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Update on Japan
Japanese health authorities say they will start counting coronavirus infections using the same method they do for cases of seasonal influenza.
About 5,000 medical institutions nationwide disclose their data on the flu once a week. An expert panel of the health ministry is set to convene next month to discuss implementing the same approach for the coronavirus. The panel will also discuss how to pick the institutions that will report the cases.
Current measures stipulate that all cases of COVID-19 must be reported. Starting 8 May, the government will reclassify COVID-19 as a disease on par with the flu. Currently, the coronavirus is in the second-highest of five tiers. The seasonal flu is in the lowest.
Health officials say local authorities will continue genome analysis to monitor the possible emergence of new variants. The health ministry is also set to look into new ways to grasp the number of coronavirus-related deaths.
The Tokyo metropolitan government on Friday unveiled a record-breaking budget proposal for fiscal 2023 that earmarks 1.65 trillion yen (€11.7 billion) for measures to help families who are raising children or planning to do so.
A key part of the package is a monthly subsidy of 5,000 yen, or €35, to households for each child aged 18 or younger, with the first year’s worth of payments to come next January. Child care will also be made free of charge for second children up to age 2 starting in October. Neither of these measures will have income limits.
The record-breaking 8 trillion yen budget proposal boosts child-related spending by 15% as Tokyo, like the rest of the country, grapples with an aging population. Births in Tokyo declined for six straight years through 2021, and likely continued that trend last year.
Falling birth rates are “an issue that, normally, should be addressed strategically on the national level,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters Friday.
“We’re coming out with comprehensive countermeasures ahead of the central government, with the urgent sense that we don’t have a moment to lose.”
The proposed measures aim to cover a range of life stages, from marriage and pregnancy to child care and education.
These include financial support for egg freezing and related fertility treatments. Households making less than 9.1 million yen a year, or about €65,000, will be eligible for tuition subsidies for private middle schools.
The town of Eiheiji in Fukui Prefecture, known for its ancient Zen Buddhist temple, is set to become the first place in the country to adopt a new type of autonomous self-driving vehicle, hoping to pioneer investment in what could become an important future technology.
According to the transport ministry, “level-4” self-driving autonomous vehicles are slated to begin operating in the town from fiscal 2023, which starts in April, marking the first time for authorities in Japan to give the go-ahead for such a project.
Autonomous vehicles are expected to become an essential means of transportation in regions of the country where public transport is becoming increasingly scarce. The town, which considers itself to be at the forefront of offering solutions, will aim to identify and solve operational issues for the widespread adoption of driverless technology.
Self-driving road vehicles in Japan are categorized from level 1 to level 5, with each level representing increased capability. Since March 2021, Eiheiji has been utilizing level-3 public transportation, meaning the vehicles can drive autonomously in specific areas largely without human assistance, except in emergency situations. Level-4 vehicles, such as those slated to begin operations in April, are fully able to conduct driving tasks without human intervention on designated routes.
The three level-3 self-driving vehicles currently operating in the town transport passengers along a road using electromagnetic induction wires embedded in a 6-kilometer promenade at a speed of 12 kph. Their routes extend to the front gate of Eiheiji’s temple, considered a key feature of the town.
Equipped with cameras and sensors that use artificial intelligence, these level-3 autonomous vehicles can recognize their surroundings. If a person or object is in their path, they slow down or stop and let pedestrians know they are approaching with a verbal warning. When reaching the end of their route, they automatically make a U-turn and come to a halt.
The town responded to a central government initiative encouraging areas of Japan to trial self-driving vehicles in 2016, hoping to use them as a safer means of transporting local residents. It was thought they may be useful for elderly residents, who are more likely to get into traffic accidents.
Eiheiji has joined hands with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), a public research organization in Japan.
The town started conducting field tests in 2018. Initially, a human operator drove the vehicles, but in March 2021 driverless operations began on a 2-km road separated from normal traffic, achieving Japan’s first regular operation of level-3 self-driving vehicles. No accidents have occurred so far and the transport system has gained the trust of local residents.
In April, the central government will permit level-4 autonomous driving under certain conditions, such as designated routes and remote monitoring. As the vehicles will operate themselves, the cameras and communication equipment they use need to be further enhanced to ensure their safety.
