I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.
That’s what some people tell me whenever I have a casual chat on social media with someone. Obviously, they say it in a way that it’s a wishlist of the countries they want to visit.
Well, if you are reading this and already have visited Japan, maybe you are wondering what it’s like to live and work there.
Or even build your own business and be successful at it? Then you’re not going to want to miss this blog post.
Anthony Griffin is a communication consultant, marketer and writer based in Tokyo, Japan for his own brand, Saga Consulting. He has successfully built his own brand in a city he has called his home the past 11 years.
Originally from Riverside, California, he came to Japan in 2009 and never looked back. I asked him a bunch of questions for this post and he was kind enough to share some of his background and experience.
How did you become interested in Japan and what brought you here?
Looking back at my life so far, it seems like it was my destiny to move to Japan. There are many things that led me here over time, but I think it all comes down to when and where I grew up. I was born in raised in southern California, and as I grew up during the 1980s, Japan’s economic and cultural rise had a huge impact on my life.
Back then, everything coming out of Japan, from pop-culture to cars, was unlike anything else around me in terms of creativity, quality, and technical sophistication. Looking back, be it video games, electronics, and eventually, the first car I purchased on my own—all of my prized possessions were from Japan. Naturally, I grew to associate Japan with innovation and quality, and somehow, I wanted to be a part of that.
My fascination with Japan became more serious during my final year of college. Although I was a business major, I had to study a foreign language for one year. I had already studied Spanish in high school, and I wanted to try something different.
I chose Japanese on a whim: I was certain I would fail, and my fascination with Japan would end there. However, I had an excellent Japanese teacher. Not only did she show me that I could learn a language that has almost nothing in common with my own, but she also told our class so many fascinating stories about Japan. That first put the concept of visiting Japan in my head.
As a risk-averse introvert, I certainly wasn’t ready to live in Japan back then, so I went on with my life, working for a couple of years and then returning to school to earn my MBA.
Eventually, I settled into a stable marketing job, and I could start vacationing in Japan. In 2008, as I reached the end of my second 10-day vacation, I didn’t feel like going home. So in January 2009, well within a year of that trip, I moved to Tokyo. My 11 years here have been amazing. I’ve learned so much and have grown in ways that I could never have imagined.
Please tell me about Saga Consulting and what exactly you do.
Saga Consulting is a brand I created to help small and medium-sized Japanese companies tell their stories to the world. I do this through three pillars:
- content marketing
- social media consulting
- corporate communications coaching
That being said, I also occasionally work with non-Japanese companies, typically on copywriting projects, and I’m proud to have worked with organizations in the U.S. and Denmark.
As a sole proprietor, I’m responsible for the entire customer journey, from business development, to execution, to post-project support. However, when clients need complimentary products and services, such as photography and web design, I collaborate with a network of partners to deliver comprehensive solutions to meet their needs.
What type of business or profession would you recommend if someone wants to come to Japan and succeed?
Currently, something in the IT industry, such as a software engineer, is probably your best bet for finding success in Japan. This might sound odd coming from a marketer, but I like to make decisions based on facts and figures, and if you look at the job market, this is where the demand is.
Additionally, if you can program well, Japanese companies are much more flexible about Japanese language requirements, one of the biggest hurdles that foreigners face when coming to Japan.
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Of course, there are opportunities in other fields such as HR and communications, however, as a foreigner, you need to be prepared to serve niche markets. For example, even though I sometimes communicate with clients in Japanese, my end products and services are always in English.
I work with companies that want to showcase their brand, products, and services to English-speaking audiences in Japan and abroad. This is a relatively small chunk of the Japanese market. Most marketing and communications here are in Japanese for Japanese people. I’m fine with this, as I enjoy working in this niche.
Any tips for creating content in Japanese for a Japanese audience?
This is your field of expertise [laughs]! Seriously, though, as a foreigner, the best thing you can do to reach Japanese audiences is hire or collaborate with a native speaker that has copywriting experience.
One of the biggest mistakes that foreign organizations make is hiring a translator instead of a copywriter who can also translate. Or worse yet, they’ll wing it with machine translation.One of the biggest mistakes that foreign organizations make is hiring a translator instead of a copywriter who can also translate. Or worse yet, they’ll wing it with machine translation.Click To Tweet
As someone who studies the language, I can tell you from experience that every time I think I’ve figured out the “right” way to say something in Japanese, I’m told otherwise—even if my translation is correct in a literal sense.
