Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 37 & 38, 2021

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Update on Japan

Japan has again extended its coronavirus state of emergency in many parts of the country, including Tokyo and Osaka, through the end of this month, which came into force on Monday 13 September, in 19 of the nation’s 47 prefectures.

Eight prefectures are under a quasi-state of emergency. The government is calling on people in the areas to stay home as much as possible. The number of new cases has been declining. Authorities across Japan confirmed 4,171 infections on Monday, over 4,000 fewer than a week ago. Still, the medical system remains under strain. Nearly 2,000 patients across Japan are in serious condition.

At a hospital near Tokyo, 34 hospital beds are allocated for severe coronavirus cases. Twenty-five to 30 of them have been continuously occupied this month. The government hopes vaccination will help improve the situation. More than half of the country’s population have now received two shots.

A Japanese company conducting PCR tests says it found that the amount of virus detected from a patient infected with the Delta variant is at least four times higher than the original strain. A member of the Japanese government’s expert panel warns a patient’s throat and saliva contain large amounts of the virus.

Toho University Professor Tateda Kazuhiro said, “A considerable amount of virus is contained in tiny droplets dispersed in a very short conversation.” He is calling on people to wear non-woven fabric face masks and to ventilate rooms.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday 3 September that he will not run for his ruling party’s leadership, effectively ending his tenure and throwing wide open the race for the next prime minister.

The shocking decision after just a year in office comes with Suga’s approval ratings at an all-time low over his government’s handling of the response to the pandemic. And it suggests a possible return to political instability for Japan, which cycled through prime ministers regularly before the lengthy tenure of Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe.

“In one year since I became prime minister, I have poured all of my strength into dealing with the various problems facing the country, with anti-coronavirus measures at the forefront,” Suga told reporters.

He said he realized that running for election and handling the virus response would require “enormous energy.” “I came to the realization that I cannot do both. I had to choose one of them,” he added.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secretary general Nikai Toshihiro said he was “surprised” by Suga’s decision not to stand in the 29 September leadership race. “It’s truly regrettable. He did his best,” Nikai said.

It was a decision that had not been foreshadowed, with Suga dropping no hints of his plans to leave office after just a single year in power and before contesting his first general election. He came to office last year, stepping into the post left empty when Abe resigned for health reasons.

Suga had been widely expected to seek re-election as LDP leader, with most speculation surrounding only how soon after that he would call a general election.

The election must be called by late October and held by the following month, with the LDP expected to remain in power but possibly lose seats as a result of Suga’s unpopularity. His government’s approval rating has nosedived to an all-time low of 31.8%, according to a poll by the Kyodo news agency last month.

And recent reports about his plans for a cabinet reshuffle, as an attempt to remedy his unpopularity, appeared to be insufficient. His decision was likely to be privately welcomed by some in the party, said Iwai Tomoaki, a professor of politics at Nihon University.

One of Suga’s challengers for head of the LDP is Kishida Fumio, who has already pledged to spend big if elected, and Iwai said the former foreign minister would now be in with a good chance. “Kishida is probably the front runner, as he is moderate and capable,” Iwai said.

The turmoil makes it likely the election will be pushed back as late as possible, into November, he added.

Ten Afghan evacuees have arrived in Japan from Afghanistan to take refuge following the Taliban’s return to power, with the Japanese government arranging for more evacuees to enter the country, the Foreign Ministry said Monday 13 September.

The government is also considering long-term support measures for such evacuees to settle in Japan, including helping them find jobs, sources close to the matter said.

On Sunday, four evacuees — a local worker for the Japan International Cooperation Agency in Afghanistan and the worker’s family members — arrived at Narita airport near Tokyo, becoming the first Afghans to take refuge in Japan after the Taliban’s takeover last month. An additional six touched down at the airport on Monday.

They are quarantined as part of Japan’s measures against the novel coronavirus. They will be asked to decide whether to continue staying in Japan or leave for another country.

Japan will continue to seek the safe evacuation of Afghan staff of Japanese organizations and others from the country qualifying for refuge by air and other means through negotiations with the Taliban while sheltering those who have evacuated on their own, the ministry said.

The Japanese Self-Defense Forces were dispatched to the region in late August to evacuate around 500 people wishing to leave Afghanistan. By the end of the evacuation mission on 31 August, the SDF had only evacuated one Japanese as well as 14 Afghans at the request of the United States. A temporary office that Japan set up for its Kabul embassy in Qatar on 1 September is expected to be responsible for evacuation support.

