For foreign companies in Japan that are a long way from their home market, their chamber of commerce can play a vital role in bringing them together in a community to share ideas on various issues and build new connections.
One such chamber is the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan. Although Swedish companies had been operating in Japan for decades, it wasn’t until 1992 that eight Swedish companies, including Nihon Tetra Pak, Electrolux and Kabi Pharmacia, got together to form the chamber.
Today, the chamber works out of the Swedish Embassy, under the supervision of Executive Director Stefan Ojersjo, who has been in Japan for the past 22 years. Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Ojersjo at the embassy in Roppongi to hear more.
How many members does the chamber have at present?
We have about 80 corporate members, mostly companies in B2B. About 30% of our corporate members are Japanese companies, including Kajima, Taisei and Toyota Industries, among others. Then there are about 60 individual members.
How well known would you say Swedish companies are in Japan?
Most Japanese would say IKEA and H&M because they are the most famous companies that are in the retail sector, so they are well known among Japanese. But Sweden has a long and successful business relationship with Japan, especially in forestry, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and heavy industries.
What is your goal with the chamber?
The first objective is to make it meaningful for members to be in the chamber. For our member companies, unlike in Europe, they want a feeling of belonging in Japan because the market here is so unique and they are so far from home. We also have many individual members who are very active and value the things we do. Organizing networking and social events is fundamental to what we do but the chamber is much more than that. We want to make it more proactive and we’re doing that by working on joint events with other chambers and vice versa. Further, I want the chamber to act as a melting pot for all our members.
It must be an advantage working out of the embassy.
Yes, the chamber, the Commercial Office, the Investment Office and the Science & Technology Office are all within the same building. The Swedish Trade Council, now named Business Sweden, is one of the founders of the chamber with a permanent board seat. The interaction works very well. Sometimes we get inquiries from companies in Sweden who want to launch start-ups in Japan and they want to know who they should talk to. Business Sweden hosts a business support office for start-ups.
Are many Swedish companies showing an interest in Japan?
One trend is that Swedish banks that were here before and left are showing some interest in coming back. I think a lot of that has to do with positive signals that companies are seeing in the Japanese market. We also continue to see great interest from Swedish retail companies in everything from fashion to food, as well as from the traditionally strong Swedish industries such as life sciences, packaging and ICT. One exciting development is the signed Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration on railway-related matters between Sweden and Japan at the ministry level. It would be a dream come true to see a shinkansen service in Sweden. Then of course, we can’t wait to see the famous Swedish music streaming service Spotify launch services in Japan soon.
What is a typical day for you?
I usually start by answering emails in the morning from Swedish companies looking to enter the Japanese market, as well as from members, inquiries from potential interns, and so on. Then I do some admin and event organization work. I go to a lot of events not just at the various chambers but also cultural events organized by the embassy. Some weeks, I go through 100 business cards.