Leaner beef cuts just as popular as wagyu

Japan news March 2018

On 5 November while on a state visit to Japan, US President Donald Trump was treated to a full-course teppanyaki dinner at the Ginza branch of Ukai-tei, a three-star Michelin establishment where, as a saying attributed to another wealthy American, J.P. Morgan, goes, “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it”.

The next day, a Monday, wire services reported the shares of the restaurant’s parent company, Ukai Co. Ltd., had risen 7.3%.

The house speciality at Ukai-tei is steaks from pampered wagyu steers. The streaks of marbled fat in the beef—which imparts an extra-tender consistency to the meat—are referred to in Japanese as shimofuri (fallen frost).

While Japanese understandably take pride in the quality of their meat, when the daily Asahi Shimbun (24 February) posed the question of beef preference to 1,626 people in its weekly “be between” survey, the results were precisely 50–50, with lean cuts of beef just as popular as the marbled variety, although for different reasons. Shimofuri was favoured for its tenderness and melt-in-the-mouth consistency (541 and 536 respondents, respectively, followed by its sense of balance between soft and firm 449). Leaner beef cuts are more appreciated for their good flavour (421 responses); straightforward simplicity (398); and being better for health (376).

Among both groups, the four most popular styles of beef dishes named were sukiyaki, steak, shabu-shabu and Korean-style barbecue.

In terms of dining frequency, 25% of shimofuri consumers said they indulged “several times a month”, whereas among those favouring the lean cuts, over twice that percentage, 51%, said they consumed them several times a month.

Individual preferences, of course, change with the times. Speaking as a recent convert, a 75-year-old man from Shizuoka Prefecture admitted he thought shimofuri beef tastier, yet added, “but to reduce my fat intake, I recently switched to leaner cuts”. Overall, older respondents tend to associate beef with their first encounters, beginning in the 1950s, with high-quality meat. They still regard beef as a special treat to be consumed on celebratory occasions such as at New Year.

English fluency does not guarantee a worker’s ability

Japan news March 2018

A series of six articles in Shukan Gendai (3 March) looked at what changes are occurring at Japan’s universities in the current era of low birth rates.

In the fifth article in the series, the magazine voices a surprisingly negative view of so-called kikoku shijo, the term used to describe Japanese returnees, who have been raised and educated abroad. Its eye-catching headline, quoting a human resources manager at a major corporation, reads, “If English is the only thing they’re good at, we don’t need them to work here”.

The article begins with a quote from an individual identified only as “Mr A” at a car dealership that has hired new sales staff to work at its headquarters. Problems, he says, have repeatedly cropped up with one particular new arrival, who was brought up in the United States, concerning her way of interacting with potential customers.

“‘Is there something with which you’re dissatisfied?’ she asked an indecisive customer”, reported Mr A. “Even after I warned her about using that tone, she asked me, po faced, ‘Did I say something wrong?’

“It was clear she wasn’t being malicious, but in a situation where a customer is considering purchasing a car, it would have been more appropriate to adopt a more humble tone and ask, ‘Might there be something that’s not clear to you?’. The problem is, her Japanese just isn’t very good”.

According to “Mr B”, who works in human resources for a major trading firm, “The policy of hiring candidates who are adept at English (scoring 900 or higher in the TOEIC examination) typically involves top-down directives from upper management who are promoting globalisation. But human resources departments are concerned that new staff are unable to meet Japan’s societal requirements, and when this becomes a problem in the organisation, the responsibility invariably falls on their department”.

In terms of general knowledge, their shortcomings are often evident from written tests. “They can’t solve maths problems for maths learnt at the primary school level and can’t even correctly write the name of the current prime minister”, said “Mr C”, a human resources manager at a major manufacturing firm. “In total, their English ability makes up for the shortfall, but their ability is below that of graduates from top schools, such as Keio and Waseda”.

Nor are the Japan offices of foreign businesses an exception. At one firm, “complaints were circulating from the US headquarters that this particular Japanese staff member ‘couldn’t understand English’”. What they meant in this case was that he lacked a specialised understanding of finance and securities.

