Suntory gin hits British bars

UK-Japan News January 2018

Beam Suntory Inc. has launched a new Japanese gin, named Roku, in UK pubs and restaurants, Bar reported on 20 December.

The drink, which is distilled and bottled in Osaka, was introduced to 50 establishments in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Roku is being distributed by Maxxium UK Limited.

The gin uses six Japanese botanicals, including cherry blossom flower and leaf, yuzu peel, sencha and gyokuro teas, as well as sansho pepper.

Hitachi starts work on trans-Pennines trains

UK-Japan News January 2018

Hitachi Rail Europe Ltd. has begun work on a new fleet of trains to serve Scotland and the north of England, the firm announced in a 19 December press release.

The 19 five-carriage trains will incorporate Japanese bullet train technology and will be built in Doncaster. The fleet will use hybrid power and be capable of reaching speeds of up to 140mph.

The trains will run across the Pennines, connecting Liverpool and Manchester with cities such as Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

Quick post-Brexit deal sought

UK-Japan News January 2018

The UK and Japan hope to secure a quick deal on post-Brexit trade standards, The Japan News reported on 15 December.

Speaking in London, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said he wanted to begin preparation on mutual recognition of standards and judicial support. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson added that this could be accomplished “readily and speedily”.

Mutual recognition would see the countries accepting each other’s rules as equivalent and avoid the creation of technical trade barriers between them.

UK Space Agency, METI join forces on orbiting debris

UK-Japan News January 2018

Cooperation between the UK Space Agency and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in dealing with space debris has been announced following the signing of a memorandum of understanding, The Japan Times reported on 13 December.

The two bodies will work together to promote public–private measures to tackle the problem of orbiting debris left by rocket and satellite launches. Various incentives will be developed for firms reducing the amount of debris.

It is planned that a research team will visit the UK in February.

Eisai mulls cutting back pharma market funding

UK-Japan News January 2018

The European head of Japanese pharmaceutical firm Eisai Co., Ltd., has warned that it may cut investment in the UK, pharmaphorum reported on 29 November.

Citing poor commercial opportunities, the small size of the UK pharma market and issues with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Gavin Hendler said, “We don’t feel that we are getting a good enough deal”.

Eisai has invested £1.3bn into the UK, including in a Hatfield, Hertfordshire, factory.

Trust Tech buys HR firm

UK-Japan News January 2018

Tokyo-based engineer dispatch firm Trust Tech Inc. has completed a deal for Wrexham-headquartered recruitment firm Gap Personnel Group, Insider reported on 5 December. Trust Tech acquired a 75% stake for £20.1mn following an initial agreement in October, and it follows the purchase of Newcastle-based MTrec Limited in 2016.

As part of the deal, Trust Tech has committed to supporting Gap’s expansion plans in the UK and Europe. Currently, the firm has 45 locations across the country.

Gap’s existing management team will continue to oversee the firm.

Three-year bilateral defence plan agreed

UK-Japan News January 2018

The UK and Japan have agreed a three-year defence cooperation plan, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and British Ministry of Defence announced on 14 December.

The agreement follows the “two plus two” talks between the countries’ respective foreign and defence ministers and will see some 45 British Army personnel train with Japanese soldiers this year and visits by HMS Sutherland and HMS Argyll. This delivers on the commit­ment made by Prime Ministers Theresa May and Shinzo Abe in Japan last August.

The meeting took place at Greenwich Naval College in London.

British Museum renews deal to benefit Japan art and history galleries

UK-Japan News January 2018

The British Museum has renewed its 10-year partnership with Mitsubishi Corporation, allowing it to undertake major refurbishments of the Japanese galleries this year, Broadway World reported on 13 December.

Changes to the design and infrastructure will allow for more frequent rotations of artefacts and give the museum the chance to show light-sensitive works.

The centrepiece of the galleries following refurbishment will be a set of Edo-period samurai armour that the British Museum recently acquired.

Jenson Button signs up for full-time 2018 Super GT

UK-Japan News January 2018

Jenson Button will return to full-time racing this year, competing in Japan’s Super GT series, AOL reported on 4 December. Button will drive a Honda NSX GT500.

The former Formula One world champion made his Super GT debut in August at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture, while his participation for 2018 was announced at the Honda Racing Thanks Day fan event on 3 December. His team and co-drivers have yet to be revealed.