The government has set a target of launching level-4 automated transit services in more than 40 areas nationwide by fiscal 2025.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said on Tuesday 31 January that it plans to set a new target of “roughly halving” the estimated maximum death toll from a possible huge earthquake occurring directly under the Japanese capital.
The current estimated maximum death toll stands at around 6,100 people, and the new target, which they aim to reach by fiscal 2030, has been included in a working draft of revisions to Tokyo’s regional disaster prevention plan that was presented at Tuesday’s meeting of a related metropolitan government panel chaired by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.
The draft also covers measures to enhance disaster prevention, such as developing quake-resistant buildings. The metropolitan government is expected to formalize the draft in the beginning of fiscal 2023, which starts in April, after hearing opinions from local residents.
In May 2022, the metropolitan government revised its estimate for damage from the possible earthquake for the first time in some 10 years. According to the revised estimates, a 7.3-magnitude quake occurring under the southern part of central Tokyo and quake-triggered fires could kill as many as about 6,100 people and damage some 194,000 buildings.
Both figures were reduced by around 40% from the previous estimates, reflecting progress on efforts to make houses quake- and fire-resistant.
The metropolitan government is now aiming to further reduce the estimated death toll through such efforts as eliminating houses built under the former earthquake resistance standards by fiscal 2025 and raising the proportion, to 25% by fiscal 2030, of buildings with seismic circuit breakers that automatically cut off power when a major quake happens.
It also plans to improve facilities for temporary stay by people who cannot come home following a disaster and to secure communication means at shelters.
Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai hopes the recent decision to raise wages by up to 40% helps Uniqlo and the company’s other retailers break a staid status quo, he told Nikkei on Friday 20 January.
The casualwear brand announced that it would raise the annual salary of its 8,400 or so employees in Japan by up to around 40%, a rare move in a country where companies are generally reluctant to raise wages. Yanai mused that employees have learned simply to read the room and refrain from challenging their bosses — a result of the company becoming one of Japan’s largest businesses, with annual revenue of 2 trillion yen (€14.2 billion).
Although Fast Retailing has a common personnel evaluation system in place globally, it has kept its unique remuneration system for its business in Japan, where pay varies depending on each employee’s post and job location. Yanai said the company will abolish these variables.
He also said he fails to see any relevance in determining wages based on age, another hallmark of corporate Japan. “All workers are equal when they are 25 years old or older,” he said.
The remark comes as the company aims to grow beyond being a traditional retailer by introducing digital technologies to boost product planning, logistics and sales at brick-and-mortar stores. In this regard, it is becoming crucial to hire and retain digitally inclined talent, Yanai said.
As U.S. tech giants such as Amazon.com and Alphabet, parent of Google and YouTube, lay off employees, Yanai said he intends to poach some talent from these companies.
He also hopes the fatter pay packages Fast Retailing is now dangling will help the company lure more young talent, who will eventually encourage the whole company to further develop. “If we have more good talent,” Yanai said, “we can make better products,” as it battles global retail rivals such as Amazon.com and Zara’s owner, Inditex of Spain.
The retail industry is relatively labor intensive and has faced worker shortages. The casualwear brand has for years struggled to find and retain talent, especially since its high turnover rate among younger employees attracted negative attention in the past. The company has tried to improve working conditions since then, but difficulties with talent retention are expected to remain even after the wage increases.
Last autumn, Fast Retailing raised hourly wages for part-timers by an average of 20%. The company is forecasting a 15% increase in domestic labor costs. Yanai said Japan’s wage level remains relatively lower than that of overseas countries, and a further rise in worker pay “could be possible.”
The labor cost increases could weigh on Fast Retailing’s profit. In the September to November quarter, the company posted a 14% rise in consolidated revenue, but a 23% jump in labor costs, which contributed to a decline in operating profit. The company will have to enhance productivity to offset rising wage costs.
Ahead of spring wage negotiations, the government is asking companies to raise wages by more than the rate of inflation. “Wage is a reward for work,” said Yanai. “Unless one achieves results that deserves a reward, there will be no increase in base salary.”
Large Japanese companies have traditionally maintained a lifetime employment system, with people spending their entire careers at a single company. Yanai believes this system prevents employees and companies from growing. “Top management should encourage their employees to grow,” Yanai said.
