“we constantly evolve by listening to the voices of our local customers”

Innovation nations

Germany and Japan cooperate in cutting-edge developments


JUNE 2021 Industry Perspectives / Text by Toby Waters

This year, Germany and Japan mark 160 years of diplomatic ties, and there are many aspects of the relationship — from the economic to the cultural — to be celebrated. One that deserves particular focus is innovation. Both nations are at the forefront of developing new technologies and innovative solutions for the similar challenges they are facing, such as ageing populations and the need for greater digitalisation. And, on some of these projects, they are working together.

The 5th German–Japanese Business Dialogue was held in March 2020. At the event, the organiser, a former member of the Bundestag, said, “Our goal has to be to turn Germany and Japan into drivers of future innovations, of which all people can benefit.” While the Covid-19 pandemic has stalled these efforts, the sentiment is as true today as it was then.

Innovation is key to satisfying customers and driving growth, no matter what industry a business is in. The consumer, electronics, and trade promotion sectors, for example, are all different, but they all rely on delivering new and improved solutions to stay ahead. Top German organisations in each of these fields demonstrate that there is power in innovation.

Domestic bliss

Miele is a leading German manufacturer of premium appliances for the home — such as ovens, dishwashers, and laundry and floor care products — as well as commercial equipment. Innovation and continual improvement have been central to the company for over 120 years.

“Our brand promise is ‘Immer Besser’, or ‘Forever Better’, says Akiko Tomita, Miele Japan’s managing director. “That means we will do all that we can to be ‘Forever Better’ than our competitors and ‘Forever Better’ than we already are.

“Our technology has reduced daily household burdens, and enables our customers to enjoy every moment at home — something more important now than ever.”

Tomita believes that innovation is at the heart of Miele.

“We are providing customers with better lifestyles through our innovative products,” she says.

“Miele is a pioneer in energy efficiency and environmental protection. We ensure that our products use less energy and less water while still giving the best performance,” Tomita adds. “Environmentally friendly manufacturing is an ongoing priority.”

By working with Japanese clients, Miele is able to maximise its capacity for innovation and plan more effectively for tomorrow’s market.

“Japanese customers are very discerning when it comes to household appliances and, while there are certainly differences between German and Japanese ways of living, we constantly evolve by listening to the voices of our local customers,” Tomita says. “Although there is not yet a tradition of built-in kitchen appliances in Japanese homes, we want to share the convenience and beauty of such products.”

Playing a key role

Merck Electronics of Merck KGaA specialises in creating materials for displays, semiconductors, and computer chips to help clients in the electronics industry, as well as pearl effect pigments for coating and cosmetics. Consistent innovation has made the firm a central figure in the electronics field, and its Japanese branch plays a major role in maintaining this position.

“Our products are essential for creating the technologies that change the way we access, store, process, and display information. Almost every electronic device on the market today uses one of our products,” says Dr Roman Maisch, representative director and president of Merck Electronics’ subsidiary in Japan. “For our electronics material businesses, our Shizuoka factory in Japan plays a crucial role in R&D and production.”

Innovation for Merck Electronics is driven by its customers, according to Maisch, and it is this bottom-up approach to which the company owes its success.

“In the IT industry, which is progressing faster than ever, understanding what customers need is essential to winning business,” he says. “This encourages everyone at Merck to contribute ideas and concepts. Together with our customers and partners, we strive to create the infrastructure and backbone for our modern, data-driven society.”

Fostering Innovation

As one of Japan’s biggest trading partners, Germany is a prime location for Japanese companies to invest in. This is especially true of North Rhine-Westphalia. It is a major business hub for Japanese companies in the EU, and Germany’s leading state in terms of GDP and FDI — which places a strong emphasis on innovation in the areas of science, technology, and business.

“As the Japanese subsidiary of the state’s trade and investment agency, NRW.Global Business’s focus is on Japan’s high-tech and growth companies that are interested in expanding to Europe and Germany, or NRW, in particular,” says Georg K. Löer, the Japan branch’s representative director and president. “Our innovative and client-focused approach sets us apart from other investment agencies.”

Innovation is crucial to maintaining and enhancing North Rhine-Westphalia’s — and, by extension, Germany’s — reputation as an area of excellence. Löer believes that it is by working with countries such as Japan that innovation can flourish.

“Doing business across borders and bringing two business cultures together is always very enriching and inspiring. It allows us to explore new focus topics and challenges we could not perceive without the Japanese perspective,” he says. “NRW.Global Business Japan has repeatedly provided new impulses through our projects and industry studies, as well as through cooperation with our clients, colleagues, and stakeholders in Germany.”

No matter the industry, innovation is essential for any business’s success. When innovation is the driving force, it will bring benefits both to your company and your customers.

“Doing business across borders … is always very enriching and inspiring”