Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 25 & 26, 2023

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Japan’s government proposed a plan to address the country’s declining birthrate to an expert panel on Thursday.

Update on Japan

Japan has drawn up a draft plan designed to reverse the country’s falling birthrate, which includes boosting financial support for child-rearing households. The government presented the package of measures to a panel of experts on Thursday 1 June.

One proposal calls for removing the upper income cap for monthly cash payments to parents and extending the payment period, which currently ends when children reach 15, until they graduate from high school. The government would increase the allowance for each child for parents with at least three children.

Officials said they will study ways to further increase financial support for childbirth, such as considering public health insurance coverage. The government also plans to implement measures to ease the financial burden of paying for children’s higher education.

The plan proposes to expand the eligibility for students to get a reduction or exemption of tuition fees, or receive grant-type scholarships. Officials also aim to raise benefits for childcare leave so that a family’s disposable would not change for up to four weeks even if both parents take leave.

The plan calls for allowing children to attend nursery schools or daycare centers even if their parents do not have jobs. The government plans to finalize the package by the end of this month, after discussion with the ruling coalition parties.

To fund the plan, the government aims to secure about 3.5 trillion yen, or 25 billion dollars, annually over the next 3 years. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Thursday stressed that Japan will take “unprecedented” measures to address its falling birthrate “without asking the public to shoulder an additional burden.”

The government plans to reform social welfare spending, and establish a new support system by fiscal 2028. Officials said they could temporarily issue special bonds to fund measures until the system is set up, but would not raise taxes. They will decide on details of how it will be funded by the end of the year.

Officials said the package will increase the Children and Families Agency’s annual budget by about 50 percent from its current level of nearly 5 trillion yen. It aims to double the budget by the early 2030s.

An expert on social security policies points out that how the government secures the budget for its plan will determine its effectiveness.

Government officials have agreed on a new strategy to promote the use of hydrogen in Japan. It’s the first revision to their basic strategy in six years. It comes as the United States and countries in Europe are increasing investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Nine technologies are to be positioned as strategic fields. They are to receive public and private investments of over 15 trillion yen, or more than 107 billion dollars, over the next 15 years. Among them are fuel cells and water electrolysis, areas that Japan is seen as having a competitive advantage.

A basic strategy on hydrogen was originally formulated in 2017. It called for Japan to lead the world in creating a “hydrogen society.”

The government has since been encouraging the use of hydrogen in fuel cells for automobiles and for thermal power generation.

The revised strategy includes plans to build larger vessels to import hydrogen, thereby constructing a reliable supply chain.

The government hopes its efforts will increase hydrogen use by six-fold to around 12 million tons in 2040.

Japan unveiled a draft policy package on Monday 5 June for promoting gender equality. It includes a target that women hold at least 30% of executive roles at the country’s top companies by 2030.

The draft aims for companies listed on the Prime Market of the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) to each have at least one female board member by around 2025. The government plans to call on the companies within this year, through the TSE, to set these goals.

The draft also calls for ensuring that male employees are able to take paternal leave. It includes creating a system to maintain family incomes when parents opt to work shorter hours until their child turns two years old.

Strengthening measures to protect women from sexual assault and other forms of violence is among other items in the draft, as well as preventing workplace harassment.

The government will discuss the draft with the ruling parties before finalizing the contents within this month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu said, “Many women are still being forced to choose between life events and career building. It is necessary to tackle structural issues, such as labor practices centering on long working hours, and the fact that women tend to bear more of the burden of unpaid labor such as housework and childcare, as well as fixed expectations of gender roles.”

Chairman Tokura Masakazu of the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, said the government has established practical targets, which are key to improving the workplace environment.

Tokura said, “The question is how to make it easier for working women to take the steps necessary to be promoted, and to take greater responsibility under the same conditions as men.”

Japanese-language instructors of international students will have to be certified under legislation passed Friday, with a goal of ensuring that foreign workers here receive adequate language education as they become more important to an aging society.

Japan has been opening its immigration doors a bit wider to bring in international talent to supplement its shrinking workforce, resulting in a significant increase in language schools. But teachers and schools have varied in quality, drawing criticism.

Under the new framework, to take effect in April 2024, the government will examine schools’ curriculums, facilities and student support services and accredit those that pass muster. Accredited schools will be listed online in multiple languages for prospective students. The government will be able to demand reports from schools as well as issue warnings and improvement orders.

Teachers at accredited schools will have to obtain a national certification by passing a written test and completing a classroom practicum.

Current instructors will need to be certified to continue working. They will be given a waiver for the teaching practicum until March 2029.

After a grace period, only accredited schools will be allowed to enroll international students.

Japanese manufacturers such as Toshiba and Toray Industries are developing new technology that produces cheaper “green” hydrogen, part of efforts geared toward promoting the use of the clean-burning fuel.

Green hydrogen, which is made with renewable energy, is typically produced with electrolyzers that break down water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Electrolyzers that use polymer electrolyte membranes (PEM) require electrodes containing iridium, a rare metal.

Only about 10 tonnes of iridium is produced globally in a given year, and price of the metal is now 2.5 times that of gold in the face of demand from the green hydrogen industry.

However, Toshiba developed a way to reduce iridium content by nine-tenths in PEM electrolyzers while maintaining the same output and durability. The company achieved this by devising an iridium oxide nanosheet catalyst.

Using less iridium will mean green hydrogen that is less expensive to produce. Japan has set a goal of having the cost of supplying hydrogen be 20 yen (14 cents) per cubic meter in 2050, down from 100 yen today

“We have a structure in place to immediately commercialize [the technology] if our clients so wish,” said Junichi Sato at Toshiba Energy Systems.

Hydrogen electrolyzers are expected to begin entering the mainstream in the middle of the decade. Through last year, the total capacity of electrolyzers installed was only about 1 gigawatts, according to the International Energy Agency. The capacity is expected to jump to 134 GW in 2030.

Toray, which also makes PEM electrolyzer components, “will not miss out on a market that will emerge in the future,” said Yukichi Deguchi, executive adviser at the company.

Toray has developed a higher-performing electrolyte membrane that uses hydrocarbons instead of fluoride. The membrane is also four times stronger.

The higher the production efficiency of a membrane, the lower the cost of hydrogen production. Toray has partnered with German company Siemens Energy, among others, to field test the membrane. Products with the new membrane are due to be released in the next two years.

Unlike Toshiba and Toray, Panasonic Holdings is looking to innovate alkaline electrolyzers. Such electrolyzers do not use expensive metals, so they too would reduce production costs.

Panasonic was able to increase hydrogen production efficiency by reducing the size of nickel and iron, both affordable metals, to nanometers to make a catalyst. In the future, it is possible that alkaline electrolyzers will surpass PEM electrolyzers in terms of production efficiency.

Discussions are underway with water electrolyzer manufacturers for trials in 2025.

“Europe has momentum toward the realization of a hydrogen society. We hope to talk with domestic and overseas water electrolysis equipment manufacturers and quickly expand the use of the materials we’ve developed,” said Yukimune Kani, a manager at Panasonic’s material application technology division.

However, alkaline electrolyzers are inferior to PEM types in terms of durability when used in conjunction with renewable energy.

“The two types will probably be used separately depending on the application,” Kani said.

Development of more efficient next-generation technology is also progressing, such as solid oxide electrolyzers that produce hydrogen from steam at 600 C to 800 C rather than liquid water. Water is split more easily thanks to the high temperature, making the machines 10% to 20% more efficient than other types.

Major auto parts producer Denso said early this year that it was developing solid oxide electrolyzer technology.

Artificial intelligence is making inroads into many aspects of our daily lives. Now Japanese firms are introducing it to the classroom to make learning more engaging for students.

An AI-assisted system launched by Konica Minolta last month analyzes students’ responses using images taken during lessons. It compiles data on the concentration levels of students based on the direction of their gaze and the way they raise their hands.

Konica Minolta believes the teachers’ way of communicating and teaching will become more suited to the children by using its system.

Techno Horizon, an IT company based in Nagoya, central Japan, has developed AI-powered technology that analyzes the emotional state of students. It is connected to the built-in camera on the tablets students use. It can tell whether they are excited, bored or under stress from pulse waves on their foreheads and head movements.

Techno Horizon says that by analyzing several months’ worth of data, the system can detect sudden changes in certain students and signs of bullying. The firm aims to make the technology available for classroom use before the end of the current fiscal year next March.

Both technologies would only be used with the consent of both students and their parents.

Update on the Netherlands

Daisy elected national flower of the Netherlands.

Minister Kuipers (Health) is making 32 million euros available for research into people with long-term corona complaints, also known as long covid or post-covid. “Unfortunately, much is still unclear about the diagnosis and possible treatment of post-covid,” he says.

Kuipers has asked a funding organization for healthcare research to set up a knowledge center for long covid. It also looks at what is happening elsewhere in Europe in this area.

In addition, there will be a multi-year research programme. This should provide more knowledge about persistent complaints after a corona infection and help improve the diagnosis and treatment of complaints. Kuipers had already made 10 million euros available for research into long covid.

We speak of long covid or post-covid when there are still complaints three months after the first day of illness. Research by Erasmus MC from December last year shows that the consequences of long covid are major.

