Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 23 & 24, 2023

This newsletter was shared with Dujat members on 23-5-2023. The next newsletter was sent out today.
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Update on Japan

Visitors to Japan rose to a post-pandemic high of almost 2 million in April, official data showed on Wednesday 17 May, benefiting from a relaxation of travel restrictions in China.

The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure climbed to 1.95 million last month from 1.82 million in March, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) said. Arrivals were still down 33% from April 2019, before pandemic travel curbs were adopted the next year.

China last month eased outbound travel restrictions that had cut off a lucrative flow of visitors during the pandemic. A record 9.5 million Chinese visitors landed in Japan in 2019, a third of all visitors.

But a full recovery is likely to take time because of a lingering shortage of flights. “We foresee a continuous increase in the number of international flights from China as there has been an 11% capacity increase between March 2023 and April 2023,” said Asami Chung, general manager of travel management company FCM Japan.

There were 108,300 Chinese arrivals in April, according to JNTO data, a 43% jump from March but still well off of 2019 levels.

Traveler numbers have risen steadily since Japan resumed visa-free travel for many countries in October. It stopped pre-arrival COVID tests for travelers from China on 5 April and scrapped remaining infection controls on 8 May.

Tourism to Japan all but halted for more than two years during the pandemic until a gradual reopening starting in June 2022. Meanwhile, the yen has weakened precipitously against the euro and dollar, making trips to Japan the cheapest they have been in many years.

“The weak yen is positively influencing travel to Japan despite the high cost,” said Chung, noting that Tokyo still has the most expensive hotel rates in Asia.

Officials at Japan’s transportation firms are looking at ways to support a government campaign for a carbon-free society.

On Monday they tested out a vehicle that could make a big difference — a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell truck that emits no carbon dioxide. Company representatives put the vehicle through its paces at the event, organized by the industry ministry and other parties.

The truck is the creation of Japanese automakers Isuzu and partner Toyota. The firms say it can get 260 kilometers on a 10-minute charge. Fuel-cell vehicles have a longer cruising range than EVs and are expected to play a big role in long-distance trucking.

One attendee said he’s impressed by how smooth the truck feels. He said it puts less stress on the driver’s body, and hopefully will help reduce accidents involving truck drivers who work long hours.

Japan’s energy conservation law says that by 2030, 5% of trucks at big transportation firms should be hydrogen fuel cell or electric.

Government officials say there are currently plans to put about 300 fuel-cell trucks on the road this year in areas that include Tokyo and Fukushima prefectures.

Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio says he does not plan to introduce new tax increases to fund government measures aimed at reversing the country’s declining birthrate.

The government held a panel meeting on Monday to discuss its plan to strengthen childcare measures over the next three years. On the agenda was how to finance the package.

Kishida told the participants that he does not plan to finance the package by raising the consumption tax or by imposing other new tax burdens on people. He said his idea is to engage with everyone in society, including businesses, to provide broad support to child-rearing families in a manner that is fair.

The prime minister indicated that he will consider creating a new framework to achieve that goal by taking the views of those in the ruling parties into account.

Raising social insurance premiums, to which both corporate workers and their employers contribute, appears to be an option.

Kishida also noted that the government will thoroughly review its fiscal spending plans in order to reduce the burden on the people as much as possible. He said that the government will work to ensure that wage increases continue and that both the economy and the fiscal foundation are solid.

He also hinted that the government will tackle the most pressing problems immediately, even if it has not secured all the necessary resources.

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport will reopen an area for international flights in Terminal 2 in July to handle surging demand since Japan eased its entry rules. The part of the terminal had been shut down due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Haneda expanded Terminal 2, which is one of its domestic terminals, in March 2020 to increase the number of take-offs and landings of international flights. But the pandemic forced airport authorities to close the area only two weeks after it began operations.

International flights currently only fly in or out from Terminal 3. But the airport’s operator says the number of international flights has recently increased to 250 on a busy day. That’s higher than pre-pandemic levels.

