Kobe urged to woo foreign investment

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

KOBE — Kobe officials must make further efforts to attract investment by small and medium-size foreign enterprises, especially small high-tech firms, and must avoid assuming investors should be isolated on Port Island or Rokko Island like the ancient Dutch traders on Dejima.

Those were just two opinions expressed Monday at the fourth annual Kansai Consular Summit in Kobe. Sponsored by the Hyogo Prefectural Government, the city of Kobe and the Kobe Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the summit brought together diplomats from 23 consulates in the Kansai region as well as observers from embassies in Tokyo and honorary consul generals from around Japan.

Chaired by Henri Everaars, consul general of the Netherlands and dean of the Kansai Consular Corps, the meeting was attended by Japanese figures such as Hyogo Gov. Toshitami Kaihara and Kobe Mayor Kazutoshi Sasayama.

Following an update by Hyogo officials on earthquake restoration efforts, presentations were made by several consul generals, including Frederic Maerkle of the United States and Johannes Preisinger of Germany.

Maerkle noted that although efforts by Hyogo and Kobe officials to attract foreign investment might attract larger industries, a more active approach must be made to approach smaller businesses.

“We suggest Hyogo and Kobe officials make more of an effort to bring in small and medium (-size) enterprises, especially from the high-tech and information industries. This could be done by establishing a matchmaking service that would introduce smaller firms to suitable partners,” Maerkle said.

One of the more controversial projects — and a major source of tension between foreign business and government officials and the city of Kobe — is the Port Island phase-two project.

Sasayama and other officials see Port Island as a magnet for foreign investment and a place of residence for the foreign community. However, with only about 10 percent of the land sold, the project has failed to generate interest from Kobe’s international community.

Preisinger, opining on why this was so, said: “One of the greatest aspects of living in Japan is daily contact with ordinary Japanese people. It’s the local environment that makes the experience worthwhile.

“Kobe must resist the ‘Dejima complex’ of isolating foreigners on a man-made island,” he said, noting that the notion is out of touch with modern times. During Japan’s closed-door policy of the feudal period, foreign contacts were restricted to the island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbor.