Statistics reported by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) show that the UK exported nearly £24bn worth of high-quality food and drink in 2019, up 4.9% over the previous year and 18% higher since 2016. Gov.uk said on 4 March that the increase had been driven by demand from non-EU markets. Japan made particularly strong purchases of UK food and drink, valued at £311.5mn, marking a 14.1% year-on-year rise. Annual UK seafood exports grew to £16.6mn, up 64.5% compared with 2018. British salmon also did well in Japan, as exports more than doubled to £13.3mn last year. The Scottish Salmon Company recently secured a deal to supply Genki Sushi Co., Ltd. with their Tartan Salmon brand.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has reportedly rejected the UK offer to build its next-generation fighter jet, choosing instead to partner with the United States.
According to a 9 March article in The Diplomat, the UK proposal would have given Japan the freedom to update the jet’s design. Now, the US will lead design while Japan assumes the cost of research and development. Despite these reports, however, it is believed that the door is still open for UK involvement in the project.
Three global pension funds are taking a $2tn stand in favour of sustainability investing. Online business journal Karma Impact reported on 13 March that Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the UK’s USS Investment Management Ltd. say that they should be investing with sustainability and social impact in mind, as retirement funds are investments in the future.
The firms said they are not interested in investing in “companies that seek to maximise corporate revenue without considering their impacts on other stakeholders—including the environment, workers and communities”.
Spring in Japan is famous for beautiful cherry blossom, but Covid-19 means that few Brits are likely to see these delicate pink wonders.
There’s no need to travel, however, as nine National Trust sites boast sakura, allowing for viewing in the UK. The Evening Standard reported on 14 March that Hampshire, Warwickshire, Cumbria, Cornwall, West Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Somerset all have the flowers on display.
London-based healthcare fieldwork agency Just Worldwide Ltd. has appointed Yuichi Ohta to the newly created research manager position in their Japan division.
According to a 12 March article on market research website MrWeb, Ohta has more than 10 years of experience in Japanese healthcare market research and knowledge of field management and moderation with healthcare professionals and patients. Managing Director Janusz Domagalski said, “Yuichi is perfectly placed so that his experience and skills will help international and local clients find solutions to issues currently faced in Japan’s unique marketplace”.
SoftBank Group Corp is buying back $5bn worth of shares after their recent slump. According to a 13 March Financial Times story, the move is partly due to pressure from activist fund Elliott Management. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son and Elliott Management both argue that SoftBank’s $72bn market capitalisation does not reflect the value of its investment portfolio, which includes majority stakes in UK chip designer Arm, and US telecoms group Sprint.
In a short statement released by Elliott Management, the activist fund said, “SoftBank’s announcement of its intention to commence an initial buyback program of ¥500bn is clearly an important first step in addressing the company’s significant undervaluation, and one that Elliott supports”.
McLaren and Buzz sign Japan growth deal
Formula One’s McLaren Racing Team Limited have signed a multi-year partnership with Buzz & Co. Asset Management Limited to lead its growth in Japan. (SportsPro Media, 10 March)
Parasite sets records
South Korean film Parasite, winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Picture, has made box office history in Japan and the UK by becoming the highest-grossing film in both countries.
The film had a record-breaking opening day in the UK, earning £1.8mn in 137 theatres across the country. In Japan, the black comedy thriller grossed more than ¥4bn and has topped the box office four weeks in a row. (The Korea Times, 13 March)
England beat Japan in women’s football
After an opening loss to the United States, England beat Japan 1–0 in their second match as forward Ellen White scored late off the bench. The win in New Jersey keeps alive England’s hopes of defending their SheBelieves Cup title. (BBC, 8 March)
The covid-19 coronavirus, jitters over Brexit and the prospects for a UK–Japan trade deal have led to volatility in the pound sterling–yen exchange rate this month. As the financial blog ExchangeRates.org.uk reported on 16 February, the threat that the Chinese epidemic will result in a slowdown of the Japanese economy is at the heart of the fluctuations. One pound brought ¥143.462 at its high point and ¥141.296 at its low during the week of 10 February, and the instability could continue.
“The spread of coronavirus poses an emerging downside risk to Japan’s economy, although the economic impact will depend on the extent of the spread of the disease and policy responses,” said Paul Cashin, the International Monetary Fund’s mission chief for Japan. “If prolonged and widespread, this would likely affect Japan’s tourism and retail activities through a decline in tourist arrivals and spending from China and elsewhere”.
