By now, the Japanese love affair with all things Portland is well-known. Blue Star Donuts has seven outposts in the country, a Portland-themed taproom opened in Tokyo two years ago, and (at least within sight of the downtown Powell’s) Japanese feels like our unofficial second language.
In 2014, the Portland Development Commission, the city’s economic development agency, jumped on the affinity to launch PopUp PDX Japan, a single-serving export mission to help emerging Portland businesses break into the Asian market. This year, after a competitive application process, the PDC selected eight brands for the project’s “Portland Fair,” held in the flagship Osaka location of Hanshin department store. The brands include Cycle Dog, which makes pet accessories out of recycled bike-tire inner tubes; backpack makers JBird and BlaqPaks; and the high-end wool bedding of House of Castellon. The roster will take over a space on the eighth floor of a complex that gets 46 million visitors a year. Running April 23 to May 3, the fair starts just before the annual Japanese holiday period known as “Golden Week.”
“The timing is perfect,” says Mitsu Yamazaki, PDC’s international business development officer. “People are stocking up for travel and ready to spend money.”
The pop-up also fits within a range of strategic initiatives that seek to build lucrative links between Portland and Japan. PDC policy analyst Michael Gurton cites efforts to connect Portland architects to Japanese projects and Greater Portland Global, a plan launched in 2015 to boost the region’s international business clout.
Specifically, the pop-up gives the chosen Portland brands a chance to test the waters with Japanese distributors. Past poppers like Danner and Orox Leather Co saw their international presence rise dramatically.
The event isn’t really about immediate returns—though it has meant an estimated $415,000 in sales for participating companies since 2014. Rather, in a market hungry for anything Portland, having feet on the ground and meeting customers face to face is key. “We’re hoping to find a distributor to help with some big orders,” says Martin Martinez, Orox’s chief operating officer; the brand is on board for its second voyage this year. “In Japan, it helps to have a human side to business. It actually makes deals happen faster.”