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Update on Japan
Japan might start accepting foreign tourists next month, Nikkei has learned. The government will make a final decision on lifting the ban on tourist visas in two weeks, when the number of coronavirus infections during the Golden Week holidays will be known.
Japan had national holidays on 29 April, as well as 3 May through 5 May, and many companies gave their employees holidays through this weekend. Millions of Japanese travel domestically and visit their hometowns during this annual “golden” period. This year, the tradition will put the country’s recently relaxed COVID measures to the test.
One option regarding foreign tourism under consideration is to start with group tours, which are easier for travel agencies and others to manage.
The upper limit on the number of entrants will also be changed. One idea is to increase the daily entry quota from the current 10,000 to 20,000, for the time being. The government is also considering accepting tourists from the U.S., Europe, and Asia under certain conditions, such as limiting the number of people. Officials will explore ways to balance steps to combat COVID-19 and reviving the economy.
Policies aimed at limiting infections from outside of Japan have been eased in stages. Foreign nationals have been able to enter for business and other limited purposes since March, based on the supervision of the relevant company or organization.
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio gave a speech in London. At one point he said Japan in June will further ease its border control measures so the country would be on par with other Group of Seven industrialized nations. He did not provide details.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism allocates international landing and takeoff slots to All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan Airlines (JAL) and overseas airlines based on the maximum number of incoming entrants. Officials expect to increase allocations as tourists begin reentering the country.
Currently, other than those who were previously in certain designated countries or regions, like Russia and South Korea, individuals entering Japan who have received three doses of a vaccine are not required to self-quarantine if they test negative for the new coronavirus. The same framework is expected to be put in place for tourists.
The Pfizer, Moderna and some other vaccines are covered by Japan’s current measures; those made in China are not. Before 2020, China was a large source of Japan-bound tourists, but Chinese are likely to continue to face difficulties entering Japan.
Although thousands of people continue to be newly infected every day in Tokyo and other Japanese cities, more experts are starting to say that easing border controls to a certain degree should cause no adverse effects, though the country’s medical system would need to be monitored to keep it from becoming overstrained.
Core consumer prices in Tokyo, considered a leading indicator of Japanese price trends, rose 1.9% in April from a year earlier, marking the fastest annual pace in seven years, government data showed on Friday.
The increase in inflation, driven mostly by food costs and the dissipating effect of past cellphone fee cuts, underscores a common view among economists that Japan will see price rises accelerate to the central bank’s 2% target in coming months.
“The nationwide (core) inflation may rise above 2% in April-June…as the picture has been the same in recent months — food price hikes have been widening,” said Tsunoda Takumi, senior economist at Shinkin Central Bank Research Institute. “Meanwhile, it may not keep accelerating further as the pace of the energy price inflation is slowing.”
The rise in the Tokyo core consumer price index (CPI) was faster than a median market forecast for a 1.8% gain and followed a 0.8% increase for March. The index excludes fresh food, which is a volatile factor, but includes energy items. That marked the fastest gain since March 2015, when the index rose 2.2%.
In the overall reading, which includes fresh food costs, Tokyo CPI increased 2.5% in April from a year before, the fastest growth since October 2014.
The fading effect of cellphone fee cuts last year pushed up the overall CPI by 0.80 points, while non-fresh food prices drove it up by 0.17 points, the data showed. To-go sushi packages, hamburgers and breads saw the biggest price hikes among food items in April, according to a government official.
Energy prices in Tokyo rose 24.6% year-on-year in April, slower than in March, thanks to the government’s fuel subsidy programs to lower gasoline and other energy costs. The so-called core-core CPI in Tokyo excluding food and energy items rose 0.8% in April, posting the first increase since March 2021.
The Bank of Japan (BOJ) last week raised its forecast for this year’s inflation rate but kept its ultraloose monetary policy unchanged, stressing its resolve to maintain massive stimulus until inflationary pressures were accompanied by wage rises and stronger demand.
