Tim Cook’s Busy Japan Visit – Update and Analysis

Tim Cook tweeted a good morning from the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto then raced through a busy three day schedule.

He visited Nintendo in Uji, played some Super Mario Run then went to Tokyo and met up with JR East vice chairman Masaki Ogata. They rode the Yamanote line from Shinjuku to Harajuku and Tim used an iPhone 7 Plus set up with Suica Apple Pay to pay fare. From Harajuku station he visited the nearby Apple Omotesando store.

He wrapped up his day one in Japan with an interview for the NTV late night news program ZERO to promote the upcoming Apple Pay Japan launch. Japanese media reports the iOS 10.1 update/Japan Apple Pay rollout for October 25

Japanese wags suggested Tim might visit the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) in Tokyo to fix the “Uncool iPhone 7“problem which Cook likely did on day two. Maybe FeliCa will be enabled for iPhone 7 customers outside of Japan at some point after all, but there was much more to it than that.

Tim also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and discussed the importance of the Japanese suppliers that Apple works with and Tim going out of his way to praise them. He also discussed  the previously announced Apple R&D center in Yokohama that Apple plans to open in December.

On day three Cook visited supplier Cashew Co., Ltd. in Saitama prefecture, tweeted more praise, then traveled to Sendai to visit the Apple Store there.

The visit seems to have gone well for Apple PR. It created a lot of Japanese media attention for the Apple Pay launch, an important one for Apple but PR was not the only objective. The Japanese media takes for granted that Apple’s growing interest in the Japanese market coincides with Apple’s cooling China market and though it was not widely reported, Tim Cook’s visit also had a political objective.

Over the past two years the MIC has clamped down on Japanese carriers to “level the playing field” and stop rebates to new iPhone customers and for iPhone upgrade trade-ins. There has also been MIC work committee talk of investigating Japanese carrier agreements with Apple but the MIC has not taken any action, so far.

Japanese smartphone journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa points out in his weekly newsletter that Tim Cook’s Japan visit was equal parts of marketing the Apple Pay launch and making overtures to the Japanese government. If the MIC starts taking a softer attitude towards Japanese carrier iPhone marketing, Tim Cook’s Japan visit will have been a huge success.

来日中のAppleCEOティム・クックがJRでApple Pay使ってる!これからBuzzFeed Japanが密着します #TimInJapan pic.twitter.com/4dceHFZkoy

— BuzzFeed Japan (@BuzzFeedJapan) October 13, 2016

おはようございます!🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/s61bSbCwLO

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) October 12, 2016