Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 31 & 32, 2022

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Update on Japan

A new COVID-19 vaccine considered effective against the Omicron variant will be available in Japan to all people who have completed at least two COVID inoculations from as early as mid-October, the government said Monday.

The bivalent vaccine, so named for its combination of ingredients deriving from existing COVID-19 shots and from the Omicron variant’s BA.1 subtype, has been reported to provide some increase in neutralizing antibodies against the BA.5 subtype currently prevalent across the country.

The plan was approved by a health ministry panel at a time when Japan is experiencing a seventh wave of infections fueled by the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant, with its daily cases hitting an all-time high of about 250,000 last Wednesday.

The ministry also said it will include children aged 5 to 11 among those subject to nonbinding calls to actively consider vaccination from a public health perspective.

If the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare formally authorizes new COVID-19 vaccines under development by U.S. pharmaceutical giants Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., they could be imported to the country in September.

Pfizer said Monday it submitted an application with the ministry for approval of its vaccine designed to respond to the Omicron variant. Moderna is expected to do the same in the near future.

In Europe, applications for approval are already complete for the same bivalent vaccines Japan is considering using, and preparations for additional vaccinations from the fall onward are going ahead in each country.

Conversely, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that drugmakers develop vaccines that include BA.5 subtype components.


Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has shaken up his Cabinet. He says his new lineup will address challenges at home and abroad.

He said, “I have established an experienced and capable LDP-Komeito coalition government that has the ability to overcome what is said to be the most difficult time in several decades. We are faced with various historic challenges at home and abroad such as the coronavirus, Ukraine crisis, US-China tensions over Taiwan and global surge in prices.”

Out of 19 ministers, five remain in their posts, including Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa. The lineup also includes five former ministers, including Hamada Yasukazu, who will return as defense minister. Nine others will be serving as Cabinet ministers for the first time.

Kishida says he appointed people who agreed to inspect and rectify any connections to a religious group previously known as the Unification Church. Public support for Kishida has dropped as ties between the group and members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party come under the spotlight.

The suspect in the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo reportedly told police he held a grudge against the religious group and believed Abe had ties to it.

Three members of the Cabinet have admitted that they paid fees for gatherings related to the religious group. They include Internal Affairs Minister Terada Minoru.


Prime Minister Kishida instructed officials Monday to draw up an additional package of steps by early September to alleviate the pain on consumers from rising import prices for wheat and energy amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Kishida said the government will aim to maintain the price of imported wheat that it sells to millers at the current level and consider retaining subsidies to oil wholesalers to lower gasoline and kerosene prices.

To brace for increased electricity demand this winter, the prime minister reiterated a plan to make sure nine nuclear reactors that have passed safety screening are operational.

Most of the country’s reactors remain offline amid safety concerns, more than a decade after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

“Surging prices for daily essentials, including bread and noodles, are serious,” Kishida told a government meeting to discuss ways to deal with inflation.

He said the price of imported wheat, without any support, could jump by over 20% from October. “I ask Cabinet ministers to respond to this emergency situation with a maximum sense of crisis.”

Imported wheat accounts for about 80% of domestic consumption and the government revises the price of imported wheat in April and October.

Higher energy, raw material and food prices are dealing a blow to import-reliant Japan, with a weak yen magnifying the impact. Companies have already been passing on higher costs to consumers but further hikes are expected, especially for food items.

Japan’s gross domestic product returned to a pre-pandemic level in the April-June quarter, but accelerating inflation could put a damper on private consumption, a main driver of growth.

Tackling inflation is one of the top priorities for Kishida’s recently revamped Cabinet as he seeks to shore up public support, which has been flagging partly due to concern about links between lawmakers of his Liberal Democratic Party and a controversial religious group.


Wood replaces steel as Japan builders fight climate change. With its sleek modern design, the 44-meter, 11-story Port Plus building stands out even in Yokohama’s posh Naka Ward. But what really sets it apart from other buildings in the neighborhood is that 90% of its structural elements are made with wood.