It decided to reopen the part of Terminal 2 on July 19 after consulting with airlines. But operating hours will be limited for the time being due to factors including a shortage of airport staff to carry out baggage inspections.

All Nippon Airways will start by offering five departure flights from the terminal per day and several arrivals and plans to gradually increase the number of flights.

Japanese researchers will use the homegrown Fugaku supercomputer to develop ChatGPT-style generative artificial intelligence under plans announced on Monday.

The technology will be developed in the current fiscal year through March with an eye toward its release on a free-to-use basis in fiscal 2024. The Tokyo Institute of Technology and Tohoku University have teamed up with Fugaku developers Riken research institute and Fujitsu on the new project.

They will develop a large language model (LLM) for generative AI that centers on the Japanese language. The model will pull publicly available data from Wikipedia and other sources, with a goal of producing more precise results in Japanese. The project will partner with CyberAgent, a Tokyo-based digital advertising company developing its own generative AI.

Generative AI is rapidly gaining traction in Japan, but the so-called parameters needed to produce good results can run into the billions. CyberAgent announced last Wednesday an LLM that uses up to 6.8 billion parameters.

Tokyo Tech and its partners will build an LLM incorporating roughly 100 billion parameters. GPT-3, the language model adapted to power OpenAI’s ChatGPT, uses 175 billion parameters.

A high-performance supercomputer is needed to build an LLM, but no private-sector Japanese company possesses a world-class machine. Government-backed Riken operates Fugaku, the world’s second-fastest supercomputer.

Developing a new generative AI has become a key priority. The forthcoming LLM will be provided to both businesses and research institutions. The model will be released in fiscal 2024, which starts next April.

Fugaku does not use a graphics processing unit, considered optimal for generative AI machine learning. But “Fugaku is equipped with a multitude of high-performance CPUs, and it performs well in AI development” compared with other supercomputers in Japan that specialize in AI processing, a Fujitsu representative said.

Such American technology companies as OpenAI typically provide client businesses with AIs that have already been trained. The Japanese team will release the underlying LLM so that Japanese companies and others can train the model using their own data to develop custom AIs.

A ceremony was held at the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak, on Monday 22 May to pray for the safety of climbers before its trails open in July.

About 30 people, including officials from mountain lodges, the local government and police, attended the event on Monday in Yamanashi Prefecture’s Fujiyoshida City. It took place in front of a cenotaph near the Yoshida route leading to the peak that is dedicated to climbers who died on the mountain.

A priest from a local shrine began the ceremony by carrying out a ritual. Participants then prayed for the safety of climbers and the souls of the victims.

Organizers say that from 1956 until last month 325 climbers died on Mount Fuji’s Yamanashi side from causes that included slipping off trails.

The Yamanashi side’s Yoshida route will open from 1 July through 10 September. Local officials expect the number of climbers to rise this season as this year marks 10 years since Mount Fuji’s registration on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The lifting of restrictions on people’s movements that were imposed due to COVID-19 is also expected to push up the number.

The officials are concerned that the number of accidents may increase as well. Nakamura Osamu, the head of an association of local accommodation facility operators, said the participants prayed for a season without accidents. He also said the operators will make preparations to safely accept climbers.

Update on the Netherlands

Minister Adema: “We are not there yet”. No Agriculture Accord reached despite 24-hour negotiations.

Despite negotiations of almost 24 hours, the cabinet and farmers’ organizations have not yet reached an agriculture accord.The negotations will continue in two weeks. All parties involved will meet again at the table at the beginning of June, Agriculture Minister Piet Adema reports to the House of Representatives.

It became clear that the consultations between the cabinet and farmers’ parties, which Prime Minister Mark Rutte also attended, had not yielded a decisive answer. That chance was already considered small in advance. In the night, among other things, the question of whether an agreement is possible was discussed, insiders report to the ANP news agency. Tensions would have run high.

The negotiations are now taking months longer than expected, and the government and farmers’ organizations seem unable to come closer to each other on a number of tricky subjects.

