Rio’s time has come and gone. After a spectacular summer in the land of the caipirinha and the girl from Ipanema, the Olympic flame starts its journey to the land of the rising sun. Japan, or more specifically Tokyo, will be the next home of the Summer Olympics.
After a challenging few years for the Asian island, the summer of sport and celebration will no doubt provide a welcome focus and celebration of this unique and spectacular city.
Increased westernisation and extended recession and overseas aid for 2011’s devastating earthquake and tsunami have helped to ease foreign access into a traditionally hard to penetrate Japanese market. However, far from being flung open, the door remains only slightly ajar when it comes to welcoming new business.
Conducting business in the commercial and financial centre of Japan is often a daunting prospect for newcomer companies, with faultless preparation and acute negotiating skills being among the minimum requirements for those wishing to succeed in Tokyo.
This enticing, positive and proactive city of 12 million hard-working souls – or triple that number in the Greater Tokyo area – remains wreathed in cultural complexities to all but the enlightened, maintaining its historic reputation for inscrutability amid the dazzling, neon-lit streets and towering corporate edifices.
Although it may appear like a hard market to crack, the protracted effort and expense it can take to climb aboard the business bandwagon here can be more than compensated for by the potential return on investment. The longer the time you spend building ties, the deeper the trust and relationships formed; together amounting to more substantive prospects and returns from what still comprises the world’s largest economy after the US and China.
Such is this insistence on the slow burn of acquaintance that Japan, with Tokyo at its heart, has evolved rather than leapt to become the UK’s third largest trading partner after the US and, for the time being at least, Europe.
Healthcare, machinery and transport equipment, supplemented by biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, are the predominant exports in overall two-way trade, now worth some £4 billion annually, according to the Department for International Trade.
In addition, despite Japan being reported as largely recovered from its technical breakdown caused by the earthquake five years ago the Department for International Trade has identified that continued UK expertise is required in the computing, low carbon, energy generation and nuclear de-commissioning fields.
Business travellers seeking a slice of the action need to be mentally and physically prepared for long days and nights of intensive personal, company and product scrutiny, alongside essential after-hours socialising in order to break through the ice during traditionally drawn-out negotiations.
The bonus for newcomers is that they almost certainly will have time to fully immerse themselves in one of the world’s most vibrant and endlessly fascinating cities – a place that’s at once distinctly polite and precise, if a little eccentric.
One hour in Tokyo
Stroll around Ginza – Tokyo’s shopping and entertainment district – for some fun Japanese products and colourful clothing. Snack in a conveyor-belt department store eatery or enjoy a superb budget lunch at a restaurant beneath the railway arches. Discover old Tokyo amid the temples, shrines and markets of Asakusa, or take an early-morning dip into Tsukiji fish market to view what will be gracing millions of dinner plates that evening.
An evening in Tokyo
Take your pick from a breathtaking array of concerts or treat your counterparts to an exquisite meal of every conceivable variety. In 2012, Tokyo has more Michelin three-star restaurants than France. Take part in a martial arts session and don’t miss the unique atmosphere of a Sumo wrestling tournament. Private karaoke rooms and hostess bars are locally favoured, non-restaurant venues for business entertaining.
Rest for a while
Top-ranking business properties include the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, with some of the best bars and restaurants in Tokyo, and the new Shangri-La; a luxury hotel located opposite Tokyo station. The Ritz-Carlton is a five-star venue offering deluxe accommodation with panoramic vistas of Tokyo Tower and the south-side of the city.
Rail and subway lines are the faster, more convenient and reliable form of transport when compared with taxis, which can be expensive. All rail and subway lines have English signage and are easier to use than they may initially appear. Save time with a pre-paid travel card from ticket booths or vending machines.
If possible, fly into Haneda, the expanded former domestic airport now taking many international flights. Transfer times to the city centre average 30 minutes by rail/monorail at a cost of the equivalent of £10 or less.
In contrast, the main international gateway to Tokyo – Narita Airport – is 60kms out of town and up to a 90-minute transfer by train or limousine bus to major hotels (the latter being the cheapest and quickest way into Tokyo from the airport). Depending on traffic, a taxi could take longer and cost £200 or more one way.
Safety and security
Tokyo is arguably one of the safest world capitals, with very low crime and security risks. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises the usual precautions should be taken when visiting the city. The FCO is still advising that there are still exclusion zones surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility. Typhoon season runs from June to December. Latest warnings and advisories are published on the Japan Meteorological Agency website.