Unlike in the United States, Japan’s underlying inflation would not last when the rise in energy costs slows without broad-based price and wage hikes, said Shinkin’s Tsunoda. “Such a scenario would exactly be the BOJ’s current projection, where the bank would never dare to tweak its policies,” he said.
Last week on Thursday 5 May, Japan celebrated Children’s Day. The country’s internal affairs ministry estimated that on 1 April, the number of children aged 14 or younger had declined for the 41st consecutive year to 14.65 million. That’s a drop of 250,000 from the previous year.
Japan’s child population began to shrink in 1982. The country now has 3.23 million children aged between 12 and 14, 3.13 million aged between nine and 11, and 3.01 million aged between six and eight. There are also 2.78 million children aged between three and five, and 2.51 million aged two or younger.
These figures are indicative of the trend in Japan that the younger children are, the fewer their numbers. The percentage of children in Japan’s overall population was 11.7%, marking a 48th straight year of decline.
Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk has warned that Japan will perish if it does not reverse its declining birthrate, responding to a tweet of a Kyodo News article that said the country’s population saw its largest drop on record in 2021.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, unless something changes to cause the birth rate to exceed the death rate, Japan will eventually cease to exist. This would be a great loss for the world,” Musk, who recently acquired Twitter Inc, said in a post on his account on Sunday.
Musk has mentioned several times in the past his concern about a global population “collapse” as potentially the greatest risk to human civilization.
Japan’s government has long struggled with the challenges of a graying population and a declining workforce, and has hoped to ease the labor shortage by attempting to increase foreign workers under a relaxed visa system.
Japanese toymaker Bandai will start recycling the shells of its capsule toys and use the plastic for new shells at its factory in the Philippines as rival Tomy seeks to put its vending machine toys in smaller capsules to save on plastic.
Bandai and Tomy are part of a trend in which companies are recycling products made from petroleum-based materials, reflecting an increased awareness of sustainable development goals (SDGs) as well as soaring material prices and tighter emissions regulations at home and abroad.
In September 2021, Bandai began a Gashapon Capsule Recycle program to collect empty capsules at its retail outlets and mix them with new oil-derived material at its plant in the Philippines to produce recycled capsules. The processing of empty capsules into the raw material for new ones is a first in Japan, according to Bandai. For the program, “Bandai is exercising its group power,” said an official in charge at shop operator Bandai Namco Amusement.
Bandai has been conducting efforts to recycle empty capsules since 2006, such as placing recycling boxes next to vending machines. In fiscal 2021, it recycled more than 4 million capsules, totaling 21.8 tons in weight. They were processed into 700,000 new capsules and reduced the use of plastic by about 1 ton per year.
The reduction is small compared to Bandai’s annual use of 800 tons of plastic. Yet “the volume of recycling will further increase this fiscal year because we installed recycling boxes at four more stores in March,” said Tsuyoshi Iwamura of Bandai’s product management department.
Customers get sales points when they drop capsules into the recycling machine and can exchange points for stickers after dropping three times. (Photo by Takeru Ito)
Recycled capsules are less transparent due to the mixing of the source capsules’ colors. The blending ratio of recycled and new material is important because capsules need to be sufficiently transparent to show the toys inside. While the current ratio is around 20%, studies on the balance between transparency and strength have found that it can be raised to 50%, according to Bandai.
Tomy, Bandai’s chief rival in the market for capsule toys in Japan, also is striving to reduce the use of plastic in the production of capsules.
The use of recycled material is not only aimed at reducing the consumption of petroleum resources, but also has another purpose: resisting fluctuations in prices of raw materials. Soaring crude oil prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are starting to affect prices of oil-derived plastics.
With current processing technology, however, it is difficult to maintain the strength of toys if recycled plastic is used, since the durability of plastic weakens as a result of heating and pulverization during reprocessing.
Bandai began a program in September to collect empty capsules at its retail outlets and mix them with new oil-derived material at its plant in the Philippines to produce recycled capsules.
