Considering exhibiting in Japan? Then read this! The exhibition venues in Japan are world-class, as befits a country that has been inhabited since the Upper Paleolithic period (30,000 BC). Japan is a great power and a member of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations (since 1956), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Group of Seven, a group of seven leading industrial nations outside the former communist bloc, consisting of the US, Japan, Germany), France, the UK, Italy, and Canada. After recovering from World War II, Japan experienced high economic growth, becoming the second-largest economy in the world by 1990 before being surpassed by China in 2010. As evidenced by exhibiting in Japan, the country is a leader in the automotive and electronics industries and has made significant contributions to science and technology. Ranked the second-highest country on the Human Development Index in Asia after Singapore, Japan has the world’s second-highest life expectancy, though it is experiencing a population decline. Japan’s culture is world-renowned, and its contributions include art, cuisine, music, and technology, particularly animation and video game industries.
For business event and meeting organizers, Japan offers world-class venues, outstanding hospitality, and unique cultural experiences that effortlessly blend traditional and contemporary elements.
Beyond Tokyo and Osaka’s major business centers, Japan offers a wide choice of destinations brimming with character and charm to attract business meetings and events.
When putting together a business meeting or event, it can be daunting to think of something impressive and unusual enough to excite a large group of people. For unique experiences, Japan can provide a traditional tea ceremony in the afternoon and dinner served by robots.
Japan prides itself on high levels of hospitality, and rightly so. While you may have heard about things getting ‘lost in translation’ in the past, Japan’s meetings and events industry offers expert multilingual services to a multicultural audience as well as adapting to meetings and events planners’ needs.
Largest Exhibition Venues in Japan
Exhibitions in Japan attract many industries: Medical, agriculture, electronics, food and beverage, textiles and garments, construction, machinery, marine industry, chemicals, finance, automotive, and environmental. With that type of diverse representation, it is not surprising that Japan boasts a number of state-of-the-art exhibition venues.
- Tokyo Big Sight is the largest convention and exhibition center in the country. Opened in April 1996, the center is located on the Tokyo Bay waterfront. Its most iconic feature is the visually distinctive Conference Tower. The name Tokyo Big Sight in Japanese eventually became the official name, and it also became the operator’s name in April 2003. The convention center is divided into three main areas, each with its own restaurants and other supporting facilities: The East Exhibition Hall, the West Exhibition Hall, and the Conference Tower. In addition, there is the Atrium, the Rooftop Exhibition Area, the outdoor area, and breakout conference and meeting rooms. The latest addition to the Big Sight is the New East Exhibition Halls, a large-scale exhibition facility with a total exhibition space of 16,000 m2 consisting of East Hall 7, which has the largest area in the facility; East Hall 8 with three connectable meeting rooms; and a “link space” which can serve as a multipurpose area, all functionally-arranged for convenience and efficiency.
- Makuhari Messe is a Japanese convention center outside Tokyo, located in the northwest corner of Chiba prefecture. Designed by Fumihiko Maki, it is accessible by Tokyo’s commuter rail system. It hosts many high-technology events. Makuhari Messe is close to Tokyo Disney Resort in Urayasu and to Chiba prefecture’s black sand beaches. The center is the host of the annual Tokyo Auto Salon, the biennial Tokyo Motor Show, the annual Tokyo Game Show (video game hardware and software exhibition), the yearly Jump Festa (manga, anime, and video game exposition), and the biannual Wonder Festival (toys, scale figures, and garage kits exposition). In addition, the venue was host to several Nintendo Space World events.
- PACIFICO Yokohama is one of Japan’s largest convention complexes, equipped with all the functions required for any type of convention, such as meetings, incentive conventions, exhibitions, and events. The city government of Yokohama finished a new exhibition hall on the waterfront adjacent to Pacifico Yokohama. With the addition of the new hall, total exhibition space will grow by 50% to roughly 30,000 sq. meters.
- INTEX Osaka, officially known as International Exhibition Center, Osaka, is a convention and exhibition center in the Osaka Prefecture, Japan. The center is located on the Business Creation and Information Transmission Zone of Cosmosquare District in Sakishima Island, a planned business exchange and trading district in the Osaka Bay area. With 72,978 square meters of exhibition area, the venue ranks third in the nation, behind Tokyo Big Sight and Makuhari Messe in terms of total exhibition space. The abbreviation “INTEX” stands for “International Exhibition center.”
