“For many, [Kansai] is the perfect location”

Strengthening ties in Kansai

Consul General of Germany in Osaka–Kobe Martin Eberts


NOVEMBER 2021 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by the German Consulate General Osaka–Kobe

This year, Martin Eberts marks 35 years in Germany’s Federal Foreign Service. During his career, he has held a variety of roles in a number of countries, including Hungary, Saudi Arabia, France, and Brazil. From 2014 to 2018, he acted as director general of the German Institute in Taiwan, and from 2018 to 2020, he was head of the Political Affairs Department at Germany’s embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. In July 2020, he took up his current position of consul general of the German Consulate General in Osaka–Kobe. It is his second posting to Japan.

What kind of presence do German businesses have in Osaka?

According to data from Toyo Keizai on foreign businesses in the Kansai region, Germany is second only to the US for the number of companies here. We estimate that there are around 50 firms with their Japan headquarters in Kansai and, when you include factories and regional offices, there are about 135.

The benefits for these companies are manifold. For many, this is the perfect location, as they can be as close as possible to their prime customers. Osaka is also the second-largest business hub in Japan. Local companies have leading positions in many industries, such as healthcare, battery technology, and chemicals.

We support German businesses in the region in many ways, for example, by providing networking opportunities through regular roundtable meetings, as well as business seminars and other events. We also help with regional contacts and information for business development activities, and by supporting German pavilions at regional trade shows.

We gladly support Kansai-based Japanese businesses that are active in Germany. In Kansai alone, there are more than 85 companies that, together, have over 130 factories and offices in Germany.

How has the consulate marked the 160th anniversary of diplomatic relations?

We organised two big events: a film festival and a manga competition. It was possible to hold both in the traditional way — with real people in real places. Preparations were not easy though, since there was always the risk we would have to cancel. But in the end they were really successful.

The German Film Festival in Osaka was held on 2 and 3 October, and it also doubled on the second day as a special celebration of German Unity Day. We are very proud of the size and scope of the event, the choice of films, the attendance, and the positive response from the audience. We want to make it a regular event, so this will be a lasting result of our 160th anniversary celebrations.

The manga competition was a fascinating project — one that reached a new and younger audience. The challenge we posed to Japanese manga artists was to present their view of modern-day Germany and/or German culture. The works that we received are absolutely marvellous. I am deeply impressed by the fine craftsmanship and wonderful creativity of such a diverse group of people: young and old, amateur and professional, women and men, boys and girls. For those of us on the jury, it was a nearly impossible task to choose the winners.

The competition was only possible with the support of the Kyoto Seika University, the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and the Goethe Institute. We are extremely grateful.

Other events we organised on the occasion of the 160th anniversary included online and hybrid seminars, lectures, exhibitions, and concerts.

“The Kansai region also profits from the knowhow and international networks … [of] German companies”

Why is it important to celebrate this anniversary?

Germany and Japan have a rich and impressive common history, and our people feel a deep respect for one another.

Currently, our two nations are being challenged in similar ways, including by the pandemic, environmental threats, and the need to defend the rule of law in international relations. Showing how deeply rooted our partnership is makes perfect sense in this context. Reassuring key players in Germany and Japan about the solidity and depth of our relations is reason enough for this year-long celebration. 

What are a few examples of German investments in Kansai that you’ve seen in recent years?

Several German multinational companies have private research labs in Kansai. For example, BASF is operating a next-generation battery technology research lab in Amagasaki, and Boehringer Ingelheim is conducting research at their Kobe Pharma Research Institute. In recent years, Bayer Yakuhin — one of the biggest German employers with headquarters in Osaka, and a 110-year history in Japan — opened the CoLaborator, a startup-focused co-working space that includes a cutting-edge biomedical laboratory.

Another notable investment from the past few years is the opening of a new branch office and showroom by DÜRR DENTAL in Kobe.

Clearly, there is a lot of regional potential in research-intensive, high-tech industries, as Kansai has an excellent academic landscape and leading clusters in the battery and biomedical fields, among others. The Kansai region also profits from the knowhow and international networks that these German companies can offer.

How is the consulate getting ready for Expo 2025 in Osaka?

At the consulate, we followed Osaka’s application to host Expo 2025 closely from the beginning. We are very happy that the application was successful, and we have already begun supporting preparations by our Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, which is in charge of Expo participation. Germany was one of the first countries to confirm their presence at Expo 2025 and officially apply for a type A pavilion.

It is still too early to say much in particular about the design and content of our pavilion, but the ministry will involve all German federal states and many creative stakeholders in the planning process. We are positive that, in the end, they will come up with a concept even more spectacular than our current pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

I have the highest expectations for Expo 2025 in Osaka, which I hope will also give a boost to our bilateral economic and scientific partnerships.

What is Germany’s energy and climate policy?

In June 2021, Germany increased its climate policy ambitions by strengthening climate protection laws and pledging to become climate neutral by 2045. But concrete measures are needed to achieve this goal. At COP26, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the importance of global carbon pricing to gradually decarbonise and find ways to achieve sustainable CO2 policies. Although Germany is in the midst of forming a new federal government, one thing is certain: climate protection will be a key issue.

Since the signing of our energy partnership in 2019, we have intensified our exchange on important topics such as the deployment of renewable energy and hydrogen technology. In 2022 and 2023, Germany and Japan will hold consecutive G7 presidencies. This will be a great opportunity for us to lay a solid basis for the future, especially by fostering innovation.

What are your long-term hopes for Germany–Japan relations?

Germany and Japan have a special relationship, with a deep-rooted, reciprocal respect and admiration for one another’s culture, as well as a lot of common interests. Naturally, I hope that we can further deepen this relationship. I am especially hopeful that our bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, and science can grow even stronger.

But my biggest hope is that personal contacts, cultural exchange, and the exchange of scientists and students can return to pre-pandemic levels — and then be further enhanced. We all feel the pain of lacking personal contacts, so I hope that we can start interacting again, without being limited to virtual contacts. In the long run, this is what’s most important.