Button retired from full-time Formula One racing at the end of 2016.

Sano seeks cricket boss

UK-Japan News January 2018

Sano City is looking for a manager to head its Cricket Town project. The city has begun an ambitious ¥400m redevelopment of the Sano International Cricket Ground (SICG) after being awarded a national grant for the project.

The project manager will be in charge of developing the project and business plan, forming a team, as well as kick-starting an annual plan for cricket and promotional events. The aim is to increase the number of visitors to Sano, the scale of businesses attracted to the city and the relocation of people to the area, while developing a self-sufficient business within three years.

Last year’s top hits; forecast for 2018

Japan news January 2018

For the 47th successive year, the influential Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) pronounced judgment on the year’s most successful products and services, in a traditional calligraphic style that emulates the banzuke (rankings) issued before each of the six annual grand sumo tournaments.

It was in 1971 that the thrice-weekly paper covering retailing and distribution came up with the idea to announce the year’s most successful products and services. The list is presented in a manner that mimics the rankings of sumo wrestlers, with east and west yokozuna (grand champion) at the top, and working down the ranks with ozeki (champion), sekiwake (junior champion) and so on.

During the period of post-war economic recovery, consumer products appealed mostly to basic needs and had scant differentiation aside from brand name. Nonetheless, they were eagerly snatched up by consumers. But from the early 1970s, as income levels rose and more Japanese people travelled abroad, the phenomenon of hit products developed in synch with more diversified consumer preferences.


Electric glasses coming soon

Japan news January 2018

Without a doubt, many people will recall 2017 as the year when acceptance of electric vehicles as the cars of the future achieved critical mass.

Are you ready for the next leap into technological wonderland? Nikkei Business (18 December) reported that by this spring, Mitsui Chemicals, Inc. will be launching sales of electric eyeglasses called TouchFocus.

The product uses a lens known as MR and is the brainchild of the company’s New Healthcare Development Division. It uses two lenses, between which is sandwiched liquid crystal, which enables the focal distance to be changed via a system called touch focus. For the power supply, the frames incorporate a small battery that is recharged via a USB.


Survey reflects general optimism

Japan news January 2018

The Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living (HILL), the research arm of Japan’s second-largest advertising agency, released the details of its 2018 Living Mood Survey. Conducted via the Internet over five days in early October, the survey queried 3,900 adults aged 20–69 living in 11 cities.

In response to how the economy would fare in 2018, 21% of the subjects predicted it would “become worse”, considerably less negative than the 30.2% who made similar predictions for 2016. Likewise, optimistic predictions for 2018 accounted for 14.6% of replies, 2.1 percentage points higher than the number who gave that response for 2017.

While some 60% responded that they did not foresee major changes in the year ahead, 31.3% said they expected to encounter more enjoyable things in 2018—3.7% higher than last year. That figure, moreover, was almost three times the percentage (12.2%) of those giving negative predictions.


Grosvenor buys into Ginza

UK-Japan News December 2017

Grosvenor Group Limited has expanded into Japan’s retail sector after acquiring the Namikikan Ginza building for an undisclosed fee, Mingtiandi reported on 23 November.

The 10-storey, 6,610m2 property was purchased from Imabari Shipbuilding Co., Ltd., who bought it for ¥25bn in 2015. Analysts estimate that Grosvenor will not have paid much less than that price tag.

The Namikikan Ginza area, located in central Tokyo’s upscale Ginza shopping district, is filled with shops and travel agencies.

Hotel uses Rugby World Cup to boost European demand

UK-Japan News December 2017

Prince Hotels, Inc. plans to use the 2019 Rugby World Cup to boost by five percentage points the number of European customers it has, according to a 7 November Travel Weekly report.

In particular, since Prince Hotels is hoping that Brits will visit Japan as a result of the competition, this year the firm appointed Hills Balfour Ltd. to handle PR in the UK.

“We’re working to raise our profile in the UK and we think it’s a brand which will perform well here”, said Satoshi Funatogawa, the hotel’s regional sales director for Europe.

MUFG goes on hiring spree

UK-Japan News December 2017

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. has hired 180 new investment bankers in London since 1 April, City A.M. reported on 14 November.

