Getting students from Japan: how to work with Japanese study abroad agents
11 October 2018

Japan is in UK ELT's top ten sending markets, and a government drive to encourage study abroad could make it an increasingly important one.

It is one of our priority markets, with the English UK Asia Pacific Roadshow meeting agents in Osaka as well as Bangkok this November. Whether you're planning to join us there, or find other ways to get into the market, here are some expert tips on building relationships with Japanese agents from English UK Board Member Shoko Doherty, who was born and brought up in Japan and is now CEO of Celtic English Academy in Cardiff.

Who comes from Japan to learn English?

English UK's QUIC reports show that the junior market is becoming more important.

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

How long does it take to build a relationship with Japanese agents?

"When you look at different markets globally some are much easier to start a relationship and some start sending us students more quickly – those might sustain for a long time, but sometimes die out quickly," says Shoko, stressing that making relationships is key.

She adds: "I think the Japanese market is harder to crack, but once you crack it you tend to have long lasting, fruitful relationships."

How quickly can I expect students from Japan after meeting an agent?

Shoko advises patience. "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."

What things should you highlight when talking to Japanese agents?

Safety is a priority. "If Japanese people see there has been a bomb in London they think the whole of the UK is dangerous. My Japanese parents know I live in Cardiff but if something happens in London they immediately text me to ask if I'm OK," says Shoko.

She advises talking to agents about safeguarding for young learners and also Prevent. "A lot of agents don't know these things – that's something to emphasise on the Asia-Pacific Roadshow," she says.

Is there anything to do in a school setting to reassure Japanese agents?

"Little extra touches help. For instance, if seniors arrive at your school, show them how to connect their mobile device to the wifi rather than just giving them the password - that makes a big difference.

"If you've got a young learner group, send a courtesy email to agents to say they've arrived safely – 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."

Anything else to know about Japanese agents?

Shoko says it's worth being aware of agent associations and their influences. For instance, UK food is famous in Japan for being bland without many vegetables except potatoes, but agents – especially those who are members of the Japanese Association of Overseas Studies (JAOS) are experienced in preparing students for what they will experience.

"It's also worth being aware of JATA, the Japanese Association of Travel Agents, who have a strong influence on study abroad agents. Every five years they recommend a top ten routes to travel in Europe. In the UK those are currently a Welsh route from Chester to Anglesey and one from Rugby to Cardiff. So there's going to be interest in visits along those routes."

Shoko also recommends…

She quotes expert advice on doing business in Japan, pointing out that relationships are at the heart of business. Tips include:

  • Clothes - wear smart business clothes.
  • Greetings - bow when meeting someone.
  • Titles - do not use a person's first name unless they have started to use yours. Instead, use their surname with the suffix -san.
  • Don't say "no" - try to find ways around this, unless you are using the word factually. Japanese people are 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.
  • Gifts - it is common for gifts to be given at meetings. They are wrapped. Don't open them in front of the giver unless they suggest that you do. Taking small wrapped gifts is a good idea.
  • Decisions - don't push for decisions or deadlines and be modest, polite and diplomatic at all times.
  • Be interested in your contact as a person.
  • Entertain as well as possible.

To meet agents in Japan and around the world, join our overseas events or come to StudyWorld London, the national showcase of UK education.

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