Tag: trade show

Do I Need to Speak Japanese to Visit a Japanese Trade Show?

Last year we were at a technology trade show. One of the more interesting booths we saw was a small IOT firm from the Philippines. Their product was innovative and fit into the event very well. But I was only able to understand this because we spoke in English. Any visitor who did not speak English (or Tagalog) was unfortunately not able to communicate with them.

For non-Japanese people at public trade shows and exhibitions, there is no way to know for sure if you’ll be able to communicate with exhibitors and guests before you actually show up. However, there are a few indicators which can allow you to assess the event linguistically beforehand.

Does the event website contain quality content in your language?

The websites for most trade shows are in Japanese, English, and Chinese; however, this is not necessarily an indication that the event itself is targeted at a foreign audience. Many event sites are built on templates used by the facilitating event company. So while they might be able to speak several language and translate content, the people actually showing up might not.

What you want to look for is content which has been purposely written for speakers of your language. For example, the recent Inbound Business expo website had a lot of good information in English. But at the event itself, despite the obvious international focus of inbound business, there were fewer English-speakers than one would expect. On the other hand the website for The World Food and Beverage Great Expo, despite the questionable use of English in the title, actually made an effort to appeal to non-Japanese.

Was the application form submittable without Japanese characters?

Japanese has four character sets, two of which have half-width variations within standard web fonts. The word hito, meaning person, could in theory be written in six different ways on a web page.

japanese character options windows 10

Some web forms require information to be entered in a specific character set or it will fail validation. The reasoning is a bit circumstantial, but if you cannot sign up for an event without knowing the ins and outs of typing in Japanese it could be indicative of who is going to end up attending.

How many foreign exhibitors are present?

It would seem obvious that the more foreign exhibitors are present at an event, the more people would be able to speak foreign languages. This is sometimes accurate and sometimes not.

Most of the time, a booth for an American firm would have an English speaker or a Chinese booth would have a Mandarin speaker. But many foreign companies in Japan have gone native. Especially in long-established industries like real estate, automotive, and technology, there are many companies where the staff simply do not need to speak anything but Japanese.

Look at the exhibitor list and try to see if there are a good number of companies without long histories in Japan. Or better still, if you recognise some companies in your industry who you know are trying to enter the Japanese market, that may be an indicator of the general level of foreign language-friendliness. For example, nearly a third of exhibitors at Samurai Startup Expo last year were from Israel — almost none actually had offices in Japan.

Are there international pavilions?

In the dozens of events we’ve attended in Japan, international pavilions are almost always manned by non-Japanese. It’s naturally part of the foreign appeal that the Germany section would have German exhibitors, for example. To Japanese, these pavilions are little pieces of international culture that they can sample in a day. For non-Japanese they are, for better or for worse, safe spaces where English can be freely used.

A word of caution: as pavilions are usually segregated, they are sometimes not indicative of the atmosphere of an event as a whole. So while your language might be usable in a small section of a trade show, if the rest of the floor is populated by Japanese companies and long-established foreign companies then you’ll probably need Japanese.

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Inbound Business 2017

Inbound Business EXPO Japan 2017 sought to answer one of Japanese business’ toughest questions, “How do we attract foreign customers?” With Japan having achieved record-setting tourist numbers last year and the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, this is an important thing to find an answer to.

ramen booth indoors

There seemed to be a general fixation on inbound business from Asian countries — and given the statistics, this makes sense. But most people we spoke to were more than interested to appeal more to people coming from EU, US, and Oceania. Walking around the exhibition floor, you could hear a lot of visitors speaking European languages. The potential to expand business was certainly there.

We were glad to see of Japan’s best feet was put forward: food. Any resident of Japan gets eager to take foreign visitors out to eat for good reason: it’s delicious. A large part of the exhibition floor was dedicated to food and restaurants (most of whom were giving out samples). This is in line with other trends that can be witnessed around Tokyo; for example, any tourist information centre comes stocked to the brim with restaurant pamphlets.

rental kimonos on display

A few Miss Universe Japan prefectural winners were present (Miss Shizuoka and Miss Fukushima pictured here). The pageant winner, Sari Nakazawa, has been very active in promoting Japan as a destination.

prefectural winners shizuoka and fukushima
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Wearable Expo Japan 2017 — Two Unique Product Demonstrations

We just got back from Wearable Expo at the Tokyo Big Sight, the world’s largest exhibition for wearable technology. This year, around 100,000 people are expected to attend. [Edit 2017-01-23: Actual attendance was over 110,000.] It was interesting to see more than just smartwatches. Some of the more unexpected products included helmet-integrated glasses and circuitry woven between layers of fabric.

While participating companies at many technology exhibitions like to regulate who they expose their products to, everything here was showcased out in the open. As wearables are highly visible by nature, it sufficed for many exhibitors to merely display their wares on a table or mannequin. But there were two booths that uniquely stood out in the way they drew in a crowd.

Hold an egg in the air, then just drop it

Eggs have little to do with technology and are seldom the focus of attention. But when someone is holding a box of them and announces that he is about to drop one, it isn’t something you miss.

That was a demonstration of a material by Orion. It attracted quite a crowd, with many people (including myself) scrambling to record the magic trick. I like this because it’s the perfect segway into a conversation. You can’t see from this angle, but the table to the left in the video is lined with products that use this material. If a passer by had any interest at all in shock-resistant foam, it would be difficult not to start talking with the exhibitor.

Demonstrate using a cosplay model

Attractive booth models are a staple of trade shows, but cosplay models are usually found only at manga / anime / game shows. So when Crescent Inc. put a cosplayer on the floor, it turned heads.

This is a great example of demonstration-style showcasing. The cosplayer is wearing sensors on her fingers that control the display behind her. The technology itself is image engineering, which is something I would have trouble conceptualising but immediately understood after seeing this. What I like is how well her act lends itself to what the company does. It isn’t often that a contracted model is so “on board” with a product or service.

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Marketing Webinar To Watch Before Your Next Trade Show

Earlier last year we visited the 23rd Tokyo International Book Fair. One of the most interesting exhibitors we met, a marcom company, was also one of the most difficult to pick out of a crowd. They had a corner booth which could be seen from almost 180 degrees; however, there were no floor signs and all the literature and wall posters were visible from just one direction. On account of a lack of signage and poor layout, we had no indication of who the exhibitor was or what he did until we shook hands.

This is a bit of an extreme example, but proper trade show marketing can be complex. Consultant and marketing expert, Ruth Stevens, gives an excellent talk on this subject in a webinar put on by Business Outfitters.

Of particular interest is the part on booth design, which is a huge part of trade show marketing. As Stevens points out, signage often fails to convey something very basic — what the exhibitor does. It is also interesting that some exhibitors might want to restrict visitors, so to keep their competition away from sensitive information.

This is a great watch, even if just to get the basics prior to your next trade show.

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