U.S. companies should seize opportunities to enter the Japanese market now while their economy is coming out of a recession and new consumer patterns are developing, according to George Lancaster, the former manager of the Tokyo office of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism and currently a partner of Atlanta-based EnterAsia, which represents product sales in Japan for U.S. manufacturers.

The rush on Ford Mustangs even with the steering wheels on the left side of the car as opposed to the right side as is the custom in Japan is one example of changing consumer patterns that Mr. Lancaster cited during a seminar sponsored by The Japan-America Society of Georgia in conjunction with The Japan Society of New York.  Mustangs now compete with Japanese cars on both price and quality, he added, and Japanese consumers are responding.

“There is a myth that the Japanese don’t like a choice,” he said.  “But it’s just that they have never been given a choice.  If they are given a choice Japanese consumers will behave like consumers all over the world.”

As other signs of the change in Japanese consumer attitudes, Mr. Lancaster pointed to a willingness to drive long distances in search of bargain prices, to the proliferation of fast food restaurants and to the success of  the do-it-yourself stores like Home Depot outlets.

He also said that in the current economic environment a number of Japanese businesses are actively seeking ways to reduce regulations that separate manufacturers and buyers.   As an example, he cited International Storage tems, in Covington, Ga., which has sidestepped the large trading companies and sold its heavy-duty shelves directly through “alternative channels,” not controlled by the elite managers of large industrial corporations.

The seminar, entitled “Restructuring Japanese Corporations in a Changing Environment,” was held Oct. 28 in Atlanta at the SwissŸtel.  While Mr. Lancaster stressed that change already was underway, others indicated that more established companies in Japan needed to respond to the new environment more quickly.

Mr. Lancaster may be reached by calling EnterAsia at (404) 249-9308; fax, (404) 249-9435.   The telephone number of The Japan America Society of Georgia is (404) 524-7399; fax, (404) 524-8447.