A growing number of Japanese companies are looking for new business opportunities overseas, most notably in the in the United States. In recent decades, Oregon has witnessed increased interest from Japanese investors especially in the state’s agricultural sectors.
The Japan American Society of Oregon (JASO) was founded 110 years ago to strengthen the overall relationship Japan. While agricultural and food companies have been primary participants, new members now include semiconductor and apparel companies, as well as wine and beer makers – a sign of the diversification of the state’s economy.
“The relationship remains strong. The Japanese community is growing because Portland is now known as one of the most livable, green and sustainable city in the U.S.,” JASO Executive Director, Graham Morris said.
Acquired by Japanese trading giant Mitsui, United Grain Corporation has an extensive network in Japan and Southeast Asia, where it sells wheat, corn and soybeans. The stable export business has given Oregon’s farmers a regular source of income and an improved standard of living.
“We think of how to get better every day, help the farmers and keep in mind our responsibility in Japan’s food security,” said President and CEO Augusto Bassanini.
Meanwhile, St. Cousair Oregon Orchards manufactures a large array of food products, like jams, salad dressings, wine, gelato, and other specialty foods. The company has roughly 120 stores in Japan selling its core product – homemade organic jam. Having found local success, St. Cousair expanded to the United States, selecting Oregon as its primary base because of the strong support from the local government and organizations.
“We looked at several other states but Oregon was the best place we could invest our money and our life, and it still is. We were very fortunate to get the support from the state and the people,” said CEO Naoki Kuze.
On top of all these large companies, several Japanese individuals have also begun opening authentic Japanese restaurants in the state. Tokyo-born chef Naoko Tamura instantly fell in love with Portland When she first visited. Having established a reputation for organic cooking in Japan, Tamura set up Shizuku, her first restaurant in America in 2008.
Popular among locals and Japanese expats, Shizuku has enjoyed much success in Portland. The chef was also enlisted by Delta Airlines to provide its meals on its flights to Tokyo. The meals, made from locally sources organic farmers, have been praised for being authentically Japanese.
“It might be challenging for small companies, but you have to keep trying. I represent Japan through my food, so I have a responsibility. I show a mix of Japanese food and culture through my food,” Tamura said.
“In 27 years, 90 percent of our Japanese projects are in Oregon and Washington. Our management and team don’t really think about we are Japanese or American. The work comes naturally and we want to show this to other Japanese companies looking to come here,” said CEO Taro Toyoda.
Meanwhile, Toyo Tanso President Tex Morita values the positive impact its business has on the state: “When we grow, we create jobs and support the local community. We want to grow the area, make the Pacific Northwest known as a successful business location in the U.S. and increase the standard of living.”
Since 1875, Shimadzu has been manufacturing precision equipment, measuring and analytical instruments and medical medical systems. All the company’s instruments are export-ready and meet the varying standards and regulations of different countries.
In the 15 years that it has been present in Oregon, Shimadzu remains grateful for the support of the state government and local community, which have contributed to its success and expansion across the United States.
“The State of Oregon has been outstanding to Shimadzu. They are like our family. It was a very positive experience that enabled us to come in on time and on budget for some very complicated projects. It is nice to see how motivated they are to help us and help us achieve our goals. They want us to achieve,” Executive Vice President Joe Shaddix said.
Another success story is , which assists Japanese companies with human resources requirements and processes in the U.S. It recently also began helping American companies who wish to do business in Japan. Having serviced several clients across the United States, company founder Ken Sakai believed that Oregon was the best location of the business.
“Oregon has a very good business environment, good workforce, work-life balance and great natural resources,” Sakai said.