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Facebook's COO heads to Japan to promote Asia focus

The regional peculiarities of the Asia market have long served as a kind of firewall blocking many Western technology companies from gaining traction with local users. But Facebook's efforts in Japan versus the local social media juggernaut known as Mixi have finally started to pay off, prompting the company's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, to land in Japan this week to hammer home the message that Facebook is committed to conquering Asia.

In an interview conducted with Japan's leading business journal, the Nikkei, Sandberg said that Facebook plans to increase its focus on the Japanese market, with particular emphasis on the country's advertising market. Extending the reach of an American tech company to cover the international sphere is something Sandberg is uniquely qualified to address thanks to her experience in her former role as vice president of global online sales & operations at Google.

As part of her visit, Sandberg met with Japan's Health, Labour and Welfare Minister, Yoko Komiyama, to discuss Facebook's organ donor registration program, which launched in Japan and South Korea last week. Sandberg also met with Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, the man who brought the iPhone to Japan, essentially paving the way for other Western companies to enter the local mobile market.

When Facebook opened its offices in Tokyo just two years ago, the local news showed footage of a tiny workspace and sparse staff, lending credence to the notion that the US company might not have the necessary focus to overcome Mixi's then surging local popularity. But times have changed, and Japanese users have begun to warm to Facebook's global reach.

According to Nielsen NetRatings Japan, this time last year Facebook hit 10 million active users in the country, against Mixi's 15 million (roughly). Since then, Facebook has accumulated another 5 million active users in the region. Sandberg told the Nikkei, "Japan is a really important market for us. We have over 15 million users in this market. Only six months ago, we had 10 million users. It's an advanced market with very advanced mobile usage."

And while Facebook is also making great headway in South Korea against its own social-networking giant Cyworld, it remains to be seen if the company can conquer other important markets in Asia, such as China, where local players like Renren, Tencent, and Sina Weibo are even more entrenched.

In the meantime, the company can use its foothold in Japan as an encouraging sign that Silicon Valley's best can indeed penetrate the famously hard to crack region. Sandberg said, "A lot of innovation and technology happen [in Japan]. It's also the second-largest advertising market in the world that is the basis of our revenue."