This year marks the 160th anniversary since the escort ship Kanrin Maru sailed into San Francisco, carrying onboard a Japanese diplomatic delegation. From 1860 until the turn of the century, a wave of Japanese immigrants regularly set sail for Northern California, seeking a new life and bringing with them traits that made them valuable members of their adopted country — resourcefulness and industriousness.
“After the arrival of the Kanrin Maru, a large number of Japanese followed toward the end of the century. They were the Issei or first-generation Japanese-Americans and their hard work paved the way for future generations to thrive here. Today, the Japanese presence here has made significant contributions to Northern California’s robust economy,” Tomochika Uyama, former consul general of Japan in San Francisco said.
For his part, Bud Colligan, senior advisor for international affairs and trade to Gov. Gavin Newsom, said: “Setting up operations here and finding key partners have been great ways for them to add value to their businesses back in Japan. Strategic partnerships are key to the overall sustained success of Japanese companies, and due to Northern California’s conduciveness for business, this is the perfect testing ground for new ideas and collaborations for them.”
If it were a separate entity, Northern California would be one of the largest economies in the world, building its strength on innovation and disruption in the high-tech industry. South of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley is the indisputable hub of global technology, hosting companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Intel and PayPal to name a few.
Because of this rich ecosystem, Silicon Valley attracts about one-third of the total venture capitalist investments in the United States, most of it found in San Jose — the largest city in the region. San Jose also draws a large amount of investment from Japan, the largest investor in the city.
“San Jose is a hotbed of activity for the technology sector. We are home to many leading Japanese tech giants, like Sony, Canon, Sumitomo, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Olympus, Ricoh and Toshiba. Proximity to other tech leaders, the concentration of talent and driving competitors, as well as the excellent growth environment, have made San Jose a good location for these companies to set up their manufacturing bases,” Economic Development Director of San Jose Kim Walesh said.
“Several leading semiconductor and chemical manufacturers have headquarters or operations here. Advanced manufacturing has been growing here, especially those businesses that prototype, test and manufacture virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, and develop storage battery and clean energy applications,” added Walesh.
Over the last few years, new integrated industries have emerged as additional drivers of Northern California’s economy, namely bio and medical technology, finance and venture capital, renewable and clean energy, and design engineering. This recent development has sparked renewed interest in Japan, widely known around the world for its expertise in high technology.
With one of the highest concentrations of Japanese companies in the country, Northern California has seen the number of such companies increase to an all-time high of more than 900 last year, with the figure surging in the wake of a visit to the region in 2015 by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Meanwhile, local companies continue to look to Japan as an important market for future growth.
“Japan and Northern California have bridged the trans-Pacific divide through a long history of great collaboration. Both regions complement each other well as business partners,” Norio Nakazawa, former chief executive director of Japan External Trade Organization San Francisco said.
Complementing this closer cooperation between businesses, schools and universities on both sides have realized the values of building a closer and wider network, sharing technological expertise and deepening shared cultural values. Waseda University in Tokyo uses its regional office in San Francisco to promote student exchanges and to stay in touch with its 8,500 American alumni.
“Waseda University graduates become leaders in a wide variety of fields in Northern California. Our university stresses the importance of diversity, inclusion and innovation. We believe immersion in these three elements will produce well-rounded, educated global leaders. Also, exchange students to Japan will benefit from our state-of-the-art facilities and programs. Similarly, the quality of education in Northern California is world-class, and renowned internationally,” Waseda University Vice President of International Affairs professor Masahiko Gemma said.