How Starbucks Won the Hearts of Japanese Coffee Lovers?

Why is Starbucks so popular and beloved in Japan? Was it a stroke of luck or a carefully crafted marketing strategy? And how did iconic Japanese elements like green tea and sakura cherry blossoms find their way onto their menu?

Let’s discover the story of its first international venture and unravel the secrets behind Starbucks’ success in Japan.

Starbucks’ Joint Venture: A Strategic Expansion to Japan 

Starbucks, the famous coffee shop in Seattle, entered Japan in 1996. This was its first international experience, and the company didn’t embark on the adventure without a proper plan. Instead, they entered into a 50-50 joint venture with Sazaby League, an established retailer and restaurant chain in Japan. This partnership allowed Starbucks to lay a solid foundation in Japan. They leveraged Sazaby’s deep knowledge of the local market, opened stores in several locations, and ended the partnership in 2004.

Today, they own more than 1600 stores across the country.

Starbucks’ triumph in Japan is based on more than its strategic partnership. It’s about how the brand adapted its marketing strategy to create a compelling experience, inviting Japanese to try a new way of enjoying coffee.

They changed the following to adapt to the Japanese market:

  • Smaller serving sizes on the menu because Japanese people are used to smaller portion sizes
  • Lower sugar levels in drinks as consumers prefer them to be less sweet
  • Additional matcha-flavored items on the menu to cater to cultural taste
  • Premium products at a budget-friendly price to target a diverse audience
  • Call customers by a number instead of their name to pick up their order, which respects the privacy

Starbucks recognized early on how crucial research into local preferences and Japanese consumers would be to their success. That set the foundation for why Japanese customers adore the brand today, as Starbucks invested the time and resources to get to know its target audience.

Marketing Strategies That Set Starbucks Apart 

1- Creating a Cozy Living-Room Atmosphere  

Starbucks entered Japan at a time when the coffee scene was dominated by kissaten, small coffee shops reminiscent of tea houses with a simple menu that offered black coffee only. These minimalist but charming establishments were sprinkled throughout Tokyo.

Starbucks went beyond simply serving black coffee and instead aimed to create a completely reimagined café experience. The brand successfully transitioned from being a large coffee chain in America to a personalized, community-oriented coffee shop in Japan. They seamlessly integrated their stores with local culture, as evident in the architectural designs that reflect the beauty of their surroundings. For instance, you can discover the charm of a 100-year-old townhouse in Kyoto or an Edo-era building housing a Starbucks in Saitama. 

Moreover, they differentiated themselves from the kissaten culture by selling high-quality coffee beans from overseas. Also, they prohibited smoking in their stores, despite most Japanese cafes. That didn’t stop people from trying Starbucks. In fact, these strategies led to its popularity as they opened its doors to a more diverse audience. 

Today, Starbucks welcomes students cramming for exams, professionals discussing business, couples on dates, or tourists taking a break.

2- Cherishing Japan’s Seasons through Seasonal Marketing

Starbucks demonstrated an understanding of Japan’s love for seasonal items. For example, Starbucks launches its special and time-limited cherry blossom-themed menu each spring, featuring sakura-flavored drinks, foods, and pink merchandise. In summer, you can find melon- and strawberry-flavored items on the menu, while they serve Christmas-inspired drinks during winter.

3- Starbucks Collaboration with LINE

On the digital front, Starbucks collaborated with LINE, a popular Japanese messaging app. The launch of the digital LINE Starbucks card in 2019 was a game-changer, reaching over a million users in just 2.5 months. They implemented a rewards and order system that allowed customers to accumulate points for purchases and redeem them for free drinks and other rewards. This enabled the company to increase its customer loyalty, leading to more repeat purchases and higher sales. 


Starbucks’ success in Japan can be attributed to its local strategic partnership, understanding of the market, localization of its products and services, and smart use of digital platforms such as LINE. These examples show how powerful a localization and marketing strategy can be if planned and executed properly. With a tailored strategy, you can elevate your brand in Japan and increase brand awareness and loyal customers.

