Sizing up China: Longtime Japan residents take the lead in forming new ties
BY HIROSHI MATSUBARA, STAFF WRITER Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the growing influence of China in bilateral relations as well as Chinese communities in Japan.
Wang Feng, president of Searchina Co., speaks to a worker at the company’s office in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward.(Hiroshi Matsubara)
Longtime Japan resident and entrepreneur Wang Feng’s online venture, Searchina Co., was among five Japanese companies honored in March for their contributions to promoting ties between Japan and China.
At an award ceremony at a Beijing hotel, the 35-year-old company president was not merely savoring the recognition for his past achievements but also charting his future in his homeland.
“The Japanese market alone no longer offers a growth opportunity for start-ups like us,” said Wang, who has made his home in Japan for the last two decades. “But the Chinese market will.”
Searchina, which Wang founded in 1999, derives a large portion of its earnings from selling information on Chinese companies and stock markets to Japanese investors. Competition is growing as Japanese securities houses are beefing up similar services.
In April, Searchina started two new projects targeting China: public relations services for Japanese companies and a Chinese-language Web site on Japanese businesses operating in China.
Chinese entrepreneurs who have built their careers in Japan have their work cut out for them, Wang said.
“Due to differences in commercial practices and anti-Japanese feeling, Japanese companies often find it difficult to conduct effective public relations in China,” he said.
The award ceremony in March was a moment of glory for Wang, who came to Japan in 1989 to attend university. In Japan he goes by the name Masakazu Motoki.
The award was given by the China-Japan News Media Promotion Society, which groups major Chinese newspapers, magazines and TV broadcasters.
Among the guests were Tang Jiaxuan, former Chinese foreign minister, and Yuji Miyamoto, the Japanese ambassador to China.
The four other recipients–Toyota Motor Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Kyocera Corp. and Omron Corp.–were all major manufacturers with extensive operations in China.
Wang established Searchina to operate a Japanese-language Web site on China. He had only three computers and borrowed seed money of 10 million yen.
The company now reports annual sales of nearly 500 million yen and employs about 80 people in Japan and China.
Wang is one of a number of Chinese entrepreneurs educated and trained in Japan setting their sights on their mother country, mobilizing their personal networks, technological advantages, management acumen and capital assets.
Du Hong, for example, is transforming his apparel company as China, the “Factory of the World,” morphs into one of its largest consumer markets.
In 1994, Du set up Sanrion International Co. in Tokyo to produce clothing in China, taking orders from Japanese fashion brands.
Ten years later, he published a fashion monthly in China as trend-conscious young women began spending money on clothing in the country’s wealthy coastal cities. The Lucie, printed in Shanghai, has a circulation of more than 200,000.
“Japan’s apparel industry is at least five years ahead of China’s,” said Du, who started his company while studying at a Japanese university. “Fashion trends in Japan are also admired in the rest of Asia.”
Du, 42, plans to issue a mail-order fashion magazine in China soon. He also hopes to launch his own apparel brand in the country in the future.
“For young Chinese who want to study abroad, Japan may not be as favored a destination as the United States,” he said. “But I believe I made the right decision to come here.”
Japan was also the right destination for Seika Miyake, who came from China in 1990 to do post-graduate study.
Miyake’s goal is to develop his PetroMaterials Corp. into a far-flung corporate group that encompasses Japan, his adopted home, and China, his native land.
The company, established in 1994, manufactures and sells industrial parts for oil-well drilling, such as steel pipes. It already has eight subsidiaries in China, one in Japan and another in the United States, with a majority of about 1,200 group employees working in China.
The first step toward expansion is to list PetroMaterials on the Tokyo Stock Exchange within a few years to raise funds for acquiring companies in Japan and China.
Miyake, 41, is trying to link the two countries more closely on a different level.
He used 8 million yen in savings to bring about 20 high school students from his rural hometown in Jiangxi province on a tour of Japan in October. Many of the participants had never seen a train, let alone a plane.
The students visited sightseeing spots in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe and met their contemporaries in Wakayama, where PetroMaterials opened a factory last year.
At the end of the two-week program, the Chinese students said they did not want to return home. Some even wept.
“I hope some of you will carry out my dream and work as a bridge between Japan and China 20 to 30 years from now,” Miyake said in his send-off speech.
Miyake plans to invite a second group of students in autumn and turn the program into an annual event. He also hopes to create a reciprocal program in the future to send students from Wakayama to rural China.
“It will be wonderful if some of them, either Japanese or Chinese, become my business partners some day,” he said.(IHT/Asahi: May 14,2007)
Just another sign of Sino-Japanese interdependence and the prospects for further prosperity in the region.