Now that programs to reduce the use of plastic and reinforce recycling systems are underway in countries around the world, the social responsibility of toymakers is further increasing due to their abundant use of plastic.
Japanese education experts have urged central and local governments to take urgent steps to address the chronic shortages of teachers.
Four experts released a preliminary result of their survey at a news conference on Monday in Tokyo. They say 20% of 179 vice principals of public schools across the country said there were staff shortages at the start of the new academic year in April.
Nihon University Professor Suetomi Kaori said although a government survey in the last fiscal year found that schools nationwide were 2,558 teachers short, she feels the shortages are more serious. She also said the absence of homeroom teachers is a disadvantage to students, and the situation needs to be addressed immediately.
She added that the survey that began in late April will continue until 22 May. The experts urged central and local authorities to secure funding to employ regular teaching staff and improve the working environment of teachers, many of whom are overworked.
Japan’s Lower House of the Diet plans a questionnaire on women’s participation in politics as the country largely lags behind in female representation in national parliaments.
In Japan, female lawmakers account for only 9.7% of all those elected in last year’s Lower House election. A survey by the Inter-Parliamentary Union shows that as of 1 April, Japan ranked 166th among 188 countries surveyed in terms of the ratios of women in lower or single houses of parliament.
The Japanese Lower House has decided to ask all parliamentarians and political parties about what measures they have taken to promote female participation in politics.
The 58-item questionnaire includes questions on whether they think the number of female lawmakers in the Japanese Diet is satisfactory, whether they think an initiative is needed to secure a certain number of female lawmakers, and whether they think lawmakers need to take maternity and childcare leaves.
It also asks political parties whether their platforms value gender equality and whether they think the proportion of female executive members in their parties is sufficient. The Lower House plans to present findings from the anonymous survey during the current Diet session.
Update on the Netherlands
Last week on Wednesday 4 May, the Netherlands commemorated all civilians and soldiers who have died in wars since the start of the Second World War. Commemorations are held all over the country, after two years of corona again without restrictions and with the public. The war in Ukraine also makes this commemoration different from other years.
The theme of this year’s commemoration was solidarity. “The essence of commemoration is that you do it together,” said Gerben van den Berg, spokesperson for the National Committee for 4 and 5 May, about the chosen theme. “It shows the importance of bringing the commemoration together again after two years of corona. But at the same time, there is of course the shadow that the war in Ukraine casts over the commemoration this year.”
The Remembrance Day on Dam Square in Amsterdam attracted more than 2.4 million viewers to NPO1 on Wednesday evening. The registration of the commemoration at which the royal couple was present was the most watched program after the NOS Journaal. King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima and Mayor Femke Halsema, among others, were present at the meeting, which was traditionally broadcast on NPO1.
The next day on 5 May, whether it was at a festival, in a park or during work: the Netherlands celebrated freedom on Liberation Day. The day already started the night before, when British veteran Harry Rawlings (96) had lit the traditional Liberation Fire on the 5 Mei Plein in Wageningen. This happened together with mayor Floor Vermeulen and the mayor of children of Gelderland,, Seppe Meijer zu Schlochtern (11).
The fire has been central all day. It was lit at the fourteen Liberation Festivals in the country, among other things, but also brought from Nijmegen to the German border at the end of the afternoon.
At 4.55 pm, 5 to 5, all fourteen Liberation Festivals commemorated freedom. The moment this year was dominated by Ukrainians fleeing war and violence. On all stages, speakers from Ukraine made a statement and called for support for the victims of the war. Each festival gave its own interpretation to the moment.
In the coming months, municipalities can apply for a subsidy from the government to renovate properties in shopping centers or to install new buildings. For example, the government wants to prevent that people hardly ever go to a physical store because of online shopping. A total of 100 million euros will be reserved for the scheme.
