Governor's meeting with Japanese almost translates into disaster

June 15, 1991|By John E.Woodruff | John E.Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

NAKAI, JAPAN — NAKAI, Japan--It was supposed to be the one tangible news item out of Governor William Donald Schaefer's trip to Japan.

But the governors's meeting with officials of Japan's Terumo Corp. nearly ended in disaster because of language problems.The head of the company.not knowing he was expected to announce an expansion of its Maryland plant,launched into a desription of the plant's growing pains,making it seem for a while as if the expansion had been waylaid.

Over lunch last Thursday, Mr. Schaefer and Mitsuo Tozawa, president of Terumo Corporation, were to make a joint announcement of plans for a $27-million expansion of Terumo's medical-accessories plant at Elkton.

At the Terumo headquarters' mountain-ringed main conference room, all was in readiness.

The story had already run on the Business page of that morning's Sun, a stack of xeroxed copies of the press release was on hand, a leather-bound letter from the Cecil County Commissioners had been handed over to Mr. Tozawa.

But by the time the guests had emptied the crystal goblets and gold-edged china service of the appetizer of half a steamed lobster, the vichyssoise swirled with double consomme, the beef medaillon with roesti potatoes and mushroon caps, the red and white wines changing according to the courses, the parfait ice cream cake and the demitasse coffee, one thing still was missing.

Mr. Tozawa, far from announcing an expansion of his firm's Elkton plant, had declared that Terumo Medical Corporation, the 538-employee Maryland-based subsidiary, is still "hundreds of millions of dollars" in the red from its North American operations.

"We cannot at this time claim success for our American operations," he said at one point. "We are not worried because we are still in an investment stage, but we cannot yet claim success because we are far from making profits."

"I hear you loud and clear," Mr. Schaefer replied, the familiar furrows between his eyes growing deeper. "I am concerned by what you say. The State of Maryland wants your firm to be successful in Elkton. We will be in touch to find out what we can do to help."

More than an hour of after-lunch scurrying eventually led to distribution of the press releases. With them came an explanation--due to confusion between the Japanese and English languages, aides to Mr. Schaefer said, Mr. Tozawa had not understood that the announcement was to be made at the luncheon.

For Mr. Schaefer's 20-member delegation, it had been a small lesson in the complexities Americans meet in running even a one- week business-hunting mission, much less actually doing business, across the linguistic and cultural gulfs between Tokyo and Annapolis.

The stop at Terumo, which lasted just over three hours, was one of several visits to keep fences mended with a few of the biggest among the 58 Japanese companies that have business interests in Maryland or which, like Toyota Motor Corp., ship through the Port of Baltimore.

J. Randall Evans, the state economic developmen acknowledged that there will be no easy, tangible way of measuring the effectiveness of this kind of trip, which took the delegation on to Singapore Saturday afternoon.

"You pursue everything you hear of," Mr. Evans said. "You know only a few will produce business for Maryland, but you pursue every one of them so long as there's any hope."

D. Michael Grose, the state's full-time representative in Tokyo , said. "The governor's presence opens doors and gets us together with people who are awfully busy and often hard to see,"

One of those was Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, who made Mr. Schaefer the second American state governor he has met at his Tokyo official residence.

When Mr. Schaefer commented that Japanese firms have been "good citizens and good for Maryland," Mr. Kaifu sensed a chance to repair Japan's tattered image on Capitol Hill.

"Please tell that to the Maryland members of Congress, especially Senator (Barbara A.) Mikulski and Senator (Paul S.) Sarbanes," the prime minister said.

Whether out of tact or out of lack of information, Mr. Kaifu did not raise the name of Representative Helen Delich Bentley, whose smashing of a Toshiba boom box on the Capitol steps has become a symbol to many Japanese of the political anger growing in both sides of the Japan-U.S. relationship.

"I will talk to members of the Maryland delegation," Mr. Schaefer said. "This relationship is essential to both countries, and the Japanese are opening up constantly to more and more imports from America. There are business opportunities here, and we are going to concentrate on getting Maryland firms to take advantage of them before other companies catch on how much things are changing."

"I'll have to talk to Helen separately, though," he added.

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