Spokane business and government officials preparing for an eight-day trip to Japan were told Friday that economic and lifestyle changes there are creating new openings for American goods.
The 22-member delegation leaves next Friday for the Kansai Region of central Japan, home to Osaka, the nation’s second-largest city, as well as Nishinomiya, Spokane’s Sister City.
The itinerary includes a variety of business and cultural stops organizers and hosts say they hope will lead to expanded ties between the Inland Northwest and Kansai regions.
Mayor Jack Geraghty is leading the Spokane group.
Michihiro Matsumoto, director of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry International Division, said the region has long been Japan’s economic mainspring.
Although Tokyo has always been larger, he said, politics constrained the entrepreneurial spirit in that area while Kansai residents focused on commerce.
“The Osaka-Kansai Region is the door that is easiest to open,” Matsumoto said.
He said the region now produces 3 percent of all the world’s goods and services, a share equal to Canada’s.
The pace of activity should increase with the completion of $340 billion in major capital projects, including the recent opening of the Kansai International Airport, the first built completely on an offshore landfill, he said.
Matsumoto said the Japanese consumer’s appetite for imported goods has been whetted in recent years by an improved exchange rate, although that edge has slipped of late, and an “American retail business rush to the Japanese market.”
Sporting goods, personal computers, and toys are among the items finding enthusiastic buyers, he said.
Matsumoto noted a new craze for bass fishing is sweeping the country, with anglers adopting the same high-tech gear favored in the United States.
During a visit to a sporting goods store he counted about 300 lures, all made in the U.S., he said, adding that artificial bait has made fishing more attractive to Japanese women.
But Matsumoto cautioned that the market in Japan is, if anything, becoming more competitive, and U.S. exporters will have to make sure their products deliver the kind of value consumers demand.
He also said businesses should find a partner to help distribute, and suggested the Global Business Opportunities Convention held annually in Osaka is the best way to do that.
G-BOC officials prearrange one-on-one meetings between foreign businessmen and women and Japanese companies looking for products to import.
A few Spokane-area businesses set up small displays in the room of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce building where the briefing was held.
Wildbeary Products jams and syrups will be included in food packets delegates are taking with them. President Billie Milford said she hopes the unique product attracts the attention of potential distributors among the businessmen the delegation encounters.
Specialty food products are among the items the delegation will attempt to find buyers for during its tour. Others are construction materials, real estate and education.
They will also promote Spokane as a tourist destination.
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