Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 35 & 36, 2023

This newsletter was shared with Dujat members on 12-9-2023. The next newsletter was sent out today.
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Update on Japan

Construction has started for the Japanese government’s pavilion at the 2025 World Expo in Osaka City, with a groundbreaking ceremony held on Monday 11 September. Organizers and other officials attended the ceremony at the Japan Pavilion site on the city’s Yumeshima island.

State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Nakatani Shinichi gave a speech as a representative of the host country. He said he hopes the pavilion makes visitors aware they live in cycles and are connected with other living things, and encourages them to change their behavior by thinking of sustainability as their own issue.

After breaking the ground, the participants prayed for the safety of the construction work.

The Japan Pavilion will be three stories, with a floor space of 11,300 square meters. It will be a venue to send out messages from the host country and welcome foreign dignitaries.

The government initially tried to select a building contractor through competitive bidding. But the process failed as all offers exceeded the planned price. That led the government to sign a discretionary contract with a major general contractor for over 7.6 billion yen, or 52 million dollars.

The change delayed the start of construction by about three months. But the government expects the pavilion to be completed as scheduled by the end of February 2025.

Designer Sato Oki, who serves as the Japan Pavilion’s general producer, says he hopes visitors will have a chance to see Japan’s technologies, traditions and charms first-hand.

Sato says he thinks it’s his mission to show visitors that Japan is cool and attractive.

About 7,800 tons of treated radioactive water has been discharged into the sea from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the first round of disposal as planned, the plant operator said Monday 11 September.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc began the discharge of water that, despite concerns voiced by local fishermen and strong opposition from China, contained tritium levels below the prescribed limits. The release, which started on 24 August, is carried out under the monitoring of the Japanese government and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As the volume of processed water, a result of cooling melted nuclear fuel, approached the plant’s storage capacity limit, TEPCO decided to release approximately 31,200 tons of this water in four rounds during the current fiscal year through March.

TEPCO, along with the Environment Ministry, the Fisheries Agency, and the Fukushima prefectural government, has been analyzing tritium levels in the environment around the power plant since the start of the discharge last month, with no abnormalities detected so far.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said at a regular board meeting Monday that recent sea water sampling and analysis have shown tritium levels to be below Japan’s limit. He also said that the IAEA will continue independent monitoring of the discharge.

TEPCO plans to release another 7,800 tons later this month, at the earliest, pending checks on tritium concentration levels and inspections of water disposal facilities.

The disposal of treated water is crucial for decommissioning the nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011, according to TEPCO and the government.

In the meantime, China has imposed a blanket import ban on Japanese fishery products in response to the water discharge. The Japanese government has introduced support measures for the fishery industry.

The government has been urging China to lift the ban and engage in scientific discussions with experts from both countries, all while assisting the domestic industry in expanding its export destinations beyond China.

The treated water was discharged into the ocean 1 kilometer off the plant via an undersea tunnel after undergoing a treatment process in which most radionuclides except tritium have been removed.

The remaining tritium is then diluted to one-40th of the concentration permitted under Japanese safety standards.

Nuclear power plants worldwide routinely release treated water containing low concentrations of tritium, considered less harmful than other radioactive materials, and other radionuclides into the environment as part of normal operations, according to the IAEA.

The Japanese government laid out a road map on Tuesday 5 September for increasing post-graduation employment of international students in Japan, with plans to expand a visa program aimed at graduates of top global universities to domestic universities.

The government aims to have 500,000 international students in Japan by 2033 and for 60% of them to stay and work in Japan after graduation.

As a measure to boost the number of skilled foreign workers, Japan set up a visa framework for “future creation individuals” who have graduated from designated top global universities to stay in the country for up to two years.

This framework, started in April, is set to be expanded in fiscal 2024 to include international students who graduate from Japanese universities that meet certain requirements, easing their transition into the workforce. Visas for short-term stays are limited to 90 days. Currently around 40% of international students stay in the country to work after graduating.

