- Wales hosts 50 Japanese firms
- Forty years since first firm arrived
- Stable economy, flexible workforce
- Castles, golf courses and day trips
Some of the biggest names in Japan’s corporate world—from Sony Corporation, Fujitsu and Olympus Corporation, to Panasonic Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation and Hoya Corporation—already have a firm foothold in Wales. But Edwina Hart says there is plenty of room for more.
Hart, the Welsh government’s minister responsible for business, enterprise, technology and science, was in Tokyo with a delegation of Wales-based firms in mid-June to promote the opportunities that exist in a nation that she believes has a lot in common with Japan.
“There are 50 Japanese companies in Wales [that employ] more then 6,000 people and have been key investors with us for more than 40 years now”, Hart told BCCJ ACUMEN.
“We see ourselves very much as partners and we are here to show what we have to offer”, she said. “We want to consolidate the very good relationships that we already have with Japanese companies and convince more to come to Wales”.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding in South Wales of Takiron (UK) Ltd., the British unit of the Japanese PVC sheeting manufacturer. The venture has been so successful and has attracted so many other Japanese firms to the region that a Japanese school was set up in 1973 to meet the needs of the families of the burgeoning number of investors and employees who had exchanged Japan for Wales.
The Wales Japan Club operates a Saturday school for children where they can learn about Japanese culture, and helps to make the transition easier when they return home.
Senior Japanese executives who were posted to Wales, and developed a close affinity for the nation and its people, in 1991 set up Clwb Hiraeth (hiraeth meaning “longing” in Welsh). The club’s members see themselves as ambassadors for the nation.
Unsurprisingly, the first chairman of the club was an executive of Takiron.
“Japanese investment into Wales is very important and we are keen to make it even more attractive through measures such as enhancing our infrastructure and helping provide training for the workforce”, she said.
“This is encouraging to Japanese firms, who see us as a springboard into Europe, and like that we are comfortable with [the Continent]”, she added. “It also helps that we are a hands-on government and we very much want to [maintain for] our partners that open-door approach”.
Additional positives are the stability that exists in the Welsh economy, the flexibility of the workforce, and links between Wales and Japan in the area of higher education.
Students from the highly regarded Tokyo Women’s Medical University, for example, take part in exchanges with Cardiff University, a world leader in biomedical research and life sciences.
Another sector that Hart was keen to emphasise during her first visit to Japan is tourism, an area in which she admitted that Wales is “starting at a low base” compared with the rest of the UK.
“We have to analyse [Wales’] demand within the overall UK tourism market, but we are very much trying to attract more Japanese to come to Wales when they arrive in Britain”, she said. “We have some wonderful castles and golf courses and can offer great day outings, but we need to get the word out”.
Hart agreed that the two Welsh football teams—Cardiff and Swansea—now in the Premier League would go far in attracting more Japanese football fans were either or both to sign a high-profile Japanese player.
While Wales may not have a colossal corporation looking to set up manufacturing or large-scale sales operations in Japan, there are a surprising number of specialist or niche firms that have either already made their mark on the Japanese marketplace or have high hopes of doing so in the future.
Representatives of eight firms accompanied the minister on her visit and attended a reception dinner at the British Embassy Tokyo on 12 June, along with the Welsh national rugby team, who defeated their Japanese counterparts in Osaka on 8 June, but lost their second match in Tokyo one week later.
“We have wonderful relations with Japan and, even though we are such a long way apart, I can honestly say that the Welsh people have taken the Japanese to their hearts”, she said. “It’s a lot more than just business: we both share a love of music and dragons, after all”.
Note: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a Welsh village with the UK’s longest place name.