• Chunichi Shimbun


Okaya & Co. Ltd., a Nagoya-based trading company for iron and steel, is set to open an office in Silicon Valley in California in the hope of teaming up with tech-savvy ventures there.

“I want to learn about new business models that utilize IT,” said Okaya President Tokuichi Okaya.

He is especially interested in developing a self-driving truck convoy, where a driver mans the first truck while other trucks follow automatically, in a bid to address driver shortages.

“We hope to resolve social issues by partnering with a local startup that has the technology for automated driving,” an Okaya & Co. staffer said.

Okaya is one of many companies in the Chubu region heading to the U.S. technology hub in search of new business ideas and partners.

According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), there were 770 Japanese companies in Silicon Valley as of March last year.

Tokyo-based J. Front Retailing Co., which operates the Daimaru and Matsuzakaya department stores, has been sending young workers to a venture capital in Silicon Valley it has been funding since last spring.

“Even though we are a retailer, this is an era where we have to pay attention to the IT business. We’ll do everything we need to do,” said Ryoichi Yamamoto, the company’s president.

Yamamoto himself visited Google headquarters to exchange ideas on artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, Prodrone Co., a Nagoya-based industrial drones manufacturer, established a U.S. subsidiary there at the end of last year. The company’s operation will be in full swing next month when it participates in a large-scale exhibition.

Located at a prime spot surrounded by major IT firms such as Microsoft Corp. and Google, Prodrone’s U.S. office has four local workers and a president who is American.

In addition to sales and other services, the company plans to use the U.S. office as a base for developing drones.

Komaki, Aichi Prefecture-based CKD Corp., a company manufacturing automatic machinery products, opened a technical center in Silicon Valley last fall.

Its U.S. office has been staffed with a salesperson in charge of the semiconductor business, but due to increasing demand the company will also send over a team of engineers.

The center also has a “cleanroom,” a research facility with low levels of pollutants where they can test their latest prototypes.

“We also want to acquire more information on new business fields such as medical and biotechnology,” said a CKD official.

Kawai Corp., a Nagoya-based electric heater parts-maker, also established a U.S. subsidiary in Silicon Valley, in February last year.

“Having an office in Silicon Valley increases our brand, which is advantageous to small and medium-sized companies. It is also a way for us to connect with the global market,” said Motoyuki Kawai, 43, who is stationed at the office.

Tomoyuki Suzuki, a researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute familiar with Silicon Valley, said an increasing number of Japanese companies are seeking business partnerships with firms in Silicon Valley.

“It is becoming difficult for companies to develop (new technology) on their own. Silicon Valley has many companies strong in prospective sectors like AI,” he said.

“U.S. companies are good at developing software while Japanese companies are good at developing hardware, so there are many companies looking to combine the two strengths,” he added.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on March 29.

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