Tsunami book wins top prize

UK-Japan News June 2018

Richard Lloyd Parry’s Ghosts of the Tsunami, a non-fiction book detailing the journalist’s years covering 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, has won the UK’s Rathbones Folio literature prize, The Guardian reported on 8 May.

The book, in which an assortment of bereaved residents of north-east Japan detail their experience of the disaster and its impact, beat competition from two other non-fiction works and several books of fiction.

The author spent six years covering the aftermath of the tsunami, which claimed more than 18,000 lives.

Old Natsume postcards found

UK-Japan News June 2018

Postcards written by Japanese author Soseki Natsume while he was studying in the UK have been found more than 100 years on, The Japan Times reported on 23 May.

The three cards detail the writer’s time in the UK at the turn of the 20th century, and were sent to Japanese friends studying in Germany, the report said. Writing a month after arriving in London, Natsume described his loneliness in the UK, where he was to stay for two years.

The discovery of the postcards was announced by the Fukui Prefectural Government.

Memorial to Japanese killed on WWI ship to be unveiled in Wales

UK-Japan News June 2018

A memorial to victims of a Japanese merchant ship sunk in the closing days of World War I will be established in Wales, The Japan Times reported on 13 May.

One month before the armistice was signed, a German U-boat in the Irish Sea torpedoed the Hirano Maru, with the loss of more than 200 sailors and passengers. A number of bodies washed ashore in Pembrokeshire.

The memorial in Angle will be unveiled on 4 October, and representatives of Nippon Yusen K.K., the vessel’s shipping company, and the Embassy of Japan in London will attend.

Visa-free pact sought

UK-Japan News June 2018

Japanese firms are seeking visa exemptions for em­ployees as part of a future trade deal with the UK post-Brexit, the Financial Times reported on 20 May.

The report quoted a senior executive of a large Japanese trading house as saying that bringing Japanese staff into the UK has become more difficult, and that there are fears the situation could become worse during the transition period.

It went on to say that Tokyo will push for a tougher trade deal with the UK than that it will sign with the EU.

Scottish exhibition feting “mother of Japanese whisky”

UK-Japan News June 2018

PHOTO: EAST DUNBARTONSHIRE LEISURE & CULTURE TRUST

An exhibition on the life of a woman dubbed the “mother of Japanese whisky” has opened in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, the BBC reported on 28 May.

Rita Cowan married Japanese Masataka Taketsuru in 1920, when the latter was studying at the University of Glasgow. He later opened a distillery in Yoichi, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.

The article said Cowan provided moral and financial support to her husband in helping him produce his first whisky in 1940, and the exhibition includes such items as her kimono and obi sash.

Japan passport said most powerful

UK-Japan News June 2018

The Japanese passport has been declared the world’s most powerful travel document by the Henley Passport Index, The Express announced on 22 May.

The index looks at how many destinations a bearer can travel to without needing a visa, and examines 199 different passports.

While Japan topped the list with 189 visa-free destinations, the UK came in joint fourth place, with bearers of a British passport able to travel to 186 countries without the need for a visa.

More visitors to cross border

UK-Japan News June 2018

A visit to north-east Scotland by a delegation of high-ranking officials is expected to give a boost to visitor numbers to the region, The Press and Herald suggested on 19 May.

A visit by Japan’s Ambassador to the UK, Koji Tsuruoka, and the country’s tourism minister, Jotaro Horiuchi, to the region involved a tour of places such as the Queen’s residence of Balmoral Castle and the Longmorn Distillery south of Elgin, both in Scotland.

The group also included a number of tour operators and representatives of the Japanese tourist board, who were looking to strengthen tourism links.

The delegation also visited attractions linked to Japan by Scottish-born Thomas Blake Glover, a merchant involved in the growth of Japan’s economy and whose house in Nagasaki attracts millions of visitors each year.

McLaren Senna supercar launched in Tokyo

UK-Japan News June 2018

PHOTO: MCLAREN AUTOMOTIVE LIMITED

British carmaker McLaren launched its Senna supercar in Japan with an event at Tokyo’s Zojoji temple, Forbes reported on 25 May.

The car, named after racing legend Ayrton Senna, is a “track-focused, limited edition, street-legal hypercar”, the article says, adding that a Noh percussionist had been chosen to provide a musical introduction to the launch.

Ayrton Senna is revered by Japanese racing fans, it goes on to say, with McLaren having been partnered with Honda during the racer’s heyday.

Boxing: Jamie McDonnell defeated by Naoya Inoue

UK-Japan News June 2018

Doncaster boxer Jamie McDonnell lost his WBA world bantamweight title in Tokyo after being defeated by Japan’s Naoya Inoue in a single round, The Mirror reported on 25 May.

Inoue, known as “The Monster”, has become a three-weight world champion in 16 fights, and will go on to enter the bantamweight tournament in the World Boxing Super Series, according to the report.

McDonnell was quoted as saying, “I take my hat off to Inoue, he’s a great champion”.

Hamleys comes to Japan

Japan news June 2018

Hamleys, shown here in the UK, is set to open in Japan. • PHOTO: THE HAMLEYS GROUP LIMITED

Bandai Namco Amusement Inc. on 25 May announc­ed a tie-up with Hamleys (Franchising) Limited of the UK. Details of the store location and opening date have yet to be announced, but media sources have said its opening will be in 2018 and the store, in greater Tokyo, will boast a sales area of 3,000m2.

Hamleys, founded in London in 1760, claims to be the oldest and one of the largest toy shops in the world. It operates 133 outlets in 19 countries. In South-East Asia it operates two shops in Singapore. The tie-up with Bandai Namco represents its first venture in Japan.

The announcement follows on the heels of the Japanese firm’s reorganisation. Effective 1 April this year, Namco Limited and the Amusement Machine division of Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc. merged to become Bandai Namco Amusement Inc.

Hamleys CEO, Ralph Cunningham, said: “We are thrilled to be launching the Hamleys brand in Japan this year and delighted to be partnering with Bandai Namco. With its ex­ten­­sive experience in the entertainment sector and its in-depth knowledge of the Japanese market, Bandai Namco is the perfect strategic partner. Japan represents an exciting and im­portant market and is key to Hamleys’ continu­ed international growth strategy. We look forward to bringing smiles to the faces of children and families all over Japan and delivering the unique Hamleys in-store experience to this fantastic market”.

Driving away smokers

Japan news June 2018

Kushikatsu Tanaka, a popular nationwide chain of izakaya (Japanese-style pubs), specialising in deep-fried titbits served on skewers, has banned smoking, effective 1 June. Smoking has been banned in its more than 180 outlets nationwide, the Nikkei Business (28 May) reported. The ban extends to smokeless tobacco products, and the outlets will not be providing a smokers’ corner.

As Keiji Nuki, the firm’s president, explained, “We’ve received numerous complaints from customers. While the trend has been to restrict smoking, our thinking has been that it will be necessary to come up with ways to meet customer needs in the future”.

On 9 March, Japan’s Cabinet decided to require businesses and public organisations to deal with secondary smoke; the proposal was submitted to the Diet. Eating and drinking establishments are expected to be the most affected by the new law, which essentially bans indoor smoking and penalises offenders. The government plans full implementation by April 2020, three months before the start of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party with interests in the business sector, however, are trying to weaken the law, by diluting the provisions to exempt small and medium-sized businesses capitalised at less than ¥50 million, or existing restaurants with a customer seating area of less than 100m2—which are said to account for some 55% of the total.

Bars and restaurants are in agreement that banning smoking will cut into their revenues. One operator of a restaurant chain, however, noted that trends have changed over the past several years, and the percentage of smokers is declining. According to a recent survey by Japan Tobacco Inc., 18.2% of Japanese adults (people aged 18 or over) are smokers.

McDonald’s Japan took the initiative to ban smoking completely at some 3,000 of its outlets in 2014, and such chains as Denny’s and KFC Japan are currently said to be in the process of banning smoking. Even among operators of pubs, the perception exists that, as one izakaya president puts it, “If we ban smoking, sales may temporarily drop, but more people will bring their families and the overall result will be positive”. The writer pointed out that staff at the restaurants should find that a smoking ban improves their work environment and, in turn, makes it easier for such establishments to recruit new workers.

