SoftBank funds for London games firm

UK-Japan News June 2017

The British technology firm Improbable Worlds Limited has raised $502mn (£390mn) in a new funding round that included SoftBank Group Corp. among the investors, Venture Beat reported on 11 May. Improbable is the creator of an operating system, SpatialOS, that enables the creation of vast online game worlds through the use of cloud computing.

SoftBank’s Managing Director of Investments Deep Nishar will join Improbable’s board as a result of the investment, although SoftBank has taken a non-controlling stake. Improbable will now also explore possible opportunities for cooperation with SoftBank and its partners.

The investment will enable Improbable to expand its operations in London and San Francisco.

Nissan to make batteries for UK homes

UK-Japan News June 2017

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd and US power firm Eaton will be producing batteries—previously used for electric cars in the United Kingdom—to store energy for households, The Guardian reported on 4 May.

These are believed to be the first British-made household batteries pitched to the UK home energy storage market. Households using solar panels will be able to store electricity to use later, rather than export it to the grid, thereby saving some £43 a month.

The batteries will be manufactured at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, assembled in Morocco, and sold in partnership with Eaton.

ARM CEO: Still in control

UK-Japan News June 2017

SoftBank has honoured its commitment not to interfere in the day-to-day running of ARM Ltd., Simon Segars, the firm’s chief executive officer, told Management Today in an interview published on 2 May. SoftBank acquired ARM for £24.3bn in September last year.

“They haven’t spoiled the neutrality and our discussions are all about strategy and growth”, Segars told the magazine.

Segars also praised the speed at which ARM can now grow and operate.

“For me and my team that has been pretty liberating and motivational”.

Farmers see big demand when UK meat ban ends

UK-Japan News June 2017

The rising consumption of meat in Japan may offer a chance for UK farmers to sell British beef and pork to this high-value market, Farmers Weekly reported on 1 May.

Britain’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is looking to open up opportunities in Japan for beef, imports of which are dominated by Australia and the United States. Currently, the UK cannot sell beef in Japan, because Tokyo has not conducted sanitary and phytosanitary tests at UK processing plants since a trade ban was instated in the wake of the BSE crisis.

AHDB hopes Japanese officials will visit UK plants within the next 12 months.

Duffel coats a big hit in Japan

UK-Japan News June 2017

Japan is the biggest market for the London-based duffel coat maker London Tradition, the Hackney Gazette reported on 17 May.

“The Japanese love anything authentically British, and it has to be made in the UK as well”, the firm’s co-founder Rob Huson said, noting that the firm sells a lot fewer coats in the UK than in Japan. “A duffle coat … is a very English product and it’s made in London, so what’s not to like”.

Based in Hackney Wick, London Tradition is 15 years old and produces 800 to 1,000 coats a week, both for its own brands and high-quality high street retailers in the UK.

Yorkshire vegetable firm gets Heinz Japan contract

UK-Japan News June 2017

J E Hartley, a frozen vegetable supplier based in North Yorkshire, has secured a contract with Heinz Japan K.K., BDaily reported on 27 April.

The contract will see the firm supply frozen peas and mixed vegetables for products sold by retailers and used in Japan’s food services industry. The firm already has a contract with Heinz in the UK.

J E Hartley, founded in 1954, has 60 staff and a £16m annual turnover. The firm produces and sells a wide range of frozen vegetables including peas and various root vegetables.

NHK shines light on Lake District

UK-Japan News June 2017

National broadcaster NHK transmitted a 90-minute documentary on Dalemain House and Historic Gardens in Cumbria on 31 May. Jane Hasell-McCosch, the wife of Dalemain’s owner, was interviewed about her passion for gardening at the mansion, where she grows an old variety of apple.

Dalemain House and Historic Gardens is famed for hosting the World’s Original Marmalade Awards, where Japanese chef Hideko Kawa introduced her yuzu-flavoured marmalade and which was visited by Japanese Ambassador to the UK Koji Tsuruoka.

London gets first sake brewery

UK-Japan News June 2017

London’s first sake brewery, named Kanpai, has opened in Peckham, the Southwark News reported on 27 May.

The brewery is run by Lucy Holmes and Tom Wilson, who both still work full time and make the sake during evenings and weekends.
The first batch will be launched at Selfridges in June, and local pubs and restaurants have expressed an interest in stocking the beverage.

The pair began brewing sake as a hobby after visiting Japan.

