Questions on the Italian Market

I am an importer. Will you help me in searching for potential products in Italy?
The ICCJ offers fee-based, customized business solutions to importers and exporters alike, tailored to your industry, products, and distribution channels. With our vast network and contacts in both Japan and Italy and our team of researchers, we will gladly help you find the products you are looking for. For more information, please see our Business Support page.
If you are actively looking to import a product or buy a service from Italy, please consult with us first. It is possible that at a given time we have an offer from an Italian company we can match your request, without incurring a service fee.

What are some aspects I should be aware of when dealing with Italian counterparts?
Understanding some of the cultural characteristics of the Italian society helps businesses to interact more effectively and successfully with their Italian counterparts and helps to overcome some of the obstacles that foreign companies may face when conducting business in Italy.

Language: Aside from Italian, English is the most-used foreign language, however, English language skills vary among medium-sized family-owned enterprises (SMEs). If you are not at a business-level understanding of Italian, it is highly suggested to inquire on the English level of your counterparts and possibly hire an interpreter for business meetings.

Management structure and style of Italian companies: Italy has a very large percentage of SMEs and even some of the largest corporations are still controlled by single families. Because of the strong family presence in Italian society and likewise in business, the management structures are often weak and very hierarchical. Most, if not all, of the decisions, are made by the owner of the business, by the family or by the very few key decision-makers in a company. The decision-making process often takes place outside company meetings and board rooms, with the management, sometimes notified about critical decisions without having had the opportunity to offer input.

Gift giving: Unlike Japan, in Italian business culture, gift-giving is not particularly common; only after a tried and trusted relationship has been established, might it appear natural to give a small and not obviously expensive gift as a sign of friendship.

Timing: Italians tend to multitask, shifting their priorities as new demands arise and accommodating short-notice changes.
As a consequence, work plans are often considered tentative and revisable, so that some flexibility can be built into a deadline. One might, therefore, experience differing reaction times from Italian counterparts.
It is advised to reinforce high priority deadlines with phone contacts shortly following emails.
Also, do consider in advance the schedule of national and summer/winter holidays, as it is uncommon for Italian companies to guarantee a rapid response during these periods unless there is a clear agreement on this.

Trust and risk level: In sociological terms, Italian organizations can be considered low-trusting and more risk-tolerant compared to Japanese counterparts. This means that:

  • Instructions, expectations, deadlines and penalties need to be made more explicit during communication. Care is needed to avoid the common pitfall of mistaking explicitness with rudeness or dryness. Polite and light-tempered request for clarification and set of expectations is the norm at the beginning of business relationships between Italian companies.
  • On average, planning by Italian companies is less meticulous than Japanese companies, and often it is reserved only to essential parts of a project. On the contrary, Italian companies are more prone to accept some more risk of disruption in exchange for an increase in cost/time efficiency.
  • Italian companies tend to rely more on human interaction and frequent phone and personal exchanges to control the process, as opposed to sticking to a predefined script.
  • Pricing in Italy is always subject to negotiation to some extent. When proposing a price, it is important to take into account that the Italian counterpart may not consider it final. On the other hand, declaring a price final is not necessarily accepted on its face value, so it is often important to state the reasons for not being able to negotiate.

Source: Passport to Trade 2.0

I encountered some trouble with an Italian counterpart. Can you help me in fixing this issue?
Italian companies are normally willing to settle controversies before and outside the court.
When deciding whether to start legal action, it is suggested to resolve any issues directly with the Italian counterpart through phone or mail. If this is ineffective, having an institution or business association act as an intermediary party is another option.
More importantly, it is always best to evade such issues. To avoid finding ourselves in a commercial or legal controversy it is recommended to take the following preventative actions:

  • Request a document of business registration (“visura camerale”) to the Chamber of Commerce of the area where the Italian company operates. This document shows the company size, their officially registered addresses and managers, their operating status, and sometimes their last financial statements can be attached to it.
    It is also possible to request the company profiles online.
  • Inquire with company associations or professionals linked to the company. These could also be useful for help after some controversy has arisen.
  • Clearly payment methods and deadlines. Credit letters are recommended if a trade-in good is involved and the transaction value is significant.

ICCJ can help you at any stage, both by providing resources to interact with Italian companies in a smoother manner or by referring to institutions or professionals able to cope with the legal and financial aspects of the controversy.

I own a small family company and I heard that Japanese market is attractive for my business. What do I need to do to enter with my products in the Japanese market?
Japanese market values positively both crafting and high added-value products.
Here are some of the major obstacles that a small enterprise might face to start a business in Japan.

