As business landscapes evolve, exploring new markets and expanding overseas have become a key priority for many Singapore companies. This is particularly evident among Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), which are increasingly recognising the immense potential that lies beyond their domestic borders. The DBS annual SME Pulse Check survey conducted at the end of 2022 revealed that over 60% of SMEs in Singapore have indicated overseas expansion as a key business priority. This is contributed by the reopening of borders along with support from government schemes such as the enhanced Enterprise Financing Scheme announced in Budget 2023, which enables local companies to gain access to financing across all stages of growth.
Among the array of enticing markets, Japan has emerged as a particularly alluring destination for Singaporean businesses. Apart from having a large consumer market backed by sizable economy, bilateral agreements were signed between both nations in May 2022 to boost the flow of entrepreneurs and enterprises by promoting greater access to start-up and innovation ecosystems. Initiatives such as business matching sessions to connect Singapore and Japanese firms with accelerators, business partners and investors, are put in place to empower businesses to build market knowledge and tap into new opportunities, deepening their networks in the process.
Drawn by the influx of tourists into Japan in a post-pandemic era, five-star resort hotel operators from Singapore, Capella Hotels & Resorts and Banyan Tree Holdings, have announced plans to enter the Japanese market. Capella Hotels & Resorts intends to open its first Japanese hotel in Kyoto as early as the summer of 2025, located on Yamatooji-dori in the historic Miyagawa-chō district. The office of renowned architect Kengo Kuma, which designed the Japan National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is supervising the construction. On the other hand, Banyan Tree Holdings plans to open flagship hotels in Kyoto and Hakone from now through 2026. These hotels aim to provide signature standards of service that will serve as a benchmark for all future Banyan Tree locations in Japan. The presence of Singapore hotel groups in Japan contributes to enhancing tourism infrastructure while attracting affluent visitors to experience premium accommodations.
Shifting the focus to a more mass-market brand, Singapore design studio Beyond the Vines launched its first international pop-up store in Tokyo in March 2023 as it seeks to grow its international presence. The brand, known for its minimalist and contemporary designs, has gained popularity in Singapore and other Southeast Asian markets. Its entry into Japan reflects its recognition of the country’s vibrant fashion scene, and the opening in Tokyo allows the brand to tap into the city’s fashion-conscious consumer base. While the initial pop-up store only lasted for a week, Beyond the Vines has since launched another pop-up at Miyashita Park North in Shibuya, which will remain at the location for a month until the end of July 2023. The expansion demonstrates Singapore’s fashion industry’s potential to resonate with the Japanese market.
On the technology front, Singapore-headquartered Fintech company M-DAQ Global has announced the opening of its Japanese office in Fukuoka in September 2022. The company specialises in providing currency conversion and payment solutions, enabling businesses to transact seamlessly across different currencies. It sees opening a subsidiary office in Fukuoka as a natural fit for a myriad of reasons, including its similarity to Singapore in terms of the active collaboration between private and public sectors to develop innovative solutions for business needs and quality of life improvements. M-DAQ has since commenced discussions with the Fukuoka City Government, Kyushu Railway Company and other entities to improve the foreign currency user experience when making retail and travel transactions. This expansion highlights Singapore’s ability to deliver advanced financial services on an international scale.
In addition to Singapore companies that entered the Japan market recently, others are exploring pathways through trade exhibitions. The Franchising and Licensing Association (FLA) has led a delegation made up of popular Singapore brands including Crystal Jade, Five Star Chicken Rice, Playmade and iJooz, in forming the Singapore Pavilion exhibiting at the 40th Japan International Franchise Show in March 2023. Through this event, local companies sought potential business partners to carry their brand, while gaining an initial sense of their product acceptance in Japan.
These activities underscore the increasing interest and capabilities of Singaporean companies in capturing opportunities in the Japanese market. With that being said, entering the Japanese market presents a set of unique challenges for Singaporean companies, ranging from language and communication barriers to cultural nuances and intense competition. Overcoming these obstacles is crucial for successful market entry.
Enterprise Singapore assists Singaporean companies in their internationalisation efforts by providing various support initiatives, including grants and market access programs, to facilitate market entry. For instance, the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) Grant offers financial support to Singaporean companies to defray a significant portion of eligible costs associated with market entry activities, helping businesses assess market potential, establish networks and promote their products or services.
Hailing from Japan, JETRO (Japan External Trade Organisation) operates in Singapore with the mission of promoting trade and investment between Japan and Singapore. ‘Invest Japan’ serves as a platform to attract and assist Singaporean companies interested in establishing a presence in Japan. Through this initiative, JETRO offers support services including consultation services on company incorporation, networking opportunities and temporary business office facilities in Japan among others to help Singapore companies make a more informed decision prior to market entry.
