Business Report: 「ビジネス UP!」

Just back from Japan last night.  I had business there.  The blog posts below may look like it was all fun and games.  It wasn’t.  The last few days of the trip allowed me some time off to relax, see some friends and re-discover some places I love around Kyoto.  But 90% of the trip was business.  Immediately below is most of an email I just sent to a colleague in Tokyo (with some photos added) about my general impressions of Business in Japan these days.  I’m well aware of global macro-economic forces and doldrums.  Also, I would note that Japan’s tourism and hospitality sectors — and all businesses related to them or relying on them — are suffering terribly owing to the tragic events of March 11, 2011.  Being the optimist I am, as I believe I have to be, this actually provides opportunities for businesses in these sectors looking to work with counterparts in Japan who are very eager to explore possible ways to turn their fortunes around.

Nihonbashi. Tokyo. August 4.

 Anyway, it went very well.  Hot as hell, but having spent much of my childhood and most of my adult life in Alabama, it was merely irksome, not debilitating.  My first of two weeks focused solely on shepherding around the officers of that med device company I alluded to.  The Key Opinion Leaders (docs, university professors, etc) were quite eager to get this device/system imported.  While the regs are something of a pain, but no more than in the US, the company can export to the docs directly while navigating through the certification and licensing process.  Confidentiality prevents me from saying more, but all good news.

This past week saw me dial-back on the intensity, but working on a couple other projects, the primary one dealing with bringing together a US company with candidate partners for multiple investment-related projects (in tangible property).  Again, I must remain vague.  Anyway, the response from prospective partners / strategic allies and their go-betweens was also positive.  I also met with a long time client, a high tech company based near Osaka that also has a subsidiary I set up here in Alabama almost 10 years ago.  The company is very energized on the opportunities that are coming its way, and which look to be coming its way over the next several years.  Again, confidentiality prevents me from going into detail but this Japan/Alabama company is in a growth sector and is optimistic about the future.

Onward to work in the summer heat. Nihonbashi. August 5.

What I took away from this trip was what no surprise to me:  that Japanese businesses continue to exhibit their famed caution and general go-slow, “let’s-get-to-know-each-other-first,” way of doing business, they’re much more eager to commence discussions and brainstorm on possibilities than they were 10, 15, 20 years ago.  What I mean is that it used to be the case that if it was the Japanese company’s idea, they were, of course, all for it.  But if it was a U.S. company’s idea (the U.S. company’s idea in the first place), they’d be more than a little skittish, if not outright dismissive, of the project.  But no more; they’re much more willing to meet and give a open-minded listen to a new idea.  Of course, whether or not ultimate project success ensues remains beholden to many variables,  from price points, to non-tariff barriers, to cultural vagaries, etc.

Teramachi Street, Kyoto. Hardly a ghost town. August 14.

Perhaps your on-the-ground impressions are different, but those are mine.  It’s funny, though — I think my views on Japan are like that of an uncle who visits his brother’s house only 1-3 times a year, and by doing so can more clearly see how quickly his sister-in-law is losing weight, or how his brother’s hairline is receding or grilling skills are improving, or how his nephew or niece are growing like weeds . . . maybe more than his brother, who actually lives in the house.  He (this hypothetical brother/brother-in-law) certainly can’t see all the details, but can nevertheless see many of changes with a starkness that his brother and sister-in-law may not be able to, what with being in the middle of things.

"This way ahead. Entrance (to Japan)." Tokyo. August 6.

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