J@pan Inc talks to the President of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan
By Peter Harris
How big is the chamber and who does it represent?
The Italian chamber has roughly 170 members. Italian companies working in Japan come from a wide variety of industries. Our members come from some of the largest name Italian companies, Gucci, Armani, Lamborghini, Fiat and so on. We also have some hitech companies, legal services and many other kinds of smaller enterprises are represented.
How does the chamber fit in with Italian government institutions in Japan?
There are several Italian commercial institutions in Japan. The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ICCJ) is an association made of Italian and Japanese companies—we don’t get a great amount of money from the government and we rely much more on our volunteers, interns and the support of our members than other chambers, but we work very very hard.
What does the chamber do?
We are all involved with promoting Italian business in Japan and we often cooperate in putting on events. This year the Chamber cooperated in close contact with other Italian institutions at the huge promotional effort called ‘Primavera Italiana 2007’ which was held between March and June and consisted of around 200 events promoting all things Italian, cultural, commercial, artistic and so on. We also had a regional specific exhibition in Shiodome featuring over 60 companies from Apulia—the theme was products of quality from technology to bread and from wedding dresses to design.
Although we don’t lobby on a formal, political basis, by having events and getting out into Japanese business circles, the chamber and its members are constantly lobbying in a sense— promoting Italy and building people to people and business to business links.
How would you characterize Italy–Japan trading relations?
The best way to know a market is to import from that market and then see where the gaps are. In Italy, we import a lot of Japanese goods and this has helped us to understand Japan. I think that for Japanese consumers, Italian products in the lifestyle sector are most popular and that there is more potential to be tapped. French culture, food and drink and so on, became popular in Japan in the 1960s but Italian things didn’t really get popular until the 1980s.
This means we are perhaps more associated with younger tastes and there is more for people to explore—different ways of drinking coffee or more diverse fashion styles for example. The strong Euro is making things a little tougher at the moment but we expect that to balance out in the near future.
What is the future of Italy–Japan commercial relations?
Italy has a great future in the Japanese market because of what Italy has to offer: food, fashion, technology, all united by being high quality and unique. We also have cheap quality things in Italy but abroad we can offer the best—and the Japanese consumer is very demanding so they like Italian things. We are very excited to be having the ‘ItaliaNippon2009’ where every Italian company or organization in Japan will be doing something. We will also be bringing over opera groups and are planning more regional events. The next step will be to provide opportunities for Japan to learn and enjoy the wide variation that exists between the different Italian provinces.
How long have you been President and what is your experience of Japan?
I have been President for four years. I first came to Japan 20 years ago and I love it here. For five years I was in charge of Alitalia in Japan but since 2001 I have gone into semi-retirement.
However, I do work in a consultant capacity. In some ways I see Japan as how Italy used to be, a low crime rate, people are polite and they care about small details. I have seen some really good steps forward in Italy–Japan relations in my time here. For example we had an anniversary year back in 2001 and we also had a big presence at the expo in Aichi in 2005. It was interesting that when The Da Vinci Code came out in Japan there was a huge surge of interest in Italian art. It was amazing, that this March, permission was actually granted to allow Da Vinci’s ‘Annunciation’ to go on loan to a museum in Tokyo, from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.JI