AS CAREFUL readers of the Variety may know, I was back in Japan last week. Besides stopping in Tokyo to interview former Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs Ms. Sanae Takaichi, I also spent some time in Nagano City, where I lived for more than 25 years.
Probably my most interesting and enjoyable evening there was spent having dinner with an old friend (and something of a mentor), Mr. Koichiro Ichikawa. One of the most respected businessmen in the Nagano area, Ichikawa-san is the president of Fujikoshi Machinery Company Ltd. – a mid-size firm (by Japanese standards) that is one of the world leaders in polishing equipment for the silicon wafers used in virtually all of our modern electronic devices. He is also the vice chairman of the Nagano Prefecture Employers Association, chairman of Techno Nagano (a group aimed at developing high-tech industries in Nagano Prefecture), and a frequent advisor to Japan’s governor. In all of these capacities, he is a regular participant in international conferences, acts as host of visiting business people, and a leader of trade missions.
Ichikawa-san has been to Guam several times on vacation and likes our island very much, so he was quite interested to hear about Gov. Eddie Calvo’s visits to Japan and other Asian countries in an effort to attract more investment to Guam. For my part, I was quite eager to hear any advice an old pro like Ichikawa-san might have for the governor and his team.
He made three main points:
Guam needs to redefine itself
Ichikawa-san said most of the business leaders with whom he associates have an image of Guam as being strictly an American military base and a nice place to come for a golf or beach vacation. Unless they are in a business directly related to tourism or defense (fairly rare in Japan), they are quite unlikely to ever think about investing in Guam. If the governor and his team want to attract a wider range of businesses and technologies, in Ichikawa-san’s view, the first thing they need to do is to find some effective ways to redefine Guam, and let people in Japan know it offers a much wider range of possibilities than just the military and tourism.
Cast a wider net
To date, most of the efforts by the governor’s team have focused on very large-scale companies based primarily in Tokyo. This is fine, but it must be noted they have a very wide range of opportunities coming their way every day, and they can also be very slow-moving and bureaucratic. According to Ichikawa-san, it might also be very beneficial for Gov. Calvo’s team to try and make inroads with small and mid-sized Japanese companies, and with local areas outside of the major metropolitan regions. He said some of these smaller firms have very attractive technologies and know-how, and they are also often owned or managed by a single individual who can make an investment or partnership decision much faster than the staff of a huge conglomerate.
Beware of ‘Zenkoji shobai’
This is a local business term that even most Japanese living outside of Nagano have probably never heard. “Zenkoji” is a famous old temple in Nagano City that draws more than a million visitors every year; and “shobai” means business. “Zenkoji shobai” is, therefore, a kind of derogatory term for shopkeepers who don’t try very hard and never innovate, since they can just sit back and wait for the tourists to pass their stores on the way up the street to Zenkoji. Ichikawa-san is afraid Guam may slip into that same habit – especially with beautiful beaches, warm weather for tourists and extensive support from the U.S. federal government in exchange for the use of the island’s bases. It might be all too easy for many people on Guam, both in business and government, to slip into the Zenkoji shobai kind of thinking.
He stressed that times have changed, and even in Nagano City, Zenkoji shobai just doesn’t work anymore. If we on Guam want to attract top-class companies to our island, we will have to convince them we are serious.