The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

For foreign companies operating in Japan, the public policy process can seem opaque and mysterious—but its results can have far-reaching effects. The recent law concerning minpaku, the renting out of private homes as short-term lodging, is an example that illustrates the importance of government relations to players both large and small.

Helping companies put out political fires—and preventing them from starting—is what GR Japan has been doing for the past eight years. What began as a small startup operating out of a borrowed office is now a company of more than 50 that counts among its employees former members of the Diet and diplomats who have been involved in trade negotiations.

GR Japan is a pioneer in the field of professional government relations and affairs in Japan, and advises a wide range of clients, from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to large multinational corporations.

As Philip Howard, managing director of GR Japan explained, two of the company’s strengths are its wealth of experience and capacity to work as an intermediary. “We understand the needs of the political side, and we understand clients’ business needs as well. We have the ability to draw all that together and actually explain each side to the other.”

Howard added that one of the ways in which GR Japan distin­guishes itself is through its focus on the fine details. “If you are going in to an arena, you need to be the best prepared. It’s a competitive situation, and we need to make sure that we can act with authority, and that our client’s expertise will be recognized and respected.”

Tokyo is still relatively new to the practice of govern­ment relations—especially compared with places such as Brussels and Washington, DC. In many cases, GR Japan finds itself in the position of educating clients on how Japanese public policy is created and informing Japanese lawmakers about best practices. As Howard pointed out, rather than seeing outside advice as an annoyance, Japanese lawmakers are frequently quite open to input from practitioners with valid experience, and this allows GR Japan’s clients to participate in the policy-making process.

In a further effort to bridge the gap, GR Japan has been holding regular seminars since 2015. Topics have ranged from government relations and advocacy to strategies for success in global rule-making, and officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have been frequent speakers.

Mina Takahashi, communications manager at GR Japan, said these seminars are a way to share ideas from around the world with interested parties. “We wanted to bring in best practices, and to show what leaders are doing in the United States and Europe, so that Japanese companies can develop ideas about how they can shape their government relations departments and functions here.”

Over the years, it has become clear that it isn’t enough just to work with the national government; being able to play on the local level is also crucial. In order to be more responsive to the needs of a growing client base in the Kansai area, GR Japan opened an office in Osaka in February of this year. Tomohiko Kinoshita, a former Diet member who is co-head of the Osaka office, explained why. “Local governmental leaders wield strong decision-making authority and, in business fields where speed and results are required, the importance of approaching local governments is increasing. Another major reason for opening our Osaka office is to respond to the opportunity that Osaka provides as the center of Japan’s second-largest economic zone, which is attracting a great deal of corporate investment.”

Howard said that GR Japan intends to open an office in Washington, DC. Their US clients and the country’s associa­tions, foundations, NGOs, and businesses “are some of the most sophisticated consumers of govern­ment relations in the world,” he said, adding that a great deal can be learned by having an office located in the US capital. The move has been a long time coming, and is one more way for GR Japan to keep offering its clients the latest best practices in government relations services.

GR Japan works across a wide range of sectors and issues, with solid credentials and experience in areas such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, energy, environment, information and communications technology, transport and infrastructure, food and beverages, and consumer goods. GR Japan works to achieve effective government relations activities and programs that help clients meet their objectives for the Japanese market. By utilizing the individual strengths of its diverse and international team, GR Japan connects ideas and people, providing solutions both for its clients and for policymakers.

Tel: +81 3 6205 4205 | |

Japanese lawmakers are frequently quite open to input from business leaders