Spokane Journal of Business

Seeking ties for business with Japan

Spokane trade delegation watches for opportunities amid banquets, receptions

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NISHINOMIYA, JapanSpokane civic leader and former businessman Ed Tsutakawa remembers as a teen-ager in Japan watching American baseball legend Babe Ruth play in an exhibition game at Koshien Stadium. The venerable old ballpark sits just across the street here from the hotel where a Spokane trade delegation to Japan is staying.

Tsutakawa, now 75, says Ruth didnt hit a home run in that early-1930s contest. But he recalls that the Babe did rap several consecutive pitches over the fence after the game to display his legendary batting prowess.

The Spokane trade delegation, of which Tsutakawa is a member, would like to see a few fat pitches of its own to pound into the cheap seats as it crowds the plate, so to speak, to look for new-business opportunities in the Kansai area of this country. However, like Ruth on that day more than 60 years ago, it may have to be patient.

Since the delegation arrived here last Saturday, after a nearly 11-hour flight, it has been scampering from one tour, banquet, and presentation to another, with time to voice only the most general business-related intentions.

Still, a string of individual business appointments were scheduled for later in the week, and delegates who arrived here separately, such as Doug and Jill Smith, of Spokanes Buckeye Beans & Herbs Inc., already had met with product distributors and made other business contacts.

I think the benefit comes from the overall image we contribute to Spokane, creating an awareness of Spokane, says Larry Sullivan, co-owner of Spokanes Keystroke Marketing Inc., which has been integral in helping Buckeye Beans penetrate the notoriously reticent Japanese market.

I feel like if one person (from the delegation) makes a contact that results in a sale, then the whole trip has been worth it, he says.

The Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Regional International Trade Alliance are co-sponsoring the mission, which is looking for new business prospects through the Kansai Region.

Kansai is a west-central area of Japan with a population of about 22 million people. Considered the traditional merchant center of Japan, it boasts a gross regional product larger than that of the Asian tigersKorea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singaporecombined, and at last count was importing close to $10 billion worth of products from the U.S.

Sullivan, who lived in Japan for 10 years and taught at a business school in Tokyo, says he believes Spokanes 35-year-old sister-city relationship with Nishinomiya, nurtured in large part by Tsutakawa, who grew up here, really does give us a conduit to pool our efforts in the Kansai Region.

The strength of that bond was obvious almost from the moment the trade mission arrived at the Kansai International Airport, an expansive, 3-year-old facility built on an artificial island on Osaka Bay. There, a large, sharply dressed Nishinomiya greeting party erupted into enthusiastic applause at the sight of the Spokane group.

Since then, all of the delegations transportation and interpreter-related needs have been provided for, and the Nishinomiya hosts, as is their custom, have been gracious almost to a fault in entertaining their Spokane guests.

Heavy overcast skies and continuous rain for the first two days of the Spokane delegations visit here didnt diminish the groups enthusiasm or cut into its busy schedule. On Sunday, the group took a scenic walking tour along the cherry-blossom lined Shukugawa River and was treated by the local contingent of the Sister City Society to lunch and a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in the Kitayama Sanso, part of a botanical garden complex. That was followed by a tour of Shin Nishinomiya Yacht Harbor, which is a recreational boating club facility on Naruo Bay, and a tour and dinner at a private resort called Reso. Not far from the Yacht Harbor, a large number of construction cranes could be seen towering over a mammoth, 3,500-unit condominium development thats being built to replace some of the housing destroyed by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which occurred in January 1995 and killed about 1,100 people here. Other signs of earthquake-related restoration were visible at numerous other points throughout the city.

On Monday, the Spokane delegates exchanged formal greetings and gifts with Nishinomiya Mayor Junzo Baba and other city officials at Nishinomiya City Hall, and, at a separate meeting, with the citys Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bunjiro Sabe and about 40 other chamber and Nishinomiya Foreign Trade Association representatives. At the latter meeting, Spokane chamber Chairman David Shea encouraged the Nishinomiya business executives to explore trade possibilities with their counterparts in Eastern Washington.

The Spokane group later toured the Ozeki Sake Co., consulted with federal and Washington state trade representatives based in Japan about how best to pursue business there, and were feted at an evening welcome banquet attended by more than 100 people. The banquet, held at the Koshien-Miyako Hotel, was preceded by a well-received catalog and trade show touting Spokane-area companies.

Activities later in the week were to include meetings with business and civic leaders in the cities of Kobe and Osaka, a visit to the U.S. consulate in Osaka, and informal discussions with other U.S. business representatives working in Japan. Also planned were tours of Rokko Island, which is a large man-made island port complex; Harborland, a big commercial development; the World Trade Center in Osaka; and Japan External Trade Organizations offices there.

Most of the 22 Spokane business, civic, and government representatives who are part of the trade mission are to fly out of Osaka about 4 p.m. Friday and to arrive in Spokane about noon that same day, due to gaining a day by crossing the international date line on the return trip.

Kim Crompton
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