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Japan is a highly developed country with a population of around 130 million people. With a strong purchasing power, it’s also comparatively digitized with a strong credit card and smartphone penetration.
This makes Japan one of the most interesting Asian countries for cross-border eCommerce sales.
Still, a majority of small European and American business owners merely focus on local markets and don’t grasp the opportunities to export to countries like Japan.
In this article, we review the following topics:
- How to find Japanese customers
- Trade fairs
- Do I need a visa to visit Japan prior to exports?
- Finding a Japanese distributor
- Registering your trademark in Japan
- Japanese certification standards
- Shipping products to Japan
- What are the biggest eCommerce platforms in Japan?
How to find Japanese customers
There’s one obstacle that prevents many foreign business owners from exporting to Japan: They don’t know how to find Japanese customers.
In the following section, I present valuable tips on how you can find Japanese customers and aim for increased profits in return.
Japan doesn’t lack trade fairs and you can find them for all kinds of products, ranging from fashion and apparel to LED lights and high-tech robotics.
The majority of the trade fairs take place in Tokyo. Let me present two of the largest trade fairs that are held on an annual basis.
Nepcon – Asias biggest electronics fair
Nepcon is the largest electronics trade fair in Asia. The fair has expanded quickly since it started in 1972 and covers a wide range of product segments.
The exhibition is often referred to as the ”Exhibition presenting the Asian electronics industry” and visited by a huge amount of visitors. The visitors are mainly Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese people. If you plan for expansion in any of these countries later, grasp the chance and widen your network!
Products on display at Nepcon:
- Automotive electronics.
- LED/OLED Lighting.
- Electric vehicles.
You can apply to the fair on Nepcon’s website and it won’t take you more than a couple of minutes.
How to reach Nepcon
You can fly to one of the main airports in Tokyo’s Greater Area, Haneda airport or Narita airport.
If you arrive at Haneda airport, you won’t need more than 20-30 minutes to reach the exhibition (Tokyo Big Sight) and it costs you roughly 6,500 Yen to go by cab.
Going from Narita airport, on the other hand, takes a little longer, around 80 minutes, and costs around 18,000 Yen.
Going by train is a considerable alternative (the public transport system is best-in-class and very convenient). The ticket price is almost negligible and around 500-1000 Yen.
You will need around 40 minutes to go from Haneda airport and 60 minutes from Narita airport.
Fashion Goods and Accessories Expo
You should definitely have a look at the Fashion Goods and Accessories Expo, if you have a fashion company. It’s one of Japan’s leading fashion trade fairs and that attract exhibitors for all kinds of products such as:
- Leg wear
Do I need a visa to visit Japan prior to exports?
Europeans and Americans are not obliged to apply for a VISA if they stay for less than 90 days. In addition, the purpose of your visit must be to attend trade fairs, conferences, or for tourism. You can visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s web site for more information.
Find a Japanese distributor
I often recommend small business owners to find distributors for exports to Asian markets, like the Japanese.
There’s a number of benefits to hiring a distributor. They can help you with customs clearances, quality regulations, to file documents, and customize your products for the market you plan to enter.
Though, you shouldn’t take for granted that all distributors are capable to help you with the sales and marketing of your specific products.
You might have issues finding a distributor, and to be honest, it’s not always that easy. There are five common ways to find distributors: On the internet, at trade fairs, with help from a third party, via personal contacts, or by analyzing competitors.
You can verify the distributor’s credibility and capabilities through references, testimonials, by asking questions, or if you visit the distributor in person.
To build a good relationship with your business partners is an important part of the Asian culture. I recommend you to visit the distributor in person, once you have confirmed the questions you can by email and phone.
Pay attention to the following facts before you start searching for a distributor:
- Find a distributor that knows the Japanese market and your products well. The distributor shall have sufficient experience and preferably sold the same or at least similar products.
- You can verify the distributor’s credibility if you visit them in person or let a third party doing so. Prepare your visit thoroughly and bring a list of questions. You will be able to know more about their business experience and history. Squeeze out as much information as you can.
- Ask the distributor to show a list of other companies who currently work or has previously worked with them.
- Set up a minimum sales quota in your contract, hence avoid risks for the distributor to perform badly in sales.
- Protect your trademark and include all necessities in the final contract. And register your trademark in Japan!.
Create a website in Japanese
The most commonly used search engine in Japan is Yahoo and the second is Google.jp. Consider to index your websites in both these search engines when you promote your products or search for customers.
Registering your trademark in Japan
Overseas and Japanese companies follow the same procedures and conditions when registering a trademark.
There are no obstacles to register your trademark today if you plan for exports to Japan in the future. Though, the registration will be removed if the trademark is not used within three years.
Bear in mind that Japan has a first-to-file regulation (same as China). The rights of the trademark will belong to the company who first register that trademark. Thus, it’s very important to register the trademark in Japan, before you start exporting.
The trademark registration process can be rather time-consuming and complicated. To hire a lawyer or agent can be a good idea if you doubt that you can manage the process solely by yourself. Worth paying attention to is that a distributor can help you with trademark registrations.
Registration process of the trademark and its fees
The total application and examination process takes around 7-8 months in general. The time can be reduced to 3 months if no problems occur during the examination.
