Recently, a discussion on Linkedin came to my attention between foreign business people concerning bids to provide temporary housing for Tohoku. All shared similar frustrations that the process was far from transparent and it seemed clear to them that the Government of Japan never intended to source from any foreign bidders.
The demands seem to have been onerous: short deadlines, Japan-specific design requirements (tatami mats, electronic baths, etc), locally licensed construction partners, and very short construction turnarounds could all be interpreted as measures designed to protect the Japan Prefabricated Construction Suppliers and Manufactures Association from outsiders.
According to posters, the turnaround time for completing the bids was incredibly short. The notice was received “the day before Good Friday and had to be in the day after Easter, four days later”. In this time (coinciding with a Western holiday) the company had to design and cost the units and get local partners in place. Nonetheless, 24 US companies and 322 companies in total did manage to complete their bids on time.
A Canadian company was awarded a contract for 10,000, but before the official request was actually sent out.
In the government’s defense, the circumstances of this disaster call for expediency and practicality (not sensitivity to foreign commercial interests). Giving builders in the affected prefectures a better opportunity also seems to me the right thing to do.
Whether protectionist, corrupt, or simply business as usual in Japan, the experience has left a bitter taste. It seems typical of what happens when foreign companies attempt to enter Japan. Business is not always played fair here and close ties between the government and industry are, regrettably, par for the course.
One poster who had experienced similar disappointment after the Kobe earthquake lamented:
“I went through that once in Kobe in 1995… We did not sell one house. I feel especially stupid now, to fall for this drama again.” – Hans-Henning Judek