Japanese companies now thriving in Korea

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Japanese companies now thriving in Korea


Top: A factory worker examines an optical film being manufactured at Toray Advanced Materials Korea’s factory in Gumi, North Gyeongsang.

Despite Japan’s past aggression on the Korean Peninsula, now the two have close ties and are vital economic and trade partners.

Japan’s cutting edge products appeal to trendy customers who are eager to open their wallets for high-end goods, including cars, electronics and stationery goods, despite the recent economic downturn.

And thanks to the Korean Wave (Hallyu in Korean) and rising interest about Korea, Japanese people, especially compared to 10 years ago, are experiencing various aspects of Korean culture ranging from TV shows and K-pop to food and makgeolli (Korean rice wine).

An official at the Seoul Japan Club declined to name Japanese companies that run offices in Korea citing confidentiality, but she confirmed there are more than 350 Japanese companies - including small and mid-sized firms - in Korea.

According to statistics by the Korea International Trade Agency, Japan’s biggest export partners last year were China, the United States, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Its top exports to Korea include steel, semiconductors, plastic chemical goods, glass goods, chemical products and precision optical instruments.

Top Korean exports to Japan include semiconductors, petrochemical goods, wireless communication goods, steel plates, flat-panel displays and flat-panel display censors.

Some of the most recognized Japanese brands and company names include Toyota, Honda, Sony, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Uniqlo and Toray.


Above: A Toyota Prius, a newly popular model in Korea. Provided by Toyota Korea and Toray Advanced Materials Korea

Japan’s No. 1 car maker, Toyota, made inroads in the Korean market in 2001. It established Toyota Motor Korea in 2003 to aggressively enter Korea’s foreign car market, which was dominated by German brands such as Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen.

“After its Korean market launch, Toyota secured a top ranking in annual sales in the foreign car market two years in a row in 2005 and 2006,” said Lee Byung-jin, an assistant general manager at Toyota Korea’s public affairs department.

Lee also said that the main popular models in Korea include the Camry and Lexus ES350.

“So far 1,148 Camry’s have been sold in Korea since December 2009,” Lee said. “The Lexus 350 was No. 2 in foreign car sales last year alone, with more than 2,300 in sales.”

Toray Advanced Materials Korea Inc., formerly known as Toray Saehan, has also been a winner in the Korean market.

While the name “Toray” isn’t familiar to the general public, its polyester films, IT materials, spun bond non-woven fabrics, polyester filaments and polyester resins are recognized among local manufacturers for their high quality.

Toray launched in Korea in 1999 and in 2007 Toray Korea generated 724.1 billion won ($607.2 million) in total sales. That number increased to 839.7 billion won in 2008 and 953 billion won last year.

“Our next goal is to hit the 1 trillion won mark this year,” said Kim Yeon-soo, senior vice president of Toray Advanced Materials Korea’s corporate strategy planning division. “Our long term goal is to surpass 4 trillion won in total sales by 2020 and we will further expand into solar energy materials, carbon fiber and secondary batteries as ‘a new growth engine.’”

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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