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21 - 23 MAY 2025

Interviews & Articles

Interviews & Articles

Strategies for Business in Japan

Strategies for future defence in Japan

The Japanese government has increased its military spending and published its Defence Strategy and other two Defence Papers. Government officials approved on Friday three documents laying out the new policies. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said current capabilities governing Japan's Self Defense Forces are "insufficient”.

The new strategy documents noted that countries surrounding Japan have made major advances in missile-related technologies in both qualitative and quantitative ways. Missile attacks against Japan are now a “palpable threat,” and Japan needs capabilities beyond existing ballistic missile defences to protect itself, it said. Japan considers counterstrike capabilities a potentially powerful conventional deterrent. In light of these changes, how will these changes affect the defence market in Japan?

Mr Masanori Nishi, Former Administrative Vice Minister of Defence, current Chair of the DSEI Japan Comittee, joins us to discuss these changes and provide insight into Japanese approaches to developing the military domain.

In Conversation With Nishi-San:

 The Opportunities and Protocols of Doing Business in Japan 

Western companies face challenges in operating in Japan and dealing with Japanese businesses. Dr Richard Thornley's CBE, FRAeS – CEO, Thornley International Defence, Japan,  Defence Abroad article highlights these cultural hurdles whilst providing unique tips for entering this unprecedented defence market. Further supporting the increasing international collaboration with Japan's defence, including the areas of significant growth such as the recently announced Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) between Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom.

What are the current growth areas in the regional defence industry?

In December 2022, the Japanese Government published a new National Defence Strategy, which further prioritised the threat of neighbours China, N Korea and Russia, and consequently increased the budget by 20% to a record 114.4 trillion Yen ($863 billion) for the next financial year from April, with a target of doubling it to 2% of GDP by 2027. Growth areas include military facilities, warships and submarines.

Also in Dec 2022, Japan, Italy and Britain announced the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) collaboration to develop, by 2035, a next generation jet which would combine the British-led Tempest project with Japan’s F-X programme. This represents a huge opportunity for British Defence Contractors at all levels of the supply chain to collaborate and achieve mutual success with new Japanese partners.

Are there any cultural or regulatory protocols unique to doing business in the region?

It is often said that Japan is unique. In defence, with procurement prices double or even triple the home country price, no formal countertrade requirement, and an industrial base which is reluctant to export, I can confirm that it really is! 27 years in Japan have taught me that Japan is unlikely to transform to Western defence procurement norms in the medium term, but it is changing faster than ever in the last decade….but still at glacial speed.

Although now theoretically possible for foreign companies to contract directly with JMoD, it is impossible for new-comers, so finding success through partnership with a manufacturer or Trading Company is the recommended model. Finding a like-minded, right-sized partner is the key.

The new Defence Strategy includes provisions for the sustainment of the Japanese supply chain, allowing defence companies to make larger profits, and so become more significant business divisions in predominantly consumer goods-producing company Board Rooms. It has been difficult for Defence Divisions to get any attention when delivering only 5% of the turnover.

What are your five top tips for anyone looking to enter this regional market?

  1. Choose your partner carefully, taking advice from local advisors who know their reputation and history. Take advantage of DSEI Japan in Tokyo in March 2023 to conduct market research and instigate some initial relationships.
  2. Demonstrate long-term commitment to Japan by setting up a legal entity, at least a virtual or temporary serviced office and staffing appropriately.
  3. Be patient – relationship and trust building, and campaigns can take 3-5 years.
  4. Learn how to conduct business the Japanese way – one cultural faux pax can lose the bid!
  5. Under-promise and over-deliver; that way you will not cause your customer or partner to lose face, a calamitous event in Japan.

Key Areas of Defensive Development in Japan

Lessons learnt from Ukraine

The Japanese strategy paper 2022 has indicated that the international community is currently facing its greatest trial since WWII. It is not an exaggeration to say that we have entered a new period of crisis in the twenty-first century. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has shocked the world, with the loss of countless innocent civilians’ lives giving rise to deep indignation and grief.

The lessons from Ukraine call for a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to strengthen defences against the full range of cyber destructive, espionage, and influence operations. As the war in Ukraine illustrates, while there are differences among these threats, the Russian Government does not pursue them as separate efforts and we should not put them in separate analytical silos. In addition, defensive strategies must consider the coordination of these cyber operations with kinetic military operations, as witnessed in Ukraine. This issue is particularly important for the Japanese as they need to build readiness in the face of the threat from China.

General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE joins us to discuss the challenges and solutions to building readiness to rapidly respond to unforeseen threats.

In Conversation With General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE: