How Japanese Distributors Of Foreign Products Operate

A common mistake many foreign companies new to Japan make is trying to sell to the large Japanese wholesalers and retailer chains in their industry.

Unfortunately these companies are rarely interested in dealing directly with non-Japanese suppliers unless they have an office in Japan.

So what the best way to sell your products in Japan?


You go through Japanese distributors specializing in imported products. There are thousands of these distributors and they are typically nimble, highly entrepreneurial companies who speak English and deal with foreign firms on a daily basis.

They usually focus on a single industry and carry a wide range of foreign products.

Understanding how foreign products are distributed in the Japanese market

They play an important role in the Japanese distribution system, using their language skills and foreign trade expertise to bring non-Japanese products into the country.

They act as the interface between foreign manufacturers and the large Japanese distributors, wholesalers, and retailer chains who are rarely interested in dealing directly with non-Japanese suppliers.

And the good news is that they are always looking for new products to sell to their existing customers.

We’ve looked at dozens of industries for clients and find that there are typically 20 to 40 companies actively importing and distributing foreign products in any given industry.

The key to succeeding in Japan is to identify the key Japanese distributors of imported products in your industry and convince these companies to carry your products.

In the next article, I’ll talk about “zombie” distributors and how to avoid them.