Update on the Netherlands
As of today, Tuesday 31 January, train passengers can check in and out on many train routes with a debit card, credit card or smartphone. People who travel in second class for the full fare no longer have to go to the machine to buy a ticket or buy/charge an OV chip card.
It is an extra service, says commercial NS director Tjalling Smit in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal, specially for people who are not regular customers of NS. “We cannot offer a discount via the bank card, so it is for travelers who occasionally travel by train. Subscription holders and people who can travel with a discount need an OV chip card.” A trip with the bank card is no more expensive than a normal ticket.
The system of the joint public transport companies, OVpay, has been tested for some time, says Smit. “At the beginning of last year we tested between Leiden and The Hague and in the last months of last year there was a national test with 3000 travelers. That worked technically well and we received many positive reactions from the travelers.”
It works with a plastic bank card, but you can also use your bank card on your mobile, says the NS director. “It works just like checking in with an OV chip card. So at the station you present the bank card at a gate and the gate opens. At the end of the journey, you check out in the same way and at the end of the day the total amount will be debited from your account.
Someone who does not have enough money in his account will not get through the gate. The system works in collaboration with the banks and Translink, the company that arranges public transport payments which receives an update of travelers’ financial data every few minutes.
So if someone does not have enough money or if, for example, a bank card has been stolen and blocked, OVpay will see that. This is all done in accordance with the privacy rules, says NS. The system can only see which bank and which traveler is involved and whether money can be debited, not what is on the account.
Little will change for NS staff, control will remain the same. Just like the public transport chip card, the conductor checks the pass with his control equipment and can then see that someone has checked in.
It is the intention that checking in with the bank card will be possible later this year in all public transport in the Netherlands, including buses, trams and metros. “It is already possible to travel with a bank card with many other carriers. We expect to have national coverage with all carriers together by the end of March,” says Smit. With this national coverage, the Netherlands will then be a leader in Europe.
The service for checking in with a bank card will not be extended to NS season ticket holders, not even in the long term. That is because the technical possibilities are being developed by Translink and that company works together for all carriers, not just for NS.
There will be a new version of the public transport chip card, says Smit. “It will be called the public transport pass and will remain available for people who want to keep a separate card, but will also be available in mobile phones. We are trying to add more and more payment options. It’s all about convenience. Traveling by public transport will soon be as easy as paying for your groceries.”
The Netherlands, the United States and Japan have reached an agreement on restrictions on the export of chip technology to China. The countries have agreed in Washington to restrict the sale of certain machines for the production of semiconductors to the Asian country, reports Bloomberg news agency based on insiders
The US government has long wanted to limit the sale of high-quality chip technology to China, to prevent the country from making increasingly sophisticated weapons with the very latest chips.
In addition, the government of President Joe Biden is emphatically looking at the Netherlands, because chip machine maker ASML is located in Veldhoven. That company is a global leader in the development of machines for making chips. Japan also has an important company in the chip production chain with Nikon.
Under pressure from the US, the Netherlands has for years blocked the sale to China of ASML’s most modern machines, the so-called EUV machines. But the US also wants ‘older generation’ devices, the DUV machines, to stop going to Chinese companies.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment directly on Bloomberg ‘s questions. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet responded substantively.
Minister Liesje Schreinemacher (Foreign Trade) previously stated that the aim of the talks is to maintain Western technological leadership. The negotiating countries would also like to avoid becoming too dependent on China for chips. The US and the Netherlands also want to prevent advanced chips from ending up in weapons from countries such as China. But the Netherlands would not simply comply with all the demands of the Americans, she emphasized.
The cabinet is not very keen on disclosing the details of the agreement with the US and Japan, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after the cabinet meeting. “It is very much the question if something will come out of that, whether it will become very visible,” he said at his weekly press conference.
The takeover of Talpa by RTL has been cancelled. The two media companies have not been given permission by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) to merge. The regulator argues that the two companies together would gain too much power in the Dutch television landscape.
“ACM concludes this based on its own research among advertisers and distributors. That is why ACM is now preparing the official decision not to grant a license for the acquisition. That decision will be ready in a few weeks,” said ACM.
Too much power in the commercial media landscape leads to price increases for advertisers and for telecom providers that transmit the channels, according to ACM. “Ultimately, the consumer foots the bill.”