Japan follows the same international trademark registration system as other countries and there are 45 service and product classes. You can find the application and examination costs on the Japan External Trade Organization’s website.
- Trademark registration for one product class costs 12,000 Yen
- If you add more product classes, you must pay 12,000 Yen for the first product class and 8,600 Yen for each product class added (also referred to as registering the trademark in ”multiple classes”)
- Other fees (when you hire a patent attorney or agent for instance)
- You need to pay 36,000 Yen for each trademark and class registered.
You are required to renew the trademark registration every tenth year. The cost for renewal is 48,500 Yen per product class and trademark.
Japanese certification standards
Your products need to comply with the standards and regulations used in Japan.
The certification mark of Japan is called JIS (Japan Industry Standardization) and mandatory for a wide range of products. The JIS-mark can be required for any of the following product categories:
- Automotive parts.
- Medical equipments.
For more information, click on the link “certification mark of Japan” above. You will be redirected to jisc’s website.
The application process and related fees
The application process for the JIS-mark can be found below:
- Submission of application.
- The application is accepted / not accepted.
- If the application is accepted, you must send product samples. In addition, the factory is audited.
- Decision will be taken based on the results from above.
- Agreement of certification.
- Issue of the certificate.
- Surveillance / maintenance (temporary surveillance, if JIS-standards are changed for instance).
- Continuation of certification.
You must pay fees for the following:
- The application process.
- Factory audits.
- Product sample testing.
- Sampling fees.
- Certification fees.
Shipping products to Japan
As described in “The short guide that explains how you can prepare for exports to China”, there are two ways of transporting products from Europe and the US to Asia: by air freight or sea freight. Below I present brief information regarding FCL and LCL deliveries for sea freight.
FCL shipping (Full container load on boat)
FCL is used for deliveries of high volumes. FCL is the least expensive option for exporters and recommended if you manage to fill up a 20” or 40” container cargo.
LCL shipping (Less than a container load on boat)
LCL-shipping can be utilized for goods that can’t fill up a 20” or 40” container cargo. This freight option is optimal if you can’t use FCL due to low volumes, or if the weights or volumes are not compatible with air freight.
There are both merits and demerits with LCL-shipping. You need to share container space with other exporters, which can be risky from a quality and a time point of view.
You must prepare packaging that is robust and safe from mold, liquids, and hard hits. Bear in mind that other exporters might face issues with customs. If your commodities are in the same container cargo, you can lose a lot of time.
Keep in mind that major eCommerce marketplaces have launched various in-house fulfillment services, like Amazon’s ‘Fulfillment-by-Amazon Japan’. This helps exporters to focus on marketing and sales, rather than last-mile deliveries and warehouse management in Japan.
If you want to read more about the services and the fees charged, I recommend you to visit Amazon’s website directly.
Keep in mind that Amazon most likely has the most developed cross-border eCommerce solutions compared to the other listed websites below.
What are the biggest eCommerce platforms in Japan?
As explained in my separate article about the top eCommerce platforms in Japan, you have both local and international marketplaces available.
The biggest websites, as of the moment I am writing this article, are:
- Amazon Japan
- Yahoo! Auctions Japan
While Amazon is used worldwide, Rakuten is primarily famous in Japan where it was also launched. Yahoo! Auctions Japan is, at it speaks, an auction website. Such websites have become increasingly popular, not only in Japan but in Korea.
DMM.com and Mercari are less heard of but should also be of interest to foreign sellers. While DMM.com focuses mostly on digital products and electronics, Mercari offers:
- Women’s Wallets
- Women’s Jewelry
- Computers & Laptops
- Women’s Handbags
- Women’s Shoes
- Women’s Athletic Apparel
- Formal Wear for Kids
- Men’s Accessories
Products in demand in Japan
As mentioned, Japanese people have a strong appetite for foreign products and a strong purchasing power which gives opportunities for sales of virtually any kinds of products.
While Japan has many locally produced products that are in high demand among locals, we see a demand for the following foreign products:
- Supplements & Proteins
- Electronics & Gadgets
- Food & Beverages
Looking at supplements and proteins, large foreign brands such as Gold Standard, MyProtein, and Muscle Pharm are all available on websites like Amazon Japan.
As Japan is a large producer of electronics, you’ll find many locally produced products here such as Nintendo Switch and PlayStation. With that said, Kindle is also in high demand on websites like Amazon.
Fashion is also highly popular with both local and foreign brands available on the major eCommerce websites. If you look at brands like Gucci, you’ll see that they primarily sell scarves, perfumes, handbags, and jewelry.
This shows that smaller and easy-to-handle products are in greater demand compared to larger products.
Food and beverages are also an interesting topic as many foreign sellers sometimes have limited knowledge of what products that the Japanese like. Keep in mind that Japan has many locally produced food products though, so it’s important that you work with a product that is in demand and with less competition.
Such products can include chocolates, snacks, cookies, protein bars, dried fruit, and instant coffee, just to mention a few.
I hope that you found this article helpful and useful. Finally, I also want to mention that it’s important that you work with a local partner that can help you to set up a suitable marketing strategy and to help you successfully launch your brand.
It’s also important that you do market research beforehand to confirm whether your products are suitable to the Japanese market or not. If you have other questions or concerns, feel free to write an email below or send us an email.