Customer Characteristics

Business everywhere shares common elements, but doing business in Japan has significant differences compared to the US or Europe, as well as distinctive pitfalls. The following points highlight some business-relevant characteristics of Japanese customers.

Cultural miscommunication

This is very frequent and often entangled with linguistic miscommunication. Some people speak good English and appear to be Westernized, but still conduct business in a uniquely Japanese way. Implication and inference is often preferred to direct verbalization, and a high importance is placed on body language and other non-verbal communication. In addition, Japanese almost never say “no” or negative things, especially when they are upset or unhappy. As a result, overseas organizations are often left confused, or completely misunderstand the intended message.

Linguistic miscommunication

Language is a perennial issue when dealing with Japanese companies. Although some people may have a fair command of written and/or spoken English, subtle linguistic miscommunications leading to trouble further on down the line are not uncommon.

Service standards

Flexibility and a high level of responsiveness to customer needs are expected as a matter of course. In some cases, this may even extend to doing additional work for free, regardless of what is in the contract. This is fine between Japanese companies who share a common understanding of expectations, but needs to be managed when doing business with non-Japanese companies.

Scientific standards

Scientific standards are high, and big to medium companies are well-equipped and well-staffed with competent scientists. Such staff typically stay with the company for their entire working career.


Well-established technologies which are also unique or difficult to implement are most likely to be the object of outsourcing. Japanese companies tend to be reluctant to invest in developing new technologies at an outsourcer; apart from the uncertainty involved, they usually view this as funding the outsourcer’s new product R&D.


Decision-making on significant purchases is cautious and conservative, with buy-in needed from all relevant people in the organization. The decision typically needs to be backed up by detailed documentation. In addition, Japanese companies will often carefully evaluate all the options available to them. As a result, decision-making in Japanese companies may be slower than in the US and Europe, and greater initial efforts may be needed from the outsourcer.


Japanese regulatory authorities have more stringent expectations regarding QC/QA procedures for non-GLP studies than US and European agencies. This can have significant implications and needs to be taken into consideration for studies whose data is intended for use in regulatory applications.


Personal relationships are important, and face to face meetings are necessary to build trust and confidence for more involved sales such as contract research projects. Multiple meetings may well be required before closing a contact (this is where Eolas can shoulder much of the burden).


Highly detail-oriented and thorough customers are the rule. One consequence of this is that pre-sales interactions may take more time and be more resource-intensive than with Western customers.


The Japanese fiscal year runs from April 1st to March 31st, with a well-defined budgeting cycle. This has several implications, including for the optimal timing of marketing efforts.