions, Pakistani manufacturers and exporters could not participate in trade exhibitions in Japan. But now, as Japan is opening for international visitors, we expect our brands to display at a variety of events promoting items related to textile, leather, food, surgical, sports, information technology and more. To prepare for that well, I must share some lessons learnt from attending these shows as an observer during my tenure in the past couple of years.

First thing: Paper, paper, paper – have as much printed material as possible for the visitors to learn about your product and go through its story. Language being the major barrier, these handouts must be bilingual printed in both English and Japanese languages. Not only the finished product, Japanese buyers will also be interested in knowing details of the production process and specific industry standards adhered to, if any recommended as a good manufacturing practice. Or, being environment friendly, just put all information in QR code and be ready to share.

Secondly: Doing homework well – almost every major exhibition in Japan offers a free service by the name of Business Matching Program which, if subscribed to, spreads information of exhibitors and their products to a larger audience expected to visit the event, who pinpoint the exhibitor matching their needs and request appointments in advance. This helps save time and resources for both – exhibitor and visitor; also, giving a fair idea to exhibitors regarding prospective clientele.

Based on the keen interest shown by Japanese companies that visited Islamabad for High Level Joint Business Dialogue, Pakistani companies interested to establish or expand business in Japan; or, to attract Japanese technology and investment for new projects, are encouraged to reach out to all available networking resources in Pakistan and Japan both in public and private sectors.

Tahir H Cheema, "Standardisation: the key to success in Japan," Business recorder. 2022-10-04.
Keywords: Economics , Relationships takes , Specific industry , Japanese economy , Printed material , Pakistan , Japan , Tokyo , QR

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