Among other things, a decision has yet to be made about the way in which farmers who want to continue will be protected. “I continue to have faith in this process,” Adema writes in the letter to parliament. “But we’re not there yet.”

It will be problematic for both the cabinet and farmers’ organizations if no agreement is reached. “There is no alternative,” says one person involved.

RTL News published the draft agreement last Tuesday. This revealed that the agricultural sector must meet stricter sustainability requirements.

Farmers would have a higher margin, although it is still unclear how this will be arranged. Farmers must also do more about nature conservation in exchange for compensation. This partly compensates for the depreciation of agricultural land.

The Dutch consumers lobby group Consumentenbond is preparing a mass claim against Google. According to the union, the American tech company violates user privacy on a large scale. If the American tech company does not stop doing so and does not pay compensation, the consumer organization will go to court. The union has already successfully done so in a case against Facebook.

“Google is the most dominant data company in the world,” says Gerard Spierenburg of the Consumers’ Union. “They collect massive amounts of data across all of their services. Location data lets the company know where you live, where you work, where your kids go to school. And whether you’ve visited a gay bar or been to a party, for example. Those are all very sensitive facts.”

According to the consumers group, Google uses all kinds of techniques so that consumers often unconsciously – and therefore possibly unintentionally – give permission for the company’s collecting rage. And that is against the law, the union argues.

Google has responded briefly to the announcement. “We take privacy complaints very seriously and in September 2022 asked the foundation to which the Consumers’ Association is now affiliated for more details, but never received a response.”

The Consumers’ Association, together with the Stichting Bescherming Privacybelangen, demands that Google adjust its current services and also pay compensation to all Dutch consumers who have used Google since 1 March, 2012. If Google does not want to do this on its own, the union will go to court to enforce it.

Due to a change in the law in 2019, the court can now impose collective compensation. The new law also offers scope for investors to benefit from the mass claim. That is also the case in this case.

The case against Google is funded by the US law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. If the Consumers’ Association wins the case, the Americans will receive 18 to 25% of the proceeds. “The judge decides how much exactly,” says Spierenburg. He does not see the fact that the investor wants to earn money from the business as something bad. “The financier gives us the opportunity to conduct the business.”

In the year that inflation rose to more than 10%, much more theft took place in Dutch supermarkets. Financial retail specialist Marshoek has calculated that in 2022 an average of 66,300 euros worth of products was taken out unpaid per store. That is about 20,000 euros more than a year earlier, when inflation was still below 3%. This is an additional 70 million euros for the entire supermarket sector.

Marshoek checked more than 300 supermarkets. According to researcher Richard Kievit, the extra theft cannot be seen separately from the high inflation.

Especially fresh products such as potatoes, fruit and vegetables, and bread are often stolen. Part of the increase in the total amount can be explained by the fact that the products that are stolen are much more expensive than a year earlier.

The growing phenomenon of the self-scan does not help either. “Self-scan seems to encourage theft,” the study says. Until now, the advantages of the self-scan outweighed the increasing theft, “but you are now seeing such an enormous increase that it is starting to become a problem”, says Kievit.

Entrepreneurs struggle a lot with it. Henry Hubers of the Coop supermarket in Vinkel (near Den Bosch) had fourteen cameras installed two weeks ago. “Every corner of the store is now in the picture, and also outside. Whether it helps? We’ll have to see.” It was an investment of 6000 euros for Hubers.

Hubers is discouraged by the thieving customers, who sometimes work very cunningly. “Before you realize it, you have lost tens of euros on cigarettes, for example. And the police often do not have the capacity to arrest the perpetrators at all.”

For Hubers, the theft damage comes on top of a higher energy bill (50,000 euros extra last year), higher wages and a higher rent. And next year there will be a ban on the sale of cigarettes for supermarkets. Hubers says he cannot raise the prices of products any further. “Then you know for sure that you are digging your own grave. I just hope this year gets better, otherwise we will just have to stop.”

Wirner van Aanholt also finds a lot of theft in his Jumbo in Gorinchem. “For example, we see that people pay for 27 euros and have 150 euros in their cart.” He now has a new system in his store that reports via the cameras if someone shows suspicious behavior.