The article doesn’t go quite as far as suggesting the returnees’ acquisition of foreign language skills overseas is of little benefit, but it is clearly critical of their weakness in working with others as a close-knit group—an attribute to which great importance is attached in Japan.

This is by no means a new debate, but the Shukan Gendai’s writer weakens his argument to some extent by extolling “traditional Japanese corporate hiring practices”, since “lifelong employment” and related traditions in the Japanese workplace have been eroding since the 1990s.

TEPCO invests into blockchain energy firm

UK-Japan News February 2018

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. (TEPCO) has invested an undisclosed sum into the energy firm Electron (Chaddenwych Services Limited), according to a 19 January report by The Energyst.

Electron, which is building a blockchain system covering trading, meter registration and data privacy, believes that by cutting out middlemen it can reduce costs.

TEPCO has said it plans to gain additional blockchain knowhow from the investment.

Last year Electron received £640,000 in government funding.

Smart battery maker to launch tech with Itochu

UK-Japan News February 2018

The London-based smart battery maker Moixa Energy Holdings Ltd. will launch its GridShare technology in Japan in partnership with the trading house Itochu Corporation, Moixa announced in a press release on 29 January.

Starting in summer, the Japanese firm will install GridShare—which uses artificial intelligence to improve the performance of batteries—in its Smart Star home battery products as standard.

Itochu will also invest £5mn in the British firm to help with the expansion.

NEC buys anti-crime IT firm

UK-Japan News February 2018

NEC Corporation has purchased Hemel Hempstead-based IT firm Northgate Public Services (UK) Limited for £475mn, according to a report in the Nikkei Asian Review on 10 January.

Northgate provides software to police departments for managing crime data and reading licence plates. The acquisition is part of NEC’s effort to boost UK sales of its facial recognition technology.

The Japanese multinational also plans to use the purchase to help Northgate expand into other markets.

Original Asahi beer to be made in the UK

UK-Japan News February 2018

Asahi UK Ltd. has announced that its namesake Super Dry beer will be relaunched in Britain in its authentic Japanese form, Bar Magazine reported on 15 January.

As a result of increased investment and improved technology, brewing will be brought in-house to replicate the same standards achieved in Japan. In addition to being available in 330ml bottles, the beer will also be served on draught using Japanese bar tap technology.

Asahi Super Dry was previously brewed by the UK’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame Limited in Kent.

SoftBank robot “fired” from Scottish shop for poor work

UK-Japan News February 2018

A SoftBank Group Corp. Pepper robot—the first to be used in the UK—has been dismissed from its job of helping customers at the upscale Margiotta supermarket in Edinburgh, International Business Times reported on 22 January.

The robot, named Fabio by staff, was demoted and then let go after one week. This followed its failure to offer customers helpful answers or entice them to try food samples.

Fabio was introduced to the shop as part of an experiment for the BBC TV programme Six Robots & Us.

Pharma firm expands in Japan

UK-Japan News February 2018

Sterling Pharma Solutions Ltd., an active pharmaceutical ingredient developer and manufacturer based in Northumberland, has announced it is expanding its presence in Japan, according to a 24 January report in Pharmaceutical Processing.

Sterling Pharma Solutions has been audited by the Japanese Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Agency and recently appointed Koichi Hirayama to represent the firm in the country.

The UK firm hopes to benefit from the growing trend among Japanese pharma firms to outsource work, to better cope with cost pressures.

Honorary consul named in Manchester

UK-Japan News February 2018

A partner at UK professional services company Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, Jo Ahmed, has been appointed honorary consul in Manchester by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, the Manchester Evening News reported on 4 January.

In her new role, Ahmed will support Japanese businesses, promote engagement with Japan, participate in cultural events and assist with maintaining relations between Manchester and regional authorities.

At Deloitte, Ahmed has worked with Japanese firms such as Brother Industries, Ltd. and Japan Tobacco Inc.