- The Tokyo International Forum is a multi-purpose exhibition center comprised of eight main halls of various sizes, exhibition spaces, and other facilities. The structure features swooping curves of steel and glass, with an exterior design resembling an elongated boat. It serves as a base for carrying out a wide range of cultural activities, a place for creating and exchanging various information, and a hub for international exchanges. The Tokyo International Forum, located in Tokyo’s central Marunouchi district, is a convention and arts center equipped with a range of facilities, including eight small-to-large-size halls, 34 conference rooms, a symbolic glass atrium, a plant-filled ground-level plaza, a variety of shops, and restaurants, and an art museum. The Forum is visited by around 23 million people each year and serves as a center for promoting and communicating comprehensive culture and information. The Forum hosts a diverse program of events throughout the year at its distinctive and varied halls and conference rooms, including international conferences, ceremonies, academic meetings, exhibitions, concerts, musicals, and fashion shows. People of all ages from various backgrounds gather here to interact and enjoy the vast array of culture and information on offer. The Tokyo International Forum is also highly rated for its architecture, and it’s known as one of Tokyo’s leading landmarks. Boasting many attractive features in its construction and facilities, the Forum provides plenty of aesthetically pleasing points and enjoyable attractions, ways to pass the time for all visitors, from event participants to those just dropping by to have a look.
Other Convention Centers in Japan
- ICC Kyoto, previously called the Kyoto International Conference Hall, was designed by architect Sachio Otani. Otani chose a trapezoidal shape as the basis for the huge conference center. The shape repeats on different scales and thrusts throughout the complex. The various functions such as the conference, press, administrative, and visitor areas are organized across different levels. The exposed concrete serves in part to clad the load-bearing steel structure. The result is few vertical walls or columns. ICC Kyoto opened in 1966 with an addition in 1973, with ongoing modernization since. The entire facility provides 156,000 m² of meeting space. It consists of the main Conference Hall with a large meeting room (capacity 2,000) and several smaller rooms, an Annex Hall (capacity 1,500) and Event Hall, with the Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto nearby. It is accessible (the Karasyma stop) via the Kyoto Municipal Subway.
- Kyoto International Exhibition Hall Miyako Messe is a large exhibition venue – one of two in Kyoto – located in the neighborhood of Okazaki near Heian Shrine in the Okazaki museum district of Kyoto. The Miyako Messe has three spacious exhibition halls plus a special exhibition hall. Many of the exhibitions and trade fairs are organized by traditional Kyoto industries such as kimono and other Kyoto-based arts and crafts manufacturers. However, more contemporary Kyoto industries are also prominent. The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts – Fureaikan in the basement of the Miyako Messe is a superb display of literary hundreds of Japanese crafts. Free to enter, the museum’s exhibits are captioned in both Japanese and English. Also in the basement is the Japan Design Museum established by the Japan Designers Association. A large general parking lot on the second floor accommodates 163 cars). The venue is also accessible via the Tozai Subway Line at the Higashiyama station.
- Fukuoka International Congress Center caters to a wide range of events. Fukuoka International Congress Center is equipped with sliding walls to adjust to the style and scale of each convention, as well as an organizer’s office. Simultaneous interpreter booths and audio/visual equipment are also available to respond to the high demands in this information age, making it a state-of-the-art facility in a waterside location–a state-of-the-art hall in a tranquil setting. With a capacity of 1,000 fixed seats, it is used for a range of events, from international conferences to ceremonies and concerts. Six wheelchair spaces are provided. In addition, Fukuoka boasts world-class accessibility, with a direct link to the airport via subway, meaning that the city center is only a 10-minute ride away. As a result, Fukuoka has gained an enviable reputation among foreign visitors as a city that is easy to get around.