Built by engineering group Obayashi, the building is an example of how Japan’s leading builders exploring wood as an alternative to steel and concrete — two of the most carbon-intensive materials — as nations look to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon dioxide emissions over the entire life span of the building, from producing the materials to tearing it down, will total about 60% as much as for a steel-frame building of a similar size, Obayashi says. After accounting for the amount of CO2 absorbed by trees used to make the lumber, that footprint shrinks to around a quarter, the company estimates.

Obayashi has developed a new laminate material that can resist fire for at least two hours — a legal requirement for use in high-rises — for the building’s pillars and beams. It avoided welding or bolting joints together and used cross-laminated timber for the floors and walls. This in turn eliminated the need to cure concrete, which Obayashi hopes will cut down on the amount of labor necessary for future projects.

“It cost around 30% to 40% more than a steel-frame building of a similar size,” said Mitsutoshi Nakamura, a wood construction project team member at Obayashi. Still, many clients have expressed interest in wooden buildings as a way to signal their commitment to decarbonization.

Other builders are using hybrid constructions that are cheaper and more resistant to fire. Takenaka and property developer Mitsui Fudosan are planning a 17-story building in central Tokyo’s Nihonbashi neighborhood. By using laminates and other lumber products in 20% to 30% of structural elements, they aim to keep costs at 10% to 15% above that of a conventional steel-frame building.

“We plan to achieve materials that can resist fire for three hours, meaning it can be used in all types of high-rise construction, by the end of fiscal 2022,” said Hiroyuki Matsuzaki, head of wooden construction at Takenaka.

Mitsubishi Estate opened a hybrid high-rise hotel in Sapporo in October. Of the 11 floors above ground, the first seven are made of reinforced concrete, the eighth has a hybrid structure, and the ninth to eleventh are built entirely of wood.

The Royal Park Canvas Sapporo Odori Park hotel was built with locally harvested wood. Meanwhile, Sumitomo Forestry plans to build a 350-meter-tall ultrahigh-rise made of wood in 2041 under its “W350 Plan.” It has an early project overseas, working with NTT Urban Development and U.S. developer Hines on a 15-floor hybrid building in Melbourne.

Fire-resistant materials are essential to expanding the use of wood construction in multistory buildings. But few suppliers are capable of producing the necessary laminates. There were 15 facilities that produce laminated veneer lumber and 11 that made cross-laminated timber in Japan in 2021, according to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Combined with technical hurdles, such as compliance with fire resistance standards, production capacity is extremely limited.

Some suppliers have started to bolster capacity with an eye on future demand. Sumitomo Forestry plans to establish three to four new complexes in Japan capable of producing a range of products, from logs to plywood to wood chips.

The company will invest 20 billion yen (€147 million) through 2024, and the production complexes will include biomass power generating units. Sumitomo Forestry has already acquired an 88,000 square-meter plot of land in Shibushi, a city in southwestern Japan, with plans to start operations of the future plant in 2025.

“We can’t buy overseas-made materials because of the weak yen, and we have seen our competitiveness decline,” said Sumitomo Forestry President Toshiro Mitsuyoshi, outlining the need for a domestic supply chain. The company aims to have the capacity to process 1 million cubic meters of logs a year in 2030.

Other companies in Japan are joining the bandwagon. Shelter has won government certification that wood building material developed in-house can be fireproof for three hours, which meets the standards for a variety of tall buildings.

Meiken Lamwood, which makes cross-laminated timber, will start building a logistics center beside its production hub next year. Last year, the company spent 700 million yen to start a production line for laminated wood, used in posts and beams. With the new distribution center, 14-meter wood can be shipped in as little as 10 days.

Chugoku Mokuzai will expand factory space as soon as 2023 in a bid to lift manufacturing capacity. The project is expected to require an investment of around 20 billion yen.

With bigger buildings, the construction material will get larger as well. Makers of wood processing equipment are rolling out new machines that can handle larger cuts. German supplier Hundegger has started selling saws in Japan capable of cutting up to 610-by-1,300-millimeter sections, compared with an earlier range of up to 300 by 1,300 mm.

Miyagawa Koki, headquartered in near Nagoya in Toyohashi, sells saws that can cut 450-by-1,250-mm sections. The company has delivered three of the machines to date.