Because we buy clothes or furniture online even more often since the corona crisis, we go to physical shops much less often. In recent years, this has led to more bankruptcies and therefore vacancy in the shopping centers. “Vacancy can again lead to the degradation of shopping areas. A nice day of shopping will then no longer be possible,” says Minister Micky Adriaansens (Economic Affairs). “Inner cities thus become less livable and less attractive. We want to tackle that.”
The cabinet will allocate an amount of 100 million euros in four rounds, which municipalities can claim. For the first round, which will last until the end of this month, 22 million euros will be made available. The money can be used for renovation, demolition or new construction or the construction of, for example, parks in the shopping areas.
Municipalities that wish to make use of the subsidy must submit a project plan. They have to work together with a private party, such as a shop owner or a construction company. The projects are assessed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and an advisory committee determines which project will receive funding and how much.
Rijkswaterstaat is raising the water level of the IJsselmeer by a few centimeters because of the drought. Water extraction companies and the water boards can therefore supply water from the lake if necessary, writes Omroep Flevoland.
It has hardly rained in most of the Netherlands since the beginning of March, with the exception of a short period at the beginning of April. The precipitation deficit is currently at a level that occurs once every twenty years. It will be warmer again in the next two weeks, while precipitation will probably not occur.
The water level in the IJsselmeer will be raised in particular for the agricultural sector and nature reserves. “To ensure that crops can grow and nature is preserved,” says water expert Harold van Waveren of Rijkswaterstaat. “The IJsselmeer is also used for drinking water, but the level rise is not necessary for that.”
You can compare the IJsselmeer with an enormous bath or rain barrel, explains Van Waveren on NPO Radio 1. “We have a tap and that is the IJssel, which flows into the lake. Normally, more water is drained than we can use.” This excess water is then drained through sluices at the Afsluitdijk to prevent flooding. But because there is now an extreme drought, the sluices are kept closed. In this way, the water level automatically rises to the desired height.
Farmers’ association ZLTO sounded the alarm last week because of the dry spring. Because there is no rain, harvests are at risk of failure, which can lead to price increases. A spraying ban was also introduced for farmers in parts of Brabant.
It is therefore expected that the rain shortage will increase further in the coming period. The water level in the major rivers is already low for the time of year and is expected to fall further, according to the drought monitor of the National Water Distribution Coordination Committee.
Last Thursday, the first hydrogen passenger train rolled out of the Siemens Mobility factory. This makes the German manufacturer the next major player to take a step in the world of hydrogen trains.
The rail sector has a number of important manufacturers of so-called rolling stock, such as the French Alstom, Stadler from Switzerland, CAF from Spain and the German Siemens. Like car brands, truck builders and city bus manufacturers, these manufacturers are also looking at alternative forms of propulsion in their pursuit of sustainability. That is why there are now battery-electric trains and hydrogen trains.
Wasted effort, you might think. After all, most of the trains are already electric. They ‘just’ get their power from the overhead wires. That’s right, but there are still parts of the track that don’t have overhead wires.
According to rail manager ProRail, 15% of the Dutch rail network does not have such a power supply. That equates to 572 kilometers of track. Diesel trains run on these routes. It is estimated that there are around a hundred in the Netherlands. In countries such as Germany and France, this involves tens of thousands of kilometers and at least 15,000 diesel trains are still in use across Europe.
From an environmental point of view, Brussels, the railway companies and manufacturers want to get rid of diesel trains. An obvious option is to electrify more stretches of track. However, that process is time consuming and very expensive; estimates range from 500,000 euros per kilometer to 1.5 million euros per kilometre.
ProRail does not venture an amount when requested, because too many different factors are of influence. It is probably better to use battery electric trains or hydrogen trains. So more and more players are speeding up with that. The Mireo Plus H, as the hydrogen train from Siemens is called, will go on test drives in the federal states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg from 2023. From 2024, hydrogen trains will actually be included in the timetable on two routes.
The competition is even further ahead. For example, Alstom already drove test drives in the province of Groningen in 2020, where they also want to start driving hydrogen trains from 2024. Manufacturer Stadler is at least ready and CAF also wants to carry out test drives this year.
