Helpdesk for Clusters

The EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation is running a helpdesk service for the benefit of European and Japanese clusters, to help them identify potential cooperation partners in the reciprocal regions. Our Centre also intends to facilitate access to information on EU and Japanese clusters in general, on existing cooperation set-ups between EU and Japanese clusters, and on financing tools that may be used to foster future cooperation. To access our helpdesk, please contact our Information Desk.


Japanese Clusters Environment 

The Japanese definition of cluster is quite blurred when compared to the EU one and especially clear examples such as the French “poles de compétitivités” where an independent organisation is supporting and managing cooperation between local companies, universities and R&D centres in their internationalisation activities.

Although some Japanese clusters organisations are matching their EU equivalent as of definition and activities, in Japan case, most of the clusters structures correspond to a R&D centre that will coordinate private companies, universities and public entities in the realisation of very specific research projects usually funded by public funds. Once the project is achieved, the cluster ends its activities (sometimes leaving their online website without any clear information on the ceased activity this making the task to identify active clusters more complex).

Therefore the aim of a portion of Japanese clusters is not really internationalisation but rather achieving the R&D task that was given the research centre. Some of such entities can be easily identified by the word “project” appearing in their name.

Other clusters are acting as a “communication network” aimed to share information and do not have any real “physical” entity.

Finally it was observed that some regional areas with a concentration of companies operating within a specific sector are considered as “industrial clusters” although not having any de facto “cluster organisation” to coordinate them but are eventually supported by local development agencies. In some cases local Regional Industrial Promotion Agencies are supporting such companies in their internationalisation process. This support is provided by a “cluster department” within the Agency entity, but without any visual display of their existence (internet, PR activities) and relying for any international activity (organisation of international fair participation, signature of Memorandum of Understanding, etc.) to cooperation with regional METI’s offices or the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO). 


Cluster mapping

JETRO has developed a mapping tool that provides information about the industrial clusters (major companies, related research institutions, main sectors, etc.) in various regions of Japan, and various sectors (mainly Automobiles and Transport Equipment, Aircraft, Food manufacturing, ICT, Electronics, Life Sciences, Environment and energy, Service, Tourism). The industrial clusters are not necessarily supported by a cluster organisation but are localised on a map.

The EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation conducted three mappings in 2013, 2016 and 2022, and we observed that many entities ceased their activities simply because they reached the end of their expected lifespan as defined at the time of their creation, or due to lack of new financial resources to continue their activities once the Governmental support ended.

For this reason, fresh screenings have been completed, with new entities identified and activities and ongoing international relations of the existing clusters re-assessed. The 2016 mapping is available here, while the newest version is available here below:

Japan benefits from an important cluster community (at least 48 cluster organizations in 2022). Many of the cluster organizations were initiated and funded by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) that introduced a form of quality label for the cluster community in 2001. Others were initiated and funded by the prefectural governments with the aim of revitalizing a local/regional economy.

The search based on the information available in the official website of each cluster organisation (most of the time only in Japanese) provided the following results:

  • Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology, Healthcare, Medical and Welfare: 19 clusters
  • Environment, Energy: 4 clusters
  • IT: 3 clusters
  • Automobile Related Industry: 1 clusters
  • Electronic Components, Devices and semiconductors: 3 clusters
  • Knowledge Clusters: 2 clusters (precision manufacturing & IT/environment)
  • Aerospace: 4 clusters
  • Food: 10 clusters
  • Robot, Science/Tech: 1 cluster each

Of the 48 identified Japanese clusters organizations, 7 provide an active English website, 6 provide a static or non-updated English website and the other 35 Japanese only websites (of which 2 provide a PDF in English).

When assessing the internationalization activity level of the clusters by browsing their websites and in some cases contacting them, the following were found:

  • Many of them are focusing on domestic development
  • The ones interested in international development are focusing primarily on Asia
  • Only a few of them have recent relations with the EU


Cluster policies

  • METI’s "Industrial Cluster Project" (2001- 2020)

In 2001, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry introduced a plan to enhance the industrial competitiveness of Japan. The project involved regional SMEs and start-ups who use research results obtained from universities and research institutes to establish industrial clusters. As SMEs typically have limited business resources, the project assisted in the establishment of links between SMEs and core national universalities in their cluster region.

There have been three phases of International Cluster Policy: the first focused on creating the foundations of industrial clusters (2001-2005), the second on continuing to foster network formation while also developing specific businesses (2006-2010) and the third on encouraging industrial cluster activities to reach financial independence and autonomous growth (2011-2020) in which the industrial cluster projects are now expected to be led by their local government, collaborating with their local academia and industry for further advancement. 