A huge setback for RTL and Talpa, who expressed their disappointment as they were still ‘confident about a positive outcome’ shortly after the summer. In their view, an acquisition would have been an appropriate response to growing competition from international platforms such as Netflix, Disney Plus, Viaplay and HBO Max. Both parties remain strongly convinced that this merger is the best answer to the challenges posed by competition from major international players, both in the battle for content and in the battle for viewers and advertisers’.
Last week, ACM completed the follow-up investigation that was started at the beginning of this year to gain insight into the consequences of the takeover for advertisers, producers, cable companies and consumers.
In the run-up to that outcome, critics already pointed to too dominant a position in the television advertising market for the new media giant. For example, the Association of Advertisers, which represents companies in the field of marketing and advertising, objected. “We have provided figures and facts, which show that this new party in the advertising market would have market shares of between 70 and 80%,” said Henriette van Swinderen, director of the Bond van Advertisers. “It hurts our members. We also looked with our supporters: are there alternatives? Then you see that most advertisers still say: there is no medium that has the same effect as television. And for that we can only turn to this monopolist who can dictate the price level. That is detrimental to advertisers and businesses.”
As a result, RTL and Talpa will continue independently for the time being. In June 2021, they announced their plans for a takeover. RTL Nederland would receive 70% of the shares, Talpa 30%. John de Mol would like to focus more on coming up with new programs and formats.
Two weeks ago, RTL and Talpa came up with a new plan that had to meet the objections of the ACM. The two proposed outsourcing the advertising sales of Talpa’s TV channels to Mediahuis, publisher of newspapers such as De Telegraaf and NRC. Advertisers who were afraid of sky-high prices if they had to buy advertising time from one powerful commercial media company could still go to two ‘counters’ after the merger. According to RTL and Talpa, this construction should give them less power in Hilversum after the merger. This proposal did not pass.
There is a good chance that other parties are now preying on one of the two media companies. RTL Group sold the Belgian branch last year to DPG Media and Groupe Rossel, both of which became fifty percent shareholders. DPG Media also bid on RTL Nederland a year and a half ago, but then RTL teamed up with Talpa. RTL is said to have been for sale for more than 700 million euros at the time. DPG Media does not respond substantively to the failure of the takeover. “It is not for us to respond to this,” said a spokesman. It is no secret that the media company, which also includes AD Nieuwsmedia, continues to show interest in television and is therefore one of the parties RTL and Talpa.
For the first time in many months, it is again cheaper to charge an electric car at home than with a fast charger, such as Fastned.
With effect from the price ceiling in January, it is cheaper to charge your electric car at home again, reports the comparison site Pricewise. Charging at home is only much cheaper if people stay below the price ceiling. “If motorists charge their car after they have reached the consumption of the price cap, they may spend about the same amount as with a fast charger,” says Pricewise director Hans de Kok.
Fully charging a Tesla Model S can already be done at home for around 30 euros, at 0.40 cents per kilowatt hour. At Fastned it costs 62.25 euros at 0.83 cents per kilowatt hour. Last August, owners of plug-in cars at home still paid 58 euros and at Fastned you paid 51 euros at the time. With 150 charging stations, Fastned is the largest provider of fast chargers in the Netherlands.
The current market prices of energy suppliers are around 0.80 cents per kilowatt hour. Budget Energy already lowered the price per unit of electricity to 0.39 cents last week, which is 0.01 cents below the rate of the price cap.
“If the purchase price of energy falls further or remains at last week’s level, I expect that several energy suppliers will lower their prices to below the price ceiling,” expects De Kok. When that happens, he believes it will also be cheaper to charge the car at home above the consumption of the price cap. “Keep in mind that if you charge your car at home, you will reach the maximum consumption that applies to the price cap faster (2900 kWh per year).”
Fastned says that it does not yet see a ‘negative impact’ of price changes in the home situation, according to a spokesperson. “The turnover and the number of customers continue to increase.”
The government believes we should eat more organic food. But organic supermarkets are struggling. High energy prices and double-digit inflation have been putting pressure on consumer spending for months.
Groceries became more than 17% more expensive in 2022. Consumers therefore more often opt for cheaper options, such as private label products or discounters. The prices of organic groceries rose more than those of regular products in 2022, according to Eric Harmsen of market researcher GfK.