The timetable also includes financial support measures through fiscal 2024 to boost the number of Japanese students going to study abroad. The necessary steps going forward from fiscal 2025 will be determined based on their effectiveness.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will start testing English education using artificial intelligence at schools in fiscal 2023 to improve speaking skills — an area of weakness for Japanese students. If successful, the program will be expanded in the future.

“The government will work as one toward these goals,” Minister Keiko Nagaoka told a news conference Tuesday.

Japan proposed guidelines on Friday 8 September for companies that use artificial intelligence, aiming to avoid excessive restrictions while ensuring safety through transparency measures such as the disclosure of training data.

The draft guidelines were outlined at a government AI strategy meeting, where it also was revealed the government would seek 164 billion yen (€1 billion) for AI-related spending in the fiscal 2024 budget, up 50.3 billion yen from fiscal 2023.

Tokyo plans to finalize the guidelines later this year. They are not legally binding, but rather are intended to provide a basis for companies to regulate themselves, an approach similar to the one taken by the U.S. government.

The draft outlines shared principles that companies should follow on issues like human rights and discrimination, as well as rules that businesses should abide by depending on their role.

Businesses are classified into five levels: developers of artificial intelligence platforms, businesses that train AI, developers of systems that incorporate AI, providers of services that use AI and users.

The guidelines will call on AI platform developers to disclose information regarding the purpose of their algorithms and any possible risks, and that businesses involved in training AI disclose the data they use.

Insight into how an AI system operates will make it easier for external parties to detect in advance any risk of generating problematic content. Disclosing training data will help check for problems like infringement of intellectual property rights.

The guidelines also call for the use of third-party audits to ensure transparency and urge service providers to inform users that they are using AI.

A point for future discussion will be how to disclose information without creating a burden on AI developers or reveal proprietary information about their technology.

Some AI developers have expressed concern about losing advantages if the scope of what they are forced to disclose is too broad.

“We will consider ways to ensure that companies that follow the guidelines do not suffer losses,” said Hideki Murai, special adviser to the prime minister.

A survey shows the number of Japanese taxi drivers has dropped sharply from four years ago, after the coronavirus pandemic accelerated problems created by an ageing workforce.

The Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations says its members registered 231,938 drivers at the end of March. That’s down 20.4% from the same time in 2019.

Many drivers quit during the pandemic, discouraged by a decline in income. They were also afraid of getting infected in their cars.

Business has picked up recently, fueled by the return of foreign visitors. People are now complaining of a taxi shortage.

Elderly customers are especially concerned. They say they are having difficulties finding transport to hospitals.

A consortium led by Japanese real estate group Mitsui Fudosan has proposed building a multipurpose stadium at the former site of Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market as part of an 800 billion to 900 billion yen (€5.1 billion to €5.7 billion) redevelopment project, Nikkei has learned.

The consortium also includes the Yomiuri Shimbun media group — owner of the Yomiuri Giants professional baseball team — as well as developer Toyota Fudosan and builders Kajima, Taisei, Shimizu and Takenaka.

This would be one of the biggest redevelopment projects in Tokyo since the Olympics.

If chosen, the Mitsui Fudosan-led consortium would aim to open the new stadium in the early 2030s. It also plans to build hotel and office facilities as well as housing at the roughly 20-hectare redevelopment area.

The old Tsukiji site has stood largely empty since the market was moved to Toyosu, also in Tokyo, in 2018. The metropolitan government received multiple proposals to redevelop the grounds before the deadline at end of August, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters on 1 September.

The Tokyo government has not identified any of the bidders. A winner is expected to be picked as early as March 2024.

Mitsui Fudosan and Yomiuri acquired the Tokyo Dome, the home of the Giants, in 2021. The stadium opened in 1988 and is showing its years. If the Mitsui Fudosan-led consortium lands the Tsukiji project, all eyes will be on any more moves by Yomiuri.

Update on the Netherlands

The number of people killed by the earthquake in Morocco has risen to 2,862. At least 2,562 people were injured, according to the latest figures from Moroccan authorities.