The results of the 2016 and the 2022 mappings showed that during this autonomous period most of the initial launched cluster projects ceased their activities once they achieved their targets or reached the end of their expected initial planned life time. (Sometimes leaving online website of the project may give the wrong impression that the cluster is still operational).

According to METI, some activities related to the cluster projects are still carried out by local/regional organizations even in the case where the cluster projects officially ceased their activities, and in some cases, collaborations between companies, prefectural organizations and universities/research institutes can still be seen.

Since the 2010s, METI has been shifting its focus from cluster formation to companies that drive the local economy and offering those companies support for capital investment and new business creation.

  • MEXT’s "Knowledge Cluster Initiative"  (2002-2011)

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology established the Knowledge Cluster Initiative in order to strengthen industry‐academia‐government collaboration and regional self-sufficiency. Methods included conducting join research initiatives to develop new technologies which could meet the needs of businesses.

This term of knowledge clusters, unique to Japan, referred to a system for technological innovation, organised by a local initiative around universities and other public research institutions with original R&D topics. It also featured the participation of companies inside and outside the region. The programme was held until 2011.

In addition, in 2010 MEXT launched the Project for Developing Innovation Systems which aimed at establishing and improving the systems that enable individual regions to create proactively innovations through the industry‐academia‐government collaboration policy. As part of this national project, two programmes were created: the Regional Innovation Cluster Programme and the Regional Innovation Strategy Support Programme.

Both MEXT programmes have now ended and, as of today, the 2016 mapping showed that almost all clusters supported through the above programmes have ceased their activities.

  • Other Governmental financial supports and programmes

However, there are some financial supporting programs available that could apply to existing clusters as well. Those annually budgeted programmes aims to provide funding (incentives / subsides) to develop projects to improve regional industries.

1) The “Regional Core Business Local Innovation Promotion Program” - 地域中核企業ローカルイノベーション促進事業(*)

The yearly program was launched to financially support industries of a region to make matching with local network, market researching, human resources development, etc. Local companies and organizations like clusters can apply to the subsidies through the Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry in their region.

Regional Industrial Promotion Agencies are also providing similar support with the same aim. Here some example of funding structure / calls (Japanese):

* Note: the acronym and English name of the programmes are literal translations of their Japanese name. No official English title is available at the time of this writing

2) Centre of Innovation (COI) program

The Centre of Innovation (COI) program is one of the main funding programs under the Centre of Innovation Science and Technology based Radical Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program (COI STREAM) which was launched in 2013 by MEXT and is managed by the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

3) Regional Industry Tie-up program (currently discontinued)

A different programme supporting internationalisation of Japanese regions was developed by JETRO and has been running since 2007. In the Regional Industry Tie-Up (RIT) Program, JETRO supports business networking and meetings between industry clusters of Japanese SMEs (in this case the word cluster intended as an area with a concentration of companies operating in the same sector) and those from overseas regions, aiming to facilitate export, technological partnership and joint development of products in software, contents and processed food as well as manufacturing and environmental areas.

On average, every year 15 projects were implemented targeting specific regions of the world and industrial sectors. In the past, through the RIT program, JETRO supported cooperation with 8 regions of the EU (especially in Germany and in France) and in some cases, in bold font, 5 EU clusters were also involved in the process while 2 Japanese clusters benefited from the programme.




Cooperation opportunities and examples

The EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation has launched a service for the benefit of European and Japanese clusters, to help them identify potential cooperation partners in the reciprocal regions. Since 2013, the Centre organises matchmaking yearly missions to Japan for EU Clusters and their SMEs members, notably thematic missions in the sectors of Biotechnology, Nanotechnology and ICT. The 4-day mission includes participation as exhibitors during a trade fair within a common booth.

A service of the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation called the EU-Japan Technology Transfer Helpdesk has also been established; dedicated to primarily supporting EU SMEs in finding promising technologies originating from Japanese universities and research centres.

Moreover, the EU-Japan Regional Cooperation Helpdesk is a regional cooperation platform mobilising European regions and clusters, and Japanese Prefectures and clusters, that fully exploits the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the EU-Japan Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity.

Japanese cluster organisations, especially in the life science sectors, are generally interested in international cooperation and notably inter-clustering. In the report and screening from the EU-Japan Centre, cluster organisations reference their existing cluster-to-cluster cooperation and show a number of EU-Japan existing cluster cooperation:


Organisations relevant for cluster activity in Japan

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