The move comes as the finance firm seeks to boost its income outside Japan by increasing its European operations. The firm had already announced plans to open a subsidiary in Amsterdam.

Four Japanese banks have chosen Frankfurt as their base in the European Union as they try to minimise the impact of Brexit.

Izu ryokan lands gong at London awards gala

UK-Japan News December 2017

The ryokan (Japanese-style inn) Abba Resorts Izu was named Asia’s Best Culinary Boutique Hotel at the World Boutique Hotel Awards in London on 9 November, the resort announced in a press release. Owner Windsor Yeh described it as a “great honour”.

The judges praised Abba Resorts Izu for its location, level of hospitality and cuisine. It was the only ryokan to win an award and one of only two Japanese winners.

The World Boutique Hotel Awards is in its seventh year, and winners were chosen from more than 600 nominees in more than 80 countries.

UK IoT tech used in Kyushu

UK-Japan News December 2017

The Cambridge-based Internet of Things firm ZifiSense Limited will see its ZETA networking technology used for an aquaculture project in Kyushu, Business Weekly reported on 27 November.

The technology has been adopted by IT Access Co., Ltd., and QTnet K.K. following a pilot project at a sturgeon fish farm in Miyazaki Prefecture.

ZETA allows monitoring even in areas that have little or no communication and power infrastructure, making it suitable for use in rural areas.

Subaru and Isuzu feature on new Welsh rugby kits

UK-Japan News December 2017

Subaru Corporation has been named as sponsor of the Welsh national rugby team’s new away kit, Wales Online reported on 13 November.

They join Isuzu Motors Ltd., who grace the home kit. The sponsorship from both Japanese firms comes as a result of Welsh Rugby Union’s (WRU) partnership with UK automotive importer IM Group Ltd.

“We took a new and innovative approach to our latest shirt sponsorship negotiations and looked at ways to maximise value for our partners”, said WRU Chief Executive Martyn Phillips.

Nori industry saved by 1940s UK botanist

UK-Japan News December 2017

The important role, during the 1940s, of unpaid University of Manchester researcher Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker in saving the Japanese nori (seaweed) industry was outlined on 19 November by Ars Technica.

Back in those days, nori cultivation was not properly understood, and production had been disrupted by industrialisation and poor weather. But research by Drew-Baker published in Nature revealed how the seaweed was grown.

After her paper was read in Japan, cultivation was resumed, and led to the industrialised production of the plant seen today.

Sir Martin Wood Prize 2017 winner revealed

UK-Japan News December 2017

Oxford Instruments plc announced the winner of the 2017 Sir Martin Wood Prize for Japan on 13 November, with Dr Michihisa Yamamoto of the University of Tokyo walking away with the award.

Yamamoto was recognised for his work on the “control and detection of the quantum phase in semiconductor nanostructures”. The prize was established in 1998 with the aim of recognising and encouraging young scientists in Japan.

Yamamoto was presented with a medal, certificate and ¥500,000 prize at the British Embassy Tokyo by British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden CMG.

Olympus whistleblower inks deal for US TV programme

UK-Japan News December 2017

Michael Woodford MBE, the former chief executive officer of Olympus Corporation who blew the whistle on financial irregularities at the firm, has signed a deal to have his story made into a TV programme, The Telegraph reported on 11 November.

Produced by US firm Tenafly Film Company, it will be part of an anthology showing “brave men and women standing up for what is right”.

Woodford had, at one time, been warned by police that his life was in danger due to the connection of some of Olympus’s illegal payments to organised crime.

British sumo pundit selected for award

UK-Japan News December 2017

Doreen Simmons, an English-language sumo commentator for NHK, has been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government, The Sun reported on 8 November.

Eighty-five-year-old Simmons moved to Japan in 1973. After falling in love with the sport, she would attend tournaments whenever they were held in Tokyo and go to watch matches in Osaka and Nagoya.

She took up her role after NHK began offering English commentaries 25 years ago.

Small number of firms raise their prices

Japan news December 2017

The Nikkei Marketing Journal (10 November) released the results from its 35th survey of the service industry, in which about one out of 10 respondents reported that they had raised prices during fiscal 2016.