- Kobe Convention Center serves as the core of the Global MICE Strategic City of Kobe. It is a giant convention center composed of the Kobe International Conference Center, Kobe International Exhibition Hall, and Kobe Portopia Hotel. The three facilities are connected by corridors, allowing for the safe and smooth movement of delegates during large-scale events, which utilize these facilities all at once. Kobe International Conference Center has a main hall, with a capacity of 692 people, equipped with six-language simultaneous interpretation equipment and sound and lighting adjustment equipment. The International Conference Room can accommodate 360 people (in a theater-style layout) where UN and inter-governmental conferences have been held. The Reception Hall has removable partitions to broaden the usage of the adjacent International Conference Room. In addition, there are 21 medium to small meeting rooms, including one with a maximum capacity of 200 people. Furthermore, each floor has a spacious lounge and lobby that can be reserved for exclusive use for exhibitions, poster sessions, etc. Kobe is a world leader in the medical industry with state-of-the-art research facilities, hospitals, and a significant presence of biomedical companies and organizations, allowing the city to play host to many medical conferences.
- The Aichi Sky Expo is a world-class exhibition center. The exhibition center is directly connected to the Chubu international airport, making it an ideal base for overseas visitors. Developers chose an English nickname to make it easier for overseas visitors to understand, settling on the word “Sky” to create an image of a bird spreading its wings toward the future, and “Expo,” a word people all over the world are familiar with and already in use. In addition, Kyoto is adding a new hall to its exhibition center. The New Hall (2,000 ㎡) and adjacent, existing Event Hall (3,000 ㎡) may be used simultaneously as a 5,000 ㎡ space, allowing large-scale events of more than 4,000 attendees to be held in one zone. This highly independent attendee-only zone achieves the perfect presentation for ceremonies, awards, parties, events, exhibitions, business meetings, and more.
- The Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, partially solar-powered, the 10,000-seat venue cost an estimated $300 million.
- The new Tokyo Stadium has a capacity for approximately 68,000-80,000 people. The old stadium, predominantly used for football, was torn down and renamed to avoid commercialization.
- Osaka International Convention Center, also known as Grand Cube Osaka, is a convention center in Osaka, Japan. Located adjacent to the convention center is the underground Nakanoshima Station served by Keihan Electric Railway Nakanoshima Line as the terminus. The facility is in Nakanoshima, in the center of Osaka. This facility can be used for various activities such as different types of conferences, concerts, exhibitions, providing a high-quality service emphasizing bringing people of different nationalities together through multiple exchanges.
- The Nagaragawa Convention Center is a multi-purpose convention center in Gifu, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. The Gifu Memorial Center, the Nagaragawa Sports Plaza, and Mirai Hall are part of the World Event and Convention Complex Gifu. The convention center was built to promote Gifu as a good location for large conventions and has many enticements to attract both domestic and international groups to hold events in the city. The famed architect Tadao Ando designed the structure, giving it a unique, egg-shaped look from the outside, making it immediately recognizable.
- The Nagoya Congress Center is a multi-purpose convention center in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. The center was constructed for the World Design Exhibition. Other venues included Nagoya Castle and Nagoya Port. It has 28 meeting rooms. The amount of exhibition space is 3,625 square meters.
- Okinawa Convention Center (OCC) is in the seaside area, Ginowan city, on the west coast of central Okinawa island. OCC is a multi-function complex with a theater, exhibition hall, and 12 large and small conference rooms. The theater offers a unique space for presenting classical concerts, musicals, live concerts, dramatic performances, ceremonies, and employee award events that are guaranteed to create lasting memories. With a maximum capacity of 5,000 people, the exhibition hall is a multipurpose space used for product fairs, exhibitions, major conventions, large receptions, concerts, and sporting events. Conference rooms can hold corporate meetings or workshops. OCC is fully equipped with handicapped accessible facilities such as toilets, spaces for disabled parking, and wheelchair lifts.
Exhibiting in Japan
As one of the world’s largest markets, Japan is often viewed as the “Gateway to the East.” In Japan, exhibitions are a vital means of exchanging information and forming relationships. Strict Japanese protocol demands that some type of preliminary relationship is created before any kind of sales occurs—and exhibitions provide critical introductions and face time.
Some exhibiting tips:
- Package booths are often called shell schemes.
- Back walls are typically modular aluminum system structures. Typical back wall height in most shows is a unique 2.7m
- “Needle-punch” carpet is the standard. On the other hand, thick, Western-style “loop” or “pile” carpet is not typical in Japan and can be cost-prohibitive.