Shigeru Omi, the current head of the Japan Community Health Care Organization, which is the government department that manages the social health care system, started an Instagram account for open dialogue about COVID-19.

Prior to his position at the Japan Community Health Care Organization, Omi also served as a director for the WHO and tackled past pandemics such as polio and SARS. Omi has also been heavily involved in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan since February, 2020. However, despite advances in vaccines and treatments, infection rates have been soaring to their highest levels ever.

Fearing that the causes for this are becoming more social than medical, the 74-year-old virologist is taking the fight against COVID-19 to an arena way outside his comfort zone: the internet.

On 1 September, Omi announced his brand new Instagram account which he plans to use for an open dialog about COVID-19 prevention. Anyone who has a question or opinion can share this via the hashtag #ねえねえ尾身 (“Hey hey Omi”).

Omi admits that he knows very little about social media, let alone “Instagram,” which he adorably chose to put in quotes in his announcement. This is why he has a team of younger people helping him manage the account and sort through the hundred of replies that it has already received.

video thanking his 200,000 followers amassed in one day: “I look forward to studying Instagram as hard as I can. Thank you!” He explains that the purpose is not to tell people how to handle the current situation regarding the pandemic, but more to hear how people have been handling it and hopefully gain more insight to more forward with.

“Many people have cooperated for a long time in implementing basic infection control measures, but there may be some aspects that are causing divisions due to differences in thinking.

There’s a certain disarming charm to the fact that Omi put himself out there as the face of this campaign. Most of the time a government agency would concoct a bunch of anonymous graphics and perhaps a mascot pigeon to solicit information — and would fail miserably. But there’s something about Omi’s kindly-worded message that reeks of sincerity, and people have responded to it favorably.

Omi himself admitted that he wasn’t sure “if this crazy attempt will work,” but it appears to be, and hopefully some kind of better understanding can be achieved between the increasingly divergent opinions on how to handle prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Hitachi has pledged to go carbon neutral across its value chain by fiscal 2050, becoming one of the first Japanese manufacturing powerhouses to set an ambitious sustainability target that covers an extensive supplier web.

The industrial group upgraded its climate goal in a statement Monday 13 September. Hitachi previously aimed to reduce direct emissions at its factories and offices to zero in net terms by fiscal 2030, while slashing those from suppliers, customers and other related companies 80% by 2050 from 2010 levels.

“Green technology in a digital world is a real engine for growth, and it’s an exciting time to help cities, governments and companies cut carbon whilst accelerating our own potential as a climate change innovator,” Chief Environmental Officer Alistair Dormer said.

Hitachi’s commitment covers “production, procurement and use of products and services,” according to the statement.

Hitachi’s supply chain emitted 110 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in fiscal 2019, with 96% of the global warming gas being so-called Scope 3 emissions, which come from other players in its value chain that are not part of the group’s operations. To achieve the upgraded goal, extensive efforts involving about 30,000 suppliers will be essential.

The Japanese group looks to develop an information technology system for ascertaining precise levels of internal and external energy consumption. The blockchain system will track where renewable energy is supplied, identifying a specific facility down to a specific piece of equipment.

This system was deployed at one of Hitachi’s research institutes in Tokyo in February and will be made available to other companies so that they can see energy consumption at factories by fiscal 2022.

Starting this fiscal year, Hitachi is asking suppliers to devise plans for reducing their carbon footprint. The company also revised its green procurement guidelines in July, and has begun creating a medium- to long-term plan with about 800 core suppliers that account for 70% of its purchases.

Hitachi is also bolstering its commitment to prioritize environmentally friendly facilities and equipment when making investment decisions. The group has doubled down on its internal carbon pricing initiative, a practice of putting a price on emissions by equipment, and raised the rate to 14,000 yen (€108) per ton from the previous 5,000 yen.

The price hike promotes a switch to more energy-efficient equipment. Hitachi seeks to have 13 net-zero business sites in March 2022, up from just three a year earlier.

Japan’s largest travel agency, JTB Corporation, has sold its headquarters and another building as it suffers from a prolonged travel slowdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Informed sources said the company had sold its headquarters building in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and another in Osaka City, western Japan, by Tuesday. The purchasers of the buildings are yet to be disclosed. The sales price is expected to total several hundred million dollars.

JTB reported a record net loss of about 955 million dollars for the 2020 fiscal year that ended in March 2021.

