JAPAN AND OHIOJapanese-owned facilities: 420Employees: 57,883Japanese residents: 8,087Main exports: Automotive, chemical products, metal productsSister-State: SaitamaSister Cities: 14JAPANESE EDUCATION IN OHIOOhio colleges teaching Japanese languageStudentsCourses1. Ohio State551222. Ohio University220113. Cincinnati200114. Toledo175135.Kent State15596. Case Western Reserve149107. Miami University12088. Bowling Green12069. Oberlin College92810. Wright State804Other area schools:17. University of Findlay35422. Ohio Northern101Ohio K-12 public schools teaching Japanese languageSchoolsStudentsHigh school15917Elementary/Middle2177CITIES WITH MOST JAPANESE FACILITIES IN OHIO1. Cincinnati 342. Dublin 253. Columbus 234. Mason145. Cleveland136. Akron117. East Liberty108. Marysville109. West Chester1010. Findlay9Troy9Total in Ohio in 2011: 420Source: Consulate-General of JapanLIMA — Japan and Ohio may be a world apart, but it is vital to both places that they remain close friends.With 420 facilities employing close to 58,000 people, Japan is a major player in Ohio economic development picture. But Ohio and other Midwest states also provide a valued and unique opportunity to Japanese manufacturers.“There is a reason behind why Ohio holds a highly prestigious role within the U.S. Ohio and this region is very important to Japan,” said Kuninori “Matz” Matsuda, consulate-general of Japan for Ohio and Michigan.Matsuda serves as one of 17 Japanese Consulate Generals in the U.S. A diplomatic post, his role is to manage relationships between the two countries in business, education and culture. While visiting The Lima News with Lima Mayor David Berger, Matsuda outlined the role Japanese industry has played in the Midwest, and the ways the region can lure more employers.The Midwest provides a resource of hard working, well-trained employees and solid educational resources, Matsuda said. It also offers a level of government cooperation they don't find everywhere, from the state government all the way down to local school boards.“You cooperate to create a very business-friendly atmosphere,” Matsuda said.Ohio also shows a genuine interest in building relationships with Japan, Matsuda said. The state has a sister-state relationship with the Saitama Prefecture (the Japanese equivalent of a state) and 14 Ohio cities have developed sister city relationships with Japanese counterparts. In education, 22 Ohio colleges offer at least one Japanese language course, with The Ohio State University offering 22. And in exchange, Midwesterners are the teachers of choice when Japan goes shopping for people to teach English in their schools.“The Midwest and Ohio, you speak a very standard English. No regional accent,” Matsuda said. That interest has illustrated locally last year, when a tsunami and earthquake ravaged part of Japan. “Lima was one of the first communities to reach out and send help,” Matsuda said. “They reached out to my office and to their sister city in Japan.”Matsuda predicts his country's investment in the state will increase in the future. One of the lessons learned after last year's tsunami was that Japanese manufacturers here, particularly in the automotive industry, need a steady stream of supplies. The flow of those supplies from Japan was shut off after the disaster and production froze. They don't plan to let that happen again.“They learned from last year's rather miserable, disastrous supply chain interruption. I anticipate strong investment here in the supply chain,” Matsuda said. Drawing that investment to specific communities means building on those existing relationships. Lima, St. Marys, Van Wert and Celina all have sister cities in the growing western portion of Japan. They should work with their friends in those cities to network with businesses, Matsuda said. There also needs to be an institutional effort to promote the area by sending delegations to Japan to meet with business and government leaders face-to-face.“Even in this age of I.T. (internet technology), personal contact is still key,” Matsuda said. “We do not always trust the gadgets, even though we actually create them. We would rather dine together and wine together and sometimes even sing together.” You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.