Focus on Tokyo’s night-time economy

Japan news June 2018

The Nikkei Marketing Journal (9 May) has rep­orted the results of an Internet survey regarding “economic activities at night”, defined as the hours between sundown and sunrise.

The survey, conducted by Macromill Inc., a leading marketing research company in Japan, received valid replies from 1,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 59 residing in Tokyo’s 23 wards. In addition to frequency and amount of outlays, the questions also differentiated between personal out-of-pocket expenditures as opposed to business-related entertainment.

Going out “almost every evening” (6%) and “once a week”, together accounted for a total of 41% of the answers.

The largest segment of respondents (30%) said they spend ¥3,000–5,000 per month, with two thirds of respondents spending less than ¥10,000 per month. On average, the respondents’ outlay comes to ¥14,519, with 6% saying their monthly spending exceeds ¥50,000.

In reply to a question about whether they agreed that the service and infrastructure for night business in Tokyo should be increased, 26% of respondents answered in the affirmative, and 27% in the negative. The remaining 47% were noncommittal.

Rather than thinking about night-time enter­tainment, however, 67% of the respondents stated their desire that night-time service be available at hospitals, 61% that trains run all night and 47% that more supermarkets be open all night. Of all those surveyed, 72% said they did not expect any major changes.

A sidebar to the article adds that, to promote the night-time economy, more efforts are being directed to attracting overseas visitors by such means as the Shibuya Night Tour, which commenced in April. After a group photo is taken at Shibuya’s famous scramble intersection, the tour makes its way along Dogenzaka and through Maruyama-cho, where participants are invited to partake of takoyaki (balls of minced octopus) and eat sushi standing up at a counter. The cost for the two-hour tour is ¥3,000 (extra for the food and drink consumed). On a different tack, by 2020 the Tokyo metropolis plans to have night illuminations in 58 city locations—about double the current number.

Will part-timers move to long-time?

Japan news June 2018

Why aren’t more part-time workers taking advantage of new rules that would secure their positions long-term? The “J-Cast Bulletin”, in the Yukan Fuji newspaper (27 May), reviews a rule that came into effect in April, and enables part-time or non-regular contract workers to apply for indefinite tenure at their place of work.

So far, according to a survey of the job-hunting service Hatarako Net, only 3% of eligible workers are said to have submitted the relevant requests to their employers.

The system in question, promulgated in 2013, was set up to enable workers who had spent five years with the same employer to have the right to change their status to that of regular company staffer. The low number of applicants for indefinite tenure may be due to a general lack of familiarity with the system. A survey of workers, with 1,369 valid replies, finds that only 9% of respondents said they were familiar with the rule. A further 22% said they “know a little” about it.

According to a PR employee at a retailer in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, “it appears that not many workers know about the rule”. But, he added, “as more of them come to understand it, we expect more will request a change to indefinite employment status”.

One possible answer to the question may be the prospect of instant rewards for part-time workers. The Nikkei Marketing Journal (28 May) reports that Persol Process and Technology, an affiliate of Persol Holdings Co., Ltd., will introduce a service that can be used by retailers or food service industries. For a set service charge billed to the corporate client, the system enables applicants for part-time jobs to receive an advance on wages via Persol. The client then reimburses Persol, which earns a service charge of ¥900 per applicant. The larger the sum paid to the worker, the cheaper it is for the client, since the service fee is fixed.

With part-time workers apparently preferring early remuneration, there are already 1.6 times more workers paid weekly than monthly

UK-Japan FTA to be based on Tokyo’s trade pact with EU

UK-Japan News May 2018

Japan and the European Union look set to ink a trade deal in Brussels in mid-July, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on 19 April. They expect it to come into force before the UK leaves the EU.

The European Commission, which implements EU decisions, aims to have the draft approved in late June, with the Japanese Cabinet endorsing it around the same time, ahead of the signing in July.

Ratification of the agreement should take place by the end of the year, and a later UK–Japan bilateral pact will be based on the EU–Japan deal, the report says.

It adds that having an EU–Japan pact in place ahead of the UK’s exit from the union would enable talks between Tokyo and London to begin sooner.

