According to the World Bank, population living in Japan in 2010 was 127.5 million. Although Japanese live in small space compared, by global standard, most has high standard of living. So many companies come from overseas trying to capture the market based on the demographics, and over the past 22 years, I have taken part in this market sometime as consumer and other time as seller.
It is illusion that selling in Japan is more difficult now. It is no more or no less difficult than how things used to be. Seeing the kind of foreign companies that have been doing well in Japan, paying close attention to what to keep the global standard and what to localize are critical to the success in this country.
What not to localize is the global standard uniqueness of shopping experience. Ikea is doing well because Japanese love the furniture theme park shopping experience and low price. Costco is doing well for the same reason. Both Ikea and Costco kept what by logic would not sell well in Japan such as the size of furniture or bulk food. However, that is precisely what Japanese enjoy. They could laugh at the size of grated Parmesan Cheese’s huge container, or huge box full of super sugary donuts or cookies, but they would buy them to experience the “American-ness”.
What to localize is the service level expected in Japan. In Ikea, there are many friendly shop clerks available to answer question or offer whatever the help needed.