- Wallpaper is commonly used for wall finishes. In addition, horizontal work surfaces are often laminated, but laminated finishes for entire structures can destroy the exhibit budget.
- Platforms are hardly ever used and are viewed as a “cultural barrier” for attendees to enter your booth space.
- Rigging and overhead signage are rarely allowed due to strict fire and earthquake regulations. Insurance certification is cost-prohibitive.
- PMS (Pantone Matching Systems) are used and are understood by Japanese suppliers.
- Graphic printing in Japan is high quality. Graphics are often mounted to foam board type substrates or applied like wallpaper to wall surfaces.
- The Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (JASRAC) handles licensing for any public broadcasting of music. Don’t try to bypass it!
- Electricity in Japan is 100V / 50HZ in Eastern Japan and 100V / 60HZ in Western Japan.
- Outlets in Japan consist of two vertical blades (no ground pin), with a look similar to US plugs.
- Electricity consumption costs (rated Per KW) are charged directly to the exhibitor from the show organizer.
- Most consumer electronics and AV have their own transformers built-in; therefore, an additional transformer is not required.
- Double-deck booths are uncommon. Only the largest shows allow exhibitors to have a 2nd story.
- At this point, there are no drayage or material handling fees in Japan. Your contractor will deliver your booth directly to the space.
- You may be charged a recycling or disposal fee. (Rate is based upon types of materials used).
- Due to limited space, storage costs are at a premium.
- Installation time for most shows is two or three days, depending on the size of the show. Contractors usually plan to have the booth completed in two days. If there is a third day of set-up, contractors save it to finalize details like product placement, equipment, and on-site orders.
- You can set up your booth yourself and do not have to use union labor, except for technical electrical work. A Japanese-certified electrician must do all electrical work. However, you can plug in your own lights if you have a pop-up display. Most electrical work is included in the application fee for package booths.
- Labor hours are typically from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Overtime starts at 6:30 p.m., after a one-hour break, and is 1.25 times standard rates. At 10 p.m., higher rates apply, usually 2 or 3 times the normal rate. Saturdays and Sundays are billed at straight time. Workers are allowed two 15- minute breaks, a one-hour lunch, and a one-hour dinner.
- In Japan, the US and European fabric certifications carry little or no weight. They must be fire tested and approved by the Japanese Fire Marshal Association. Booth height must be approved by the fire marshal if above a specific limit (see below). Warning: Japan fire marshals are very strict!
- Most exhibitions have a maximum height allowance of 3.6, 4.5, or occasionally 6 meters for larger exhibits (aka, not “in-line.”). This height limitation is due to strict building codes and the high frequency of earthquakes. Show management rarely grants height or setback variances. Back wall heights are 2.7M for “in-line” booths. Note: Shows in Japan do not require a “line of sight” setback rule.
- Get approval in writing for your booth design from show management to make sure it meets codes and regulations. If you have an exhibit partner in Japan, ask them to obtain exhibit-design approval from the show organizer.
- Booth hospitality is expected. Typical items include beverages: green tea, water, and coffee. Food is not served since it is considered rude to eat in front of others in a business setting. Alcohol is not permitted unless it is your product, and then only tasting portions are acceptable. The show organizer must approve all food and drink.
- Very detailed graphic information or product displays should be prominently displayed towards the aisles to allow potential clients to view and research your product.
- The Japanese consumption tax is 10%, but in 2021, the government dropped it to 5% or 8% for some goods or services because of COVID-19. (non-refundable) If your exhibit plans call for an exhibition in 2022, confirm the VAT.
- Smoking is not permitted in the exhibition halls, except in designated areas.
- Printed literature is very popular with attendees, and Japanese trade show visitors end up carrying large amounts of paper. Literature should be placed in well-made bags, as attendees may use these for some time after the show. That’s why bags are prized as giveaways and reused for years. The higher the bag quality, the better the corporate image.
- Giveaways are generally well-received. Hand-held fans are popular giveaways in the summer.
- Lead tracking with apps or machines is discouraged because of privacy laws. However, collecting business cards is an important business transaction in Japan.
- Translate all graphics into Japanese if your primary target audience is Japanese attendees. Hire a certified translator if you do not have Japanese-speaking staff.
