County Armagh plan for first wasabi crop heats up

UK-Japan News March 2017

Wasabi Crop Limited, based in County Armagh in Northern Ireland, has announced that its first commercial crop of wasabi will be available next year, the Fresh Produce Journal reported on 2 February.

Wasabi is considered one of the world’s most expensive crops. Scientist Sean Kitson founded the firm with the aim of tapping into demand for the plant. He hopes eventually to export the leaves and paste to Japan.

The first full-scale harvest will be next year.

Post-Burberry hard times for Sanyo Shokai

Japan news March 2017

In 2015, Burberry PLC announced it would allow its licensing contract with Japanese garment manufacturer Sanyo Shokai Ltd. to expire. This set the stage for Burberry to take control of its own operations in Japan, after having collaborated with Sanyo Shokai for 45 years.

The loss of ties to a prestigious foreign brand, one that Sanyo Shokai had come to rely on for a significant part of its revenues, came as a major shock. On 17 February, the Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) reported that for the fiscal year ended in December 2016, the firm had announced losses of ¥11.3bn—the largest in its history.

Following the breakup with Burberry, Sanyo Shokai launched two of its own brands: Macintosh London and Crestbridge.
The manager at a department store in a regional city remarked that, compared with Burberry, “The new brands have less than half the brand familiarity. It’s going to take time for them to catch on”.

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Craft gin takes off

UK-Japan News March 2017

Handcrafted gin made by artisans is catching on in Japan, the Nikkei Marketing Journal reported on 6 March, with shops and bars such as Tokyo’s Good Meals Shop, which now serves 200 kinds of gin, increasingly stocking the beverage.

Craft gin distinguishes itself from its mass-produced counterpart through the use of special ingredients, giving the drink distinct tastes and flavours.

Japan now also has its own craft gin producer—The Kyoto Distillery. The firm, which began operations last year, makes use of water and botanicals local to Kyoto.

Video to show settlers’ post-war pains

UK-Japan News March 2017

Named after forget-me-nots, a flower recognised as a symbol of constancy, the Wasurena-gusa Project has been created to preserve the memories of Japanese people who settled in Britain soon after World War II, the Japan Times reported on 14 February.

Organised by the Japan Association, the project’s aim is to record in a series of video interviews the history of the Japanese community, whose members made Britain home beginning in the 1950s.

The interviews will look at some of the hardships that people faced as they arrived in Britain, and their reasons for moving there.

Sony moves to Wales to make hi-tech cameras

UK-Japan News March 2017

Sony Europe Limited has begun making its 4K HDC-4300 video camera in Pencoed, south Wales, the weekly Broadcast reported on 20 February.

The factory is scheduled to make about 25 units per month and Wales is the only country other than Japan to produce the camera.

The Sony UK Technology Centre has been producing broadcast technology since 1999, shipping more than 13,000 units a year. The plant was chosen due to its production capabilities and expertise in high-end, high-value and low-volume products.

Delivery firms stretched to breaking point

Japan news March 2017

The proverb stating that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is about to be tested. In this case, it’s the supply chain, as parcel delivery drivers are being stretched to the limit and their unflagging efforts are no longer taken for granted.

As a result, the healthy growth in e-business supported by Japan’s parcel delivery network may be disrupted as a result of an increase in fees or the curtailing of services in the near future, the Shukan Gendai warned on 4 March.

Currently Amazon.com, Inc.’s Japan operation alone fills about 200mn orders per year. But a looming shortage of personnel may seriously cut into its business. Exacerbating the pinch are special members’ services that promise same-day delivery or, in the case of some products, delivery within one hour of receipt of an order.

From 2005 until 2013, Amazon Japan had used Sagawa as its main delivery agent, but then shifted to Japan Post, which operates as a private entity. The Sagawa drivers couldn’t handle the work, and Japan Post employees don’t seem to like it any better.

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Madden blogs about emperor and Osaka

UK-Japan News March 2017

Ambassador Paul Madden CMG reflected on the first month of his role in a 14 February entry on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office blog.

Madden wrote of his visit to the Imperial Palace to present his credentials to the emperor, and of his meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He also detailed his efforts to support British business in Japan and strengthen UK–Japan ties.