British author takes food tour of Japan

UK-Japan News June 2017

Michael Booth, a British author, journalist and broadcaster, spoke to about how he got to know Japan through its food.

Booth’s travels took him on a culinary journey around Japan. His initial trip included Sushi Jiro in Ginza, lunch with sumo wrestlers, and umibudo sea grapes, an Okinawan speciality seaweed. In particular, he highlighted izakaya, Japanese pubs, as his ideal place to eat.

His new book, The Meaning of Rice, will look at his latest journey to Japan.

Tale of samurai and pirates proved

UK-Japan News June 2017

A British teacher in Japan has found evidence of a visit to the country in 1830 by a ship from Australia, then a British colony, The Guardian reported on 28 May. The visit came at the height of Japan’s sakoku, or isolationist, policy, and was long dismissed as fiction by scholars.

The episode saw British convict pirates land on Shikoku, one of Japan’s main islands, aboard the Cyprus. There they encountered local samurai, who attacked and also helped the pirates.

Nick Russell, who made the discovery, came across it after examining a record of an encounter between samurai and non-Japanese.

New tonic for drinkers

Japan news June 2017

A report, in the Nikkei Marketing Journal of 29 May, says that gin is growing more popular in the land of sake, especially among people who enjoy imbibing at home.

Seijo Ishii Co., Ltd., a speciality supermarket chain that stocks a wide variety of imports, now carries 30 different varieties of gin—up by some 60% compared with a year ago—including a limited-edition craft gin sold under its own label. To encourage customers to better appreciate the beverage’s versatility, new ideas for gin-sipping, such as mixing it with club soda, are also being introduced.

KI NO BI Kyoto Dry Gin, the product of Japan’s first dedicated gin distillery, sells for ¥5,000 (plus consumption tax) per 700ml bottle. Seijo Ishii also offers Sipsmith V.J.O.P. London Dry Gin (“Hand crafted in small batches”, the label reads), for ¥4,990 (plus tax) per 700ml bottle. For an extra kick, it claims to use double the amount of juniper berries compared with a conventional gin.


Dyson pops up in Nagano

Japan news June 2017

Dyson Limited, already popular in Japan for its high-performance vacuum cleaners and cooling fans, has announced its entry into the competitive market for hand-held hair dryers. The initial product launch—pitched to the media by 31-year-old Mexico-born musician Kavka Shishido—happened at the Ikebukuro branch of the Seibu Department store on 10 May, according to the Japanese version of the technology website Endgadget. The dryer features a distinctive cylindrical design and can be set to reach 100 degrees Celsius, compared with the existing limit of 78, thereby providing faster drying and added styling capabilities.

The firm is planning to post qualified beauticians and other staff on the sales floor to give demonstrations. The new model’s suggested retail price is ¥45,000, plus tax. Dyson also plans to offer limited-edition purple-coloured models exclusively at the department store.

Beginning in June, the firm plans to operate a Dyson Demo Pop-up Store in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, a resort area where affluent urbanites go to escape the summer heat.

Shops battle to keep the lights on

Japan news June 2017

Even in Tokyo, round-the-clock business operation only began making inroads in the late 1980s—during the so-called bubble economy—when technology businesses began flourishing and Japan’s capital finally emerged as an international financial centre.

The 14 April edition of Weekly Toyo Keizai magazine reports that a warning lamp has gone on concerning 24-hour businesses, particularly with regard to convenience stores and restaurants. As has been reported previously in BCCJ ACUMEN, they are finding it difficult to procure staff.

The Royal Host family restaurant chain, for example, announced in January that it would halt round-the-clock operations, and McDonald’s Japan K.K. has been reducing the number of all-night outlets.


New designs as buyers seek good-looking items

Japan news June 2017

Household goods have a better chance of selling when they help to make the home look better in the eye of the beholder. Aera reported on 17 April that household product manufacturers’ efforts to wreath their items in attractive containers have been paying off. It seems that if attractively designed, even goods for everyday use, such as dispensers for liquid hand sanitizer, can be appreciated as part of the home interior. Photos by users of such products, posted on Instagram, are playing a role in spreading the word.

Aera focused on several examples, such as the sales success of Resesh deodoriser, which Kao Ltd. offers in an elegant dispenser, with its pump colour-coordinated with the pattern on the container.

In addition to the claims of the products’ quality, these package designs may make it easier to sell them online as a result of their attractive appearance on a screen.