The pound has weakened against about half of the top 40 currencies, with the yen being the biggest gainer. Sales in 2019 were up 42% over the year before. This has benefitted Japanese tourists to the UK, and Brits have continued to make their way to Japan, in part due to the low cost—the Post Office Long Haul Holiday Report 2019 named Japan the cheapest place to visit. But concerns of health and trade could make travel less attractive for both sides.
The yen has been seen as a safe-haven currency, but the potential trade exposure resulting from prolonged quarantines and fear of travel has resulted in market anxiety.
Ahead of this year’s UN climate change conference (COP 26), to be held on 9–19 November in Glasgow, Scotland, members of the Paris Agreement are expected to reveal their reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
According to an 18 February report by NHK World-Japan, the plans are to be announced by the end of the month. The UK has urged Japan to increase its reduction target, with British envoy to COP 26 John Murtin emphasising that Tokyo must invest in renewables to make sure that its industry has access to cheap electricity.
London-based Winch Energy, which specialises in sustainable solutions for off-grid distributed power, has received a boost from Itochu Corporation, one of Japan’s largest general trading firms. Energy Live News website reported on 18 February that Itochu intends to introduce power to non-electrified regions in Africa and Asia. The firm said in a statement that their strategic investment in Winch Energy will allow them to continue a proactive role in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals by providing clean energy and supporting climate action.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on 3 February that, post Brexit, the UK is prioritising free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.
As the Asia Times wrote on 14 February, the arrangement reached between the UK and South Korea last August might be an ideal roadmap for Japan. Using the broad terms of the EU–Korea FTA, London and Seoul agreed a “Continuity FTA” with some modifications to take immediate effect at the end of this year, when the UK leaves the European single market.
Britain has signed continuity agreements with 48 countries, but not Japan. Now that Brexit has taken place, the path forward to a UK–Japan bilateral FTA may become clearer for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who seems to have been taking a wait-and-see approach.
In a bid to create technologies that support sustainable coastal communities, science agencies from Japan, the UK and the Philippines have begun crafting a framework for a multi-funder cooperation.
Driven by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, UK Research and Innovation and the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology gathered researchers from South-East Asian countries to discuss recent studies on coastal communities and to consider research collaboration.
English UK, a membership organisation for accredited British English language training centres, recently held workshops in Tokyo and Taipei. With more than 50 agents from the Asia–Pacific region joining, the format was designed to allow attendance by as many centres and educators from English UK’s membership as possible.
On 6 January, The Pie News reported English UK Market Development Manager Roz Gill as saying: “This region has always been important for our members. With the education strategy of the Japanese government and the Olympics in 2020, it felt like the right time to reinforce members’ partnerships in this key market”.
New youth work visa
Through a new UK–Japan Youth Mobility Scheme, 1,000 Japanese nationals will be able to live and work in the UK for up to two years. (British Embassy Tokyo, 10 January)
Rok shoppers back UK
A slump in South Korean visitors to Japan has resulted in a boost for the UK, which saw a 12% and 9% rise in tax-free spending during the second and third quarters of 2019. South Korean spending in Japan dropped by 40%. (Drapers, 19 December)
U-19 cricket team in 2020 World Cup
A Japanese Under-19 (U-19) cricket team has qualified for the 2020 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in South Africa. Founded in 2017 by the Japan Cricket Association (JCA), which is led by Englishman Alan Curr, the team booked their place in the U-19 World Cup after a 170-run win against Samoa. (The New York Times, 16 January)
Reds sign J.League star
Takumi Minamino has signed with Liverpool for £7.25 million. The deal makes him just the ninth player from Japan to play in the Premier League. Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said: “Super. Outstanding. Exactly the player we wanted. Exactly the player we wished for”. (BBC, 10 January)
With the UK set to leave the European Union on 31 January, the governments of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hope to begin talks on a bilateral economic partnership agreement (EPA) as soon as February. As NHK World reported on 6 January, the lifting of tariffs on autos is a top priority for Japan.
The terms of the EU–Japan EPA will continue to apply to trade with the UK until the end of December, but a new bilateral agreement will be required after this transition period. In addition to a one-on-one EPA, Japan has stated its support for UK membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Japan’s largest shopping mall developer and supermarket operator, Aeon Co. Ltd., has partnered with the UK-based online supermarket and technology firm Ocado Group Plc. A 29 November story in the Financial Times said the move was made to compete with rivals Amazon Fresh and the online grocery delivery service collaboration between Rakuten, Inc. and Seiyu GK, the Japanese subsidiary of US retailer Walmart Inc.
