Tokyo FinTech
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Tokyo FinTech

Marketing the City of Berlin in Tokyo

The state of Berlin and the local chamber of commerce want to create good sentiment in Japan in order to strengthen mutual relations. Coasters play a role — and sand.

The following is a translation of an article published by Kevin P. Hoffmann in the German daily “Der Tagesspiegel” on May 21, 2019, to make the content available to our community

Attention to detail is important. And the message you want to convey should fit on a coaster. At least that is what Stefan Franzke, the head of Berlin’s state-owned promotion agency “Berlin Partner”, says. So, for example, he had coasters printed on which a sushi roll and a Berlin “pancake” complement each other congenially — on a wasabi-green background (see picture above). In addition, they promote the hashtag #FreiheitBerlinTokyo. Also available in Japanese, of course.

It is Franzke’s job to promote Berlin as a desirable location for business worldwide, in the hope that companies will realize that it is worthwhile and that you can only win if you set up a branch or even a factory in Berlin.

These days, Franzke is in high demand in Tokyo, where Berlin Mayor Michael Müller participates in a conference of mayors of the so-called “Urban 20”, but also brought with him more than 30 representatives of companies and institutions that would like to find new partners in Japan’s capital.

Hence the “Berlin Partner” boss has brought said coasters for the convivial evening with German and Japanese companies at the fine Tokyo establishment “Happo-en Garden”, as well as straws made of glass. Again, the attentive bon vivant reads that the hashtag #FreiheitBerlin was engraved. “If you preach sustainability, you should also be sustainable,” says Franzke. “Plastic would not suit us.”

You need to know: In Japan, some things take a little longer, but often it is rather the opposite. Anyone who wants to establish business relationships with concrete results needs a lot of patience, as the people of the local German Chamber of Commerce report from experience. Often three or more years pass from the first personal contact to the conclusion of the contract. But once Japanese companies get involved with a partner, they stick with them through thick and thin. That’s how it goes.

From this almost irrational loyalty currently benefit the British, where the world-wide established electric company Mitsubishi Electric has four branches, which has become a risk for them in light of the Brexit discussions.

So Mueller, Franzke — and all the rest of the delegation — spent some time at Mitsubishi Electrics high-rise headquarters on Monday to be educated in a fair amount of detail on Tokyo’s top managers’ business model. The Berlin delegation extended warmest invitations to try out a few of the projects on the Spree: either in partnership with Mitsubishi’s competitor Siemens, which has always been a big name in Berlin, or going it alone.

For all rationality and formality in the business: Many Japanese also like art that goes to the heart. For example, Franzke has flown in specifically the Ukrainian artist Natalia Moro, who lives in Dusseldorf, who creates live sand pictures on a light table, which are projected onto a big screen. In a 15-minute performance, she told the story of Prussia and Berlin, in a way, supported by music, that everybody understands. In addition, the Berlin singer Alice Francis performed passionate jazz and swing.

That apparently did the trick. The approximately 50 Japanese guests donated more than just applause. Whether they accept the many invitations to Berlin in the end, we will see. However, the basic requirement in Japan is that you personally experienced something together to build trust.

And that has been accomplished, as trivial as it sounds, through beer. The very drinkable Sapporo beer was served on the knee-high bar tables typical for Japan, a Pilsener from a brewery from the northern island of Hokkaido, whose first Japanese brewing master had learned his trade in 1876 in Germany. That was probably coincidence.

Most of the Berlin entrepreneurs seemed happy with the program. Even if the partners with whom they wanted to have conversations were not necessarily attending the party. Some went by Shinkansen high-speed train South to the headquarters of Yamaha Motor, where they exchanged perspectives, such as Helmut Schramm, who as head of the BMW motorcycle factory in Spandau also exports his products all over the world.

Others visited Honda, experimenting with the “smart home” of the future, or NTT, Japan’s largest telecoms group, which focuses on voice recognition and cyber security.

Michael Müller, who wanted to meet with Tokyo’s governor on Tuesday to prepare for the Urban 20 summit, actually opens doors in Tokyo, as many Japanese are extremely focused on hierarchy and apparently expect that their counterpart has the necessary seniority to close business deals.

The Berlin companies will have the ultimate outcome in their own hands. Hopefully this will be more than the realization that it takes more than coasters and straws made of glass to remember the Germans.

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Norbert Gehrke

Norbert Gehrke


Passionate about strategy & innovation across Asia. At home in Japan. Connector of people & ideas.