Despite the liberalisation of the import system in Japan, it is still difficult to penetrate the Japanese market because of its structure. As a rule, most of the goods are freely authorised to be imported. However, some products are subject to a license, especially products restricted by quotas (rice, wheat, flour, leather, fish breeding sector). A certain number of agricultural products are also subject to a license (animals, plants, perishable foodstuffs). This system is supervised by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Some ministries may also be involved (notably the Ministry of Agriculture).
All products affecting the consumers' health have to go through the preliminary request of a license to be launched on the market, and have to do so before they are able to be imported into Japan. The Ministry of Health is in charge of assessing the goods included in this category. It is very difficult, even today, to import, for example, cosmetics in Japan, and pharmaceutical products are very much regulated. The procedure of adaptation of the products to the Japanese standards are made difficult because of Japan's specific standards, often different from the internationally admitted standards. Finally, there are quarantine measures for the import of living animals on the Japanese territory.
However, under international pressure (especially from the European Union and the USA), Japan has set up a certain number of structures in order to help companies who are eager to sell in Japan, such as JETRO (JAPAN EXTERNAL TRADE ORGANISATION) .
Japan's transformation in the past few years into a model based on the mechanisms of the market has drastically altered their economy. Problems notwithstanding, Japan's market importance of 127.8 million consumers has always attracted exporters as it facilitates the entry of goods and services into the entire south-east Asia market. In order to penetrate the Japanese market one must be willing and able to make product changes, have an in-depth knowledge of local customs, and be prepared to make a substantial investment in human as well as material resources. It is also recommended to use the services of an interpreter/consultant if you are approaching this market for the first time. Having a local presence is recommended even for the short term. This could be in the form of a small representative office that will keep a check on the day-to-day activities of agents and monitor activities involving product promotion. Japan offers promising growth prospects in the value-added sectors, but is weak in the sector of non-processed products. Cultural changes over the last decade (more and more workers spending time outside of their work-environment) has created a strong demand for travel, entertainment, and leisure activities.
JETRO ( Japanese office for foreign trade) is the country's export promotion agency which assists exporters to gather information regarding opportunities in the Japanese market.