The highlight of April so far for me has been the opening of the first ever Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlour in Japan (left). At last I can get my hands on a Chunky Monkey again! (am I allowed to say that in an official blog?). This is obviously a matter of great personal interest, but it happens to be of professional interest too: Ben & Jerry’s is now owned by Unilever, so this represents a new British investment into Japan; and the ice cream is all made in and imported from the UK. Given the size of the queue that had formed outside the shop on a chilly, drizzly Sunday afternoon, and the forecast for a long, hot summer, I’d say we’re about to see a big, ice-cream-shaped increase in British exports to Japan (no jokes about it melting away again come winter please).
This momentous development had to compete for the highlight-of-the-month title with some pretty heavyweight contenders, not least a visit to Japan by the Prime Minister and his 90-strong entourage. That included about 50 business people who had nobly given up Easter Monday with their families to join him on this, the first leg of his Asian tour. They covered the whole range of UK business expertise and excellence, from defence and finance to digital technology and fashion, and they all have my undying respect for signing up to an incredibly punishing schedule of early starts, action-packed programmes and being bundled on and off buses and planes and wondering when they might next catch up with their luggage.
Recruitment was a bit last-minute so the UKTI team in Tokyo faced quite a challenge in trying to organise at short notice a range of activities that would meet the delegation’s very diverse needs and interests. We’re seeking feedback on how we did, but in pure logistical terms felt pretty proud that with about a fortnight’s notice we managed to pack into their 9-hour working day a high-level seminar on nuclear decommissioning, a workshop on UK-Japan 3rd country collaboration and a pecha-kucha style , fast and furious set of presentations by companies in the digital-creative sphere. Not to mention a lunchtime life sciences debate, a launch of MacLaren’s new sports car, a roundtable with prominent Japanese investors in the UK and a business networking reception under the cherry blossom that had obligingly come out just in time for the visit (sorry to Lord Green, though, for making him do his speech in the dark. Fortunately we’d fixed the lighting by the time the Prime Minister came on).
More formal outcomes from the visit included an MoU between UKTI and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to collaborate on securing Japanese investment into UK infrastructure, an industry-industry agreement on nuclear collaboration, some strong commitments to collaborate on defence procurement and space activities and some great investment announcements, including one by Nissan which will bring a thousand jobs to Sunderland. Some of the participating companies were able to sign off on some important deals, including Orla Kiely on a new design collaboration with Uniqlo (been there, bought the T-shirt – they’re fab!) and Rolls Royce on an engine deal with Skymark airlines. We’re hoping the other companies will have been able to cement their relationships with existing partners and clients, or forge new ones. If nothing else I hope they will have gone away with an image of the strength of the UK-Japan business relationship, and of Embassy and UKTI connections and can-do attitude.
If you’d like to get a sense for yourself of what the Japanese market might offer you, and how UKTI can help, I’d encourage you to sign up for the Asia Task Force event taking place in London on 3 May. The Ambassador to Japan, Sir David Warren, who will be fresh from receiving his knighthood awarded for his leadership and bravery following last year’s earthquake, will be there to tell you about the opportunities and how to access them. He has a total of nearly 12 years’ experience in Japan, most of them working on trade and business issues, and will be retiring later this year. So pick his brains now, while you still can!
Director, UKTI Japan