Are you a small or medium sized business looking to export to Japan?
We offer a low-cost, low risk, high return solution for Japan Market Entry
About the Author
Originally from the UK, Des arrived in Japan in 1993 and started his first business there in 1998.
Since 2007, Des has run a natural health products import business based in Osaka which includes selling on Amazon Japan as well as other channels. This has now expanded to assisting hundreds of other businesses and brands launch in Japan.
"There are so many misconceptions about selling to Japan. One of the first is that you need to break the bank in order to get started. That is not necessarily the case. Having met with many business leaders who, despite success domestically, were rather in awe of exporting, we came up with a practical solution where businesses can leverage our existing network, first class warehousing and Customer Support Center, and benefit from our 10 years of expertise in dealing with Japanese customs regulations."
"It sometimes feels like you're walking hand in hand with someone into a darkened room and just switching on the lights for them, showing them where everything is, how it works and that it's not all that complicated after all."
I want to sell to Japan but have never exported before, don’t speak Japanese and don’t have a clue where to start.
Well, that’s why you’re here on this page reading this. It’s not rocket science and we’re here to take away the mystery.
When people learn that I’ve been doing business in Japan for almost two decades now, one of the first questions I’m asked is…
“What sells well in Japan?”
...and I always give the same answer…
“Well, what sells well here (in your home country)?
If it’s a good quality product and popular in the West, it’s more than likely to sell well in Japan.”
And people get that and immediately some of the mystery about Selling to Japan has been dissolved.
So OK, maybe that’s rather simplifying the answer and not giving the question its full respect. Of course, some products sell really well in Japan; health and beauty products, tech products, pet goods, to name a few but my point is that we’re not that different as a people. Take away the differences in language and culture which are superficial, absorbed by growing up in a particular society, we’re all very much the same.
Back in the 90’s, when living in Japan full-time, I was always fascinated by the differences in fashion, food, gadgets, you name it. I’d be using a tiny state of the art fliptop cellphone only to have to rent a “brick” on a trip back to Europe. It seemed ludicrous that the West was so far behind. And then witnessing trends one year in Japan; Pokemon, platform boots, you name it, only to see the exact same trends come in 2 or 3 years later in the UK. It worked both ways, Western imports such as supplements, cosmetics, kitchen tools, etc. would sweep through but it was the time lag of several years that was fascinating.
Now with everything online, trends/brands are global almost instantaneously. Anyone who’s travelled the globe in recent years will despair at how generic the planet is becoming.
So back to my point:
Japan likes and expects…
Your Japan Success Story
Japan is the region’s trendsetter. It is the country many other Asian countries such as Korea & China still look to for up and coming products, brands, new trends.
If your product is selling in Japan, it will immediately increase interest from buyers in other countries in the region. So if you're considering exporting to Asia, Japan is a great place to start.
Find a distributor for your product and sell to them wholesale. Sure, but how? It can certainly be done but Japan is a tight wholesale market. You have the "uber" wholesalers and then a myriad of middlemen before the end user.
Find someone online? Who can I trust? Trade fairs in Japan? Sure but that's a huge amount of effort and investment not only financially but in time and manpower and no guarantee of success. And no understanding of the business culture or language can be a huge hurdle.
Even if you do find a distributor, there’s no guarantee they’re going to invest in promoting your product and make a success of it. You may just be one of thousands of brands in their portfolio.
Take the following example; let's say your product retails for $100 per unit.
Will expect at least 50% margin so your selling price would be at most $50.
Note most Japanese retailers will only accept consignment orders.
Will typically want 20-30% margin so your selling price to a distributor would need to be $20 or $30.
They will likely demand exclusivity tying you into a contract for several years with an unproven partner.
SELL direct to the Japanese public via Amazon Japan
Here are just a few reasons why we recommend Amazon Japan for initial market entry for overseas SMEs to Japan;
Amazon Japan has an order fulfilment service called AMAZON FBA (Fulfilment By Amazon).
Amazon FBA offers;
Anyone who is serious about succeeding in the Japan market should be looking to offer their Customers this level of fulfilment.
Here are some links to Amazon's website.
With all the info, it can seem rather daunting but just remember, we do everything for you.
In order to import goods into Japan, you need an Importer of Record which has to be a registered Japanese corporation.
We act as your Importer of Record. Our corporation in Japan has been importing from around the world since 2007.
As the importer, under Japanese law we are liable for your products. Note your brand will be covered by our liability insurance at no extra charge to yourself.
*AMAZON has notoriously strict guidelines for receiving product including correct labelling, barcoding, the way products are packaged, separated by batch numbers, expiry dates, etc. Anything not right will result in product being returned. Our warehouse staff ensure product is FBA ready.
*SKU = Stock Keeping Unit. SKU is a unique numerical identifying number that refers to a specific stock item in a retailer's inventory or product catalog. So if you were selling a watch that came in black, brown and silver, that would be one product but a total of 3 SKU.
NOTE: Any changes to the ingredients or manufacturing process of a product, a new IMPORT APPLICATION will be needed. Also, bear in mind any changes to Japan import laws may warrant a new application.
Mr. Kawano, Manager
Ms. Kobayashi, Manager
Yes. For very high end products or one-offs, such as pieces of art, high end jewellery, etc. we recommend shipping direct from your own warehouse using a reliable international courier such as DHL. We also have an optional plan of fulfilling domestically via our Osaka Warehouse where product is kept in a designated safe. Please contact us for more details.
Theoretically, yes you can but if you’re serious about succeeding in the Japan marketplace, you need to provide a level of Customer Service that the Japanese Consumer is used to. It is commonplace to order a product and receive it next or even same day.
You will probably lose many sales if a Customer has to wait a week or two for it to arrive and many will not be willing to pay high shipping costs.
Also, international shipping can be unreliable. Products can arrive damaged, late or even get lost. The Customer may refuse it if they do not wish to pay import duties and it will be returned to you. You are exponentially increasing the chances of negative reviews being left on your store.
The only exception to this is very high end products or one-offs, such as pieces of art, high end jewellery, etc. where we recommend shipping direct from your own warehouse using a reliable international courier such as UPS. We also have an optional plan of fulfilling domestically via our Osaka Warehouse where product is kept in a designated safe. Please contact us for more details.
When starting up, Air is recommended as product arrives within a few days and it is easy to manage stock levels. If you suddenly had a spike in sales and found you ran out of a product on a Monday, you could have your store replenished by Friday the same week.
Long-term, once sales are up, you should be looking to ship pallet or container loads via sea freight.
Obviously, this is your decision but our rule of thumb is around 10 or 15% more than your domestic retail price is fair and takes into consideration shipping costs and tax.
We advise on the pricing of similar products in the marketplace to ensure you have a competitive edge.
Bear in mind that nowadays, a Japanese Customer can search online for your product and would not be happy if they found it selling for much less in another territory.