It affects Van Aanholt enormously when people steal something, he says, since it is his own business. “But my employees also suffer from it, because they are confronted with the negative sides of the self-scan every time and we want to be very positive.” The store owner says customers also often get angry when they get a sample. “Those are the less fun sides of the job at the moment.”

Still, the store owner doesn’t want to put his entire focus on customers who don’t checkout. “Fortunately, a lot is going well.”

For the first time, wind turbines in the North Sea have been virtually stopped for four hours in order to offer migratory birds a safe crossing. To prevent them from flying into the turbines, the speed of the windmills at Borssele and Egmond aan Zee was reduced to two rotations per minute on Saturday 13 May.

The moment at which the turbines slow down was not chosen arbitrarily. In spring and autumn, millions of birds migrate across the North Sea on some nights. A model predicts two days in advance when many birds will make that crossing.

The model was created by a PhD candidate from the University of Amsterdam, who received his PhD on the subject last December. At first the idea was to use weather data and various bird radars at sea to immediately stop the rotor blades if birds flew over, but that turned out to be impossible. The companies involved and grid manager TenneT need time to prepare. For example, the lost power output must be obtained from somewhere else.

It was therefore decided to have the system predict bird migration two days in advance. Those involved will then receive a signal when the windmills must be temporarily shut down. That was the case for the first time last Saturday.

The turbines did not stand completely still, because according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy it is too burdensome to let the turbines come to a complete standstill. “But with two revolutions per minute, the birds can pass safely,” says a spokesman.

The Bird Protection Agency agrees. The organization wants wind farms to take nature into account as much as possible. “Temporarily shutting down the turbines during bird migration contributes to this.”

This was another test, only with windmills near Borssele and Egmond aan Zee. But when the migratory birds cross the North Sea again this autumn, the system will be used again. It is not yet clear at which wind farms this will happen.

Wind farms that are still being built in the North Sea, or are planned to be built, will also implement the forecasting system. The parties involved bear the loss of the slower-rotating turbines themselves.

Charging the battery of your e-bike or scooter is not without risk. Dropping or charging the battery incorrectly can cause the battery to overheat and spontaneously catch fire and explode.

This week it happened in Amsterdam, where an electric scooter was charged in a house and caught fire. The fire brigade warns of the risk of such difficult-to-extinguish fires from lithium-ion batteries, the smoke of which is also extra toxic.

The Fietsersbond (Dutch Cyclists’ Union) also warns of the risk of fire and recommends having a battery checked for any internal damage to the precision mechanics after it or the bicycle has fallen.

The Fietsersbond also advises charging batteries in a place where you can still take them outside if things go wrong. The fire service also recommends charging the battery outside or in a shed. If those are not an option, then stay in the same room while charging.

Another tip: charge during the day and not at night, do not cover the battery and unplug it as soon as charging is complete. The fire brigade also thinks it is very wise to install a fire alarm above the charging point, which also applies to telephones and tablets.

Update on Dujat & Members

Last week the Dujat Trip to Japan took place. It was great to visit again, after the last time in June 2019. Click here for an overview of our activities.

We are pleased to invite you to join us together with Teijin and Oost NL – East Netherlands Development Agency for a visit to Arnhem on Wednesday 14 June.

The visit will start at Teijin, where we will be welcomed by Peter ter Horst (CEO Teijin Aramid). The programme will focus on circular economy and energy transition.

After Teijin, we can get inspirered at the most sustainable business park in the Netherlands: Industrial Parc Kleefse Waard (IPKW). Here we will be introduced to Elaad, which researches and tests the smart and sustainable charging infrastructure.

We will also meet Connectr, which is developed on the campus for housing companies in cleantech and sustainable energy. Connectr aims to promote cooperation between innovative companies and research institutes, and they will give a short presentation.

Thank you for reading our newsletter. If your company is member and has any news to share in our next newsletter, let us know by contacting our office.

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: Nu.nlNOSParoolNHKNikkeiJapanToday