Welcome to Kansai!
International Affairs Department
Kansai Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry
In mid-October this year, the 40th Leadership Program was held here in Kansai by the Institute for International Studies and Training. It was the first time in the long tradition of this program, which invites opinion leaders from around the world to Japan, that the entire program was conducted within the Kansai region. Here I review the Kansai of today which attracted so much interest from program participants.
Kansai as innovator
What do cup noodles, automatic ticket gates for trains, etc., and mechanical pencils have in common?
They are all products born in Kansai that have since become global fixtures. Kansai is the birthplace of many other products as well. Of these, karaoke, rooftop beer gardens and golf courses have become essential services in terms of enriching our lives. Kansai-born products and services are intimately linked to our lives today.
Kansai has flourished for many years as the center of Japanese politics, culture and history. As a result, people, goods, money and information have all clustered in Kansai, which, combined with the changing times, has spurred many new innovations.
These circumstances have positioned Kansai as an extremely important region on the cutting edge of environmental and energy technologies and the high-tech industry, as well as a national leader in terms of tourism.
Thick industrial structure
Both Kansai’s population and GDP account for around 17 percent of the national total, with Kansai’s GDP on a scale equating to that of the Netherlands.
Kansai is also positioned virtually at the center of the country, has three of Japan’s major cities—Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe—and could be said to be the heart of the Japanese economy.
Kansai has also flourished as the hub of Japan’s history and culture, attracting people, goods, money and information. These assets have imbued the region with enormous growth potential.
The culture and skills that have built up in the Kansai region over many years have led to the formation of a thick industrial structure.
Typical examples are leading-edge industries such as home appliances and electronics, biotechnology and the medical industry.
In terms of home appliances and electronics, Panasonic and Sharp were both born in Kansai and even today have their headquarters in Osaka. Launching their development trajectories from Kansai, both have established global brands and now have production bases not only in Japan but all around the world. Then there is Kyocera, which has operated in Kyoto for many years as a fine ceramics manufacturer and has extended its reach into a broad range of fields including solar power generation. The clustering of firms such as these has led to Kansai producing 79 percent of Japan’s photovoltaic cells and 81 percent of lithium ion batteries.
In the biotechnology and medical industries, Japan’s top pharmaceutical firms are clustered in Osaka as home to the ‘medicine town’ of Dosho-machi. Kansai also boasts Kyoto University, which is at the forefront of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) research, and Osaka University, which is strong in the field of regenerative medicine, positioning the region as a domestic R&D hub for the biotechnology and medical industries.
In particular, many research institutes and companies are clustered in the Saito Life Science Park and the Kobe Medical Industry Development Project site on Port Island as the hubs of Kansai’s biotechnology and medical industries.
Kansai also has a strong concentration of highly original companies, including Nidec Corporation, the world’s leading producer of small precision motors; Shimadzu Corporation, home to a Nobel Prize winner; and Murata Manufacturing Co., creator of unique electronic components.
In addition, Kansai boasts many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with extremely high technological capacities and unique technologies. Higashi-Osaka in the eastern part of Osaka Prefecture is known as an area in which many of Japan’s top SMEs with advanced technological capacities are gathered. That SMEs from Higashi-Osaka successfully combined their talents to launch a small satellite is evidence of those extremely strong technological abilities.
Challenging new initiatives
Drawing on this thick industrial structure, a number of new initiatives are underway in Kansai. One of these is the Kansai Innovation Comprehensive International Strategy Zone, whereby three prefectures and three cities (Osaka Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture, Hyogo Prefecture, Kyoto City, Osaka City and Kobe City) are collectively aiming to build an innovation platform to boost the international competitiveness of the region. More specifically, the various life science and ‘green’ hubs (the Kobe Medical Industry Development Project, Saito Life Science Park, the Yume-shima/Saki-shima district, Keihanna Science City, the Umekita district, etc.) for industries where Kansai enjoys a strong presence, such as medicines, medical equipment, advanced medical technologies (regenerative medicine, etc.), batteries and smart communities (battery-related energy, etc.), will join forces with the logistics and research facilities underpinning these (Hanshin Port, Kansai International Airport, Spring-8, the Kei Next-Generation Supercomputer System, etc.) to speed up the process between R&D and commercial development, promote standardization, and develop packages with a view to overseas expansion. In short, this ambitious initiative is no less than an effort to fashion 21st-century Kansai-based innovation.
In addition to this industrial potential, Kansai also has further potential as a tourism center. Of the 12 cultural heritage sites in Japan inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, five are in Kansai, including temples and shrines in Kyoto and Nara. With 60 percent of Japan’s national treasures also in Kansai, the region boasts an abundance of historical cultural assets. A rich variety of cities are located very close to each other—Kyoto and Nara with their natural beauty, history and culture, alongside Kobe and its exotic atmosphere and the commercial and industrial hub of Osaka. Travel between these cities generally takes around an hour, offering a level of appeal in terms of the urban environment that other regions cannot hope to match. It is no wonder that Kansai is attracting attention as a tourism hub.
Given these diverse attributes, hopes are high for Kansai to serve as Japan’s next growth center. Whether it’s for business or a high-quality lifestyle, Kansai today is a great place to be.
(original article : Japanese)
• The 40th Leadership Program on Japan (FY2011)