NAJAS/KKC Business Speaker Series 32 
Portland, Oregon
Mr. Haruo Kurata, Corporate Vice President, Ajinomoto Co., Inc.
Dr. Mark Metzler, Professor, University of Washington

March 29, 2018

The NAJAS/KKC Business Speaker Series was held in Portland, Oregon on March 29, 2018 in cooperation with the Japan-America Society of Oregon. Mr. Haruo Kurata, Corporate Vice President, Ajinomoto Co., Inc. and Dr. Mark Metzler, Professor of Japanese History and International Studies, University of Washington were invited as speakers.

Mr. Kurata gave a wide-ranging overview of the Portland and North America operations. Ajinomoto has been very aggressive in purchasing complementary business with distinct functionality that helps Ajinomoto more widely. Mr. Kurata included examples such as sales outlets, distribution channels, and research and development operations. He also stressed the challenge he posted to his team in developing product in that it must fit the Ajinomoto corporate strategy, of “Fit & Grow with Specialty” – having unique properties that others cannot duplicate. Mr. Kurata then amazed the audience by showing a range of products that include Ajinomoto product – from Diet Coke and Pepsi, to Cheez lts and Colgate toothpaste – and restaurant chains such as Olive Garden pasta, Applebee’s, and Panda Express potstickers. Ajinomoto North America has grown from $10 million in sales in 2000, to $850 million in 2017.

Dr. Mark Metzler led the audience through a timeline of the Japanese economy spanning the last three hundred years. Dr. Metzler pulled the era from 1715 to 1720, and made several interesting economic comparisons to the period of 2005-2010 in the US and more widely around the world. He tested his theory of comparison of the phenomenon of the “economic bubble” and looked at parameters including rice prices, fertility rates, land holdings and social class as influencers. While Japan today is very different from Japan in the 1700s, there were thoughtful comparisons drawn in theory of market stagnation and economic malaise.