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Finding connections through culture and innovation

Feb 07, 2020

Whether one prefers to ski down snow-covered peaks, hike up lush mountains or just enjoy a glass of wine on the beach, the Pacific Northwest has attracted a wide range of visitors from around the world, an increasing number of them from Japan. Because of their proximity to Asia, the states of Oregon and Washington have also positioned themselves as ideal partners for business. As the base of some of the world’s largest companies, including the most connected technology giants, the two states boast very stable economies, one thing to consider for potential Japanese investors.


Oregon and Japan share a history that goes back more than a century. Several years before Japan opened up to the West, Ranald MacDonald from Astoria, Oregon became the first American to set foot in isolationist Japan in 1848. He was one of the few Westerners allowed into the country to teach English to a selected group of samurai.

“Historical and traditional relationships here are very much deeper here than other parts of the USA,” Consul General of Japan in Portland Takashi Teraoka pointed out.

More than 150 years later, the relationship between the two sides has continued to flourish. Just the past year, the state has seen its eighth consecutive increase in the number of visitors from Japan.

“Oregon maintains 21 sister city and state relationships with Japan. Among all countries, Japan has the most foreign business investments in Oregon. At least 150 Japanese companies have local operations in Oregon,” said Charles Boyd, the press secretary and spokesperson for Gov. Kate Brown.

Efforts to promote the state in Japan have paid off as seen in the growing popularity of Portland beers and the subsequent opening of the PDX Taproom in Shibuya in the heart of Tokyo. Nike notwithstanding, some Oregon clothing and apparel brands, likewise inspired by Japanese creativity, have found many fans among the Japanese.

“A lot of smaller Oregon companies are sending their products to Japan. It is an interesting marketplace. A lot of Japanese are willing to try different new products and willing to pay more for good quality products,” Japan-America Society of Oregon Executive Director Graham Morris said. 

Meanwhile, large brands such as Nike, Adidas, Columbia, Keen and Pendleton use Japan as a base to develop new designs before they are rolled out across the rest of Asia.

“That connection among our creative community is significant and it’s going to help drive traffic to the Haneda flight in the future as well. This spring, Delta Air Lines will begin daily, non-stop flights between Portland and Tokyo-Haneda, the Japanese capital’s central airport. The added route and connectivity are expected to complement the increase in tourism and commerce between the two regions,” said Port of Portland Senior Manager of Air Service Development Rick Aizawa.


Meanwhile, the state of Washington has consistently built a reputation as the country’s newest hub for innovation. While Japan and Washington share a long trade history based on agriculture, Greater Seattle is promoting new business areas in which to invest. There has been growing interest from Japanese in advanced manufacturing, clean technology, biotechnology, medicine and most notably, aerospace.

As home to the headquarters of global giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as a center of Boeing construction, Washington has seen a growth in Japanese investment, most recently that of Mitsubishi, which moved its flight-testing center from Renton, Texas, to Moses Lake. 

Another sign of increased activity, Japan Airlines resumed flights to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after a 27-year hiatus. With flights lasting only 10 hours, Sea-Tac hopes to become the preferred entry point to the U.S. West Coast.

“Washington is very welcoming and dynamic. Open-arms hospitality is felt in our daily lives not just by us who work, but also by our families. It is a very fine place with a lot of nice outdoor activities and a wonderful place to raise kids and to live as family. I highly recommend to potential Japanese investors to come and find out how business works in the Pacific Northwest,” Consul General of Japan in Seattle Yoichiro Yamada said.

For his part, Dale Watanabe, the Executive Director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington, believes the relationship has thrived because of deeply rooted similarities.

“Japan and the U.S. have a lot of shared values. They both honor ethics and innovation. Building the relationship between Japan and Washington is very important. Person-to-person relationships are what will build business,” Watanabe said.

U.S. Pacific Northwest 2019 was prepared for and originally printed in The Japan Times Newspaper.

PDF of the printed report

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