In the fiscal year that ended March 2021, 13.9% of Japan’s public building starts were made of wood, according to government data. About 30% of low-rise buildings are made of wood. But overall, wood accounted for hardly any construction starts for structures four stories or higher in 2020.

That is starting to change. Insurance group Tokio Marine Holdings announced this month that the new headquarters building will be made of wood or hybrid material. The building will be one of the world’s biggest in terms of the amount of wood used, the company said.

“There’s potential for wood materials to become more prevalent, especially for mid-to-high rise buildings and nonresidential buildings,” said Hiroaki Kojima, director of the wood promotion division at Japan’s Forestry Agency.


Update on the Netherlands

Health Minister Ernst Kuipers hopes to have the ‘corona pill’ Paxlovid from pharmaceutical company Pfizer available in the short term. The negotiations between the Ministry of Health (VWS) and Pfizer are in the “concluding phase”, a spokesperson for the ministry said. 

The drug is only intended for a very limited group of people. This includes people for whom the corona vaccine does not work or who are, for example, extremely vulnerable because they have just had an organ transplant. The corona pill must ensure the health of the vulnerable group, but it can also mean that a new lockdown is no longer necessary.

“We would like to have the drug, but not under Pfizer’s current terms,” ​​said a ministry spokesman. The criticism of a few experts on VWS – who say on radio station BNR that they find it incomprehensible that other countries have already purchased the medicine – is not justified, according to VWS. These countries may have less stringent requirements for delivery conditions than the Netherlands.

There is agreement about the price, but not about other conditions that VWS wants to arrange with the manufacturer. “The price is not the problem,” the spokesperson said. The talks are now about, among other things, the delivery and shelf life of the pills. The ministry also wants to know how these drugs compare to other corona variants. “Concluding talks are now underway about this.”

In addition to the corona pill, an adapted corona vaccine is also on the way. The United Kingdom is today the first country in the world to approve an adapted corona vaccine from the company Moderna. The British medicines agency gave the green light for the so-called ‘bivalent vaccine’, which works against both the original corona variant and the omikron variant.

The need for the corona pill is not very high for the time being, because there are currently also reasonably good alternatives to help the limited group who are eligible for the pills. The advantage is that the pills can be taken at home, says the spokesperson. “We would like to have Paxlovid available as an option.”

The course of Paxlovid can prevent people at increased risk from becoming seriously ill. The medicines should be taken as soon as possible after a corona infection has been diagnosed. The infected patient has to take six pills every 24 hours for five days in a row. It is up to the attending physician to prescribe a course of thirty pills to a patient.


The Netherlands is still represented in the top 100 of the Shanghai Ranking with three universities. The list ranks the best universities in the world. Compared to last year, Leiden University has dropped out of the top 100. Erasmus University in Rotterdam just entered the top 100. This was evident from the new ranking that was published on Monday 15 August.

Last year, Leiden University was still in 83rd place on the list. In the years before that, Leiden University – which is the oldest university in the Netherlands – was also in the top 100. Leiden is still one of the best 150 universities, says the organization behind the Shanghai Ranking.

Utrecht University (54th), University of Groningen (66th) and Erasmus University in Rotterdam (87th) are still among the best hundred universities in the world. EUR returns to the top 100 after a year of absence. UU and RUG are both losing a few places compared to last year.

In addition to Leiden University, Radboud University in Nijmegen and the University of Amsterdam are also located between places 100 and 150.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), as the ranking is called in full, has been compiled annually since 2003. For the list, universities are judged on factors such as the number of articles researchers publish in scientific journals and the number of researchers often cited by other scientists.

As usual, the American Harvard University takes first place. Stanford University is in second place and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is in third place. The entire top three this year is American. The British University of Cambridge drops from place three to four this year.


Schiphol will reimburse the costs that travelers had to incur because they missed their flight this summer due to the chaos at the airport. The airport has agreed this with the Consumers’ Association and the Omroep MAX program MAX holiday man. Eindhoven Airport also has such an arrangement.

Just like Schiphol, the airport near Eindhoven regularly struggled with staff shortages in recent months. As a result, queues sometimes formed far into the open air on busy days.

Schiphol’s scheme applies to air passengers who missed their flight in the period from 23 April to 11 August due to the long queues. The Eindhoven Airport regulation will come into effect a month later and therefore applies to travelers who should have flown from 23 May to 11 August.

