President Klaus visits Japan

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President Vaclav Klaus and his wife Livia have just ended a four day official visit to Japan. The presidential couple had a packed agenda and did not break their pace even when the president's aircraft failed to take off on a planned flight from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Although the unexpected technical failure necessitated a last-minute change of plans - it did not detract from the overall success of the Japanese visit.

Vaclav Klaus and his wife Livia with Emperor Akihito (left) and his wife Michiko (right), photo: CTK
Although the Czech business delegation was unexpectedly left stranded in Tokyo, the President actually saw more of Japan than planned - he and his wife Livia simply hopped onto a regular domestic flight to Hiroshima to take part in the scheduled commemorative ceremony. Speaking to journalists en route the President said he was impressed with his reception in Japan. On Wednesday he and his wife were received by Emperor Akihito and Empress Mitchiko.

Klaus : "Being received by the Emperor and Empress carries a lot of weight and this will be an important signal to the local people. I was impressed by their knowledge of the Czech Republic and Czech affairs. It seems that their visit to the Czech Republic in 2002 left a favorable impression and I think this is good for the Czech Republic's image in Japan."

After the fall of communism in 1989, formal relations between the two countries quickly intensified. Japanese tourists flocked to Prague because of its culture and history, and businessmen because of its geographic location and cheap labor force. Today the two countries have a trade turnover of 72 billion crowns but only 9 billion of that represents Czech exports to Japan - mostly hops and crystal glass. One of the aims of the President's visit was to boost the Czech presence on the Japanese market and to explore possible joint business ventures which could open the door to other countries in the region.

David Labus, an expert on Czech Japanese relations, says that the language barrier and cultural differences have given Czechs a slower start in the land of the rising sun.

"For a start the language barrier is a big complication, because you can only agree on so much via English letters. So you really need a trustworthy interpreter but also someone who will instruct you in the Japanese code of behavior and business conduct. The Japanese market is still fairly closed and objectively it is hard to find a niche on it. You need to accept that building trust is an important preliminary step. In Japan they may take a long time to come to a decision, to accept you as a partner, but once they do it is a firm commitment. So you must count on investing both time and money in order to achieve this."

The fact that the Czech Business Chamber is planning to open a branch in Tokyo this summer indicates that Czech businesses are now ready to do just that.