In his first week, Madden visited the British Consulate-General Osaka.

Scholars offer Olympic advice

UK-Japan News March 2017

Visitors from Japanese universities met with staff from the University of East London (UEL) to gain valuable advice for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Newham Recorder reported on 1 February.

Organised by the British Council, talks were given by the UEL on how to prepare for the Games, with a focus on hosting an Olympic training camp, volunteering opportunities, marketing and communications, research and special Paralympic projects.

The UEL was the first stop on a five-day tour of UK universities.

Fintech startup gets boost

UK-Japan News March 2017

Tokyo stock exchange operator Japan Exchange Group, Inc. (JPX) has invested £791,000 in UK-based fintech startup OpenGamma Limited, Tech City News reported on 1 February.

JPX has taken a minority stake, and OpenGamma will use the investment to expand its services in the Japanese market. OpenGamma’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Rippon said the investment would help with the firm’s credibility.

OpenGamma is one of the best-known capital markets fintech startups in the UK, and has produced a tool that helps derivatives traders calculate risk.

Envoy visits North for talks on business

UK-Japan News March 2017

Japanese Ambassador to the UK Koji Tsuruoka visited Greater Manchester to explore trade opportunities, the Manchester Evening News reported on 21 February.

The trip was co-ordinated by Manchester Investment Development Agency Service and showcased the region as an investment and business destination to the Japanese delegation.

Hitachi, Ltd. is already active in the region, and has worked on big data projects with NorthWest EHealth, the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre and the Salford Royal NHS Trust.

BoE fines Tokyo banks

UK-Japan News March 2017

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd. (BTMU) has been fined £17.85mn for failing to be open with the Bank of England (BoE) about enforcement action it faced in the United States, Business Times reported on 9 February.

Along with MUFG Securities EMEA plc, which was fined £8.9mn, the BTMU has been accused by the BoE’s Prudential Regulation Authority of having failed to be open and co-operative regarding an enforcement action imposed on the BTMU by the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS).

The BTMU was fined $315mn in 2014 for misleading the DFS with a watered-down report on its dealings with sanctioned countries.

Scottish food, drink exports soar due to whisky, seafood

UK-Japan News March 2017

The Scottish Financial Review reported on 15 February that food and drink exports from Scotland to Japan surged to £100mn in 2015, the latest available data, largely due to the popularity of whisky.

The alcoholic beverage makes up 70% of the total, while seafood accounts for 16.71%. Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said that the government will continue to build on this success and strengthen relations with major food distributors in Japan.

A Scottish food and drink fair was held on 15 February for the first time at the Isetan department store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Cars smash sales quota

UK-Japan News February 2017

Justin Gardiner, brand manager of Caterham Cars Japan for S-Eye Co., Ltd., said the firm has sold the 100 cars allocated to the country for 2017, meeting the entire sales quota for the year, Forbes reported on 17 January.

One fifth of Caterham’s global production is allocated for sale in Japan. In 2017, this included 60 of the 60th anniversary models of the Caterham 7, all of which were sold within the first two weeks of January this year.

Caterham’s cars are classed as keijidosha, or light automobiles, giving them access to special tax advantages.

£1mn in sales for wind firm

UK-Japan News February 2017

Ecotricity Group Ltd. has sold £1mn worth of small wind turbines to Japan over the past 18 months, making it the largest wind energy exporter in the UK, the Stroud News & Journal reported on 19 January.

Built by Ecotricity subsidiary Britwind, a further 30 windmills are set to be dispatched to Japan by the end of March—130 have already been shipped.

“The Japanese government is backing renewable energy and has created a real opportunity for wind power”, said Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity.

Tweed trademark checked

UK-Japan News February 2017

The Harris Tweed Authority will be appointing an ambassador to Japan to prevent the false marketing of tweed from the Scottish Outer Hebrides, The Herald reported on 12 January.

While the popular Harris Tweed brings in about £4mn a year in Japan, the Harris Tweed trademark is not always used properly in the market, with some goods falsely marked. The appointed ambassador will look to ensure consumers are not misled.

Harris Tweed products use Orb Labels, the oldest British trademark remaining in continuous use. The cloth is protected and defined by the Harris Tweed act 1993.

