City Focus - Osaka
Business Chief profiles the sustainability goals and advanced infrastructure of Japan’s so-called ‘second city’.
Located in west-central Japan, Osaka lies on the eastern side of its eponymous bay. Osaka’s metropolis, known as Keihanshin, had a population of over 19mn according to the last census in 2012, the second highest in Japan after Tokyo. Osaka city proper is the largest constituent part of that metropolis, in front of Kyoto, Kobe and Sakai. In 2014, the OECD calculated that the Osaka prefecture contributed 7.4% of Japan’s total GDP, and in 2015 the Brookings Institution said that the Keihanshin region had a GDP of US$681bn, slightly higher than Beijing’s. Historically the city has acted as a hub of Japanese commerce. Though it is less prominent in that area in modern times, a number of large companies maintain their headquarters in the city and a general entrepreneurial spirit prevails.
Across the country, Japan has recently renewed its focus on sustainability and disaster resilience in order to combat a spate of climate emergencies. Osaka is no different in this regard. In 2011, Osaka’s government instituted a scheme it called “The Environmentally Advanced City of Osaka”. Measures it includes are an 80% reduction in total gas emissions from their 1990 levels by 2050, a reduction of annual waste to under 1 million tons per year, and encouragement for its residents to rely on eco-friendly personal transport.
Electronics multinational Sharp Corporation is located in Sakai, part of Osaka’s Keihanshin metropolitan region. The name is appropriate considering Sakai’s reputation as a maker of samurai swords. The company name, however, derives instead from a mechanical pencil it developed, the “Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil”. A subsidiary of Taiwan’s Foxconn, it also maintains a second headquarters in the country. Founded in Tokyo in 1912, Sharp moved to Osaka in 1923. It describes its operations as “mainly manufacturing and sales of telecommunications equipment, electric and electronic application equipment, and electronic components.” It reported just over ¥2tn ($18.3bn) in revenue in 2017 and as of 2018 it employs 41,898 people.
Itochu is part of the venerable Japanese tradition of Sogo shosha, companies that specialise in providing a wide range of products. With its HQ located in Osaka proper rather than on its outskirts, the company’s post war success was built around textiles, but it also deals in machinery, food production and processing, insurance, IT and many others. With a lineage dating back to 1858, the company employs over 100,000 people, and has a revenue of ¥4,838bn ($44.3bn) as of March 2018. Itochu sees the breadth of its operations as key to its success and it also has a strong message of corporate responsibility: “As one of Japan’s preeminent merchant companies, we will remain grounded in our merchant’s spirit while aiming for business operations that are good for the seller, good for the buyer, and good for society.”
Headquartered in Kadoma on the outskirts of Osaka, the multinational electronics company Panasonic continues to operate in the city in which it was born. It recently celebrated its hundredth birthday, having been founded in 1918. Operating worldwide, the company is involved in numerous electronics sectors, ranging from consumer devices, to vehicle interior infotainment systems, to cooling and heating systems. The company also conducts business outside of electronics, such as housing materials and construction. Panasonic says that its brand slogan ‘A Better Life, A Better World’ “aims to concisely express [its] Basic Management Objective in the modern era established by founder Konosuke Matsushita.” Employing almost 260,000 people, its revenue was just under ¥8tn (US73.3bn) as of 2018.
Osaka’s infrastructure is renowned, and among the best in Japan. According to a 2015 paper by academics from the University Düsseldorf, “Osaka’s ubiquitous infra-structure is most advanced [in Japan], as for the year 2011 the city had the most broadband CATV, DSL, FTTH as well as mobile phone subscribers.” Its dominance in infrastructure extends also to its transportation network. Osaka’s metro is the second oldest in Japan, servicing and connecting the city’s vast productive hinterlands. With such a dense and well serviced metropolitan area, Osaka is ripe for the employment of smart technologies to improve the lives of its citizens. According to FutureIOT, one such scheme saw Osaka install sensors by Japanese company NEC in order to monitor factors such as congestion and crowd flow. The company said that “this will contribute to the deployment of security guards and the optimization of evacuation guidance.”
A city which always has something to do, upcoming events include the construction event Exterior Fair Kansai on 6-7 June, and the advertising trade show Sign Expo on 14-16 June. With its history of innovation, a technologically advanced culture, and the infrastructure to match, Osaka is well placed to meet any challenges it may face as it continues to grow and expand in the future.