Visit by Japanese industrialists expected to yield enhanced ties

Ties between Israel and Japan are likely to be enhanced as an outcome of an intensive three-day visit by the high-powered Kioi-Kai group.

Ties between Israel and Japan are likely to be enhanced as an outcome of an intensive three-day visit by the high-powered Kioi-Kai group. Established almost eight years ago, Kioi-Kai, which was founded by Yuichi Ishimaru, special adviser to the multi-billion dollar Marubeni Corporation and former COO of Marubeni America Corp. and CEO of Marubeni Europe PLC, is a group of top-ranking Japanese industrialists and business leaders who meet on a regular basis to exchange ideas and use their joint experiences in management to help build Japan's future. Ishimaru, who has been to Israel several times, introduced Given Imaging, the Israel-based diagnostics company that develops, produces and markets a non-invasive technology for the diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders, to the Japanese market. Eran Harel, managing director of Harel-Hertz Investment House Ltd., who while studying in Japan, realized the importance of forging stronger ties between Israel and Japan, organized the Kioi-Kai visit together with Ishimaru. It was one of many visits by Japanese business leaders that has been organized by Harel-Hertz, whose president and founder Elchanan Hertz on Sunday introduced the group to President Shimon Peres. For all of them, other than Ishimaru, this was a first time visit to Israel , and they were fascinated by everything they saw. For instance, while waiting for Peres they caught sight of a glass-topped, delicately inlaid table that had once belonged to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. Inlaying is one of Japan's artistic traditions, and the group examined the table from every possible angle to determine exactly how it was crafted. Among the members of the group was the legendary Masatake Matsuda, who pioneered the privatization of Japanese railways and is a former president, chairman and currently senior adviser of the East Japan Railway Company. Other members of the group included Katsuya Okimi, CEO of the Beiyu Corporation and former CEO of Nippon Information and Communication Corp.; Yoshiro Kuwata, chairman and CEO of Hitachi High Technologies and Hitachi Medico; Hiroshi Ohira, adviser to Furukawa Electric Industries and chairman of the Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Foundation, which was named for his late father who was prime minister of Japan; Iwao Suzuki, former managing director of Mabuchi Motor Co.; and former diplomat Shumiki Sato, who is now adviser to Toyota, Dentsu and a director of Pioneer Co. Ltd. Accompanying the group was Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori. Ishimaru, who had met Peres on a previous occasion, told him that Israel is very favorably regarded in Japan, and that he hoped that this visit was a first step towards enhancing closer relations. Japan was very interested in Israel's innovations, which coupled with Japan's manufacturing abilities, could lead to great synergy, he said. Already during this visit, said Elchanan Harel, there had been exploratory talks between Hitachi Medico and start-up companies affiliated with the Hebrew University and Japan's NTT Cyber Communications, he added, was a mecca for Israeli information technology. Matsuda presented Peres with a book that he wrote about railway reforms and sent to 130,000 railway companies around the world. He was surprised to learn that Peres had already read it; as proof Peres quoted extracts from the book. Peres expressed appreciation to the Japanese government for what it has done and has pledged to do in terms of humanitarian aid for Palestinians, as well as in terms of helping to relieve the Palestinian unemployment problem, and said that major Japanese companies could also contribute to the peace process by building up industry inside the Palestinian Authority and providing jobs. Peres said he had high regard for the Japanese "who are patient about planning, but impatient about implementing," unlike other countries, he said, which are often quick to plan but slow to implement. The only thing that Israel can do given her size and lack of natural resources is to become a world laboratory of innovation. Israel, he claimed, is number two in the world for attracting foreign investment. The Saudis are in first place, he said. "They have oil and we have brains. We're in the brain business." Most foreign investments he continued, are in Israeli R&D, because Israelis are always open to change. "You can't give an Israeli anything without him changing it within five minutes," said Peres.