IGPI Singapore offers a range of services to support Singapore businesses in their overseas expansion. Services can be broadly divided into:
● Management consulting, where we help companies identify growth opportunities, develop strategies to establish a presence in the target market. In the process, we often employ business matching techniques to find suitable local partners which could be crucial to successful market entry
● M&A advisory, where we guide companies through the end-to-end deal process, ensuring successful transactions
Our past and current engagements include:
● Supporting a local F&B chain in its market entry into Japan, including performing a market study, identifying and selecting the most suitable strategic partner
● Supporting a local wholesaler and retailer in its market entry into Japan through business matching, by shortlisting promising partners and facilitating discussions towards the formation of the partnership
● Organising missions trips to Tokyo with various industry associations, where we led delegations made up of senior executives from Singapore companies to gain insight into doing business in Japan
IGPI Singapore can support your company in its market entry into Japan and maximise its chances of success – Get in touch with us!
 The Straits Times: Exploring new markets, expanding overseas key priorities for most Singapore SMEs: Survey (21 Mar 2023): https://www.straitstimes.com/business/exploring-new-markets-and-expanding-overseas-are-top-priorities-for-most-s-pore-smes-survey
 For more details, please visit: https://www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/financial-support/enterprise-financing-scheme
 CNA: Singapore, Japan ink agreements on promoting start-ups, digital transformation for governments (26 May 2023): https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/singapore-japan-ink-agreements-promoting-start-ups-digital-transformation-governments-2709716
 Nikkei Asia: Thai, Singapore hotel groups target Japan’s tourism boom (26 Jun 2023): https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Travel-Leisure/Thai-Singapore-hotel-groups-target-Japan-s-tourism-boom
 Banyan Tree Group Press Release (Jun 2022): https://www.banyantree.com/assets/2022-06/220624-banyan-tree-group-debuts-japan.pdf
 Inside Retail: Singapore’s Beyond The Vines to open first store in Japan (15 Mar 2023): https://insideretail.asia/2023/03/15/singapores-beyond-the-vines-opens-first-store-in-japan/
 Technode Global: Singapore’s M-DAQ Global Opens Japan Office as part of international expansion (13 Sep 2022): https://technode.global/2022/09/13/singapores-m-daq-global-opens-japan-office-as-part-of-international-expansion/
 For more details, please visit: https://www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/financial-support/market-readiness-assistance-grant
 For more details, please visit: https://www.jetro.go.jp/singapore/investinjapan.html
Mr. Ryota Yamazaki is the Director of IGPI Singapore. Before joining IGPI, Ryota worked in Deloitte Consulting in Singapore, where he was a leader in the areas of Consumer Business and Supply Chain & Logistics in Southeast Asia. His areas of expertise are Strategy & Operations such as market entry, Route-to-Market (RTM) strategy, business due diligence, and PMI. He started his career with A.P. Moller-Maersk Group as a management trainee and also worked for Kurt Salmon, where he had vast project experiences especially in Supply Chain & Logistics for the retail and consumer goods clients. Ryota graduated from the Faculty of Economics at Keio University.
Mr. Zhi Hao Thean is an Associate at IGPI Singapore. Zhi Hao started his career with IGPI. He graduated from Singapore Management University with a Bachelor of Business Management, majoring in Finance. During his time at IGPI, he is involved in multiple engagements pertaining to market entry, strategy development and benchmarking studies across diverse industries.
Industrial Growth Platform Inc. (IGPI) is one of Japan’s premium management consulting and investment firms headquartered in Tokyo with offices in Singapore, Hanoi, Shanghai and Melbourne. IGPI was established in 2007 by former members of Industrial Revitalization Corporation of Japan (IRCJ), a USD 100 billion sovereign wealth fund focusing on turn-around projects in Japan. IGPI has 14 institutional investors, including Nomura Holdings, SMBC, KDDI, Recruit and Sumitomo Corporation to name a few. IGPI has vast experience of supporting Fortune 500s, Govt. agencies, universities, SMEs and funded startups across Asia and beyond for their strategic business needs such as market entry and growth strategies, various aspects of M&A, innovation advisory, new business creation etc. IGPI is consciously an industry agnostic firm (work in 10+ industries) and this coupled with it making our own venture investments (30+ till date) adds to our uniqueness. One of our recent investment endeavours has been a VC fund in Europe (EUR 100mn fund) along with Honda, Panasonic, JBIC etc. (a couple of our investees are now unicorns). IGPI group has ~6,000 employees on a consolidated basis.
* This material is intended merely for reference purposes based on our experience and is not intended to be comprehensive and does not constitute as advice. Information contained in this material has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but IGPI does not represent or warrant the quality, completeness and accuracy of such information. All rights reserved by IGPI.