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The Japanese lifeline in Southern California

Jun 08, 2020

In 1862, six years before it opened up to the West, Japan sent its first diplomatic delegation to San Francisco to open an embassy in the United States. The event ushered in the first wave of Japanese immigrants, or Issei, to the West Coast. And by 1910, Los Angeles had the largest population of Japanese immigrants, many of them filling agricultural jobs that were abundant in the region.

Still the home to majority of Americans of Japanese descent, Southern California hosts nearly 900 Japanese companies, which accounts for more than 80,000 jobs and pays an estimated $6.1 billion in wages annually. It also remains the largest foreign investor nation in the area.

“We believe that there is so much more that Japan can contribute to Southern California, such as in the area of advanced technology for purposes of ensuring clean air and water, as well as zero emissions. Since their forebears first arrived in 1868, Japanese-Americans have helped shape the history of the United States and have become a respected, valued community in the region,” Consul-General of Japan in Los Angeles Akira Muto said.

Last September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump signed a trade deal that opened up opportunities in industrial goods, agriculture, technology and digital trade, activities that have thrived in Southern California.

“Southern California is one of the primary gateways to Japan for the United States not only because of our geographical proximity, but also because of our long history of support for the Japanese and their businesses. Our year-round pleasant climate, accessibility to local Japanese and their long-established roots help Japanese people decide to make the Los Angeles area their home away from home,” Japan America Society of Southern California Chairman Douglas Montgomery said.

Meanwhile, Torrance Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Donna Duperron also pointed out: “Southern California has always been a hotbed of Japanese business activity. Trade-related businesses that came here in their initial stages are today highly successful in a wide range of essential industries, ranging from logistics, food distributors, automotive manufacturers and dealers, computer software and hardware manufacturers.”

Aside from setting up operations from scratch in Southern California, Japanese companies have also acquired established businesses here, transforming them into ones that combine the values and skilled knowledge of the Japanese with the resources and stability of the Americans.

“The United States market has always appealed to Japanese businesses quick to spot an opportunity and those with vision because of the country’s size and potential. The regulations and systems here make it conducive and easy to run a business,” Japan Business Association of Southern California Executive Director Yoshinobu Fukushima said.

Those conditions also yielded long-running relationships, like that with Japanese flag carrier Japan Airlines.

“No doubt that Southern California has been a loyal business partner for Japan over the decades. Japan has also consistently relied on this region to boost its tourism and inbound trade, resulting in a relationship between two nations that is strengthened by a shared culture and history. There is not a more familiar and comfortable place for Japanese than Southern California,” JAL Vice-President and Southwestern Regional Manager Kiichi Nakajima said.

While the northern area of the state may be more renowned for its IT sector, Southern California, mostly due to its ideal climate and terrain and abundance of land, has become globally famous for its high quality agricultural products. Of course, there is also its multibillion-dollar entertainment sector, which lends its strength to the thriving tourism and hospitality sectors.

Also, several schools and universities have nurtured dynamic technology and biosciences firms, which have ready access to abundant world-class local talent.

Recently, the growth of integrated industries has sparked renewed interest from Japan, where businesses are encouraged by the government to look outward and expand their operations internationally.

Los Angeles 2020 was prepared for and originally printed in The Japan Times Newspaper.

PDF of the printed report

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