Looking to Enter the Japanese market? 

If your brand is looking to break into the Japanese market, we at COVUE enable you to grow your brand in Japan. Our comprehensive services encompass localization, marketing, and import compliance to ensure a seamless transition into this market.

Sources: Starbucks, Digital Marketing for Asia, Voyapon, Japan Wonder Travel


Fast Fashion Market in Japan: Uncovering Competitive Dynamics

The fast fashion market in Japan is experiencing a skyrocketing popularity. The market size is projected to be over US$50.23bn in 2023. This offers a great business opportunity for foreign brands who wish to expand their business in the country.

However, navigating this industry can be challenging because of its ever-changing trends.

Competitive Dynamics of Japan’s Fast Fashion Market 

To succeed in the Japanese fast fashion market, it’s crucial to understand your target audience’s demographics and preferences. By staying attuned to the ever-shifting consumer demands, you can strategically position your brand to thrive in this dynamic market landscape. 

  • Consumers have become more conscious of sustainable products 
  • They prefer personalized experiences offline and online

Read more about the preferences of Japanese consumers. 

  1. Affordable Style: Renowned international brands like Zara and Shein are offering budget-friendly options.
  2. Trendiness: Brands offer the newest trends from the catwalk delivered to the home of the consumers.
  3. Quick Adaptation: Brands are staying relevant among their competition with special incentives and shopping experiences depending on the market developments.

Retail and eCommerce in Japan’s Fashion World

Japanese fashion markets are a blend of eCommerce and brick-and-mortar stores. While fashion owns 27.8% of Japan’s eCommerce market, physical stores continue to hold a special place in consumers’ hearts. In fact, Japan is known for its unique in-person shopping experiences. Virtual and augmented reality technologies offer fresh ways to engage with customers online and offline.

The Leading Players in the Market

Competition in the Japanese fast fashion market is fierce, with major domestic and international brands competing for attention. You’ll face several challenges as a foreign fashion brand entering the Japanese market. From cultural differences to the challenges of the competition, it’s crucial to have a good strategy.

Homegrown brands like Uniqlo and GU hold a significant market share, while international brands such as H&M and Zara compete alongside them. Other successful brands carve out their niches and offer innovative designs and incentives, like Forever 21 and Shein.

Forever 21 

Forever 21, a well-known fast fashion brand, exited the Japanese market in 2019. They attributed their departure to the intense competition and rapid growth of online shopping.

However, the brand re-entered the market in 2023 with a fresh approach and emphasis on sustainability. Initially, they started with online sales and a showroom-type store in Tokyo. Later this year, they opened their first physical store in Osaka’s LaLaPort shopping mall.

Forever 21 intends to open 15 stores and achieve 10 billion yen in sales by 2028. To help achieve this goal, they collaborated with Adastria Co., a large Japanese apparel company. This collaboration focuses on strategic product planning and marks a shift from fast fashion to offering high-quality and environment-friendly products.


Shein, managed by a Singapore-based Chinese company, is a rising star in the SPA market. To capture the attention of the Japanese market, the brand strategically engaged with Tokyo Girls Collection events and established pop-up shops across the country.

Embracing the Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) model, Shein requires customers to purchase products online via QR codes. As the brand shows its fast growth potential in the Japanese market, its success is evident.


Japan’s fast fashion market presents brands with both opportunities and challenges. To successfully engage Japanese consumers, brands must understand and adapt to their unique preferences. You can create a strong brand presence by staying on top of the latest trends, pushing for innovation, and delivering personalized experiences.

Ready to Expand Your Business? 

Experience exponential brand growth in Japan’s vibrant fashion market with COVUE as your trusted partner. Our market knowledge and expertise guarantee a solid foundation for your brand’s expansion, fostering long-term success and recognition.

Sources: Japan Times, Statista, Asahi, Fibre2Fashion, Global News Wire