A guide to finding a manufacturer for your product in Tokyo

Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is one of the major mega-city in the world with a population of 13 million people. It’s also known as a center of Japanese manufacturing with more than 29,000 factories in the center area alone.

However, it’s quite difficult to find English written information on Japanese manufacturers, especially for small factories. As a result, any foreigner seeking to find a manufacturing partner in Tokyo can easily get lost. 

This article aims to give you some guidance to help you find a lead to start with.

So little information

Japan may be a mysterious place for you as much as India is a deep mystery to me. It’s hard to imagine how things are without actually being there. The difference in language, culture, and history sometimes become a huge wall between us too. Especially, if you are looking for a manufacturer overseas, you’ll likely get lost from the beginning.

Search Google for Japanese manufacturers. There are more than 29,000 factories in Tokyo metropolitan area alone. But you’ll soon find how little information written in English exists: especially for small and medium factories. In fact, most of them don’t have an English website. Even the information written in Japanese is limited and insufficient.

This doesn’t mean they lack capacity or resource to make English website. It’s just that they didn’t find necessity in the past. Their main business has been local manufacturing as third or fourth tier suppliers in Japan. Hence, there was little chance for them to directly work with foreign companies.

However, the situation is changing. With the vast progress in globalization, now, small and medium factories in Japan are willing to diversify their client base. As a result, factories which were once a hidden source of manufacturing power for giant Japanese brands are open for foreign enterprises.

4 sources to find a manufacturer

So how do you find a right manufacturer for your product in Japan, especially in Tokyo?

It depends on time and money you can afford. For instance, you can always hire a consultant to work for you. It is much easier than going by yourself. However, the cost will be high.

In this article, I will focus more on alternative ways for those seeking DIY approach. I will guide you through following 4 sources as a starting point. Although each has pros and cons, you will find some merits there.

■ Contact a manufacturing integrator

■ Visit an exhibition

■ Contact a local business organization

■ Search online

Contact a manufacturing integrator

A Manufacturing Integrator (“MI”) may be a good choice to start. MI is a manufacturer acting as a catalyst for the client and local factories. It integrates manufacturing process from design phase to assembly. With its on-the-ground knowledge and experience and wide local network, it arranges and manages like a project manager.

MI is different from a consultant. Although MI provides many suggestions based on its broad knowledge and experience, its main service is manufacturing.  For example, MI specialized in metal processing may have its own metal sheet processing factory or machining shop. And this makes different from a trading company which works for arrangements but not for actual manufacturing.

Therefore, MI can support you not only as a source of information but also become your primary supplier to form a team to manufacture your product. 

Pros:
  • Easier to communicate with a one-stop solution provider
  • Saves your time and money for searching manufacturers
  • Lower cost than hiring a consultant or a trading company
  • Can use its broad knowledge, experiences, and network as a primary supplier
  • Flexible arrangement with manufacturers
Cons:
  • Hard to find an English speaker
  • Don’t usually show itself as a manufacturing integrator (rather it identifies itself as a manufacturer of their specialty: e.g. metal sheet processing factory, injection molding factory and etc.)—Difficult to distinguish a mere factory with MI from outside
  • Not suitable for a large volume manufacturing: usually its team consists of small and medium factories

TOKYO FABHUB is working with Ogawa Technical Works, a manufacturing integrator specialized in metal processing. Furthermore, we are planning to add more manufacturing integrators in other manufacturing areas, such as machine, plastic, rubber, and electronics, as our member.

Visit an exhibition

If you have time and money to visit Japan, the best start can be attending a large-scale exhibition. There are many shows and exhibition for business matching held in every major city in Japan.

The size and target may differ by each exhibition, but it gives you an opportunity to actually meet with manufacturers at one place. This will give you a chance to discuss briefly your product and gain some insights about who can best handle your idea and design. Furthermore, this will save significant time for searching around without direction.

If you are looking for a large exhibition, Manufacturing World Japan could be your best choice. Held once a year in Tokyo, it has more than 2,400 exhibitors with 90,000 visitors in a 3-day exhibition. And you can meet almost every field of manufacturers in one place. It holds a smaller version of Tokyo exhibition in Osaka and Nagoya as well.