The search continues for survivors among the rubble. Many villages in the earthquake area are still difficult to reach more than three days after the earthquake.

Several countries have offered help to Morocco, but the government has been slow to accept it. The country is currently receiving aid from Spain, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Neighboring country Algeria announced last night that it wanted to send three planes with 93 rescue workers to Morocco.

The Netherlands has a special search team ready to travel to the disaster area, but according to the Dutch ambassador to Morocco, it makes no sense to simply send them to the area. “It is important that the Moroccan authority coordinates this,” he said yesterday on BNR Nieuwsradio.

Doctors Without Borders employees have also not yet been able to provide assistance. The aid organization has ten employees on standby in the country, who arrived in Marrakech on Saturday evening. “They are in contact with national and local authorities. To take action, there must first be a clear request for help. We are not at that point yet.”

The Dutch government has pledged to donate €5 million for the emergency effort and the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have said they will give a euro per resident to help earthquake victims.

Energy company Eneco will be the first of the major energy providers to offer dynamic contracts, where electricity rates change hourly and natural gas has a different price every day.

Eneco, with more than two million customers, is joining Essent and Vattenfall in a market where start-ups have been active with ‘day-ahead prices’ for some time. Eneco’s variable and fixed contracts will also continue to exist in addition to the dynamic contract.

Selina Thurer, head of customer organization at the Rotterdam energy company, explains the choice of the new contract:

“Under the influence of the energy crisis, we saw that many customers needed certainty. But some want to move with the price and take more risk.” Research showed that more than 3 percent of customers want a dynamic contract.

During the energy crisis it was no longer possible to conclude a fixed energy contract, but annual and three-year contracts are now also available on the market.

With the dynamic price, which can be viewed a day in advance, households can plan ahead when exactly they can consume electricity and gas cheapest.

An advantage of this is that a battery car can automatically charge via the app at the most economical time. But the Consumers’ Association has previously warned that you must be well prepared for price fluctuations. The price can also suddenly increase.

Staff shortages are making it unsafe on the work floor of small and medium-sized businesses, warns the Dutch Association for Safety Science (NVVK). “Staff are increasingly faced with the choice of working unsafely or not working.”

Safety is under the most pressure in new and fast-growing sectors, sees NVVK chairman Rob van Houten. He is referring, for example, to expanding distribution centers. “We see a lot of collisions within the centers, and falls from great heights.”

Solar panel technicians also run too many risks. Not every technician is trained to work safely at height. “There is also a lot of shortage there and too little attention to safety,” says Van Houten.

The Labor Inspectorate recognizes the problem in, for example, the solar panel sector. A spokesperson emphasizes that employers must play a major role in training and drawing attention to the safety of employees.

But a shortage of manpower does not help. “I can imagine that safety can unconsciously suffer if the workload increases,” says the spokesperson for the Labor Inspectorate.

Workplace accidents cost hundreds of millions in medical costs and absenteeism in the short term. “The actual costs are 6.1 billion euros annually,” says Van Houten.

This involves long-term payment of wages, deployment of replacement staff and psychological help for the victim. These costs have doubled in the past decade.

Figures from the Labor Inspectorate show that 2,526 people were victims of an industrial accident last year. This number is difficult to compare with previous years, partly due to an increase in the number of inspections. 51 people died in 2022, including 10 people in construction.

In addition to falls and collisions, hazardous substances are also a major culprit. Every year, around four thousand people die earlier in their lives due to unhealthy working conditions, according to figures from the Labor Inspectorate.

Half of SMEs have a mandatory plan Although the law requires that every company must prepare a risk analysis, only half of SMEs comply with this. “And then the plan must also be acted upon,” Van Houten emphasizes.

In contrast to smaller companies, large companies often employ teams of safety experts, also known as Health Safety and Environment (HSE) professionals. They identify safety risks and intervene if things threaten to go wrong in the workplace. According to the NVVK, too few of these people are trained to also serve SMEs.