Nissan cleared to test self-driving cars in London

UK-Japan News February 2017

Nissan has received clearance from the UK government to commence trials of its self-driving cars on public roads in London, Wired reported on 16 January.

The modified Nissan Leaf electric car has been updated with Nissan Intelligent Mobility, comprising a special suite of radar, laser and camera systems. Clearance from a final local authority is needed before tests can commence.

It is hoped the car will be available commercially by 2020.

Nations ink pact to bolster defence ties

UK-Japan News February 2017

The UK and Japan have signed an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that will allow their armed forces to share logistics support in an effort to strengthen their defence ties, The Mainichi reported on 27 January.

The agreement will see Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the British military share supplies including food, fuel, transport and equipment during UN peacekeeping missions, international relief operations and joint exercises.

The move will strengthen the UK’s military ties to Japan and the Asia–Pacific region.

Mitsui agrees rail firm stake

UK-Japan News February 2017

Abellio Transport Group Limited, the international arm of the Dutch rail firm NS Groep N.V., has agreed to sell a 40% stake in its Greater Anglia rail franchise to Mitsui & Co., Ltd., the BBC reported on 17 January.

Although the value of the deal has not been disclosed, Abellio says it will result in the investment of £1.4bn over nine years, leading to shorter journey times and new trains.

The deal is still subject to regulatory approval by the Department for Transport.

Great Wave set for British Museum

UK-Japan News February 2017

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, the famous 1831 woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai, will be displayed at the British Museum for the first time, the Independent reported on 12 January.

The artwork is so fragile that it cannot be exposed to light for long, and will be removed halfway through the exhibition. The piece was last displayed in 2011.

The Hokusai exhibition, which focuses on pieces from later in the artist’s life, runs from 25 May to 13 August, and will close between 3 and 6 July while some of the paintings on show are changed.

New film explores J-pop idol scene

UK-Japan News February 2017

The UK–Canada produced Tokyo Idols has premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival as an official selection in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, CTV News reported on 26 January.

Made by writer-director Kyoko Miyake, the film documents the industry surrounding Japan’s female J-pop idols, singers that are the recipients of intense attention from fans who are predominantly older and male. The sector is worth $1bn annually.

Miyake said that having financing from outside Japan allowed her to be “quite free of censorship”.

Superbike champ to end UK racing career in 2017

UK-Japan News February 2017

Saitama-born British Superbike (BSB) champion Ryuichi Kiyonari will bring his British racing career to an end this year, The Irish News reported on 2 January. He will return to the All Japan Road Race Championship with Moriwaki Racing.

With a career spanning 237 BSB races, Kiyonari came first in 50 of them and secured a further 44 podium positions, placing him second on the list for all-time championship victories.

Kiyonari will compete at the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race, an event he has already won four times.

Japan names envoy for Wales

UK-Japan News February 2017

Keith Dunn OBE, chief executive of St. John Cymru Wales, has been named Japanese honorary consul for Wales as a result of his experience as head of a UK Japan exchange programme, the BBC reported on 4 January.

His responsibilities will include supporting Japanese firms, promoting understanding of Japan and helping Japanese citizens in emergency situations. There are about 500 Japanese nationals living in Wales, and 25 Japanese companies employing some 4,600 Welsh people. He will also oversee cultural events and assist the embassy.

“I wasn’t really expecting to have learning Japanese as one of my new year’s resolutions”, he said.

Drawing the Premium Friday crowd

Japan news February 2017

On 24 February, Japan will initiate a new system to be called Premium Friday (PF), to encourage workers to leave the workplace any time after 3pm on the fourth Friday each month. The concept has caught on in other countries, and may have been influenced by the originally Hawaiian custom of Aloha Fridays, when casual clothes are worn to work on a Friday. Some firms in Japan already have introduced similar policies allowing staff to wear more casual attire at the end of the week.

On 28 January, the Asahi Shimbun reported several examples of plans announced by businesses to launch the PF movement.

Backed by such powerful organisations as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation), it is hoped the extra hours will provide some much-needed stimulation for the economy. The research arm of Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Limited believes that the 11 2017 PFs will have a total economic impact of ¥124bn.

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Too many shopping centres?