Topping the list, at exactly 50%, were cleaning services, the price increases of which ranged from under 5% to 70%. This was followed by parcel delivery services, with 44% of firms reporting price increases. A key factor in this increase was Japan’s ongoing labour shortage, particularly for lorry drivers.

Among marriage arrangement and wedding services, 40% said they had raised their prices, in some cases doubling their fees. In addition to higher charges for home moving services (37.5%) and child care services (33.3%), other types of business reporting increases included occupational training schools, membership resorts, hotels and short-term car parks.


Leisure spending falls again, but travel booms

Japan news December 2017

For the second consecutive year, spending on leisure declined. The White Paper on Leisure 2017, issued by the Japan Productivity Center, said the value of the consumption of leisure-related goods and services during 2016 totalled ¥71tn, a decline of 2% from the previous year and down from ¥73tn in 2014.

The white paper has been issued annually since 1977. The latest, compiled via an Internet survey conducted in January, was based on valid responses from 3,328 individuals nationwide ranging in age from 15 to 79. Consumer outlays peaked at about ¥91tn in 1996, and over the following two decades figures dropped to levels not seen since 1988, the last year of the Showa era.

In terms of popularity, domestic travel, with 53.3mn tourists, replaced motoring trips as the top-rated activity. Second, in the same place as the previous survey, was eating out at restaurants (40.9mn), followed in third place by motoring trips and reading, in each of which 38.8mn people took part.


Product origin more important for consumers

Japan news December 2017

The Japanese have a well-deserved reputation for being picky consumers, particularly when it comes to eating. When the weekly “be between” survey in the Asahi Shimbun (18 November) asked its participants, “Are you very concerned about where food products originate?”, out of the 1,699 valid responses, 83% replied that they were, as opposed to 17% who were not.

Among those who scrutinise product labels—or ask vendors—to ascertain where merchandise is produced, the first four entries on the list of items for which they do this were fresh goods, specifically vegetables (1,217 respondents), followed by meat (1,136); fish and other seafood (982); fruit (979); and rice (858). The numbers declined sharply after that: frozen food (547); milk and other dairy products (501); and eggs (429).

The top three reasons stated by the respondents for interest in the source were: “I want to have reassurance over the production process” (891 replies); “sensitive about use of pesticides and additives” (809); and “want to show support for producers in a particular region” (452).


Toyota designs black cabs

UK-Japan News November 2017

Toyota Motor Corporation has mimicked the iconic design of London’s black cabs with its new JPN Taxi, AOL reported on 24 October.

The new model’s design features include a tall silhouette, hybrid drive train, spacious interior and wheelchair accessibility. Japan’s taxis are typically saloons and are best known for features such as automatic doors.

Toyota said the JPN Taxi would present “Japan as a more accessible, tourist-oriented country”.

Dr. Martens sees 88% rise in Japan revenue

UK-Japan News November 2017

Airwair International. Ltd.’s Dr. Martens footwear brand posted strong results in the financial year ending 31 March 2017. This was, in part, due to a major increase in Japan sales, according to the firm’s press release of 23 October.

Total revenue in the country that year was up 88%, to £22mn. The leap was helped by the opening of five new shops during the period, which took the firm’s total to seven. Meanwhile, e-commerce grew 118% during the same timeframe.

Dr. Martens now derives 23% of its revenue from Asian markets.

Hitachi-built trains hit by Kobe Steel safety fears

UK-Japan News November 2017

Concerns over the safety of Kobe Steel, Ltd.’s products spread to trains exported to the UK by Hitachi Ltd., the BBC reported on 12 October. However, Hitachi said the trains had all passed rigorous testing.

Kobe Steel admitted that product data had been falsified to show better strength and durability than was the case, causing alarm among car, train and aircraft manufacturers.

The firm has seen its shares plunge nearly 40%.

UK makes mark at BioJapan

UK-Japan News November 2017

A UK life sciences delegation, representing such organisations as MedCity, the Northern Heath Science Alliance and the Department for International Trade, attended the Asia–Pacific region’s largest biosciences conference, BioJapan, epm magazine reported on 12 October.

Yokohama hosted the 2017 annual event, which aims to facilitate interaction between Japanese and global organisations. The delegation sought to promote the UK as a country open for investment, research and business.

The UK is the fourth-largest market to receive investment from Japan in the life sciences sector.