Success of Japanese businessmen in Israel

Direct regular flights between Japan and Israel should have started in March 2020. Then COVID came. These direct flights will come. When they do, many more Japanese business people will visit Israel for good business cooperation. Here’s why. 

The connection between Japan and Israel is special. Mutual recognition began in 1952 and in 1956 the Israel-Japan Friendship Society was established. But for 62 out of the 67 years, Japan-Israel business cooperation was ‘cool’ and distant. The breakthrough came in 2014, when there were several top-level visits in both countries and the business wheels really started to turn.

More Japanese visitors are coming

Today, five years later, everyone in the Israel-Japan circle can feel the excitement. The number of business delegations to Israel has grown from less than 15 in 2015 to over 65 in 2018, with greater numbers in each delegation. In January 2019, more than 100 companies came for the JIIN event. Over 50 large Japanese enterprises already have local offices in Israel, including Marubeni, Mitsui, Murata, Neuroderm and Toyota. But there is still a long way to travel.

According to figures from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, only 20,000 visitors arrived from Japan in 2018, compared to 40,000 from South Korea, 58,000 from India, and 114,000 from China. Direct flights from China and India over the last few years have made a direct impact in increasing the numbers of tourists.

By the way, the Israeli Foreign Ministry says that Israeli tourism to Japan jumped from 15,000 in 2013 to 40,000 in 2018 – an increase of over 165%.

Mutual admiration

There is no doubt that both sides have admiration for each other’s achievements, even if it is sometimes hard to deal with a business culture that is so different from one’s own. Israelis admire the sense of precision, quality and planning shown by the Japanese. In turn, the Japanese are impressed with the innovation and vitality of the Israelis, in a country just the size of Shikoku island.

The bond between the two nations is their shared sense of passion, which overcomes great challenges. One Israel-Japan expert summarized the situation very well: “It’s difficult for Japanese people to visit Israel – but it’s even more difficult for them to eventually leave.”

Challenge of the first business visit

The hope of every business owner is that a business trip, whether close or far, will bring tangible results that can help it to grow. This is even more important when making the 9000 kilometer trip to Israel.

We ask the question: “Is it reasonable for Japanese visitors to find good business connections on their first visit to Israel?” This depends on the level of preparation. At the moment, most visitors only expect to gain a general overview of Israel’s innovation ecosystem. What comes next? Will those visitors look deeper? Will the first contacts grow cold?

The big problem with technology and innovation is that nobody is willing to wait. An innovator in Israel with a great idea may prefer to connect with a Japanese company. But if Chinese or Korean companies move ahead faster, why not? Why not connect with them instead?

Koji Nagano (altered name), a senior Japanese executive working for over a year in Israel in a planning and coordination role, explains the situation: “Change is happening in Japan, but not quickly enough. Business practice is still greatly aligned for the home market, at its own pace. Japanese business people generally find it hard to communicate in other markets. This is a disadvantage.”

Adding more time for preparation

What is the factor that can bring better results for Japan Israel business cooperation? Mike Druttman from Keyzuna Marketing asks them to share more information and to do this much earlier as well. 

“If we’re going to find good contacts for our Japanese visitors, we need to learn much more about them and their plans. We need time to investigate the market and find good matches. It cannot be done at the last minute.”

Mike said that with previous delegations there was no time to do more than say ‘Konnichiwa’, make brief introductions and exchange business cards. He has great hopes for the future: “We’ll find the way to bring them much greater value. They’ll see that Israel is the place you want to come back to.”