Kazuo Ishiguro reveals love of Nagasaki

UK-Japan News February 2018

British author Kazuo Ishiguro OBE has emphasised the affection he has for his birthplace of Nagasaki in letters to the city’s mayor and prefectural governor, the Asahi Shimbun reported on 29 December.

Ishiguro, who moved to the UK at the age of five, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last year and said Nagasaki had formed the foundations of his career as a writer.

“I still feel a special emotion just to hear the word ‘Nagasaki’”, he wrote.

Baseball pro eyes switch to cricket

UK-Japan News February 2018

The former baseball player Shogo Kimura is attempting to make the switch into cricket, the first Japanese player to do so, the Daily Mail reported on 28 January.

This came about after Japan Cricket Association asked Nippon Professional Baseball if a player would be willing to take on the challenge, and Kimura’s name came up. He has trained at Sano, Tochigi Prefecture, a city that aims to be the home of cricket in Japan.

He played for the Yokohama BayStars, Hiroshima Carp and Seibu Lions in a career spanning 2003 to 2017.

England rugby team plans tour after RWC

UK-Japan News February 2018

In 2020, the English rugby team will embark on their first tour of Japan, The Times reported on 29 January.

The tour will comprise two tests and represents the first time England will have visited a tier-two nation under the new touring rotation arrangement. Previously, they would have been expecting to head for New Zealand.

England have only played Japan once before, at a 1987 World Cup match in Australia.

Eyes turn towards Dyson’s move into electric cars

Japan news February 2018

The Nikkei Business of 15 January ran a 20-page special cover feature titled “The major competition that’s shaping up for electric vehicles (EV), as seen by Dyson”. Cover stories of this length on foreign manufactures are not unheard of, but are generally limited to firms such as IBM Corp., Amazon.com, Inc., Apple Inc., and The Boeing Company, the operations of which have a direct impact on Japanese business. For a foreign firm such as Dyson Ltd. that’s still relatively new, the coverage makes for a PR coup. It was a rare acknowledgement.

Dyson employees now number 8,000—four times more than five years ago—and one employee out of three is an engineer or scientific researcher. The writer noted with admiration that Dyson’s ratio of research and development to sales is approximately 12%, considerably higher than that of Japanese firms such as Toyota Motor Corporation and Sony Corporation.

Starting with the firm’s guiding philosophy of “solving the problems others ignore”, the article introduces founder James Dyson OM CBE’s four-step innovation process, the components of which are design, build, test and break. By the time one of the firm’s much-heralded cyclone vacuum cleaners is ready for market, it will have undergone 5,000 or more cycles of this process.

Even something as mundane as a hand-held hair dryer—to cite one example—can benefit from innovative thinking, particularly considering that the existing technology in many conventional products has hardly changed in decades. In this case, many users complained that dryer operation was too slow, too noisy and damaged hair.

Harnessing aerospace technology, Dyson adopted precision rotor blades for its hair dryers that addressed the problems and harnessed customer feedback in terms of temperature settings, blower power, body colour and other features. The models are being sold in 75 countries.

Shortly after joining the firm as an engineer in 2013, Fred Howe, a graduate of the University of Leeds, proposed an idea and was quickly given research funding of £30,000.

“Working here is an engineer’s dream”, says Yvonne Tan, manager of the motor engineering section at Dyson in Singapore. But the firm won’t give the go-ahead merely with a set of blueprints. “We won’t get approval without building a mock-up and proving it will function”, explained Christopher Vincent, another developer at the firm.

On 26 September last year, company founder Dyson announced his intention to develop an EV in an open letter to his employees. Now that Dyson has thrown down the gauntlet to the EV industry. Nikkei Business is not beyond speculating that it may eventually surpass Tesla, Inc.

One key reason is the difference in corporate management. Tesla has assembled its capital through the issue of common stock or corporate bonds to investors, which it used for the development and production of its EVs, battery factory and so on. As it is heavily committed to these investors, it puts heavy pressure on its employees to come up with results quickly.

Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk can be described as an innovator according to the archetypal Silicon Valley formula.

Dyson, meanwhile, is privately owned and, as its EV development is self-financed, it is under no pressure to show results. The development method takes an approach similar to that of other Dyson products, with in-house technology and heavy reliance on promising young engineers.

It appears that the strategy of these two makers of EVs may be destined to collide. There’s a strong likelihood that Dyson, with its radically different corporate values and marketing approach, will not use Tesla’s success as a role model to be followed. Rather than a large sedan with long-range capability, many market watchers are expecting Dyson’s EV to be a compact aimed at daily commuters.

King Jim’s antenna shop allows hands-on product testing

Japan news February 2018

In Japan, it is not uncommon for businesses with recognisable brand names and solid distribution networks to diversify into products or services quite different from their main line of business. King Jim Co., Ltd., known mainly for its office supplies and electronic accessories, has begun promoting a new line of home appliances, such as toasters, coffeemakers and food processors, through a so-called antenna shop in Tokyo’s trendy Jiyugaoka shopping district in Meguro Ward, the Nikkei Marketing Journal (25 December) and other newspapers have reported.

Antenna shops are short- to medium-term experimental operations that provide a setting for on-the-spot customer feedback.
They mostly rely on walk-in business and so are set up in areas likely to attract the desired consumer demographic.

They do not necessarily sell a firm’s standard products. In fact, they need not display the sponsoring firm’s name or sell anything at all, since their intended function is to serve as an antenna to garner word-of-mouth data on what consumers are thinking.

Named Toffy Jiyugaoka, King Jim’s shop occupies a two-storey building and has some 120m2 of floor space, roughly equivalent to that of a convenience store. The shop mainly sells goods from Ladonna K.K., a subsidiary of King Jim and a speciality homeware and interior goods maker.

One of the more interesting attributes of Toffy, which King Jim is hoping will serve as a draw to the shop, is the chance for visitors to go upstairs and drink hot beverages produced with the coffee maker models on display. They can also avail themselves of pop-up toasters—the nostalgic styling of which evokes memories of the 1960s American TV sitcom Bewitched—on the premises, so as to compare the aroma, taste and texture with the products they’re using at home. Imported butter from France is also provided.

The antenna shop is expected to welcome 60 to 120 visitors per day—mostly women in their thirties and forties.

Singapore shopping street crossing follows Japan example

Japan news February 2018

Japanese gardens, bonsai trees, beaded curtains, theatre performances and other accoutrements from the land of the Mikado have taken root abroad since the late 19th century.

But a pedestrian crossing designed to imitate one in Tokyo?

Yes, says the Nikkei Marketing Journal (22 January). In December 2017, Singapore introduced what is there called a scramble walk crossing—known as an X crossing in the UK—at its famous Orchard Road shopping street. Currently operated on an experimental basis on weekends and holidays only, the crossing is said to have been inspired by the famous scramble crossing at the intersection by Hachiko Hiroba on the north side of Tokyo’s Shibuya Station, a place of organised confusion that attracts overseas tourists who go there just to photograph throngs of Japanese crossing the street.

Singapore follows on the heels of London, which in November 2009 adopted the same type of crossing at Oxford Circus, at a cost of £5mn.

Every two minutes, pedestrians in Singapore will have 40 seconds to walk across the intersection. The crossing, located near Somerset Station on the local underground, will make Japanese residents and visitors feel at home, since nearby are branches of Japanese stores such as Takashimaya, Isetan and even the Don Quixote discount shop, which opened its first outlet in Singapore in 2016. One big difference is that the ban on smoking in public in Singapore is strictly enforced, with heavy fines for violators.

While a decision whether to adopt the scramble walk permanently is pending, the experiment has gained praise from locals since it reduces pedestrian waiting time. Shops in the area are also said to be in favour of it, as they have been feeling the heavy competition from shopping malls in the island nation’s suburbs.

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.