- If the exhibitor has not removed all booth materials at the end of the show, the organizer will charge a recycling fee. Most trash is picked up at the end of the day in front of the booth. Garbage fees are included in the organizer’s space fees, but exhibitors are expected to organize their trash.
- Storage space is at such a premium that “build and burn” is the norm. As a result, many exhibits are simply tossed after a one-time use, although Japan, like other industrialized countries, promotes sustainability for exhibitions. Recyclable aluminum extrusions play a vital role in that initiative.
- Advertise all licenses, certifications, and affiliations. Being a member of any organization shows your company is committed to industrial cooperation and that you are part of a more extensive network.
- Business cards should be printed in both English and Japanese.
- Position a Japanese staffer at the entrance to your booth. Many Japanese executives have a tremendous fear of not being able to respond when spoken to in English. In addition, entering a booth with a non-Japanese face looking back at them is intimidating, even if the person in the booth speaks Japanese well.
- Put your most important product or service front and center. Build relationships carefully. Business in Japan is all about relationships.
Working in Japan as a Business Visitor
Although many don’t Japanese speak English, the educational system is increasing its efforts to make English more accessible.
Japan has a very efficient train system. It is so accurate you can set your watch to the schedule.
Japan has some no-smoking rules and restricted smoking areas, but there are few regulations governing smoking in restaurants. Many establishments have smoking and non-smoking areas, but a movement is underway to introduce more stringent smoking policies in restaurants. E-cigarettes have become very popular.
Because Japan experiences the recurrence of natural climate events such as heavy rains, earthquakes, and tsunamis, updates to cultural heritage sites such as the Himeji Castle, the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and Tosho Gu are done regularly.
Smaller local airports have been enlarged to handle tourists—27 million tourists visited Japan in 2019. In addition, English signage is showing up more often in Japan to help visitors find their way around. Plus, there are plans to use robots to help visitors with language translation.
Working within the Japanese Culture
When exchanging business cards, both parties should read and study the card. It is extremely impolite to write notes on the card at the show or to shove it in your pocket.
At the start of the year, people often stamp a New Year’s greeting in Japanese on their cards in red before giving them out.
The general rule is that foreigners do not bow. Instead, it is better to smile warmly and genuinely and offer a handshake. Japanese handshakes will often be weak; this does not indicate their assertiveness of character. In fact, a firm handshake may make a person seem less intelligent.
Japanese people do not generally touch each other–no hugging or shoulder patting.
Avoid first names unless you are requested to use them. For example, Mr. or Ms. is appropriate.
Punctuality is essential.
In a meeting, the most important person usually sits facing the door. The people around him or her are traditionally ranked accordingly. Guests are usually VIPs at Japanese functions, so you will likely be in the middle facing the door if you are a guest.
Japan does not allow the use of head-to-head comparisons. This is particularly important for companies in the medical space, where head-to-head studies with competing products exist.
Be mindful of body language. Observe corporate hierarchies. Understand the concept of “saving face,” a core social value in Japan, signifying a desire or strategy to avoid humiliation or embarrassment and maintain dignity and preserve reputation.
Logistics are a major challenge. Book transportation well in advance. Do not assume the organizer has room blocks at nearby hotels. Event spaces are limited for dinners and meetings. Book early!
Problem-solving is not the same as decision-making. And decision making is a process and a group activity with participants from all levels of the company. At exhibitions, the decision-making process can occur over several days, starting with a visit from a mid-level executive who identifies a solution, followed by executives of increasing importance and seniority visiting the exhibit to gather information and establish a relationship. Again, decision-making is a group endeavor.
The company takes precedence over the individual, which is reflected in everyday conversation.
If the price is out of line with expectations, rather than say no, the Japanese client says nothing—almost ever. Plus, Japanese companies work with partners where there is already an existing relationship.
Japanese culture frowns on self-promotion, and in their modesty, the Japanese are constantly apologizing, even when there is no apparent reason for the apology.
In the West, people claim to learn from their mistakes; in Japan, mistakes cause shame. For that reason—fear of making a mistake–people in Japan are slow to give input or comment. Instead, they defer to a group consensus.
Organizers in Japan, the second-largest exhibition market in Asia, have been running events post-Covid since the third quarter of 2020. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned from these re-opened events, as well as our collected experience over almost two decades, to tell you what’s coming next for events in Japan.