Pros:
  • Save time to meet and discuss directly with many manufacturers
  • Have holistic idea of manufacturers in various fields
  • Find new trends in manufacturing
  • Obtain a list of manufacturers to contact
Cons:
  • You need to come to Japan
  • You’ll only get general information about each factory
  • Too much option may confuse you

Contact a local business organization

There are some local business organizations and support centers that provide general information about manufacturers in each location. The Ota City Industrial Promotion Organization, a public-interest corporation, located in Ota Ward in Tokyo, is relatively easy to contact.

Ota Ward is one of the 23 wards of Tokyo metropolitan area. It has the largest number of manufacturers in Tokyo with approximately 4,000 small and medium factories. It is well-known as a cluster of highly skilled light engineering manufacturers. The cluster is widely diverse: production of machine components and parts, electrical devices and components, metal processing, plastic and rubber processing and much more.

The organization was established in 1995 to promote business for small and medium enterprises in Ota Ward. In 2015, it has developed Company Finder, a directory of factories in Ota Ward, aiming to bring more international businesses to local factories. Company Finder is an online booklet written in English, which showcases basic information on more than 110 manufacturers.

Also, another choice of contact is Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI). Established in 1878, it has been the leading chamber of commerce in Japan. Currently, more than 77,000 members are registered. It has offices in all 23 wards of Tokyo metropolitan area. 

Pros:
  • English speaker is available
  • Service is usually free for general consultation
  • They have designated division for handling international businesses
  • Have wide network of companies
Cons:
  • You likely get general information only (usually cautious about disclosing information of an individual company)
  • Support they can offer is limited as public organization (no professional support)
  • Staffs may not have good knowledge about specific manufacturing

Online Search

There are online international business-matching platforms targeted to bridge small and medium companies with foreign enterprises. Here are some platforms operated by government-related organizations.

(1) TTPP International Business Matching Site

TTPP (Trade Tie-up Promotion Program) is an online platform for international business matching, operated by JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization). You can find various proposal and offerings both from seller side and buyer side. Membership and usage of the platform are free of charge. JETRO is a government-related organization that works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world.

(2) J-GoodTech

J-GoodTech is an online business matching platform operated by Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan (SME Support, Japan). They have more than 7,000 members registered on the platform. Certain information is open for public but needs to be registered as a member to fully use the platform.

Pros:
  • Sites are written in English.
  • The source is generally reliable.
  • Fairly easy to use
  • Covers wide variety of fields and areas from all over Japan.
Cons:
  • Need to be registered as a member to fully utilize the platform: process includes evaluation by the operator.
  • Product manufacturers and trading companies are the main targets (information of manufacturing service is limited)
  • Small factories are not included much.

Conclusion

Find what is right for your needs

Obtaining general information and some insights of factories in Tokyo is a start. Of course, a process to find a right manufacturer for your product needs much more to go.

Finding a right manufacturing overseas is not an easy challenge. A term “right” is not a rigid condition. Having appropriate technology and equipment is an important element. However, it also needs to match well with your production volume as well as payment schedule. In addition, timing is also important. Each factory has its busy time and idle time. You need to find a factory, which meets your schedule for production.

Having said this, no partner is perfect. So you need to prioritize things that work best for you and try to mitigate challenges that you may face. The best way is to start small. Make some simple and straight orders to test manufacturer of your choice. Then gradually grow the volume and add complexity as you build mutual trust. No matter how great a manufacturer seems to others, it doesn’t guarantee your satisfaction. You just need to find one that fits you well.

Come to Tokyo

Before adding volume, I recommend visiting Japan at least once to meet with the manufacturer you choose. And you should take a good look at their factory, see their equipment and talk with engineers. Hence, this will nurture mutual trust and the manufacturer will motivate more to work with you.

I hope you will find a way to find the manufacturing partner that brings you success in production and business. Japanese manufacturers value long relationship. So if you are able to find a right Japanese manufacturer, I am sure it will be a great asset to your company.

TOKYO-FABHUB will be with you to support. Let us know if we can help you in any way.

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