Both Schiphol and Eindhoven Airport will reimburse the costs incurred by travelers when rebooking a flight or purchasing a new flight ticket. Both airports also compensate the travel costs of victims who decided to go to their destination by car or train.

In addition, travelers can recover the costs for an accommodation that was not used, but also could not be cancelled. It may also concern expenditure on, for example, meals or drinks while waiting for a later flight. Additional expenses to travel again to the same or another airport are also covered by the scheme.

Travelers whose flight has been canceled are already being compensated by the airline according to European rules. Schiphol did not want to compensate any consequential damage for these travelers, because the reason for cancellation is often unclear, says the Consumers’ Association.

The consumer organization is not dissatisfied with Schiphol’s scheme. “We first thought of a mass claim, but that turned out not to be necessary. Initially, Schiphol held off completely, but now we have been able to make agreements. We are pleased that an arrangement has been made for many consumers,” said a spokesperson. from the Consumers’ Association.

Schiphol will handle the matter itself. The Consumers’ Association and Omroep MAX will evaluate the scheme afterwards. “But if people are wrongly rejected, those signals will reach us sooner.”

Minister Mark Harbers of Infrastructure is positive about the scheme. “In my view, that is also part of the good quality of service that Schiphol would like to provide again,” said the minister on Twitter.

If problems still arise at Schiphol after the scheme has ended, the Consumers’ Association will again consult with the airport. It is not yet known how much the airports will spend on the compensation.


Supermarkets, butchers and cheese shops sold less from April to June than in the same months last year. Still, sales went up. This is due to the higher prices, according to statistics agency CBS.

In the food sector, turnover was almost 3% higher than a year earlier, although people bought 5% less.

The non-food sector turned in 6% more than in the second quarter of 2021. Clothing and shoe stores in particular recorded more turnover, furniture stores, do-it-yourself stores and electronics stores did less well than last year.

There was also a lot less online shopping in the Netherlands than a year ago, according to figures from Statistics Netherlands. Web stores and stores that also sell items online in addition to physical stores had an average turnover of 10% less than in the same quarter in 2021.

The fact that online turnover has been lower in the past two quarters than a year earlier is mainly due to the fact that the Dutch shopped extremely much online during corona, according to Peter Hein van Mulligen, chief economist at Statistics Netherlands. Now that all stores are open again, many people are going to the store again instead of the website.

Compared to before the corona crisis, turnover is considerably higher: in the second quarter of 2019, turnover from online sales was more than 60% lower than in the same quarter this year.


At the end of the month, NS will start a trial with contactless check-in and check-out. Participants can do this with a debit or credit card, or with a phone or smartwatch to which a payment card is linked.

Starting next week, the NS will be looking for people who want to participate in the trial at six Dutch stations. These are the stations Amsterdam Central, Rotterdam Central, The Hague Central, Utrecht Central, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Delft. From 29 August, participants can then travel on all NS routes in the country with their debit card or telephone.

Participants travel by train without a discount or subscription and pay for a second class ticket, but are allowed to travel in first class without additional payment until 1 November.

The NS wants to use the trial to make it easier to check in and out at the train. “You no longer have to go to a ticket machine to buy a ticket or load your balance, but you can check in immediately and quickly catch your train,” says Ivo Steffens, director of commerce at NS.

According to him, traveling with a debit card will be a supplement to traveling with the public transport chip card or an online ticket. So it will not replace existing ways. By first testing check-in with a debit card, NS gains insight into the experiences of users, for example in terms of user-friendliness and comprehensibility.

The test only applies to train journeys. It is not known when the option for travel with a payment card will be extended to all travelers.


Update on Dujat & Members

 

The next Dujat event will take place on 7 September, which is our visit to the Floriade Expo in Almere in combination with a Yakult CSR Seminar. We only have a couple of tickets left so if you are interested we recommend to register as soon as possible.


If your company has any news to share in the next biweekly newsletter, let us know by sending an e-mail to vangastel@dujat.nl.


Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Sources: Nu.nlNOSMetroNHKNikkeiJapanTodayKyodo