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Secretary Hobbs Heads to Japan for Cultural and Trade Mission

Secretary Hobbs Heads to Japan for Cultural and Trade Mission

By Barbara Mizoguchi
NAP Editor

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Washington State Secretary of State (SOS) Steven Ryuma Hobbs, SOS Executive Assistant Kate Jacob and SOS Community Engagement Officer Stephanie Prentice. Our discussion was about the trade and cultural mission trips that Sec. Hobbs’ office undertakes bi-annually. Sec. Hobbs is also interested in “reverse trade missions” by having executives and dignitaries tour Washington State companies such as Pokémon and Wizards of the Coast.

▲Mission trip participants, Sec. Hobbs, and his staff in front of Himeji Castle on a rainy day holding a Washington state flag.

This mission trip began on April 19, 2024 to Japan and consists of Sec. Hobbs; his staff; Sarah Ellerbrock, Legislative Office Manager to Senator Bob Hasegawa; Maddie Merton, Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County; Nicole Jekich, Tabletop Gaming Alliance Representative/Producer; Michael Fowler, World Trade Center Tacoma; and new Washington State tabletop gaming companies. The gaming group consists of Cherry Picked Games, Flatout Games, Green Ronin Publishing, Heart of the Deernicorn, HPC Advocacy, LLC, and Lone Shark Games. Although gaming business connections between Washington State and Japan began before the trip, it is now time to further develop relationships in-person and hopefully secure sales and distribution.

▲(left to right): Sec. Hobbs, Heart of the Deernicorn Ross Cowman and the Director of the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum Masakazu Takata. Mr. Cowman presented to Takata-san one of his designed games.

Partnering with the State Department of Commerce, Sec. Hobbs’ office will also host a booth at the Game Market trade show in Tokyo. They will be the first U.S. participant. As Sec. Hobbs mentions,“The Washington State Tabletop Game Sector has an opportunity to grow market share outside of the United States and sell to foreign markets. Leveraging the state resources and diplomatic connections to open doors for small businesses fosters new business development opportunities and a potential increase in exports overseas.”

Sec. Hobbs will also meet with the Japan External Trade Organization and Boeing Japan. There will be opportunities for aerospace companies to also help gaming companies, e.g. allowing empty warehouses in Washington State to be used for storing products by gaming companies.

Sec. Hobbs and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell at the dedication ceremony of the new sister city story pole in Kobe.▶︎

There was an opportunity to attend the replacement story pole ceremony. In 2015, the Lummi Indian Tribe (northern-most Washington coast and southern coast of Canada) took down a rotted pole located in Kobe, Japan. The Puyallup Tribe carved a new one and had it delivered to Japan. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and the two tribes were present for the three-hour ceremony.

Additionally, there will be a meeting with the U.S. Embassy, a former Japanese ambassador, a former secretary of Japan’s Prime Minister, a former Chief Press Secretary of Japan’s Prime Minister, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai-NHK), the Tokyo Press Club and Washington’s sister-state Hyogo Prefecture.

Those on the mission trip will later meet in Tokyo for the second half of their visit. Washington State company owners will present their gaming at Jelly Jelly Café which is a board game cafe chain in Japan. (One can play board games from all over the world whenever one wants to play.) The group will also meet with Sho Shirasaka, founder and owner of the cafés. It is evident that Japan has a handle on the gaming market such as Wizard on the Coast “Magic Duels”. (Also, collecting cards called, “Magic: The Gathering”.) There is also “Role Playing” games often called “RPG” and tabletop “Role Playing” games often called, “TRPG”. In addition, there is “Master Duel Tier List” (only available in Japan). There is also Card Game P available only in Tokyo and Belgium. These are trading cards that would be great to have in Washington State and possibly manufacture in Pierce County.

Overall, Sec. Hobbs would also like to get gaming in rural Washington such as in Yakima libraries where anyone can visit and play. He is also interested in getting gaming into prisons. At Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie, 75 percent of the detainees check out books.

Everyone currently visiting Japan is hopeful of making business agreements. Although pre-meetings have occurred before the trip, it is believed that the trust will build quicker face-to-face. Sec. Hobbs hopes the group understands the importance of building trust and relationships with Japanese business people, and that there have an interest to learn more.

The group will be returning on May 1st. You can look forward to an updated article about the trip and its outcomes. This mission trip will now occur every other year in April with the two-day Game Market trade show.