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  • John Branderhorst

    John Branderhorst

    Global Design Consulting Strategist

    John Hayato Branderhorst is an independent consultant working with btrax, Inc. in the areas of business development and project strategies. He is also a co-founder of GlobalSaké and works in sports marketing with Presidio Sports Management. John has spent 20 years living in Japan but now calls Denver, Colorado home, where he enjoys spending time in the mountains and appreciates experiencing all four seasons.

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  • Aug 2, 2018

image of pepper the robot from japan at an event

Connecting To Japan Series – General Market Overview

On July 12, 2018, GlobalSaké hosted Connecting to Japan, a product localization event focused on expanding business to Japan with sponsors including btrax, Inc., Invest Tokyo, and Google Launchpad. The event included presentations from experts in international expansion covering topics such as “Designing a User Experience for Japanese Consumers” by btrax CEO Brandon Hill, “Product Market Fit and Strategy” by Yewser founder and GlobalSaké Co-founder Talia Baruch, “Unlocking your Potential in Japan” by Intralink North America President Alan Mockridge, as well as a case study on LinkedIn’s expansion to Japan by LinkedIn Senior Product Manager Yoshi Komada.

The event was intended to provide insight to a broad audience, from those new to the Japanese market, to market entry veterans. This blog post will focus on an overview of the Japanese market while subsequent posts will provide more detail about what each of the presenters discussed. Before launching into more detailed insights about things to consider when expanding to the Japanese market, it is paramount that brands first understand some of the basics of the Japanese market.

There are some fundamental principles to keep in mind when thinking of entering the Japanese market. The importance of these is highlighted by the fact that most of the Connecting to Japan presenters touched on these areas during their presentations. Expanding into the Japanese market should not be taken lightly and it most likely will not be a quick and easy venture. The benefits can be huge though as Japan is the world’s third largest market and Japanese consumers like quality foreign brands. In order to be successful in your expansion into Japan, it will be important to begin by considering the following:

  • Raise your standards. Whether we are talking about the quality of your product or your customer service, there will be a learning curve; Japanese consumers have high standards that most Western brands find surprising. Net Promoter Scores in Japan tend to be much lower than the baseline found in other countries.
  • Localize. Japanese tend to have low English ability but many companies think that directly translating current messaging into Japanese is sufficient. If you’re not willing to really understand your target market and make changes on how you talk about your product, brand, and values, you may be leaving a lot of opportunity on the table. Respecting the Japanese consumer as a different type of consumer and giving a good first impression can take you a long way to securing loyal customers.
  • Content is King. While there is a shift to clean websites or websites with a strong use of minimalist design elements, you would be surprised by how much text and information there is on Japanese websites. If you are an unknown brand expanding into Japan, you will need to not only change your messaging but you will also have to educate the Japanese consumer and build trust. Blogs are still quite popular in Japan and so you may want to connect with influencers to grow brand awareness to not only create content but also build trust with the Japanese consumer. Social media strategies may also need to be tweaked as different platforms are popular.
  • Mobile First. Throwing this in, even though it may seem obvious. You’d be amazed at how many conversations we have at btrax with companies who want to expand into Japan but aren’t optimized for mobile. Within Japan, depending on your target demographic, you may really need to put some thought into how to create a good experience. While Japan has strong smartphone adoption, the older generation is not as comfortable getting rid of their feature phones.
people on the train in japan staring at their mobile phones

Photo by Liam Burnett-Blue on Unsplash

  • Don’t Rush In. Unless you have some compelling reason to move as quickly as possible, take your time to truly understand your target market, competition, and goals for entering the Japanese market. Setting up an office and hiring a bunch of staff won’t necessarily result in success if you haven’t properly established how you want your brand to be perceived and talked about. You may get excited because your Japanese staff speaks English fluently, but also make sure they know your company inside and out. Depending on the type of product or service, you will most likely not want to go it alone. Japanese society is very much network and relationship based, and finding the right partner or staff can not only increase your chances of success, but also speed up the process.

These are just a few initial principles to consider when expanding into Japan. In the follow-up articles in this series from Connecting to Japan, we will dive deeper into various aspects to consider when taking your business into the Japanese market.


About btrax

btrax is an Innovation Design company specializing in UX and Service Design to create innovative products and services on a global scale.

We drive results through our dynamic team of experts based in San Francisco and Tokyo, with backgrounds in design, technology, and marketing.


  • Products and Service Development
  • Brand Development and Growth Strategy
  • Innovation Workshops
Learn more about btrax or contact us at to see how we can help your business.

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