There are just so many nuances to the language, especially in a professional context. Even the way your text is laid out on the screen or how you format an email matters. I’ll admit that there may be exceptions, but for the vast majority of cases, outsourcing Japanese copywriting to a Japanese professional is the way to go.
Why is writing important for you?
Despite the rise of video content and podcasts, the written word is still the most accessible way to communicate. The written word requires little or no bandwidth, so it’s always quick and easy to access, process, and store, regardless of your internet connection.
You don’t need any proprietary technology to own and read a book, while audio and video formats come and go. The written word, however, remains relatively constant.
Additionally, text is easily scannable. You can see an entire article spread out before you and quickly hone in on the content that matters to you. This is especially true for a well-structured article with subheadings. Digital text is the most searchable content format. All you have to do is use the Ctrl+F command on a webpage to quickly source relevant information.
On the other hand, audio and video present information in a linear fashion—only searchable in ways dictated by the arrow of time. Writing, especially on the web, is more like a plane–you can access any part of this plane at any given point in time. Text doesn’t have to flow in a linear, time-bound way.Despite the rise of video content and podcasts, the written word is still the most accessible way to communicate.Click To Tweet
Unless a long video is carefully divided into accessible sections, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the content that’s relevant to you. And good luck searching through an hour-long video for relevant keywords. You’re going to need a script, which brings us back to relying on written content.
I’m sure AI will eventually allow us to comb through audio and video in similar ways to what we can now do with text. But we’re not there yet, and quality writing will have a place in society and business for the foreseeable future.
What is the digital marketing and social media landscape like in Japan?
The most important thing to be aware of about Japan’s digital marketing and social media landscape is how the use cases and popularity of the major social networks differ when compared to western countries.
For example, looking at the large traditionally defined social networks, Twitter is the most popular here, followed by Instagram. Facebook comes in at third place. If you include social messaging platforms, then LINE trumps them all.
Speaking of Facebook, people here use it differently than many westerners do. In addition to connecting friends and family, it also occupies LinkedIn’s space as a professional social networking service. If you attend a Japanese networking event, you’re much more likely to receive a Facebook connection request than a LinkedIn one.
That being said, despite its relatively low adoption rates, LinkedIn is an excellent way to connect with internationally minded Japanese professionals. So, if you’re like me and work with that market, then it’s a great network to be active on.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t assume the digital landscape works the same way it does in your home country. Know your target audience, find out what social network they are active on, and know how they use that network.
Do you have any general or Japan-specific tips on digital/social media marketing?
Don’t think that you can get by on social media marketing alone. Digital marketing is attractive because it’s relatively affordable and easy to track.
However, you need to remember that these platforms are fickle. You don’t own these channels, and their policies, content algorithms, and monetization practices can change in a heartbeat, creating a huge impact on your business. As we’re seeing in the U.S. right now, you also have limited control regarding how your ads appear and what content they are associated with.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid social media marketing entirely. Just make sure that you are always building a strong marketing backbone underneath your social media efforts. In the digital space, this would be owned media such as email newsletters and original content on your website.
Beyond digital, you want to make sure that you are getting your name out there in traditional ways, which is especially important for sole proprietors and small companies that are new to the Japanese market. Engage in networking, relationship building, and personal selling.
As your company grows, you may want to consider traditional channels, which still perform well in Japan. In my work with startups, I often hear that an inaugural TV commercial can be a watershed moment for marketing and sales.
Japanese business is built on relationships. Regardless of your company size and industry, the most important thing that you can do is demonstrate that you are here for the long run and not just swooping in for an international cash grab.
The hardest period for my business was my first year, when potential clients couldn’t really grasp how long I would be around. In year two, people noticed that I was still around and growing, and subsequently became more interested in working with me. Keep in mind that I was fortunate to have a strong network to accelerate this process. If you’re starting from scratch in Japan, expect this process to take much longer.
If I can conclude with some universal advice, it would be this: plan ahead and prepare to be in Japan for the long run. This means that you’ll need to build your network before you build your business and save plenty of money to keep you going through the challenging initial stages of growth. Make sure you love Japan before starting a business here because you’re definitely going to be joining a marathon, not a sprint.
Anthony helps international organizations and individuals achieve success through communication. Originally from Riverside, California, he has lived in Japan for over 10 years.
For more info visit his website SAGA CONSULTING and follow him on social media.
Thanks Anthony for sharing your thoughts for this post.
I am a B2B freelance content writer and copywriter(ENG&JP) with experience in translation. Want to attract quality traffic? Want more engaged audience? I can develop content ideas and strategies for you. Want your website translated into Japanese? Contact me to discuss further details.