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It’s not every day that we receive an invitation to visit Japan – all expenses paid.

Imagine my delight when Laos Wood Manufacturing Cluster (WoodMC), Export Trade Assistance program’s partner in promoting Laos export products, asked me to join its business trip to Tokyo, Japan. As a Hinrich Foundation export consultant supporting Laos SMEs, I consider the opportunity to observe international market trends as an honor and privilege. Learning about design trends and product preferences of the upscale Japan market is something that I could gladly share with our Export Trade Assistance supplier beneficiaries back in Laos.

HF Laos export consultant Pik Chanthalangsy (front row, far right) poses with the management team of MIHASHI Co. Ltd and fellow Laos delegates from WoodMC and Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Last October 25 to 28, the group was invited to the showroom opening ceremony of Japan wooden furniture manufacturer MIHASHI Co. Ltd, which is a partner of WoodMC. Among the delegates were members of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Laos Embassy in Japan.

Showroom tour

On our first day in Japan, the Chairman of MIHASHI warmly welcomed us through a sumptuous lunch. His showroom manager toured us around building after that. All the participants had chance to see the unique wooden products from countries around the world in the showroom.

After the showroom tour, we proceeded to the office of Yamakaw, a large rattan company with a factory in Indonesia. It was very fortunate that Thavixok Rattan House and DanLao Rattan – both WoodMC members and at the same time HF-ETA Laos supplier beneficiaries – were part of the trip. During the visit, Koizumi Tatsuro, manager of Yamakaw, shared about Japan product trends and best practices in conducting exports.

Laos ETA beneficiaries Thavixok Rattan House and DanLao Rattan had an insightful conversation with Yamakaw manager Koizumi Tatsuro.
Opening ceremony

The main agenda of our trip, however, was the MIHASHI showroom opening ceremony. Important guests included Viroth Sundara, Ambassador of Laos Embassy in Japan and Toshihiko Watanabe, Innovation navigator from Organization for Small & Medium Enterprise and Regional Innovation-Japan.

A memorandum of agreement signing also took place between WoodMC and MIHASHI Co. Ltd. WoodMC can enjoy 1-year free use of the MIHASHI showroom and receive assistance in Japan business networking.

Official MOA signing between WoodMC and MIHASHI Co. Ltd.
Key takeaways

The trip was truly a memorable experience for me, and if I were to summarize what I learned, I would summarize them in three key items.

1. On product trends & quality: Japan buyers are known for their preference to high-quality, finely crafted home products. They give utmost importance to the design, size, color and even weight. Designs they prefer are simple but innovative – compact but with multiple uses.

2. On professionalism & hospitality: MIHASHI made everything very professional. We deeply appreciated that MIHASHI ‘s Chairman himself came to personally welcome us. It showed to us Japan’s culture of hospitality to treat every visitor as a very important guest.

3. On export process: I also learned how critical export documentation is especially for our Laos program beneficiaries who are mostly new to international trade – something we learned from the Japan companies we talked to. Proper English translation on documents, for example, must be ensured to to avoid delays in customs clearance.

I am hopeful that there would be more opportunities for export consultants like me to visit other countries to learn trends, observe how they conduct export business and share our takeaways with our program beneficiaries.

About the author – Pik Chanthalangsy

Phiengphaneth (Pik), is a Hinrich Global Trade Leader who completed her master’s degree in Development Communication at the University of Philippines in Los Baños class of 2015. She is currently working as an export consultant for the Export Trade Assistance Program in Laos. Before joining the Foundation, she worked as Communication officer for Oxfam Australia, an NGO focusing on food security, education, and health in rural areas.