No better post-Brexit deal than current single market, says envoy

UK-Japan News May 2018

Japanese Ambassador to the UK Koji Tsuruoka said the UK could have no better post-Brexit deal than the current single market, according to a report by The Independent on 22 April.

In the article, the envoy was also quoted as saying the UK’s standing as a gateway to Europe was the reason many Japanese firms had invested there, and “if that is in danger, if that is no longer sustainable, of course they will have to look at what they will have to do best”.

London tops student city list

UK-Japan News May 2018

London has been ranked top of a list of the best cities in the world for university students. Tokyo came in second place, the BBC reported on 9 May.

The ranking, from the QS higher education group, looked at access to culture, job prospects, the number of world-class institutions, the cost of living and affordability.

While London scored high on access to culture and the number of institutions, Tokyo won points on its desirability, which takes into account factors such as safety, pollution and quality of life.

Car firm to cut hundreds of jobs at Sunderland plant

UK-Japan News May 2018

Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK will cut hundreds of jobs at its plant in Sunderland due to a collapse in sales of diesel cars, the Financial Times reported on 20 April.

The report said the plant, which employs 7,000 people, had seen sales of diesel cars fall as a result of increased taxes on diesel fuel and confusion over possible future government bans of such cars.

A Nissan spokesman nevertheless was quoted as saying that the firm expected production volumes to increase.

Scottish crisps big in Japan

UK-Japan News May 2018

James Taylor, commercial director of Mackie’s • PHOTO: IAN GEORGESON

Crisp maker Mackie’s, based in Taypack, Aberdeen­shire, has experienced an increase in its sales to Japan in recent months, according to The Herald on 17 April.

The newspaper reports that the firm sent 20 containers of crisps to Japan in the two months to mid-April, more than had been its aim.

Some 2.5 million packets of crisps were sent to Asia by Mackie’s over the past year, with Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea among its new destinations, along with the existing markets of China and Singapore.

First Nova 1 train departs for north England, Scotland

UK-Japan News May 2018

The first batch of trains being loaded onto ships in Japan • PHOTO: HITACHI RAIL EUROPE

The first of a new batch of trains to be sent to the UK left Japan in mid-April, bound for a new life serving passengers in Scotland and the north of England with TransPennine Express, Rail Professional reported on 20 April.

The Hitachi Limited-built Nova 1 trains, which are scheduled to arrive in the UK in June, will offer free Wi-Fi in all classes, along with a new streaming entertainment system for passengers travelling between Liverpool and Manchester to Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and other cities.

Takeda to buy Shire

UK-Japan News May 2018

A buyout of UK-founded, Ireland-headquartered pharmaceuticals firm Shire by Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical was agreed, after the former had rejected a cash and stock offer in mid-April, the BBC reported on 8 May.

The original offer, worth £43bn, would have given Shire shareholders ownership of about half of the new group. However, Shire claimed the offer undervalued the firm and its growth prospects, the report said. The accepted offer involved a £46bn deal. The news of the rejected offer and the continuing talks saw Shire share prices rise over the following days.

Meanwhile, Takeda’s shares tumbled on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, while talk of further offers continued, with the figure increasing each time until the deal with announced.

Skateboarding in doubt

UK-Japan News May 2018

Team GB’s hopes of entering a team in the skateboarding events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games may have been dashed by a funding crisis after Skateboard England lost its Sport England backing, according to Japan Today on 19 April.

Skateboarding is set to make its debut in Tokyo, with four medal events in the two categories of park and street. The report says that other Olympic skateboarding hopefuls in countries such as Australia, Spain and Germany are receiving government funding.

English release date set for Murakami novel

UK-Japan News May 2018

PHOTO: ELEN SEIBERT

In its roundup of Japanese-to-English translations for the upcoming months, Nippon.com reported on 10 April that the latest novel by celebrated author Haruki Murakami will be released in English in the UK on 9 October.

The eagerly-awaited Killing Commendatore, translated by regular Murakami collaborators Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, tells the story of a painter of portraits who finds an undiscovered piece by a famous artist.

The website says F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby has influenced Murakami’s book.

Tennis: UK fails to reach Fed Cup World Group

UK-Japan News May 2018

In tennis, Japan beat the UK in the Fed Cup promotion play-off, dashing hopes of being able to play in the World Group, the BBC reported on 22 April.

