Japanese Distributors: The Wrong Ones & The Right Ones To Approach

“Can you find the distributors that our main Japanese competitor uses in Japan and reach out to these companies for us? Our products are much better than their products, so I’m sure these distributors will want to talk with us.”

We’re often asked by clients to contact the distributors in Japan that their Japanese competitors use.

We’re always happy to oblige, but we’ve found that this approach rarely works.

This is because one of the characteristics of the Japanese distribution system is that there are two types of distributors in Japan: “domestic” distributors and “international” distributors.

Let me explain what I mean.

Domestic Japanese distributors are distribution companies that typically function in a very traditional way. They distribute products primarily from Japanese manufacturers but may also work with the local Japanese subsidiaries of foreign companies if these local subsidiaries have Japanese staff and are set up to operate in accordance with Japanese business practices.

International Japanese distributors, on the other hand, speak English, understand international business, and deal primarily with foreign suppliers. Because they are representing mainly companies based outside Japan, they provide more services than their counterparts who only handle products from Japanese manufacturers.

We have found very little overlap between these two types of distributors.

In other words, domestic Japanese distributors are rarely interested in doing business with non-Japanese companies, and international Japanese distributors typically only work with non-Japanese companies.

We have seen this to be true for both consumer (B2C) and B2B products and in dozens of different product categories.

The lesson here is simple.

If you are a non-Japanese company, the distributors in Japan who will be most interested in selling your products will be Japanese distributors who are already selling products from other non-Japanese companies… not the ones your Japanese competitors use.

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Companies selling everything from highly specialized B2B, medical, industrial, technical, and scientific products… to all types of consumer goods.

So if your products are right for the Japanese market, there’s a very good chance we can help you connect with Japanese sales partners who speak English… know your industry… and have a strong track record of selling products like yours.

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