Participants in the study reported an average of eighteen health complaints. The majority are seriously tired and three out of four do not work or work less. On average, people with long covid consult six healthcare providers.

Since this year, many more adults have been visiting their GP for memory and concentration problems that are probably the result of a corona infection, as it turned out yesterday. In the first quarter of 2023, adults aged 45 to 74 in particular visited their GP more often with cognitive problems.

“It is a development that worries us,” said Michel Dückers, professor of crises, security and health. “We still don’t know much about the long-term effects, but the picture is now emerging that the pandemic can lead to faster cognitive aging on a significant scale.”

Almost half of small and medium-sized businesses are afraid to pass on the higher purchasing costs to customers, for fear that they will walk away or spend less. Many entrepreneurs also indicate that they are not allowed to pass on higher costs due to price agreements made with suppliers and buyers. This is according to research by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Catering entrepreneurs in particular fear that higher prices will be at the expense of visits to the café or restaurant. Almost half therefore say that they cannot pass on the higher costs in the price of a beer or meal. More than a quarter is afraid that customers will then leave for the competition or have a drink at home.

The fear does not only play in the hospitality industry. SMEs in the culture sector, sports and recreation also fear that customers will stay home due to higher prices. 30% of companies in agriculture, forestry and fishing do not dare to raise prices for fear of lower sales.

The higher purchase prices are not yet really a squeeze. Only 5% of SMEs say that their debts are currently about the same or higher than last year and that this is a major burden for them.

In recent months there has been a lot of talk about companies secretly driving up prices in times of crisis, so-called ‘grayflation’. Rabobank economists calculated that inflation would have been less extreme last year if companies had not raised the prices of their products more than necessary.

The bank does not dare to determine whether there was really a question of grab inflation. The Rabobank economists suspect that many companies have raised their prices (extra) in order to be able to afford a wage increase for their staff.

For the first time, the Netherlands has a national flower: the daisy. The Belgians have the poppy, the Germans the cornflower, the Austrians the edelweiss and the Finns the lily of the valley. And since Sunday, the Netherlands has the daisy as its national flower. The common plant was elected with a large majority of votes in the National Flower Election of the radio program Vroege Vogels (‘Early Birds) on Sunday morning.

Besides the daisy, people could also vote for the dandelion, the lapwing flower, the pipeweed and the cuckoo flower. 53,000 people cast their vote in the recent weeks, the vast majority opting for the white flower with a yellow heart.

It is very Dutch that this was chosen, says botanist Rogier van Vught in the radio program. “It says something about our nature. We have to rely on the very small, which you have to have an eye for, which you will then love.”

Botanical philosopher Norbert Peeters adds: “It is a flower that most Dutch people recognize. It would be a shame if you had to explain to people what the national flower is.”

When you think of the Netherlands and flowers, you probably quickly think of the tulip, but it was not among the five candidates because the tulip does not grow wild in the Netherlands. The daisy blooms in many places all year round. Moreover, the tulip is already the national flower of Hungary and Turkey.

Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Christianne van der Wal calls the election a “sympathetic initiative that makes people consciously look at all those beautiful wild flowers around us.” According to presenter Menno Bentveld, this election also ensures more attention for biodiversity in nature.

Eurostar remains hopeful after top consultations with ProRail and the ministry that the fast train from Amsterdam to London can continue to run from June 2024 during the renovation of Amsterdam CS. The carrier announced this after top consultations with ProRail, NS and the Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management on Monday afternoon.

Earlier it was reported that from the summer of 2024, no Eurostar trains will run from Amsterdam to London for months. Due to the renovation of Amsterdam Central, there is no longer room for customs. It may take eleven months before trains run again from Amsterdam, writes State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure) in a letter to parliament.

As a result, the so-called Eurostar cannot depart from Amsterdam until May 2025 at the latest. According to Heijnen, attempts have been made to find a solution, but have not succeeded. “I find that very disappointing,” she writes.

Eurostar Top woman Gwendoline Cazenave spoke after fruitful conversations. “We are convinced that together we will find a suitable solution to enable a direct connection between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and London.”

According to her, all parties have agreed to continue working closely together on this. “Eurostar is determined to continue to play a role in Dutch sustainability policy by offering a green travel alternative.”

The question is how justified Eurostar’s optimism is. ProRail is a lot more reserved about the top consultations. “As far as we are concerned, nothing fundamental has changed,” says spokesman Jeroen Wienen. “Keeping the existing terminal open so that Eurostar can continue to operate is impossible. It’s just not safe and then it stops.”

The rail manager has nevertheless agreed to examine the situation at Amsterdam Central together with Eurostar, says Wienen. “We would like to show on site why we think it is really not possible and are of course also open to their vision.”

