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"The Future of a Sustainable Society - Japan-UK Tech Collaboration"

During London Tech week, we attended "The Future of a Sustainable Society - Japan-UK Tech Collaboration", organised by JETRO London, together with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Embassy of Japan in the UK and the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). Given the dwindling Japanese consumer market, Japanese corporations are looking for more global-market share and tie-ups with overseas start-ups/SMEs, especially in technologies they do not have yet due to a immature start-up environment in Japan. Alongside recent Japanese government policies pushing larger Japanese corporations to collaborate overseas, the tag line of the event: 'Now is the time to collaborate with Japan'’ is certainly ringing true in many areas.

It was very interesting to see Japanese corporations* reverse-pitching on the opportunities to work with them on new technologies, showcasing the breadth of business areas some of the Japanese companies are involved in after having diversified significantly in the past years. The Panasonic Group is starting to look like a trading company due to the amount of business areas it is involved in. Japanese companies have also been pivoting away from end-product to input producers to gain huge market shares**. For example, JX Advanced Metals have 80% of the global market share for some nonferrous metals.

The pitches also highlighted the pride Japanese companies have in their longevity, with companies there dating back to 1804*** (every single company displayed their age on their slides and it was a point of reference in joking about which one was the oldest). This tells us something very important about doing business with the Japanese in that it is long-term and relationship-based-you will need to build up the relationships and trust from a long-term perspective: supply the information needed, visit the market and show patience when things are different to how you would expect.

The panel discussion brought out this long-term nature and the need to build up the business relationships but also highlighted some of the pitfalls that non-Japanese companies fall into, including:

1.      Some non-Japanese companies have been caught by surprise by the urgent expectations of the Japanese once they have gone through the initial long-winded consensus-based decision-making processes to accept the supplier and have failed at this hurdle to meet the expectations of becoming a Japanese style partner (provide immense amounts of detail, be in constant communication and communicate even the slightest of changes to avoid risk etc)

2.      Some Japanese companies are still difficult to navigate due to the huge numbers of business units involved and some companies have found themselves in the position of getting quite a way down the line to discover that the technology already exists or that the person who the Western company has been talking to has not got the buy-in/consensus needed from all parties involved.

3.      It is always better to have someone involved who understands the Japanese market and preferably someone based in Japan

Based on our experience of working with many Anglo European SMES, we can certainly concur with the above but want to add further to these. On point 2, we have also seen foreign companies face hurdles in these large Japanese companies because they have failed to explain the true value of their product to appeal to the Japanese company or the processes. In other cases, the Japanese company already has existing relationships with suppliers they are obligated towards and regardless of the fact that the foreign company may be offering a better price/deal, these relationships are not broken easily. In many cases, we have seen that the reason the foreign company has received from the Japanese company is actually very different to the true reason they are facing hurdles. On point 3, we completely agree with this but based on our experience, it is inefficient and unsustainable to simply employ the use of a third party without even understanding how to communicate with Japan, especially given that many hurdles (including the ones cited above) are avoidable if you understand the communications. This will also allow you to develop and grow your business for the long-term beyond the initial market matching.

We at EWI focus on enabling you to really understand the business communications with the Japanese for long-term sustainable business and have worked with many businesses and Government organisations to do this. Please get in touch if you are interested in making the most of the above opportunities to collaborate with a Japanese company. If you are a Japanese company looking to invest in Europe/work within a different business environment or collaborate with a Western company, and want to understand the communications needed to make this a successful collaboration, please do contact us.

*Companies that pitched: Dynamic Map Platform Europe, GmbH, Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd, Shimizu Corporation, ITOCHU Europe PLC,  Kikkoman Europe R&D Laboratory B.V., Yokogawa Innovation Switzerland GmbH,JX Advanced Metals Corporation and Panasonic Industry

**For those of you interested in learning more about the recent business pivots of many Japanese companies away from end-products to components, see this wonderful blog by Ulrike Schaede and the business reinvention of Japan - GPS News (


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