TEPCO invests in battery firm

UK-Japan News May 2017

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. (TEPCO) has made an equity investment of £500,000 in UK-based residential battery firm Moixa Energy Holdings, TEPCO announced in a 4 April press release.

“Having previously worked with TEPCO, I am particularly pleased to be able to partner with this leading Japanese corporate, to bring the Moixa technology to new markets”, said Moixa Chairman David Thomlinson.

Offering compact and affordable smart batteries and a cloud-based platform called GridShare, Moixa has worked with housing associations, councils, energy firms and network operators to deliver more than £5mn of projects.

Court denies tobacco firms right to appeal over new laws

UK-Japan News May 2017

The UK Supreme Court has refused the tobacco industry permission to appeal against new laws requiring standardised packaging for all cigarettes, The Guardian reported on 11 April.

Firms including British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International claimed the law infringes their human and intellectual property rights.

The new packaging will remain the same shape, size and colour with two thirds of the front and back surfaces covered in health warning images with warnings written on the sides.

Banks to offer better way to send money abroad in 2018

UK-Japan News May 2017

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd. (BTMU) and six other international banking groups, including Standard Chartered plc and The Royal Bank of Scotland plc, are to launch a faster and lower-cost cross-border wiring service that uses blockchain technology, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on 31 March.

The cost of maintaining the systems used for transfers is expensive, and the blockchain will allow banks to create a service that does not require costly servers. Advanced encryption will also make data difficult to falsify.

BTMU plans to offer the service to individuals in 2018.

Canon buys photo startup

UK-Japan News May 2017

Canon Inc. is buying UK startup Kite, a firm that allows people to use photos from their smartphones for albums, mugs and phone cases, The Japan Times reported on 29 March.

Best-known for printers and cameras, Canon saw revenue from the latter segment decline to ¥667.5bn last year from ¥970.3bn in 2013. The firm is looking to address the shift towards taking photos on mobile phones.

The deal follows Canon’s acquisition of London-based photo-sharing service, Lifecake.

Union asks envoy to help

UK-Japan News May 2017

The British trade union Unite delivered a letter to Japanese Ambassador to the UK Koji Tsuruoka urging him to intervene in a dispute with Fujitsu Limited, the union revealed in a 20 April press release.

At the time of handing over the letter, workers had already engaged in eight days of strike action, with a further seven scheduled. Striking staff were based at sites in Birmingham, London, Belfast and Manchester.

The dispute stems from issues over pay, pensions, job security and union recognition.

Hitachi train links Wales and London

UK-Japan News May 2017

An intercity express train built by Hitachi, Ltd. has made its maiden journey in Wales along the Great Western line to Swansea, the BBC reported on 25 March.

Starting later this year, the express will connect Wales to London Paddington and other English cities. Hitachi has claimed the new train has more space and better on-board technology.

The train is designed in Japan and built at Hitachi UK’s site in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, using cutting-edge Japanese bullet train technology.

GSK names local as Japan president

UK-Japan News May 2017

According to an 3 April press release from GlaxoSmithKline K.K. (GSK), Kanako Kikuchi, previously managing director for strategy, marketing and multi-channel, has been appointed as the firm’s new president and a representative director. Phillipe Fauchet, the outgoing president, who serves on the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan Executive Committee, has been named chairman.

Having spent seven years at the firm, Fauchet will now focus on the firm’s global activities.

Kikuchi, who joined GSK in 2013, will draw on several years of experience in senior roles at a number of pharmaceutical firms.

Women crash out of Twenty20

UK-Japan News May 2017

The women’s cricket team of Japan failed to secure the only qualification spot at the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier—East Asia–Pacific, which was held in Sano, Tochigi Prefecture from 28 April to 5 May. The winner, Papua New Guinea, progressed to the global qualifier for the 2018 ICC Women’s World Twenty20. Vanuatu and Samoa completed the tournament line-up.

Although the youthful Japan team did secure victory over Vanuatu, winning by three wickets in the second match against them, they also suffered crushing defeats by Papua New Guinea.

Royal to study at Leeds for 10 months

UK-Japan News May 2017

The youngest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito, Princess Kako of Akishino, will begin studying at the University of Leeds in September as part of a 10-month exchange program, the Asahi Shimbun reported on 24 April.

The princess’s older sister, Princess Mako, also studied in the UK, at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh from 2012 to 2013.

Currently a junior at the private International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo, any credits Princess Kako earns at the University of Leeds could go towards her ICU degree.