The sale of the buildings is part of the company’s efforts to improve its financial standing as it accelerates restructuring of its business. The company is now cutting its number of outlets and personnel.

JTB reportedly also hopes to use the funds obtained through the sale to invest for post-pandemic growth. The company says it plans to remain in the headquarters building after the sale by signing a lease contract with the buyer.

Update on the Netherlands

Corona press conference on Tuesday 14 September.

The outgoing cabinet held another corona press conference, the evening of Tuesday 14 September. The following changes were announced:

No more 1.5m social distancing – use of corona pass mandatory:

The one and a half meter measure will be released from 25 September. Instead, the corona pass will probably become mandatory from that date in the catering industry and in the art and culture sector. This way the outgoing cabinet wants to avoid having to stick to “restrictive measures for everyone” for a long time to come.

The pass is valid if someone has been fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from COVID-19 or has tested negative for the coronavirus. The pass will be compulsory for everyone over the age of 13.

More possible around events:

Multi-day events and festivals will be possible again under certain conditions. Exactly what those conditions entail is still being worked out. A maximum number of visitors is considered, probably based on a percentage of the normal capacity. The cabinet will allow events without fixed seats again from 25 September with 75% room capacity.

It is also being examined how corona passes and corona tests can be used. The CoronaCheck app can be used for this, but organizers may be given the opportunity to organize their own testing capacity. For multi-day events, visitors will likely be required to show their admission ticket every 24 hours.

Working from home and face masks in public transport remain the norm:

The advice to work from home will be slightly relaxed. This remains the norm where possible, but employees are allowed to go to work when necessary. The face mask obligation in public transport will probably remain intact after 25 September, as will the closing of night catering between 0:00 and 6:00.

The cabinet is still considering the OMT advice not to send school classes completely home in the event of an infection.

Japan has been removed from the EU list of safe countries for travel to the EU/Schengen area. As of 16 September 2021, the Netherlands classifies Japan as a high-risk area.

Entry to the Netherlands continues to be possible under certain conditions, including for fully vaccinated travelers who have valid proof of vaccination. There is no quarantine requirement when entering the Netherlands from Japan.

Earlier on Thursday 9 September, the European Union said it has reinstated a travel ban from Japan following recent surges of coronavirus infections with the highly contagious Delta variant.

The EU removed Japan from a list of countries that are exempted from its ban on nonessential travel to the economic bloc. Japan was previously removed from the exemption list in January, before being added again in June as the EU eased restrictions ahead of summer vacation season.

With the fresh travel ban, visitors from Japan for nonessential purposes such as tourism will not be allowed to enter EU member countries in principle, though each country has authority over its own border control policy.

On Sunday 12 September, a protest against the housing shortage took place in Amsterdam. More than 200 organizations announced joined the protest. The need for housing has not been this great in the Netherlands since the Second World War, the organizers of the housing shortage protest said, according to NOS. 

It has been one of the first times since the 1980s that the Dutch have taken up the barricades against a housing shortage. “It doesn’t surprise me,” says Peter Boelhouwer, professor of the housing market at TU Delft. “I have been thinking for years: where is the social discontent? In the 1980s there was more resistance, while the situation is now more hopeless.”

According to experts, the housing crisis is one of the biggest social problems of our time. There is a shortage of around 300,000 homes, waiting times for social housing are long and overbidding by a ton is no longer an exception for the owner-occupied houses that are available. At the same time, its consequences are unevenly distributed.

“For some – the outsiders – the housing crisis is, and for others – the insiders – no problem at all. They benefit from rising house prices and invest in a second home. The battle has always been uneven, but the number of outsiders is now increasing significantly.”, says Boelhouwer.

The tightness in the housing market is mainly felt by first-time buyers, experts say. “But in general, everyone without an owner-occupied home and who cannot go to social housing is the victim,” says housing market economist Stefan Groot at Rabobank.

And the end of rising house prices is not yet in sight. “The price growth of an owner-occupied home is 16% year on year, so the starter who wants to buy now is already a lot worse off than the starter who bought a house last year,” says Groot. “And according to our calculations, this will continue in the coming years.”

There is no quick solution to the heated housing market, the experts say. Still, a protest could pay off, in the form of political attention. “There are solutions,” says Groot. “Such as building extra homes. This does require structural political policy, while we have a caretaker cabinet. I am curious whether people dare to do something, because that is necessary.”

Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has been named best mayor in the world 2021. He shares the World Mayor 2021 prize with Philippe Rio, mayor of the French city of Grigny.

