The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


December 2013
ACCJ chapter is helping to improve business and cultural aspects of region

Cover3.12.13It may be only Japan’s No. 2 city, but Osaka—and the surrounding area—is undergoing development at the hands of the Kansai Chapter of the ACCJ, which is busy turning it into a first-class place in which to do business and live.

As of November 1, the only foreign chamber of commerce with a presence in the Kansai region had 376 members—an impressive net gain of 20 new members this year. In addition, the chapter has six committees that each year plan and host 25 events, including the Kansai Walkathon fundraiser and the Kansai International School Service (KISS) Charity Concert.

“As an outsider organization here in Japan, we have the unique opportunity and, we feel, the responsibility to help improve the business and cultural aspects of the region,” said ACCJ Kansai External Affairs Committee member Steve Zurcher, a professor at Osaka’s Kansai Gaidai University.

“Our charter goes beyond our members’ interests, to what we feel is in the best interest of the region to attain economic growth, be an attractive destination for travel and to live and, lastly, to leverage the natural diversity of the region to increase the numbers of Japanese employees who are ready for the challenges of doing business within a global context,” explained 54-year-old Zurcher, a decade-long Kansai resident originally from San Francisco.

One of the most significant projects that the chapter has drawn up in recent months is the updated position paper titled “Promoting Trade, Investment and Tourism in the Kansai Region Under a ‘One Kansai’ Concept”.

The paper points out that the region, encompassing the major cities of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, hosts the second-largest concentration of foreign companies in Japan. Further, Kansai covers less than 10 percent of the nation’s land area, but accounts for 17 percent of the population and close to 16 percent of the nation’s GDP—some ¥80 trillion in 2009.

So significant is the economic strength of Kansai that, if it were a separate nation, it would have a GDP on par with that of the Netherlands, which ranks 16th in the world.

Yet, the position paper highlights, more can be done to overcome the region’s two main problems: over-regulation by the central government and lack of coordination among Kansai local governments. The additional hurdles of limited investment opportunities and lifestyle barriers make business and life in Kansai inconvenient and expensive.

“While retaining the social and cultural identities of individual areas within Kansai, the ACCJ believes that local governments and industry leaders must prioritize efforts and work together to achieve a unified voice as One Kansai,” the paper states. “The unique characteristics of each area must be presented in a coherent and complementary fashion, maximizing use of shared resources and minimizing redundant efforts by individual governments.”

The three critical areas of collaboration are seen to be effective promotion overseas of the region’s vast business opportunities, advancement of tourism, and development and nurturing of global talent.

“The ACCJ would recommend that we build on the natural diversity of the region and promote greater flexibility regarding foreigners’ contributions to business and also a greater role for Japanese women in government and business,” the position paper concludes. “To the extent that Kansai can achieve these goals, the region would attract global talent and help to make Kansai become a resurgent growth center for all of Japan.”

To promote this vision, the chamber has been reaching out, working with the prefectural and city governments of Osaka and Hyogo Prefecture, according to Zurcher.

“We have also become close with the Union of Kansai Governments, and local chambers of commerce, government and economic organizations,” he said.

“Recently we met with the major foreign hotels and the Osaka Government Tourist Organization to think of ways to make Osaka a more competitive site for international meetings.

“[On October 31,] I—along with seven of my students—attended the ACCJ Joint Chamber International Meishi Exchange.

“Around 300 people were there to meet and make new contacts for their businesses. This is a perfect example of how the ACCJ can take a traditional networking event and give it an international spin for the benefit of local Japanese and foreign businessmen and businesswomen,” he said.

Reflecting the report, which has been translated into Japanese and circulated to local governments and companies in the region, a panel discussion was held in mid-October to reinforce the chamber’s belief that an economically vitalized Kansai would serve as a catalyst for a similar transformation of the national economy.

“We intentionally did not use ‘revitalize,’” said Akio Matsumoto, chair of the ACCJ Kansai External Affairs Committee and owner of LS7 Corporation.

“We are facing a future that has a form that is very unclear. It will certainly be a new experience because we do not want to return to the old ways.

“We do not want to revitalize—but vitalize,” Matsumoto said. “We will need to find new ways for the future.”

The panel discussion attracted senior government officials from the region and focused on the three areas of promoting local business, tourism, and developing global talent. However, Matsumoto emphasized, “We do not want to just talk about it; we want to make things happen.”

Clearly positive things can emerge from small beginnings, as the annual charity walkathon has demonstrated. The first one was held in September 2006, and last year the number of participants had grown to around 2,100. This year, according to Kojiro Dan, chair of the ACCJ Kansai Community Service Committee, the number topped 3,000.

“The aim of this charity event is to again highlight the need to improve the environment for working women in Japan, and this year’s catchphrase was ‘Go, Working Mothers! Go, Happy Families!’” explained 49-year-old Dan, who is also executive director of trading company Mitsukura Corporation.

“We work very closely with the local government and donate the funds to non-profit organizations and similar organizations that are in need of support, such as family support centers and the DawnCenter in Osaka,” he said.

The total amount raised is yet to be confirmed, but Dan and his team expect it to be more than ¥8.5 million.

The talent and commitment required to turn Kansai into a thriving component of the global economy is firmly in place among the members of the ACCJ chapter.

“Since all of what we do is mainly decided by our members, I would say that we are the hub for a very sophisticated, experienced, and multi-talented group of businesspeople,” said Keizo Yamada, director of the Kansai Chapter office.

“This organization has the goal of creating an international business community that not only benefits itself, but is a catalyst for the host Japanese community in its efforts to integrate into the global business environment.”