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The Importance of Localization

How the Global Startup Center can help you build a local presence.

The Importance of Localization

5 min read

The Concept

Bringing your product or service to Japan from abroad is an excellent step in growing your business. With an enthusiastic consumer base and keen interest in international products, starting up in Japan just makes sense. The Global Startup Center (GSC) believes that international startups often experience significant challenges localizing their business when they expand into Japan. To shed light on this topic, we decided to answer some of the questions founders ask us about localizing their businesses for the Japanese market.

1. What is the concept of localization and why is it essential for startups?
Localization means making a product or service "sellable" in Japan. It's common to overlook critical components of a product – especially if it is hardware-based. If you bring the product you sell overseas to Japan, you generally cannot sell it as-is.

In many cases, when businesses bring their products here, they do not satisfy the important conditions and standards necessary to sell them in Japan. A good product is not a "sellable" product unless it matches the voltage, certification, and communications requirements in Japan.

The Japanese Market

2. How does the Japanese market differ from other countries?
That really depends on the product or service you are selling. Considering our market exceeds 100 million people, it's relatively large. Also, Japan tends to care deeply about details, so product specifications and legal issues are quite important. We think that if your offering is approved for sale in Japan, it will lead to a more robust product and a stronger brand.

3. How can an international company make its mark in the Japanese market?
Entrepreneurs are likely to think about becoming successful in the short term. However, you cannot be successful without constant, steady efforts. That's not just true in the Japanese market; it's the case all over the world. Localization involves adjusting the product or service to reflect Japanese law, the cultural climate, and the current conditions. In some senses, localization is the shortest way to establish a solid position in the Japanese market.

Steps & Supports

4. What steps should founders take to bring their company to Japan?
Commitment is the most important thing. Obviously, it’s more difficult for someone who is not familiar with the market, but that's why Fukuoka's startup ecosystem exists to help. We don't want entrepreneurs to worry about small issues. Instead, they should focus on taking a straightforward approach. While it can be difficult to wait, we do sometimes recommend that entrepreneurs stay where they are as they refine their business and make strides to develop it further before bringing it here and beginning the localization process.

5. What help and resources does the GSC provide for startups?
As the GSC supports innovators who are interested in founding their startups in Fukuoka city, we offer various types of support. For example, we can help you to set up a corporation here or apply for a Startup Visa.

If you already have a product to show us, we can suggest ideas on how to launch it locally. Depending on the situation, we also facilitate business matching. Since we have many consultants with different backgrounds, entrepreneurs are certain to find the assistance they need.

Localization in Action

6. What is an example of how the GSC has helped an international company localize within Japan?
A recent example would be GReat OÜ, an Estonian company that produces reusable straws from reeds. We took the following actions to help them localize their product:

1. We translated the product packaging from Estonian into Japanese. Our team ensured that the Japanese text was correct and precise so that local consumers could easily understand the product’s unique features.
2. We helped to make specific arrangements and complete notification forms required to sell their product in Japan.
3. We matched them with a popular coffee stand in Fukuoka City. GReat OÜ’s straws are now being sold at their shop.

Another example

Another example is Estonian startup Stigo, which produces a foldable electric bike that is easy to carry. It is classified as a bicycle in Estonia and as a light vehicle in Japan. This posed a challenge because the bike specifications needed to be changed to comply with Japan's light vehicle laws. We helped Stigo to localize by:

1. Lowering the maximum bike speed from 25km/h to 19km/h so that no direction indicator needed to be installed. The law states that any vehicle with a maximum speed of less than 20km/h does not require the indicator.
2. Adding a mirror and license plate as required for light vehicles.
3. Confirming that the charging cable meets Japan's legal safety standards.
4. Matching Stigo with Choshi Electric Railway company to make bike rentals available at train stations.

Again, it's important to remember that this is just one case. There are many ways we can assist startups, depending on their product or service.

Consider Your Localization Strategy

Introducing a new and innovative product or solution to a market you are unfamiliar with can seem daunting. That's why Fukuoka city provides the resources you need to not only introduce your business to the Japanese market but to help it thrive. Reach out to the GSC today and learn how you can bring your startup to Fukuoka!

Alexa Huth

Writer/Editor for Fukuoka City

Alexa is a communications specialist and passionate supporter of Fukuoka’s startup ecosystem.

Click here to find out more about Alexa.