“We do know that hydrogen is still a relatively expensive solution,” says Rico Luman, senior economist transport, logistics & automotive at ING Research.. “Working with a fuel cell is much less efficient than trains that run directly on electricity. Using green hydrogen for transport is not the most optimal when you look at energy consumption, but in this case there are no other alternatives.” He also points out that investments in trains are for the long term, certainly for twenty years. “In the long run, much more green electricity will be available for the production of green hydrogen and it is expected to become significantly cheaper.”
The number of starting entrepreneurs is increasing again in the catering, culture, sports and recreation sector, which has been severely affected by the corona crisis. According to the Chamber of Commerce (KVK), there were a quarter more starting entrepreneurs in these sectors last month than in the same month last year.
In April, the registers of the Chamber of Commerce counted 935 starters in the catering industry. In particular, many so-called event caterers have been added. This group includes, for example, the independent cooks and baristas. In culture, sports and recreation, more than 1000 starters were involved, mainly in the field of art.
“Entrepreneurs see their opportunity to benefit from opening to the public in these sectors,” explained Josette Dijkhuizen, professor of sustainable employability of entrepreneurs at Tilburg University. “In addition, there is confidence that the pandemic is now really over. That is probably what we see in the numbers.”
The total number of starters in April, as in March, was lower than in the same month last year. In total, there were almost 20,000 new companies, which is a decrease of 3%. At more than 12,000, the number of quitters was more than a quarter higher than in April last year. The total number of companies continued to grow slightly to more than 2.2 million.
“After the pandemic, it is inevitable that the number of quitters would increase,” Dijkhuizen said. During the corona period, many companies were kept afloat by government support. But according to the Chamber of Commerce there were fewer bankruptcies. With 94 bankruptcies, this monthly figure was not even that low since January 2020.
“The fact that the number of bankruptcies has fallen again, contrary to expectations, may well have to do with the insight of entrepreneurs,” suggests Dijkhuizen. “They may want to avoid bankruptcy by quitting on their own and not letting it come to bankruptcy.” The Chamber of Commerce is also clearly receiving more calls from entrepreneurs with questions about the consequences of a possible bankruptcy, a spokesperson said. “The question for them really is whether they let it come to it, or end all their business in advance.”
Beer brewer Grolsch will not be holding a marketing campaign focused on the sporting event around the World Cup in Qatar this year. That decision was prompted by a “coincidence of circumstances”, including international criticism of the human rights situation in the Gulf state, a spokesman said on Tuesday. On Monday, supermarket chain Lidl announced the same decision.
“We have just launched a new campaign, the emphasis is on spending time together. We are not going to make it a separate World Cup campaign,” explains Grolsch’s spokesman. Football or references to the sporting event in November and December do not appear in the commercials.
Grolsch also considered how customers would respond to marketing communications with references to the World Cup. The Dutch brewer does not yet know whether it buys airtime in commercial breaks around World Cup matches.
In Qatar, the conditions in which migrant workers are building stadiums for the World Cup are particularly criticized by human rights organizations. According to those organizations, thousands of guest workers have died since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010. This happened, for example, on construction sites where stadiums were built for the tournament.
At previous final tournaments of the Dutch national team, the beer brand did come up with special promotions around a European Championship or World Cup. In the last editions, the emphasis was less on orange merchandise, Grolsch reports.
Supermarket chain Lidl already indicated on Monday that it would not conduct a major advertising campaign around the World Cup in Qatar. That would be inappropriate due to a “sum of factors”. Industry peers Albert Heijn, Jumbo and Plus do not yet know what they will do around the World Cup.
Update on Dujat & Members
We are pleased to invite you for our Sustainability Seminar, which is organized together with AKD, ABN AMRO and RICOH Europe. It will take place on Tuesday 31 May at The Edge in Amsterdam, from 15:00 – 17:00 with drinks and networking afterwards.
If your company has any news to share in the next biweekly newsletter, let us know by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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