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.

For inquiry, please contact Jessica Michelson, EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation, EU-based office.

Information on Japanese clusters
(on following link)

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.

In 2013 the EU-Japan Center for Industrial Cooperation published a report on cluster mapping in Japan. The report is based on a survey, in which 50 Japanese cluster organisations were contacted, and in the end data could be collected on 45 of them. Since the 2013 report release the cluster environment in Japan changed with many entities listed in the 2013 report ending their activities simply because reaching 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.

Following a fresh screening of the internet completed in May 2016, many other entities (either missing in 2013 report or in some cases recently established) were identified and the ongoing international relations of the added clusters as well as the one listed in the 2013 report and still active, could be better assessed. It was also observed that some regions are evaluating the possibility of establishing food sector related cluster but details are still not enough to assess their future existence and activity. Only future mappings will say.

The 2016 mapping is available here.

Japan benefits from an important cluster community(at least 52 cluster organisations in 2016). The cluster organisations were most of them 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.

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 clusters: 28 clusters
  • Environment, Energy Clusters: 3 clusters
  • IT clusters: 2 clusters
  • Automobile Related Industry clusters: 2 clusters
  • Electronic Components, Devices and semiconductors clusters: 6 clusters
  • Precision manufacturing clusters: 2 clusters
  • Aerospace: 2 clusters
  • Food: 2 clusters
  • Material, Energy, Nanotech, Robotic, Marine: 1 cluster each

Of the 52 identified Japanese clusters organisations, 9 provide an active English website, 18 provide a static or non-updated English website and the other 25 Japanese only websites. 

When assessing the internationalisation activity level of the clusters by browsing their websites and in some cases contacting them, 2 points were checked:

  • their internationalisation process focusing on ongoing/past relations with the EU;
  • their overall “activity” (if their website (in Japanese and/or English) is kept updated with recent posts, organizing events etc…)

14 clusters showed recent ongoing activities with EU organisations and 8 clusters had past relations with EU counterparts between 2001 and 2012 but no other info could be identified after 2012. 10 clusters are only targeting Asia or America, 7 clusters are open to internationalisation but without detail on target areas, 9 clusters do not provide any info about internationalisation strategy if any, and 4 clusters clearly stated that they were not interested on internationalisation.

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 mapping 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).

METI is still chaperoning the existing clusters and provide ad hoc (financial) support in case of necessity such as the Fukushima region located“Utsukushima (Beautiful Fukushima) Next-Generation Medical Industry Agglomeration Project”.

  • 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, some financial supporting programmes have been recently launched 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 innovation ecosystem creation programme”* (地域イノベーションエコシステム創成プログラム)

It is a regional innovation ecosystem building programme cooperated with METI, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MOFF) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). Targeting research institutions and local governments. The programme was launched after the purely academic Knowledge Cluster Building Programme ended.

The aim is to shifting into a new phase, building a successful model to commercialize the technology seeds in the region.

The key points of the programme are; 1.Supporting an innovation hub centre. 2.Supporting networking activities between industry, academic institutions and local government based on the core company in the region. Matching technology need with market needs. 3.Implementing the innovation system.

2) The “regional core business creation support programme”*地域中核企業創出・支援事業..

The yearly programmewas launched to financially support industries of a region to make matching with local network, market researching, human resources development etc…. Local companies and organisations 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 incentives / subsidies 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

3) 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.

4) Regional Industry Tie-up program

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 are implemented targeting specific regions of the world and industrial sectors. In the past 3 years through the RIT program, JETRO supported cooperation with 8 regions of the EU (5 in Germany, 2 in France, 1 in the UK) and in some cases, in bold font, 5 EU clusters were also involved in the process while 2 Japanese cluster benefited from the programme.




Cooperations examples and opportunities with the EU


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 5 days mission includes participation as exhibitors during a trade fair within a common booth. For the latest updates on these missions please have a look here.

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

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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