Ocado will build warehouses in the Kanto region and Aeon will utilise the firm’s automation and distribution technology. Aeon launched an online grocery service in 2008, but sales account for just 1% of its £78bn annual revenue. Japan’s online grocery market is worth £26.7bn, and that is expected to rise as society ages. The partners aim to develop capacity for ¥200bn (£1.35bn) in deliveries by 2023 and ¥1tn (£6.75bn) by 2035. The announcement boosted Ocado’s stock by 15%.
The UK will pass Japan to become the world’s third-largest advertising market by 2025. This was according to a 4 December report by the online news source MediaPost, which said UK advertising was up 7.8% in 2019. It was the sixth straight year of mid-to-high single-digit growth for the industry in Britain.
“Since 2013, the United Kingdom’s advertising sector has expanded by more than half, up 55% over that year’s levels,” said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM, the world’s largest advertising media firm. “With that growth, the United Kingdom is unambiguously the fourth-largest market on Earth”. If this trend continues, the UK will unseat Japan within five years.
Jenny Ball, from Blackpool, England, has won the 2019 Karaoke World Championship. Some 43 finalists from around the globe competed on a stage at Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo on 27–29 November. According to The Japan Times, Ball outsang more than 30,000 contestants to reach the finals and wowed judges with her renditions of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” and Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You” to take home the gold.
The British Darts Organisation (BDO) held the 2020 World Darts Championship on 11 January at the O2 Arena in London and Mikuru Suzuki captured the title for Japan, The Telegraph reported. With her 3–0 win over top-seed Lisa Ashton of England, a four-time BDO world champion, Suzuki secured back-to-back titles. Ashton won consecutive titles in 2017–18.
Shoryu Ramen is expanding its UK operations beyond the current 12 locations in London, Oxford and Manchester. Matteo Frigeri, director of franchising firm Seeds Consulting, with which Shoryu is partnering, said he believes the chain “can quickly become the number one ramen concept in Europe”.
(Big Hospitality, 29 November)
Greater Manchester candy maker Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls is expanding overseas, having closed its first major order in Japan. Confectionery Production reported on 20 November that the Tokyo-based importer and distributor Beau & Bon Ltd. purchased 6,000 tins and bags of Uncle Joe’s signature sweets. The deal was reached after managing director Mitsuhiro Maeda visited the Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls factory in Wigan. “We are hoping to develop a long-term relationship,” Maeda said. Uncle Joe’s Joint Managing Director John Winnard said that British brands with history are in demand in Japan. “[Uncle Joe’s] fits that demand perfectly and we are looking forward to a long and successful partnership with Beau & Bon”.
At the behest of the British Government, and on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Charles attended the enthronement ceremony of Naruhito, Japan’s 126th monarch. As reported by the website Royal.uk, the Prince of Wales spent 22–23 October touring the Nezu Museum, the training grounds for the Wales national rugby team at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, the HMS Enterprise docked at Harumi Wharf in Tokyo Bay, Zojoji Temple and the Mitsukoshi Department Store for the Britain is GREAT campaign. He also visited the Ambassador’s Residence at the British Embassy Tokyo for a UK in JAPAN 2019–20 reception, and later joined Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s banquet at the Hotel New Otani.
The Japanese founder of #kutoo, a hashtag movement supporting women forced to wear heels at work, is among the BBC’s list of the 100 most influential women of 2019. Yumi Ishikawa started the movement after complaining about her firm’s dress code on Twitter. Her story resonated with women throughout Japan and was shared more than 30,000 times.
The name is a reference to the #metoo movement and is a play on the Japanese words kutsu (shoes) and kutsuu (pain). In June, she submitted a petition with more than 20,000 signatures to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
Also on the list is Hiyori Kon, a 21-year-old sumo wrestler who was the subject of the 2018 award-winning documentary Little Miss Sumo. Japan still bars women from competing professionally in this national sport, and the BBC is honouring Kon for her efforts to change the rules and give women a voice in sumo.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (TMSO) is set to perform at the 2020 Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland, according to an 8 October article on the festival’s website. The announcement was made in Tokyo during the visit of Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
Running 7–31 August, the festival is was established in 1947 as a world class cultural event to bring together audiences and artists from around the world. It is also an international showcase for Scottish culture.
