Window to Europe


Japan is widely recognized as a leader in innovation and supplier of advanced technologies. The country’s recent ‘Abenomics’-fueled contusions, along with its efforts to internationalize before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, only reinforce the sense that this land of sushi and Pokémon Go  still the world’s third-largest economy despite years of economic drift  remains an important actor in global commerce.

It’s a hunch that Finnair Cargo’s general sales agent in Japan, Yutaka Chiba, is adamant the Finnish carrier has successfully capitalized on. As of the summer season, Finnair will be Europe’s biggest airline in Japan, based on weekly number of international flights to and from the airline’s four freight destinations in Japan – Narita Airport (near Tokyo), Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Europe’s busiest airline

From June onwards, Finnair Cargo will operate two passenger planes out of Narita and three more out of Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka  for a grand weekly total of five wide-body aircraft making 28 round-trip flights between Japan and Helsinki Airport, Finland’s main gateway to the rest of Europe.

According to Chiba, Finnair’s high frequency of flights to and from Japan  along with its centralized reservation and customer service operation in Tokyo, which manages over 1,800 tons of available cargo space “as one”  allows the easy transfer of freight from overbooked flights in one location to same-day flights with lighter loads elsewhere in the country, maximizing efficiency and distinguishing the airline from competitors.

“Finnair also has the shortest flight paths from major airports in Japan to Europe, through Helsinki,” Chiba says, adding that Helsinki Airport is very appropriate for a stopover.

Salmon run 

Finnair’s guarantee of speed and efficiency is one on which Lerøy Seafood Group depends. Lerøy, the second-largest salmon and trout farming company in the world, supplies Japan with freshly-caught premium salmon from Troms, a rugged Norwegian province north of the Arctic circle.

“If we harvest salmon in Troms on Monday, Finnair allows us to reach our customers in Japan by Wednesday afternoon,” says Keita Koido, president of Lerøy Japan.

While perishables constitute a significant portion of Finnair’s freight to commercial destinations in Asia, for its Japan-outbound activity the airline deals mainly in durable goods, including medical equipment, electronics, semiconductors, auto parts and accessories, textiles, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Foreign bulls

For the time being, Japan’s economic health is reported as stable. According to Niitsu Research Institute and Consulting (NRIC), Japan posted four consecutive quarters of growth and a 1.2 percent GDP increase in 2016. Net exports and imports promise to hold steady in 2017, with expected increases of 8.8 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) forecasts slight but consistent growth through 2021. And a recent business confidence survey, published biannually by the Foreign Chambers in Japan (FCIJ), indicates the strategies of foreign-affiliated companies in Japan are overwhelmingly bullish, with 77 percent of respondents expecting to upsize, and 19 percent predicting sustained levels of current sales.

“Newcomers to Japan should note that, given the scale of its economy, even a one percent market share can lead to big business,” says Timo Varhama, who for nearly 30 years led the Japan operation of UPM-Kymmene, a Finnish manufacturer of paper and other wood products.

Quality and reliability

“The market outlook is very positive from a Finnish standpoint, “ adds Clas Bystedt, executive director of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Japan. Finland’s largest industry in Japan has long been paper and pulp, but Bystedt foresees significant market penetration in other sectors as well, especially IT, machinery and design products, the latter due to Japan’s long-standing appreciation for Scandinavian design and lifestyle.

As for Japanese exports, Varhama, who also writes a monthly column on local politics and economics for the Finnish Chamber Bulletin, concludes: “Japan Inc. has an enviable reputation for quality and reliability, and while many Japanese products are assembled in other countries, Japan remains a big supplier of secondary goods for finished products. Finnair’s Tokyo-Helsinki route is nicely positioned to deliver these goods to manufacturing plants in Europe.”

Text by Elliot Silverberg
Photo by iStock



Published May 23, 2017

Category: Local features, Finnair Cargo, Economy