Ian Melville. Marketing In Japan. Oxford, England and Boston, Mass: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999. xviii + 250 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7506-4145-6.
Reviewed by James L. Schoff (Policy and Communications Program, US-Japan Foundation, New York)
Published on H-US-Japan (February, 2000)
Laying the Groundwork for Business Success in Japan
We have all been warned about the dangers of judging a book by its cover, and I was reminded of this when I began to discover that Ian Melville's new "How To" book about marketing in Japan is really much more than your average handbook. Melville, an experienced exporter and academic in Japan, has put together a thorough and up-to-date analysis of a wide range of issues related to doing business in Japan as a non-Japanese. For the Japanese novice (and veteran alike), there is a valuable discussion of the history, background and context for Japan's current business practices and climate.
Melville describes the origins and roles of the large trading houses, keiretsu system, banking structure, labor market, and other components of Japan's economy. The remainder of the book's first half is dedicated to thematic issues for the new foreign entrant to consider. Business start-up issues, the importance of quality control, and establishing personal networks are among the points discussed here. The reader does not begin to learn about specific tactics until the book's second half, and here there are a variety of situations covered -- both big and small business, exporters, direct sellers and others. The book is a useful overview and introduction to Japan's contemporary marketplace, but it is not a step-by-step manual for how to market a particular product. The newly assigned business manager for a foreign firm in Japan might find this invaluable reading on the plane ride over, but an exporter pondering a foray into Japan should not expect this book to write his/her marketing plan.
Melville certainly knows the material from first-hand experience and presents information in a clear, readable style. Frequent tables, sub-headings, summary bullet points, and a glossary of terms used help make the book accessible. Melville's heavy use of Japanese words, however, might confuse or deter those less committed to Japan, and he jumps quite quickly into historical detail and intricacies. Yet the dedicated reader is rewarded with an excellent review of the Japanese economy's roots, with all its subtleties, nuances and implications.
If there is an apologetic tone to Melville's work it is perhaps for a reason. He has obviously spent a great deal of time in Japan and has learned the logic and history behind the Japanese way of doing business. At a time in when "Japan Bashing" has evolved from Westerners lambasting Japan's unfair marketplace to belittling its inefficiency and impotence, Melville is adept at explaining Japan's side of the story, about how and why the Japanese do not necessarily feel that their system is silly and needs changing (as some Westerners are prone to think). Understanding and doing things the "Japanese way" is ultimately Melville's recipie for success in Japan, and he is well qualified and skilled at explaining this to non-Japanese. Anecdotal stories about firms' success or joint-venture experience in Japan are relatively current, instructive and interesting.
The book is less strong, however, when it preaches about the importance of quality and dismisses foreign companies' achievements in this area. In part due to export of the kaizen concept, many non-Japanese firms are quality leaders, particularly in the service sector. Japan, in fact, has room for improvement in quality and customer service in areas of construction (remember the refuse found buried in concrete shinkansen supports) or banking (where only foreign banks' ATMs are open 24hrs). Another, almost reverse sterotype, comment comes when he tries to explain why Westerners are normally under-represented at overseas negotiating tables. Melville's first explanation is that "...Westerners find it hard to form cooperative, interlocking work groups" (p.116), and only secondly notes the more important cost factor. It might also be discouraging to the Japan newcomer to learn that the best examples of small business success in Japan (as described by Melville) are mostly cases of Westerners who lived and worked in Japan for some time, often speaking Japanese and having a vast network of friends and contacts (pp. 140-143).
The importance of networking, or jinmyaku, is emphasized constantly, and rightfully so. This perhaps captures an overarching contradiction for any book about marketing in Japan. Melville essentially demonstrates that the most important factors to success in Japan cannot be learned from a book. You have to join business associations, try to learn the language, understand your employees and build a personal network of contacts. The value of Marketing in Japan is that the reader will have greater insight into the Japanese market in order to effectively begin this process.
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James L. Schoff. Review of Melville, Ian, Marketing In Japan.
H-US-Japan, H-Net Reviews.
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