Navigating Japan’s media landscape: Why an adaptable approach is key


Taking time to learn the characteristics of the Japanese media and how to handle Japanese journalists will go a long way in helping you adapt and ensure the best outcome when arranging interviews for C-suite executives who are visiting Japan or for spokespeople who are already based in Tokyo.


English is not the language of business

The biggest difference between Japan and other countries that our financial services clients have the most difficulty accepting is the language barrier; Japanese journalists at domestic media simply do not speak English well enough to conduct interviews in English.

Tokyo is not like Hong Kong or Singapore. English is not the language of business. You will need to arrange an interpreter for executives visiting from overseas who do not speak Japanese, or you will need to offer up Tokyo-based spokespeople who are either native or fluent Japanese speakers.

Some clients will ask us to find English-speaking journalists at domestic media, but their numbers are few, and Japanese journalists regularly change beats, meaning introductions and media coverage are extremely difficult to guarantee. Your success in securing coverage will be much greater if you assume that you will have to deal with the Japanese media in Japanese and plan accordingly.

Similarly, English-language press releases, reports, fact sheets and spokesperson profiles need to be translated into Japanese. If none of your content is localised, it simply will not be read. Japanese journalists will not simply re-write a Japanese-language press release, but they will occasionally request additional information or interviews in order to write an original story.

Maintaining local relationships is paramount

In Japan, journalists place a lot of importance on relationship-building. This means arranging lunches, dinners, off-the-record briefings and other events where you can explain your company’s history, your areas of expertise and how Japan fits into your global strategy. It is imperative to invest time and resources in these events happen, but it is worth the effort. If you go out of your way to educate the Japanese media about your company, then they will in turn educate their readers about you.

Stories with global context but local focus

Journalists at domestic media consistently tell us that they want to hear two things from non-Japanese financial institutions. The first is big-picture views on the trends and risk factors that investors and financial services professionals all face. The second is views on Japan, whether it be Japan’s financial markets, investing in Japan or Japan’s financial services sector. If you provide the global angle without the Japan angle, your chances of securing a story will suffer dramatically. The best way is to make sure you include Japan angles into your global story.

The bar for publishing a story in Japan is higher than in some countries because editors and team leaders exercise a great deal of control over what reporters write, and reporters often require a lot of information to convince their superiors to run a story.

As a result, Japanese reporters may submit follow-up questions after an interview or requests for data to back up some of the arguments made during an interview. You may find these requests cumbersome because you think they should have been covered during the interview, but you should take this as a positive sign that the reporter is working hard to illustrate your company in the best light and ensure that the story clears any remaining hurdles.

If you are serious about expanding your businesses profile in Japan, utilizing local knowledge and investing time and effort into local journalists will only serve to make the ground more fertile for securing coverage. 

Stanley White, Director, CDR Tokyo