Doing business in Japan: market insight and advice for UK ELT
18 August 2019

Japan is a top ten source market for the English language teaching sector in the UK and is amongst the fastest growing markets for absolute student weeks according to our latest quarterly reports.

Shoko Doherty, CEO of Celtic English, described the market as 'harder to crack, but once you crack it you tend to have long lasting, fruitful relationships.'

With the English UK Asia Pacific Roadshow fast approaching in November, discover why Japan is a lucrative market and how to build valuable partnerships.

Key market figures

  • In 2018, Japan had a 4.3% share in total student weeks for both state and private sectors. The country moved from the number eight source market in 2017 to number seven in 2018
  • Japan was the number three source market for the state sector in 2018. Compared to other markets, Japanese students were more dispersed across the UK
  • The Japan market ranked in the top ten source markets for both adults and juniors in Q1 2019
  • The Ryugaku Journal, one of the largest study abroad agents in Japan, also reported strong growth in applications for young learner programmes for summer 2019. Applications for summer programmes were up 17% on the previous year and were the highest in the 11-year history of the report.

Japan values English language learning

The Japanese government aims to increase the number of Japanese students studying abroad to 120,000 by 2020.

Shoko said: "It is an all year-round market – there are young learners in summer, and the university and senior market is growing."

With the Olympic games next year, the Japanese government also estimates the country will need 90,000 citizens to learn more English to act as volunteers.

Tatsu Hoshino, chief executive of Rising Star and founding member of the Japan Association of Overseas Studies, said: "There will be major English education reformation and all our elementary teachers will need to teach English soon."

Despite this increased demand, it is important to remain patient when expecting students to study at your centre. Shoko said: "Don't expect to get your first student after you've visited the agent once. They might want to visit you which is quite often difficult for Japanese agents.

"I find that when I start a relationship with a new agent they send one student, almost like a test."

The Japanese Association of Travel Agents, who have a strong influence on study abroad agents, also recommend the top 20 routes to travel in Europe every five years. It is important to be aware of this, as there may be interest in visits to UK routes.

Understand the Japanese culture

Relationships are at the heart of business and it is important to know how to communicate with Japanese agents.

When greeting an agent, it is important to bow. Shoko, who grew up in Japan, suggests avoiding using an agent's first name unless they use yours. Instead, use their surname with the suffix '-san'.

It is also common that gifts are given at meetings, but these are not often opened in front of the giver unless it is suggested that you do.

When doing business with Japanese agents, Shoko said Japanese people are usually unwilling to say 'no', which means you will need to discuss a situation from different angles to ensure that a particular decision has been made.

Tatsu advised: "Don't talk straight forwardly too much. Don't rush things. You need build a good relationship first; find out a key person and try to get connected with them."

Remember the importance of student safety

Safety is a priority for Japanese agents. Jodie Gray, English UK's director of strategic development, said: "This is a market that is massively safety-conscious."

With the increase of junior students from Japan, it is particularly important to talk to agents about safeguarding. Shoko said: "A lot of agents don't know these things – that's something to emphasise on the Asia Pacific Roadshow."

Shoko also suggested sending a courtesy email to agents to say that a young learner group has arrived safely. She said: "Even a line to say they're all happy makes a huge difference and it takes 30 seconds of your time. They like extra touches and that often works."

Meet quality Japanese agents

English UK members can build valuable business partnerships with high quality agents from Japan and Taiwan this November at the Asia Pacific Roadshow.

StudyWorld 50 will give you the opportunity to build valuable relationships with agents from across the world, including agents from Japan as well as large cohorts from China, Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

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