Japan news February 2017

At the end of 2016, Japan had 3,212 shopping centres—an increase of 24% from 2001. But in the view of some people, the number is approaching saturation point.

The Japan Council of Shopping Centers defines a shopping centre as a facility with a total sales area of 1,500m2 or more, and accommodating 10 or more tenants. The Nikkan Gendai dated 4 January reported that 2017 would see a year-on-year decline of 15% in the number of new shopping centres opened, with 46 openings planned for this year. This represents the lowest level of openings in five years, and the second-lowest figure after that achieved in 2012, the year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

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Shops add to mix of goods

Japan news February 2017

One way to make sure customers don’t become bored with the same old thing is to look for ways to liven up a store’s product mix. The Nikkei Marketing Journal reported on 21 December that mass merchandiser Yodobashi Camera Co., Ltd. has set up several special sales corners on the premises of its big store in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. One that started on September 30—almost the Christmas season in the minds of retail store planners—adopted film and comic character displays and spinoff goods from Star Wars and Marvel Superhero comic books, both of which are enjoying popularity in Japan.

Another corner, in October began to display a selection of guitars, and included a section where prospective customers could try them out.

Yodobashi’s archrival Bic Camera Inc. took a completely different tack at its Shinjuku East Exit store on the other side of the city. It announced the operation on its premises of the Bic Sports Bar. On 11 December, for one day only, it tied up with a beer garden at the Tokyo Dome stadium and broadcast women’s softball games—the aim was to promote alcoholic beverages. While revenues had declined during the two fiscal quarters ending in August, food and drink saw an increase of 3.8% the following quarter.

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Suntory buys craft gin firm

UK-Japan News January 2017

The London-based craft gin distillery Sipsmith has been bought by the spirits firm Beam Suntory Inc. for an undisclosed sum, the BBC reported on 16 December.

The deal follows other moves by large drinks firms to tap the increasing demand for craft beers and spirits. For Sipsmith, which was founded in 2009, the acquisition bolsters its presence in existing export markets and adds new ones in Central and South America.

Beam Suntory, a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings Limited and the world’s third-largest spirits firm, counts Yamazaki whisky, Laphroaig Scotch and Courvoisier cognac among its products.

Funds set for Welsh plant

UK-Japan News January 2017

Japan plans to contribute a financial package worth ¥1 trillion to the proposed nuclear reactor project at Wylfa Newydd off the Welsh coast, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on 14 December.

The money will be provided in the form of loans from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Development Bank of Japan to Horizon Nuclear Power Limited, which has been contracted by the British government to build and run the plant. Horizon is a subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd.

The Japanese government sees the funding as a way of boosting exports of its nuclear power technology.

JR East leads group bid for West Midlands rail

UK-Japan News January 2017

A consortium led by East Japan Railway Company has made a bid to run the West Midlands network franchise, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on 31 December. Other members of the consortium include Mitsui & Co., Ltd. and the Abellio Group.

They will compete against the existing franchise holder, a UK–French joint venture. The bid represents JR East’s first attempt to run an overseas train operation as it seeks new sources of growth.
The decision will be made in June.

Citi role in pound crash probed

UK-Japan News January 2017

The Japanese trading operations of Citigroup Inc. are being investigated by the Bank of England for its role in October’s “flash crash” in sterling, the Financial Times reported on 6 December.

The investigation is focusing on multiple sell orders that came from Citi’s Tokyo desk. Although not believed to have started the crash, they nonetheless played a key role in sending sterling to its lowest value in 31 years. A panicky trader and an electronic tool known as an Aggregator are possible reasons for the orders.

The incident saw the value of the pound fall from $1.26 to $1.14, with the currency sliding 9% in about 40 seconds.

Sports Direct sells Dunlop to Kobe firm

UK-Japan News January 2017

Sports Direct International plc has agreed to sell its Dunlop brand to Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. for $137.5mn, The Daily Telegraph reported on 27 December.

The British firm expressed its intention to become the “Selfridges” of sports retail, and as such would focus on its core UK business and developing relationships with third parties. As part of the deal, Sports Direct will be granted a royalty-free licence to continue using the Dunlop brand name.

Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley bought Dunlop Slazenger in a 2004 deal reportedly worth at least £40mn.