Blog post cover illustration Doing business in Japan
15 Oct 2018

Doing business in Japan

The common understanding here in the Nordics is that doing business in Japan take a lot of time and cultural differences might not be possible to overcome. It may come as a surprise that at Codeborne we have done 4 projects for 3 customers in Japan.

Our short experience has proven the opposite - we have reached the agreements and shaken hands after a couple of business meetings. From the Estonians’ perspective Japanese business culture is very pragmatic and mutually polite to do the business with.

The one where we broke speed records

Our projects in Japan have been in completely different areas compared to what we have done so far. For instance, we were involved in a R&D project to develop a new ultrafast data transfer protocol compared to the existing market standards. Although the project was meant to be R&D only, we delivered not a stack of documentation but a real working implementation which worked faster indeed than the competing solutions.

To our initial surprise the customer had a different approach to R&D project and did not rush to implement the working prototype. Of course, they were really happy and surprised about the working solution! But they were more interested in the process and how we reached it. Can it be made even faster? Implementing it was of secondary concern.

The one where we helped bringing elderly and young people together

In another project we were building a closed currency platform for the local municipalities to overcome two major trends in the local life. First, there are elderly people in the need for basic services like household tasks, doing the shopping, rehabilitation activities etc. Second, there are more and more younger people leaving from countryside to the big cities as they are struggling finding challenging jobs at home.

Shibuya Harajuku station
Young people in big cities often have hard time finding jobs.

The ecosystem built by us brings these groups together. One of the cornerstones of this small world is a closed currency system, emitted by the local government. People in need can spend the “local” currency for various tasks like household work and helpers; young people struggling to find jobs can use the currency later for their own goals. For instance, the local governments have discussed the idea to enable paying local taxes with this local currency.

As the blockchain is really hot concept in Japan at the moment, the customer wanted the system implemented using blockchain. For us it was a new world and we learned together with the customer. The eventual realization was with private deployment of Ethereum network.

We were initially surprised – why add the complexity with the closed currency? Why don’t people just pay in the national currency for such services? It turned out that such direct payments in cash do not correspond to accepted values and therefore the project needed an alternative. Such closed currency systems are currently actively discussed in many local communities in Japan, especially in touristic regions to promote local life.

At first we were asked not to pay any attention to design as the customer had an initial plan to redesign it at some later stage. For working purposes, we chose a material design framework which the customer eventually liked and uses ever since. Fastest time-to-market and lowest cost option. Moreover, as we delivered a platform with the API, it can have any design in the future, if needed.

Universal take-aways

From our experience in Japan so far - a man keeps his word. Very little time is spent on formal and contract related discussions and verbal agreements always hold.

The time difference between Japan and Estonia is 6-7 hours. It became clear that our mornings and late afternoons in Japan were the best times to keep the activities in sync, for meeting the customer and demoing the work done in the meantime.


We have been to Japan several times. We host Japanese visitors regularly in our office. There is a still lot to learn and achieve, but we are happy for the opportunities we have had and believe there are more to come. Do we know Japan? Maybe a little bit :)

Photo credits: Daryan Shamkhali, Jezael Melgoza

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