Canadian Companies in Japan: Lessons from Experience


195 pages
ISBN 1-55238-003-3
DDC 337.71052




Edited by Allan Conway and Vernon Jones
Reviewed by Duncan McDowall

Duncan McDowall is a professor of history at Carleton University and the
author of Quick to the Frontier: Canada’s Royal Bank.


Over the last few decades, Japan has acquired a formidable economic
reputation as an aggressive exporter of high value–added products and
a dogged protector of its national economy against foreign corporate
incursion. Canada has suffered from this strategy. We have been
successful at selling basic commodities—coal, lumber, canola, and
copper, for instance—to Japanese consumers eager to feed their
hot-house industrial economy, but we have been woefully unsuccessful at
marketing high value–added products—finished products and
services—into Japan. At a time when Canadians are being encouraged to
become globally competitive, Japan has proved a “difficult country for
opportunists”; we have been, in short, “a non-player in Japan”
even as that country finally tries to open its economy to foreign

The Japan “Learning from Experience” Project, upon which this book
draws, sought to remedy this situation by applying a managerial
magnifying glass to seven Canadian companies that have successfully
penetrated the Japanese market over time. In each case study, business
school researchers extracted the “lessons” of companies that have
found a formula for selling into the Japanese economy. The seven are
Alcan, Brewster Tours, Cognos, Nippon Diversey, Northern Telecom,
Scotiabank, and XCAN Far East. Some of them, like Alcan’s joint
venture in smelting with Nippon Light Metals, have prospered in the
alien business culture of Japan for more than four decades. These are
lucid, jargon-free case studies that are easily accessible to business
practitioners. They are free of ponderous management theory and convey a
lively sense of the experience of Canadians on the ground in Japan.

The book concludes with a synopsis of findings that could be
productively read by any would-be Canadian supplier of the Japanese
market. Japanese business culture is, for instance, strikingly
different. Distribution networks and regulatory frameworks are alien. To
understand these and penetrate them, a Canadian should find a local
“champion,” hire skilled local managers, give them a “strong
hand,” and pursue the Japanese expectation of quality products and
service. These and other sensible conclusions are as necessary as a
passport for any Canadian businessperson intent on doing business with
“Japan Inc.”


“Canadian Companies in Japan: Lessons from Experience,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,