The deciding doubles rubber saw Miyu Kato and Makoto Ninomiya beat Johanna Konta and Heather Watson 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 with Watson having earlier lost to Kurumi Nara and Konta beating Naomi Osaka.

The last time Britain competed in the World Group was 1993.

Cash no longer king in japan

Japan news May 2018

Most people who engage in commercial transactions in Japan will agree that the saying genkin banno”—cash is king—still applies. Use of personal cheques is a rarity, while credit cards and other money substitutes, which have made gains over the past several decades, still tend to be utilised considerably less than in other advanced economies.

But this may be changing. An online survey of 1,676 adults conducted by the Asahi Shimbun vernacular newspaper (21 April) reveals that the ratio of respondents preferring cash to cashless was split precisely down the middle. The former gave such explanations for favouring cash as “being accepted anywhere”, “keeping one more aware of the value of goods and services”, and “making one less concerned about overspending” (as opposed to when using e-money or credit cards).

Meanwhile, those preferring to eschew cash gave as their reasons that they liked being credited with shopping points, don’t need to go to a bank to get money, and find it troublesome to walk around carrying large sums of money.

The most popular cash substitutes mentioned (with multiple replies given) were credit cards (827 people), prepaid cards such as Suica and PASMO issued by railways (661), WAON issued by the AEON retail chain (313), other types of prepaid cards (150), Rakuten Edy (132), debit cards (77), and smartphones (27).

Despite the low ranking of smartphones, a front-page story of the Nikkei Marketing Journal of 23 April forecasts that smartphones soon will be used instead of cash.

While just 20% of consumers used cash substitutes in 2011, the percentage has been rising sharply since. Surveys by ePayments Laboratory Inc. and other organisations are projecting it will approach 40% by 2025.

As a walletless society emerges, new ways to spend money will inevitably be developed. A smartphone app now facilitates splitting the restaurant tab after lunch for instance. When an establishment called Café de K opened for business last November in Sapporo, it posted a sign at the entrance stating, “Cash not accepted.” Payment there can be made only using e-money or a credit card, meaning a walletful of cash will be all but useless.

A survey conducted in 2017 by Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising agency, found that 78.3% of respondents agreed that they preferred cashless transactions. According to another survey, 53.8% of teen respondents said they prefer making cashless payments—1.5 times more than the respondents in their 20s.

Ageing population elevates drugstore revenues

Japan news May 2018

PHOTO: CUSTOM MEDIA

The drugstore—a term used in Japan to indicate what is essentially a variety store with a licence to dispense prescription pharmaceuticals—continues to nibble away at supermarket sales.

Shukan Jitsuwa (12 April) reports that the Japan Chain Drugstore Association last year realised total retail revenues of ¥6.5bn, a gain of 5.6% over the previous year. The number of outlets nationwide increased 2% over the 2016 figure, to reach about 20,000 nationwide.

“About 10 years ago, annual sales by drug­stores were around ¥5tn, which means over the past decade they’ve grown another ¥1.5tn”, according to a retail industry source. “The industry expects that, by 2025, the total will reach around ¥10tn, bringing it within striking distance of supermarkets’ revenues of ¥13tn. It’s even possible that drugstore sales will exceed those of supermarkets.”

A number of factors are seen as supporting their growth.

“One is the addition of food and beverages to their product mix”, according to the afore­mentioned source. Drug stores “are located on main streets near or leading to residential neighbourhoods, and offer extensive parking space, which consumers appreciate. While only a few of them carry perishable items such as fish or meat, recently they’ve begun carrying fresh produce such as potatoes or onions”.

A reporter who covers the retail trade said that the Aeon Group, Japan’s largest retailer, reported operating losses of ¥1.65bn for its fiscal year ending February 2015. In the period ending February 2018, the losses had risen to some ¥2.16bn.

In recent years, Aeon has sunk large invest­ments into shopping malls, which appeal to customers who drive. The product mix at these shops largely overlaps that of its drugstores.