For a long time, Eurostar had hoped that it could continue to operate from Amsterdam. Since 2018, the carrier has already transported 1.6 million passengers between Amsterdam and London. Four trains run daily and they are all full. Eurostar would therefore like to have a fifth daily train departing.

A confidential report shows that keeping the existing terminal open is not impossible despite the security risks and complexity. Researchers from Studio Bereikbaar conclude this in a second opinion that was made at the request of the ministry.

ProRail thinks otherwise. According to Eurostar itself, an alternative – diverting to Rotterdam Central Station – is not possible. This is commercially unprofitable because too few passengers can board.

Action is removing self-scan checkouts from several stores, making them go against the trend, since many other retail chains continue to use self-scan and are even expanding the number of self-scan checkouts. There are advantages to this, for customers and supermarkets.

Customers of discount chain Action in The Hague, Lelystad, Amsterdam, Purmerend and Hoofddorp, among others, who think they can quickly pay for their groceries will be disappointed. They will now have to stand in line at a normal cash register.

Action has removed the self-scan checkouts in a number of branches. According to employees who spoke to RTL Nieuws, they have to leave because there was too much theft.

But Action seems to be an exception, because other retail chains do say they will keep their self-scan checkouts in the store and even increase the number.

Research among customers shows that they like to scan and pay for their groceries themselves, says Anoesjka Aspeslagh, spokesperson for Albert Heijn. The group is by far the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands. According to her, customers find the speed of payment a plus. They also like that they can do all their shopping in their own shopping bag in the store, says Aspeslagh.

Furthermore, self-scan checkouts take up less space than regular checkouts, she says. As a result, there is more space in the store for products and because fewer cashiers are needed, there is more time for customers, she explains. According to her, customers at Albert Heijn will continue to scan their groceries themselves.

And then there is the advantage for the supermarkets themselves: lower costs, according to Laurens Sloot, professor of entrepreneurship in retail at the University of Groningen. For a supermarket, personnel costs are about 3% of turnover, and you can save on that with self-scan checkouts, he explains.

Suppose that 80% of customers pay at the self-checkout, then personnel costs can be reduced considerably, he calculates. Even if you have to hire extra people for checks. “At the bottom of the line it is still slightly cheaper and especially in the large cities it is difficult to find people, also for cash registers,” says Sloot.

Although Action employees say that increased theft is the main reason that self-scan checkouts are being removed, according to Action itself this is not the case.

Nevertheless, shoplifting in general is on the rise in the Netherlands. Last year by 30%, according to an analysis of police figures by the ANP news agency. According to experts, this has to do with the high inflation. But the self-checkout probably also plays a role. Because that makes it easier to steal something.

It is a ‘technological rat race’, says Sloot. The systems for checking whether someone walks out of the store without paying is getting smarter, he says. For example, there are smart cameras that can see how much is in your basket, the retail expert explains.

“At Albert Heijn, we take various additional measures to prevent theft,” says Aspeslagh. She did not respond to additional questions from RTL Nieuws.

Retail expert Sloot thinks that self-checkout is here to stay. However, regular cash registers will not disappear completely, he thinks. Ultimately, he expects that about 80% of purchases will be paid for at a self-checkout in many stores.

After all, customers can choose whether they prefer to pay with an employee or whether they want to do it themselves. And the stores have lower costs.

Update on Dujat & Members

As of last week it is possible to register as a participant for this year’s Dujat Showcase on 12 July at Hotel Okura Amsterdam. By now, all slots for pitch presentations are reserved. We still have a few tables left for exhibitors, so we encourage not to wait too long and register here. An update about the participants will be shared in due time.

The Dujat Showcase is an event that started in 2019 after requests from our members. It gives companies the opportunity to present themselves, by giving a 5-minute pitch presentation on stage and/or by exhibiting their products/services.

For those who will not participate but would like to attend the event as a visitor, you can also register for the event already and save the date in your agenda. For an impression of the event, we refer to this post on our website about last year’s edition.

GLOBIS Europe, a fellow Dujat member, is delighted to invite you to their upcoming President’s Seminar on June 21 at the Hilton Amsterdam. GLOBIS President Yoshito Hori will be traveling from Tokyo for an engaging discussion on “The Future of Business Education”, a relevant topic given the rise of disruptive technologies such as Chat GPT.

Besides the insightful seminar, they have also arranged opportunities to network after the seminar as well with food and drinks in the picturesque garden of the Hilton.

You can reserve your seat and that of your colleagues via this registration link. Please note that this is a free event and that the dress code is business casual. An impression of GLOBIS events can be found here.

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.nlNOSRTL NieuwsNHKNikkeiJapanTodayThe JapanTimes