Communications in Japan: Tokyo-Based Agency Heads Share Insights

It’s been 10 years since I moved back to the U.S. from Japan, where I’d lived and worked for seven years as Head of Corporate Communications for Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank.

I have just returned stateside from a week in Shizuoka and Tokyo, where I met old friends, including Ross Rowbury, President of Edelman Japan and Aston Bridgman, Co-President of Finsbury’s new Tokyo office.  I asked both to provide perspective for an international audience on best practices for communicating in Japan.  Watch the three-minute interviews I conducted with them here:  Ross Rowbury and Aston Bridgman.

In summary, they shared a few important takeaways:

  1. Communications fundamentals are the same in Japan as in other markets, but cultural practices are different. Media relations, social media and community relations are elements of the communications mix in Japan – but engagement with audiences through these channels requires an understanding of local practices. 
  2. The media in Japan is primarily national in focus. This means that corporate stories have to compete with all other news in a country of more than 120 million people.  And, given the country’s homogenous nature – stories need a Japanese angle.
  3. Relationships matter. In-person meetings with Japanese reporters are an essential part of media relations.
  4. Communicating in Japanese is key. This may seem obvious, but international companies sometimes expect to be able to issue press releases in English.  Given that English-language skills are generally much poorer than in other parts of Asia, this is impractical.
  5. Social Media is less important from a communications perspective than in other markets. The original use of social media in Japan was as a vehicle for saying things anonymously that could not otherwise be said in a rigid society.  This has shaped how social media is perceived.
  6. A local presence is very important. Leveraging local partner company relationships is one path to success.                                      

Since communication is about a sender delivering a message and the receiver understanding it, language and cultural context are critical to successful communications.  They may also be barriers to getting messages across. 

My conversations with Ross and Aston reflect my own experience – the principles of communications are universal, but the execution of successful programs requires country and market-specific expertise. 

For companies and communicators looking to get their messages across in international markets, finding people like Ross and Aston with decades of experience is invaluable.  It’s one of reasons, why I founded CommunicationsMatch to help companies find experts like them around the world.   


Simon Erskine Locke is Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM a communications-industry focused search tool that makes the process of finding PR and communications-related agencies more efficient.  Search is free as is listing for qualified agencies.  Watch our introductory video.  With 5,000 U.S. and International agencies and professionals listed, CommunicationsMatch is a powerful resource for businesses seeking communications services providers with expertise in areas including: public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video.  Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior Corporate Communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.  He has lived in seven countries around the world.   


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