What Is a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in Japan? And How to Prepare It

What Is a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in Japan? And How to Prepare It

Japan—a land filled with natural disaster variety—provides abundant opportunity for businesses to need a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), 事業継続計画 = jigyou keizoku keikaku

But if BCPs are news to you, you are not alone. 

According to a May 2021 survey on business continuity planning in Japan, only 17.6% of the 11,242 corporate respondents stated they had a BCP in place.

The primary reason for not having a BCP? Not knowing how to create it was the top answer at 41.9%. 

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Considering a BCP for your business? Here's a quick guide explaining what it is, what it addresses, and how to draw up your very own. 

What is a Business Continuity Plan? And does my business need one? 

Japan's guidelines surrounding BCPs were first established in 2005. Since then, the policies have been updated to increase their practicality and emphasize non-natural disaster events. 

The primary objective of Business Continuity Measures (BCM) is to help mitigate business setbacks and protect employees' lives in the face of a disruptive event. 

It is somewhat similar to a disaster preparedness plan. Yet, a BCP covers a wider range of actions because it encompasses natural disasters and other possible emergencies that could hinder your business's operations while articulating your strategy in the face of such events.

Here's a comparison chart provided by Japan's Disaster Management Bureau, which shows the points covered in a disaster management plan vs. a business continuity plan.

Image: "Business Continuity Guidelines," Third Edition, Pg.10., Disaster Management Bureau 

The benefits of a BCP include minimizing the damage of an interruptive event, visualizing your essential operations and priorities, identifying potential weaknesses, and bolstering your company against risks—all of which will strengthen your business as well as boost trust with stakeholders and clients. 

What incidents should be covered in a Business Continuity Plan? 

The Business Continuity Guidelines state, "These Guidelines cover natural disasters which disrupt the business (especially the supply of products and services) of enterprises. However, the BCM can also cover any incidents which may suspend business operations such as large-scale accidents, communicable disease pandemics, terrorist acts and disruption of supply chains." 

Since a company is meant to prepare for any incidents that could disrupt their specific business, each business will likely have different areas of concern and priority. 

But, broadly speaking, corporations can look at the following 3 categories, according to HR Note:

1. Natural disasters

Events such as earthquakes, flash floods, typhoons, and other extreme weather events. Measures for such events could include: 

  • Evacuation from the premises

  • Safety confirmation of employees

  • Checking for structural damage 

  • Emergency response for saving lives

  • Restoring operations that have stopped

  • Emergency contact list and priority of contact

  • Handling data after the power is restored

2. External factors

Events in this category include bankruptcy of suppliers, cyber attacks, terrorist attacks, etc. Measures for such events could include:

  • Procedures for explaining the situation to the public

  • List of alternative suppliers

  • Alternative IT equipment systems

  • Safety confirmation of employees

  • Contact list of business partners and priority of contact

  • Data backups, recovery methods, and alternative data storage

3. Internal factors

Events such as terrorism, leakage of secrets by employees, the resignation of executives due to misconduct, etc. Measures for such events could include:

  • Steps and templates for creating an apology letter

  • Scenarios for handling different cases

  • Procedures for creating a press release and holding a press conference

  • Contact list of business partners and priorities for contact

  • Procedure for reviewing business contents

  • Prioritization of operations in the event of a drastic reduction in the workforce (e.g., which departments should remain operational)

When assessing the impact of a business interruption, the Guidelines suggests considering the implications on categories such as human resources, profit, sales, financing, customers, the social credibility of an enterprise, continuation or early recovery of the supply of critical products and services, ensuring core functions of the business, maintaining information and information systems, etc. 

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How to prepare your company's Business Continuity Plan

In general, there is no "standard" format, and BCPs are written in free form. 

Various Japanese templates exist online that you can use to create your business's BCP measures, along with English-language resources created by the Disaster Management Bureau and Chusho METI. 

Here are resources to know of before creating your BCP: 

  1. Business Continuity Guidelines, Third Edition (English PDF), Disaster Management Bureau

  2. Guidelines on Formulating and Implementing BCPs for Small and Medium Enterprises (English-language forms and worksheets, PDF, pgs. 7-4 to 7-37), Chusho METI

  3. Operational Guidelines for Formulating BCPs for Small and Medium Enterprises (Japanese), Chusho METI

  4. What Is Business Continuity?, The Business Continuity Institute

Keep in mind, the example forms provided are just one way of writing out your BCP. 

If the forms look too daunting to tackle, start by assessing the risks and potential disruptions particular to your business and prepare contingencies for those risks.

Rather than aiming for a perfect system from the start, the Guidelines suggest corporations focus on establishing good practice first and then gradually improve their business continuity capabilities by making continual improvements.

Basically, aim to revise your BCP as new circumstances and risks become known. 

Final steps to strengthen your Business Continuity Plan

Once your BCP is documented, you'll also want to have a plan in place for the following 3 points: 

1. Plan for implementing proactive measures

Businesses are strongly encouraged to enact proactive measures to secure company data and services.  

Cloud-based services, such as MailMate's virtual mail service, are an example of how businesses can continue operations without needing to go into the office in case of an extreme weather event or other business interruption.  

If the logic of cloud storage as being the safest place for your company data makes sense to you, the next logical step here is putting your corporate mail on the cloud.

2. Plan for implementing education and training

To maintain the effectiveness of your company's BCP, schedule training of all new hires and commit to ongoing education. 

Review your continuity measures with all staff to deepen knowledge of possible risks. Employees should practice implementing the plan to make sure there are no problems or weaknesses in your BCP. 

"In an emergency, people have no time to read manuals. In preparation for an emergency, therefore, it is important to train personnel in advance to make them familiar with BCPs and manuals and enable them to take action at any time." (Business Continuity Guidelines, Third Edition, Disaster Management Bureau)

3. Plan for implementing review and improvement

The person in charge of your business's BCP, along with your BCM secretariat, should evaluate the details of your BCP once a year or more frequently to ensure the effectiveness of your plan. 

Additionally, the management is encouraged to review your BCM when significant changes occur through external or internal factors. 

Consider your BCP a living document that should change, grow, and improve along with other aspects of your company's operations. 

From a reader who was in charge of his firm's BCP

"One thing I would add from experience,” says Stephen Turner, Representative Director & President of TS Japan Railway Travel Planning Company Limited, “most crises do not follow a plan, otherwise they probably would not be a crisis. So when devising a plan, there are some things that are a must-do (in appropriate situations) but there are other things where decisions will have to be made on the fly. It is important that everyone knows who can make those decisions, with alternatives if possible and ideally you list points that need to be considered for various scenarios (and possible actions). Although it is hoped that all actions and decisions made are the right ones, reality says there will be mistakes made. The important thing is that these are spotted quickly and plans are updated from the lessons learned. Although not a popular job, [have] someone who is experienced in the company’s business and operations be in charge of the plan, not the ‘unlucky’ junior staff member.”

Business Continuity Enhancement Plan certification

For those who want to take things one step further: 

To encourage Japanese businesses to create BCPs, Chusho METI has developed a program 「事業継続力強化計画」that allows companies to get their BCP certified. 

Businesses with a certified BCP will be given preferential treatment for the government's Manufacturing subsidy, tax breaks, and the use of the certification logo on PR materials. 

Information on this program and how to apply can be found here (Japanese).

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