It causes consumers to be more cautious, say Ekoplaza and Odin, the largest organic supermarkets in the Netherlands with 93 and 33 stores respectively. “People are preoccupied with the concerns of the day, and less with sustainability,” says Ekoplaza director Erik Does. Odin director Merle Koomans van den Dries agrees. “It is a pity that the current purchasing power crisis is getting in the way of the other crisis (the climate crisis, ed. ).”
The price difference seems to be the main hurdle for consumers. Organic products are often more expensive than regular groceries, partly because production costs are high and prices are closer to ‘the real price’ of food, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. For example, fair prices for farmers and social costs are included in actual prices as environmental damage.
On top of that are price increases due to the war in Ukraine. It puts pressure on the growth potential of the organic market, writes Minister Adema. Nevertheless, the ministry believes that prices are largely determined by developments over which the government has no direct influence, such as the market share of organic.
That is why the minister also wants to focus on information. “Consumers are more likely to opt for regular products if they are insufficiently aware of where the price difference comes from,” says a spokesperson.
Ekoplaza director Does believes that the cabinet can do more, for example by lowering the VAT on organic products. That will not happen for the time being: the Netherlands is following developments in this area in a European context. The cabinet is, however, investigating a lower VAT rate for all fruit and vegetables.
“I find it painful to see that specialty stores are currently having a harder time than major players,” says Does. ‘These entrepreneurs really want to change the food system, so that there are no angry farmers in The Hague anymore. For supermarkets it is an added trick.’
He thinks that the government should reward pioneers more, for example with subsidies. For example, Ekoplaza introduced a deposit on cans, while other supermarkets postponed this.
Update on Dujat & Members
Since last week His Excellency MINAMI Hiroshi is the new Ambassador of Japan in the Netherlands, succeeding Ambassador Horinouchi from January 23rd onwards. On February 15th, he is scheduled to have an audience with His Majesty the King and present his credentials, after which his activities as an official Ambassador will begin.
On Thursday 16 February 2023, 16:00-18:00 (Japanese time), the Netherlands Embassy in Japan will organize the Innovation Webinar on Chip-Integration activities in the Netherlands.
This Event is part of a series towards strengthened bilateral high-tech partnerships, for government, business and innovation. It is also a pre-event to inform Japanese stakeholders on the 19-23 June 2023 Innovation Mission to Japan on Semiconductors, with focus on chip design, photonics, heterogeneous integration & equipment.
The Innovation Webinar will be opened by Eric van Kooij, Counsellor for Innovation, Science and Technology, Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo, and complementary speech by Hisashi Kanazashi, Director IT Industry Division, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). You will be updated on recent activities about heterogeneous integration (prof. Bram Nauta, University of Twente IC Design Group, and Bart van ‘t Ende, OostNL), photonic chip integration (Dr. Jan-Laurens van der Steen, Photonics Integration Technology Center, PITC located in Eindhoven) and chip & heterogeneous integration (Dr. Marco Koelink, Chip Integration Technology Center, CITC located in Nijmegen). The Embassy will wrap up with upcoming activities and objectives.
Netherlands Innovation Webinar on Chip-Integration
- Time & date: 16:00 – 18:00 (Japanese time), Thursday 16 February 2023
- Venue: Online (You will receive a link to participate a few days before the event)
- Organizer: Netherlands Embassy in Japan
- Target audience: Professionals in the field from Japanese government, knowledge institutes and industry
- Language: English
- Registration: Please click this link to register (contact Rob Stroeks if the link does not open).
- See here for updates and more information.
On Monday 23 January, the first Dujat event of the year took place at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen. At this New Year’s Reception, we were pleased to welcome our honored guests Mr. Mitsuru Myochin, Minister of the Embassy of Japan in the Netherlands, Mr. Tjapko Poppens, Mayor of the City of Amstelveen, and Mr. Naoto Miyamoto, Chairman of The Japanese Chamber of Commerce in The Netherlands (JCC).
We also extend our gratitude to Mr. Stefan van Raay, director of the Cobra Museum for welcoming us to their museum while they were still busy setting up the new exhibition. We could definitely enjoy the small sneak preview of Cobra 75: Danish Modern Art, which will kick off from Friday 27 January. Many thanks to all and we look forward to seeing you at our next event!
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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