  • Initial investment. It is necessary to take into account various expenses such as client research; translation and information material about the product; trip; logistical costs on the spot.​Small enterprises sometimes expect to engage in distance selling, but this is hardly possible in the Japanese market.
  • Language. In Japan English is not used as a vehicular language for business relations. Even if the counterpart has some English skills, business relations are not started unless a Japanese speaking interpreter helps the communication between the two parts. The problem becomes even deeper if the Italian owner is an English speaker beginner or if he has just started international business.
  • Time perception and business relation. Business relations with Japanese counterparts usually require a long amount of time to be set. Required features are loyalty in the business relation, from the beginning of the negotiation to post-sales services, and additional purchases. Italian small and medium-sized enterprises sometimes wish for a quicker stipulation of the contract, but this kind of behavior is often misunderstood by the Japanese counterpart as coercion attempts. Furthermore, the lack of communication in the post-sales period is seen as unprofessional.
  • Structural barriers for production features. One has to consider the main limits of one’s own activity, such as a low average of production goods or fares barriers.

For all these reasons entering the Japanese market is very different than dealing with European markets or emerging countries. A long term collaboration with experienced resources on-site, or at least an interpreter, is instrumental to success.

I would like to open a bar/restaurant/bakery in Japan. What is the procedure to start and how much do I need to invest?
An accurate answer depends on the specific kind of activity, nonetheless, it is possible to provide some general information:

  • It is very hard to start a business in Japan without a permanent or semi-permanent visa. Not knowing the language is a big obstacle as well.
  • Basically to start a business one needs to involve a Japanese legal subject. “Investor visas” are also available, but to get that one has to deposit a fixed amount of money (at least 5 million yen) in a company registered in Japan. This anyway does not guarantee that the visa is released. Two factors often prevent positive outcomes:
    1. discretionality in the valuation by each single examiner;
    2. the lack of Japanese partners or staff.

Renting or acquiring rooms and places could be very difficult without the help of a Japanese warrantor. Furthermore, it is a very common practice to ask for a deposit fee or advanced payment for the total amount of six monthly payments. The total sum of the rental depends on the situation, but usually, rentals in big cities are similar or superior to the ones in the most famous historical centers in Italy.
I already export to China. Is the Japanese market similar?
Although the two countries had an intense activity of cultural and commercial exchanges in the past, even discounting the impact of globalization it is widely acknowledged that the two cultures and markets are different in various ways:

  • The perception of luxury for the Chinese is tied to visibility (luxury as a marker of social status), whereas in Japan luxury is more about pleasing one’s personal needs about quality and authenticity
  • There is a sharp difference regarding the purchasing power of the families in the two countries (although in some of the biggest Chinese cities this difference is getting lower and lower)
  • Starting business relationships with Japanese companies take more time and implies a greater number of formalities than with Chinese ones
  • The average Japanese consumer is more sophisticated than the Chinese one, the main reason being that Japan already offers a wide range of products and solutions for its customers, at any price level
  • The growth of the Japanese market is at a standstill, while the Chinese market is continuously growing (this is also due to a significant percentage of consumers gradually entering middle class)

Whatever the success achieved in the Chinese market, a company has to consider marketing and promotion strategies anew before adventuring in Japan.
Is ICCJ a public entity?
No. The ICCJ operates as a private association, albeit publicly recognized. While we may receive financial support from the Italian Ministry of Economic Development to cover some of our costs, we generate financial means through our membership fees, our consulting services, and the events we organize throughout the year.
The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ICCJ) was established in 1972 as an association primarily composed of Italian and Japanese companies having business between Italy and Japan. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Trade officially recognized the Chamber in 1986. The Chamber is eligible to receive (in the percentage of around 10% of the operational costs incurred in the year) financial contribution from the Ministry, which integrates the other Chamber resources, generated by membership fees and services charges.

I would like to find a job in Japan. Could you help me?
Due to market saturation, previously popular jobs such as language teachers and translators are now less available jobs. Decreasing salaries in this sector are noticeable as well.
The main aim of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan is to encourage the business relationship between the Italian/ European community and Japan. For this reason, in a market more and more oriented towards the service industry, the Chamber promotes the exchange of goods as well as knowledge and talent.
To make this possibility come true the candidate must have some specific skills:

  • A medium or advanced competence in the Japanese language (approximately the level required to work in Japan is equivalent to JLPT second level in both writing and speaking skills)
  • Bachelor degree and working experience in one of the most important branches of the Italian market (Food, Fashion, Precision Mechanics)

The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan offers internship programs both for individuals and through partner universities. The most worthy individuals will be introduced to our network’s companies or directly employed.
Evaluation criteria:

  • Willingness to work in Japan for medium/long term
  • Business level Japanese (essential requirement)
  • Great interest towards Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s objectives and businesses.