More foreign students fill the jobs gap

Japan news May 2017

With the tightening job market, more Japanese businesses are turning to foreign students studying at Japanese institutions, according to the 15 April edition of the business weekly Toyo Keizai. Last year, there were 1.08 million foreign students in Japan. Those working part time in the food and beverage sector are mostly people who entered the country on a student visa or who are married to Japanese nationals.

“Of the 13 people hired at the time our shop was opened, only one was a Japanese”, the owner of a Lawson, Inc. convenience store located near the port of Yokohama was quoted as saying. “In the past, there were many Chinese and Koreans, but these days it’s becoming more diversified and we’re getting staff from Vietnam, Nepal and the Middle East”.

A spokesperson for a fast food chain said, “While the ratio of foreigners in outlets nationwide is about 10%, it’s more than 20% in central Tokyo—roughly the same as for staff at convenience stores”.


Online food sales stall

Japan news May 2017

Matsuya Foods, one of Japan’s big three restaurant chains serving beef on rice and similar quick meals, is hoping to generate spinoff business via the web with Chinese-style buns. The firm has expanded into e-commerce with online sales of two types of nikuman (buns with meat filling). Traditionally, minced or roast pork is used for the filling, but Matsuya plans instead to use shredded beef and vegetables, the staple topping for a bowl of rice at the chain’s restaurants. To oversee preparation, the firm has retained a famous Chinese chef, Jin Wanfu.

In addition to a mild type of bun filled with beef and vegetables, a spicy variety flavoured with garlic, ginger and doubanjiang (a Sichuan-style hot sauce) will be offered via the Yahoo! Japan Corporation shopping portal. The price of a box of 10 nikuman, including shipping, is ¥3,480. And there are plans to further expand the menu.


METI: special product tags at konbini to change how we shop

Japan news May 2017

How will the “10bn electronic tags at convenience stores” campaign being pitched by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) change people’s daily lives? That was the issue addressed by the weekly magazine Shukan Jitsuwa in its 11–18 May edition.

The programme, in which METI has enlisted Japan’s five largest convenience store chains, aims to attach to merchandise product-identification tags using radio-frequency identification technology. By 2025, it is planned they will cover all of the 100bn items sold annually in Japan’s convenience stores. Customers will merely need to place their shopping baskets on a special platform and the charge will be tallied almost instantly.

“Self-checkout cash registers by which the customer scans the barcodes on products, pays and then bags his or her own goods were introduced some years back”, a journalist covering the retail industry told the magazine.


SBI gives funds to Wirex bitcoin card

UK-Japan News April 2017

London-based bitcoin card provider Wirex has raised £2.45mn from Japanese financial services group SBI Holdings to launch a contactless card that allows users to spend using both traditional currencies and bitcoins, Business Insider UK reported on 6 March.

Japan was recently named the world’s biggest market place for bitcoin, and various funds and investment banks in Japan are moving into the space. SBI’s partnership with Wirex will see the latter firm push forward with expansion plans for the Asia–Pacific region.

England rugby coach Eddie Jones helps Nomura

UK-Japan News April 2017

Eddie Jones, the England rugby union coach, has taken a job advising Japanese investment bank Nomura and its clients about leadership, the International Business Times reported on 21 March.

As part of a three-year deal, the Australian former rugby hooker will work with the client-facing leadership team to share his insights and coaching experience. This is the 57-year-old’s second top banking role after taking on a post advising Goldman Sachs in Japan in 2015.

Jones previously coached the Japan rugby team to its biggest international win—over South Africa—during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

BAT’s glo sells out

UK-Japan News April 2017

Demand for British American Tobacco’s ¥8,000 glo tobacco heating device has surpassed supply in Japan, the International Business Times reported on 17 March.

The firm has subsequently changed its sales system. Transactions are no longer made on a first-come-first-served basis, but require online reservations followed by lottery-based sales.

Since Japan’s pharmaceutical regulations do not allow the sale of e-cigarettes, international tobacco firms see Japan as an ideal testing ground for smokeless tobacco products, which are an alternative to regular cigarettes.

Fintech link starts up

UK-Japan News April 2017

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the Financial Services Agency of Japan (JFSA) will work together to promote fintech innovation and collaboration, City A.M. reported on 9 March.

The collaboration will help support and speed up the process for UK fintech entities wanting to set up in Japan, and vice versa. This follows similar agreements with Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

The UK has been credited with being the best fintech hub in Europe with fintech-related opportunities being developed by the Department for International Trade.