“Roads accessing malls are frequently jammed, and even at those malls with large parking areas, drivers often have to wait for a parking space”, the retail industry source pointed out. “Initially, they were seen as a curiosity and attracted customers. But their congestion has alienated many, who stopped going there. The drugstores are now exploiting a niche linked to neither supermarkets nor convenience stores”, he offered.

Another development of interest is the Don Quixote discount chain’s acquisition of a 40% interest in Uny Co., Ltd., Japan’s third-largest supermarket chain. With some 200 outlets, mostly in Aichi and Shizuoka Prefectures, its annual revenues of around ¥800tn were third nationwide behind Aeon and Ito Yokado. 

Competition among drugstore chains has been intense, with revenues of the long-running former leader, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, dropping to third place overall in 2017. It was supplanted by Tokyo-based Welcia Holdings Co., Ltd., which achieved year-on-year growth of 17.9% for the fiscal year to February 2017.

Sales of food accounted for 21.2% of total revenues, a level roughly the same as for medica­tions, sundries and health foods. Sapporo-based Tsuruha Holdings Inc., in second place, last year grew 9.4%.

Jaguar Land Rover rental campaign

Japan news May 2018

Hiroshima-based Times Mobility Networks Co., Ltd. announced on 18 April through its website that between that day and 13 July, 2018, it would start short-term rentals of Jaguar and Land Rover models, including the Range Rover Evoque and four other sports-SUV versions, and the Jaguar F-type. Those holding a Times Club card will be able to rent vehicles starting from as little as ¥7,900 for six hours.

The campaign was timed to attract drivers during the holiday-studded Golden Week period of consecutive national holidays and two weekends, between 28 April and 6 May.

According to the firm’s website, on reserving a car arrangements easily could be made to take delivery of the vehicle at an airport, a shinkansen or other railway station, or at a Jaguar Land Rover dealership.

Times operates more than 400 motor rental outlets, with a fleet of 28,956 domestic and imported models (as of October, 2017), plus another 20,033 vehicles available for car sharing.

Scottish distributor secures beer and spirits export deal

UK-Japan News April 2018

One of Scotland’s most established exporters of craft beer and spirits J.W. Filshill International Limited has secured a Japanese export deal. The contract is worth £100,000 and involves four import partners, according to a press release issued on 4 April.

The distributor’s exports include those by such craft distillers as Summerhall, Orkney and Glasgow, as well as craft brewers Williams Brothers, West Beer and Filshill’s own Clan Brewing Co.

Filshill has enabled 20 craft distillers to export a total of 35 products to Japan.

Japan joins Cumbria marmalade festival

UK-Japan News April 2018

The Marmalade Festival at Dalemain, near Penrith, Cumbria, has attracted 2,700 entries from more than 30 countries, including Japan, where the preserve is popular, the BBC reported on 18 March.

Visitors to the festival included a delegation from Japan, with the Mayor of Yawatahama, Ehime Prefecture, announcing plans to host a sister festival in his home city in 2019.

“I look forward to seeing the ways in which this festival will be both a showcase of Japanese–British friendship, and a wonderfully unique Japanese event”, said the festival’s founder Jane Hasell-McCosh.

Scots seafood nets national promotion

UK-Japan News April 2018

Japan’s largest supermarket chain Aeon Co., Ltd. will be arranging Scottish-themed tasting promotions at about 90 of its stores across Japan, Undercurrent News reported on 29 March.

The promotion will showcase various types of Scottish seafood, including Mirinboshi mackerel, lightly salted mackerel, lightly dried mackerel, brown crab and whole langoustine. This will mark the first time AEON has expanded its Scottish range beyond mackerel by including shellfish.

Previous figures show that Scottish seafood exports to Japan increased from £3.7mn in 2015 to £5.4mn in 2016.

Cherry blossom trees to be planted across Britain

UK-Japan News April 2018

Japanese individuals and firms have set a goal to plant 1,000 cherry blossom trees across parks in Britain as part of a fundraising project meant to symbolise bilateral friendship between the two countries, The Japan Times reported on 28 March.

The initial plan is to plant between 50 and 60 trees in four major parks in London next autumn.

“We want to honour the Japanese and the British predecessors who built cultural ties between our countries”, said the creator of the project Sandy K. Sano.