The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Without the advice and assistance of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Jin Ichiro Daikoku believes it would have been far more difficult for his company, Netskope Inc., to get a foot in the door of Japan’s competitive and crowded information technology sector.

“Our biggest hurdles to entering the Japan market were in creating market awareness, developing a go-to-market strategy, and building up the infrastructure to execute—in particular hiring and enabling the critical first few team members and then providing them with a place to gather and collaborate,” said Daikoku, who is country manager for the Los Altos, CA-based cloud access security company.

An initial meeting at JETRO’s San Francisco office quickly reassured him that the needed support was available.

“JETRO reduced the friction and risk for us,” he said. “They were friendly, approachable, and open to providing us with advice.”

One service that Netskope has taken advantage of is free office space. JETRO provides this space for up to 50 working days at its headquarters in the Ark Mori Building in Tokyo’s Akasaka district as well as five other major cities. Daikoku said this has enabled Netskope to focus on finding customers, employees, and partners before graduating to its own office space.

JETRO’s suite of services— available both to market newcomers and to established companies who want to expand their presence in Japan—goes far beyond office space, explained Matt Stephens, who works in JETRO‘s Invest Japan Department.

“We offer comprehensive assistance designed to facilitate access to the market, ranging from market intelligence and regulatory guidance to cost simulations and consultations on tax and labor matters. We also introduce companies to potential partners in both the public and private sectors, liaise with relevant ministries and prefectural and city governments, compile data on available incentives, and provide networking opportunities,” he explained.

“And all that assistance is free.”

JETRO has trade and business experts in more than 70 offices in over 50 countries, as well as about 50 regional offices across Japan, and employs nearly 1,800 people globally, of whom more than 200 support foreign companies in the client’s own language.

Stephens, an expat originally from Harrisburg, PA, spent 12 years at JETRO’s office in San Francisco before moving to Tokyo and finds that US companies are pleasantly surprised to find an American at JETRO headquarters.

“There are a number of strategic sectors that have been identified as having the potential to bring significant benefit to Japan, such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, life sciences, regenerative medicine, energy, and tourism,” Stephens said. He added that the ideal investment involves innovative technology that will strengthen the domestic market and lead to mutually beneficial partnerships with Japanese companies.

The organization seeks solutions to the challenges that some foreign companies experience in Japan, such as securing capable, globally minded staff. JETRO has been collaborating with Japanese universities on programs to match clients with students in technical and non-technical degree programs that are compatible with the client’s business.

The Netskope Japan team and Matt Stephens at JETRO’s office

JETRO also retains experts who can provide companies with the most up-to-date information on changes to visa requirements designed to make it easier for foreign nationals in designated industries to work in Japan.

JETRO plays an important part in Japan’s efforts to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) by imple­menting programs and services aimed at achieving the policy goals set by the Government of Japan.

Since the Invest Japan program was formally launched in 2003, JETRO has supported more than 1,800 projects that have led to FDI in Japan. US-based companies account for about 30 percent of that total—the most for any single country—followed by China, Germany, and South Korea.

Many companies attribute a good deal of their success to JETRO’s assistance. Plug and Play Japan KK, for example, is the local arm of the Silicon Valley-based technology startup accelerator, and it opened an office in Shibuya in July 2017. Philip Seiji Vincent, managing partner of the company’s Japan operations, said JETRO’s assistance was invaluable in introducing the market newcomer to other startups, large corporations, and municipalities that could become key partners for the company in Japan.

Matt Stephens, JETRO