The appearance is motivated in part by the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the UK in JAPAN 2019–20 campaign. TMSO Music Director Kazushi Ono will conduct the programme, which will include Cello Concerto No.1 by Saint-Saëns and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. The occasion will coincide with the festival’s 55th anniversary.
Tan France, the English fashion designer and star of the Netflix series Queer Eye, went to Japan for the show’s latest season. According to a 22 October story by the UK newspaper and website Metro, France and co-stars Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, Karamo Brown and Antoni Porowski thought the season to be a success, but admitted there were initial concerns about cultural differences. Berk said he feared their affectionate personalities wouldn’t connect well with a typically conservative society such as Japan, since “there’s a huge language barrier, also a huge cultural barrier”. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. “Very quickly, we realised that teaching people self-love, self-care and acceptance is universal”.
British tourists are flocking to Japan despite the weakened sterling. According to a 24 October article on financial website This is Money, factors include the Rugby World Cup 2019 and recommendations in the Long Haul Holiday Report 2019, from the UK-based retail mail firm Post Office Ltd.
The report cited Japan as the cheapest long-haul destination of the year. In September, there was a 233% rise in yen sales attributed to tourists visiting to watch the matches. The lead-up to England’s 26 October game with New Zealand at Yokohama Stadium also triggered a 492% increase in ticket sales from the UK to Tokyo, according to flight-booking website Skyscanner.
Hyslop pitches glasgow
Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, met with executives from the Tokyo-based refrigeration firm Mayekawa Mfg. Co., Ltd. during her October visit to Japan to discuss the firm’s first office in Glasgow, Scotland. She said that Glasgow would be the “perfect environment for continuous research and ground-breaking technology”. Mayekawa expects the location to create 20 jobs over five years. (Cooling Post, 8 October)
Green is the new black
Transport for London will add the new electric taxi from Dynamo Motor Company to its fleet as part of its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The fully electric taxi is based on the Nissan e-NV200. The Japanese automaker has been nudging businesses to adopt the e-NV200 as a commercial vehicle and taxi alternative globally. (The Daily Mail, 23 October)
Rugby School to expand
Japan’s first independent school from the UK will open in 2022. Peter Green, the current headmaster of the Rugby School, founded in its namesake town in Warwickshire, has announced a new sister location in Tokyo. Green said that, although the new school would adhere to the principles of Rugby School England, it would also be mindful of Japanese culture. (Tes, 24 October)
The UK’s House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has published a report calling on the government to begin promoting automation in British industries—and used Japan as an example.
According to a 20 September article published by The Japan Times, the committee was motivated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for the “continued growth and development of automation to enable the country to drastically improve productivity”.
The report ranks the UK 22nd globally in terms of the number of industrial robots per 10,000 workers. Shown below is the assembly line for the Land Rover Discovery Sport in Halewood, England.
Plans to produce the next line of the Qashqai compact crossover SUV in Sunderland will be reassessed by Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. if Britain goes through with a no-deal Brexit, according to a 1 October story on UK-based financial website This Is Money.
The plan to use the Sunderland factory was a joint effort by former Nissan Chairman and Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn and former UK Prime Minister Theresa May to generate about 7,000 new jobs—all of which are now at risk.
This comes after Nissan’s decision to cancel production of the X-Trail SUV in Sunderland, which will be produced in Japan instead. Nissan is expected to cut 12,500 jobs worldwide by 2020.
However, Nissan confirmed it would not change its plans to manufacture the next-generation Juke vehicle at the Sunderland factory.
As reported by Japan Today on 14 October, Nissan has invested £100mn in the Juke with 70% of production in European Union markets.
The firm’s Europe Chairman Gianluca de Ficchy said the Sunderland factory was built to serve European markets and that the Juke is designed, engineered and manufactured in the UK for European customers.
Nissan will discontinue the night shift at the plant, lowering total staff to fewer than 6,000, and is expected to cut 12,500 jobs worldwide by 2020.
The founder and chief executive of Fast Retailing, owner of brands Uniqlo and GU, has said that Brexit would turn the UK into the “sick man of Europe”. In an article published by CNN on 19 September, Tadashi Yanai (left), the richest man in Japan, voiced concerns that Brexit is practically impossible even if the UK wants to do it. “If Brexit does happen, the UK could revert to the former situation before the Margaret Thatcher era, when the UK was referred to as the sick man of Europe,” he said. However, Yanai said that Uniqlo would remain in the UK regardless of possible forthcoming economic and political challenges.