Firms that perform in Japan

Mitsuru Kitano, the new Japanese ambassador to Ireland, was hopeful of a good performance from his side as he opened his residence to host his first official event last week.

Firms that perform in Japan

Mitsuru Kitano, the new Japanese ambassador to Ireland, was hopeful of a good performance from his side as he opened his residence to host his first official event last week.

As a keen rugby supporter and former flanker for his local team, he will savour his country’s win over Ireland. He points out that there has been a groundswell of grassroots support for rugby — Japan’s third sport behind professional baseball and soccer.

It is ironic therefore that an Irish firm, Kitman Labs, has been providing leading performance and health analytics to Japanese rugby’s top flight. One of its newest clients is elite Japanese rugby team Red Hurricanes in Osaka.

The Irish sports technology company was co-founded in 2012 by Stephen Smith, who was a former injury rehabilitation and conditioning coach for Leinster Rugby. Its software has changed the way the industry uses data to boost sporting success.

When Mr Smith worked with Leinster, he inherited a set-up which separately gathered and managed training information, game information and medical information.

Developments in data science inspired him to build a performance and data analytics system that combined all three components, to increase athletic fitness and team performance.

The system’s success has enabled the company to grow internationally.

In 2014, it signed its first customer, UK football club Everton.

Success there saw Smith move to the US to raise money to fund further growth and signed its first US contract the following year.

“Today we have 250 teams across all sports, from Mixed Martial Arts to soccer, rugby and baseball,” says Mr Smith.

He travelled last year to Japan to speak at the Sports Tech Tokyo conference, and from there the company won two contracts -- with the Red Hurricanes and the Yokohama BayStars, a professional baseball team.

And Japan will be a significant market for Kitman Labs for some time.

“For a start, it has some of the largest corporate names in the world, and corporate health is a growing area of opportunity for us.

“Japan is unique, in that all its major teams are owned by corporates, so no other country offers that same level of opportunity in terms of corporate health for us,” he says.

Off the pitch, Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump signed a trade deal last week, which takes away the immediate threat of a fresh tariff war between the two countries.

The deal offers US farmers easier access to Japan, cutting tariffs on beef and pork products, in return for a reduction in US tariffs on industrial goods.

Irish farmers and processors will now face stiffer competition in Japan, a market they have been courting for some time.

In all, Irish agri-food exports to Japan amounted to €115m last year, including pigment worth €41m and beef exports of €3.6m.

The announcement earlier this year that Japanese authorities removed the restriction on exports of beef from animals over 30 months, following detailed technical exchanges and an audit visit, was seen by Irish processors as offering opportunities for growth. But this may now be hard to execute in the face of a flood of beef from the US under the new deal.

The Japanese prime minister has been equally successful scrummaging across in Europe last week , where he signed an ambitious deal with the EU to develop a infrastructure development fund to counter China’s far-reaching belt and road infrastructure initiatives that link Asia with the rest of the world.

The EU-Japan’s connectivity partnership will cover many areas, including transport and digital industries to improve ports, roads and internet highways between Europe and Asia.

This new initiative builds on the economic partnership agreement between the EU and Japan that came into force in February.

Irish businesses can now take advantage of the largest open trade zone in the world, even if the rugby team has not been able to do so.

John Whelan is managing partner of international trade consultancy The Linkage-Partnership

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