Fewer buses and trams, canceled night services, assistance from coaches and occasionally even no train for a whole day. Now that more home workers are returning to the office, the national staff shortage is increasingly beginning to disrupt urban and regional transport. Carriers are scrambling to ensure that traffic can at least take place.

For example, travelers on the route between Oldenzaal, Hengelo and Zutphen waited in vain for the train for a whole day last Saturday. It did not run because carrier Keolis could not finalize the timetable. A unique experience, according to a NOS tour of all city and regional transport companies.

However, due to the personnel problems, there is a lot of puzzling involved and sometimes hard choices have to be made. For some carriers this is incidental on a day with too many sick people, for others this now has to be done on a structural basis. Regional carriers say they are running about 10% fewer buses and trams than before corona.

For example, the night bus was canceled in The Hague at the weekend due to the staff shortage at HTM. Furthermore, the carrier runs less often on some lines, a spokesperson said. This involves intervening in places where the least travelers are affected. “The number of travelers who use the night bus is approximately 1 percent of the total number of travelers during the regular timetable.”

Arriva says it no longer has to structurally cut lines anywhere in the country, but does state that journeys are canceled “here and there”. “We always try to make arrangements if a shift cannot be completed due to illness, for example.”

In the hunt for new drivers it is sometimes competitive, Arriva experiences. “Training drivers takes a year. But earlier this year, drivers in Limburg switched to NS, because they could earn 10% more due to a new collective labor agreement. Fortunately, now that we also have a new collective labor agreement, this no longer happens.”

Transdev, parent company of Connexxion, Breng and Hermes, among others, is also forced to run fewer buses in many places. For example in the Zaan region. “We are extending the summer timetable there,” says a spokesperson. “During rush hour, two instead of three buses per hour run on a line.”

In busy Amsterdam, the GVB feels the chronic shortage of employees. “Unplanned outages are the most annoying for travelers and drivers,” says a spokesperson. “In order to operate the timetable reliably and robustly, we sometimes choose to operate slightly less frequently on some lines.”

The GVB bus services also run less frequently. Sometimes the Amsterdam carrier even calls in the help of coach company Jan de Wit as a free transfer option. In an amended transport plan, the GVB wants to shorten trams 14 and 24 and bus lines 41, 43 and 65 next year. To accommodate this, the North-South line will run twelve times an hour, instead of the current eight.

Due to a shortage of drivers, EBS scaled down the bus services in Purmerend and Volendam from eight or ten to only four times per hour. According to a spokesperson, this will only happen if a normal timetable is no longer possible. “There will already be a period of cancellations beforehand. It varies per region, but we see that despite the scaled-down timetable, too many services still remain open and bus trips are therefore canceled.”

Municipalities and provinces are worried about staff shortages in public transport. “Cancellation is the last resort that the carrier may resort to, but sometimes unfortunately unavoidable,” said a spokesperson for Deputy Frederik Zevenbergen of South Holland. “If this does happen, the province wants the cuts to be made as smartly as possible.”

This means that less travel is allowed on lines where a bus often stops. “Lines with a half-hourly and hourly service should continue to operate with this frequency as much as possible.”

Companies are now conducting special campaigns to recruit new employees. For example, Transdev has ‘I drive the bus’ days, Arriva holds so-called Rail Days and the GVB approaches students and lateral entrants.

Update on Dujat & Members

We welcome members to register for our upcoming Cyber Security Seminar with Van Doorne and Soliton Systems, taking place on Thursday 5 October. Hopefully see you there!

Two weeks ago we opened reservations for this year’s Dujat December Dinner which will take place on Monday 11 December at Hotel Okura Amsterdam.

During this year’s dinner, H.E. Mr. Hiroshi Minami, Ambassador of Japan to the Netherlands and Mrs. Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation will each give a speech. It is also the edition where the 9th Deshima Netherlands Awards will be awarded to two of the most successful Japanese investors in the Netherlands.

All members on our mailinglist received the announcement about the dinner. By now the dinner is already at 80% of the maximum number of reservations. If you missed the e-mails or have any questions, feel free to get in touch!

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 NieuwsNHKNikkeiJapanToday