“Both mayors have in common that they have a strong conviction that peace, freedom, equal rights and dignity are extremely important for social cohesion,” the jury explained.

The London City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank dedicated to local governance, has presented the award every two years since 2004. Both winners will be presented with a sculpture. Aboutaleb is the first Dutch winner of the prize.

Aboutaleb, who was sworn in for his third term as mayor of Rotterdam in January this year, has been described as a passionate defender of freedom, tolerance and solidarity. During the pandemic, he has “displayed exceptional leadership,” the organization says. “From the beginning of the corona pandemic, he was aware of the dangers for the vulnerable parts of society.”

In addition, Aboutaleb is said to understand that cities need to be more resilient, social and environmentally aware if they are to withstand natural disasters. “Aboutaleb has been leading Rotterdam with courage, patience and modesty since 2009. He is called mayor by most: during all his years as mayor, he has behaved like the father of a very large family.”

Aboutaleb says in a response to be very honored with the prize. “I am speechless. It is an honor that the people of Rotterdam have nominated me for this. I therefore feel very appreciated by the inhabitants of this beautiful city. A city where so many different people live together. I have the most beautiful job you can find. you can think of.”

The municipality of Zandvoort looks back positively on the Grand Prix weekend that took place in the weekend of 4 September, Mayor David Moolenburgh said on Sunday. Tens of thousands of people went to Zandvoort that weekend to see the race.

On Friday, according to the mayor, there were “start-up problems” when it became too busy in various places at the event. According to the parties involved, the measures taken in response to this have helped.

“It went very well. The influx and outflow of visitors went well every day,” says Moolenburgh. “On Friday we had some start-up problems with the crowds on the site itself.”

Images of large crowds moving around the circuit caused a lot of commotion on Friday, because unseated festivals are not allowed to take place at the moment. Moolenburgh called the criticism “very understandable” on Saturday, but added that the event went according to the conditions set by The Hague.

After concluding that it had indeed been too busy in various places, the municipality, the organization and the police, among others, concluded that additional measures would be taken. For example, more attention was paid to communication and creating alternative walking routes for the public. As a result, the crowds remained “manageable”, according to the satisfied organization of the GP. There would have been no significant incidents.

This was confirmed by the police. “There have been a handful of arrests. Similar to a normal summer weekend in Zandvoort,” said a spokesperson.

Ultimately 65,000 spectators came to the circuit in Zandvoort on Saturday and saw Dutch courier Max Verstappen win the race, of which many had traveled by public transport. The NS (Dutch Railways) also says it is satisfied with how this turned out. They deployed about 300 extra employees and 522 trains to ensure that the transport of visitors ran smoothly.

For three days, a train ran every five minutes between Amsterdam Central and Zandvoort aan Zee. Additional breakdown teams and a reserve train were also on standby. It went well in collaboration with ProRail, said NS.

Greenhouse gas emissions last year were 25.4% lower than in 1990, according to the RIVM on the basis of preliminary figures. If the percentage is correct, the Netherlands will have achieved the Urgenda target in 2020. But the decrease in CO2 is partly caused by temporary factors. Emissions threaten to turn out higher again in 2021, which means that the cabinet is still in violation of the verdict.

Urgenda is the environmental organization that enforced in court that the Netherlands had to emit a quarter less greenhouse gases by 2020 than in 1990. Emissions decreased in part in 2020 due to a number of coincidences. Urgenda says that the government is “extremely lucky” if the figures are correct.

Earlier this year, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and RIVM already made an initial estimate of emissions in 2020. According to those calculations, the reduction in emissions in 2020 remained at 24.5% compared to 1990. Figures for 2020 will be presented in 2022. According to the RIVM, the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 will “probably” be between 24 and 27%.

Compared to 2019, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 9% last year. This is a sharper decrease than in previous years and, according to RIVM, this is mainly due to the fact that less coal-fired electricity was produced.

According to Margreet van Zanten, head of emissions registration at RIVM, the closure of the Hemweg power station in Amsterdam at the end of 2019 is an important cause. “So it no longer emitted anything in 2020. The power station on the Maasvlakte in Rotterdam also struggled with several disruptions last year, as a result of which it was flat for a large part of 2020.”

In addition, coal prices were relatively high last year, which made generating electricity from coal unattractive. “These are therefore no direct consequences of political decisions, except for the closure of the Hemweg power station,” said Van Zanten.

Another cause of the drop in emissions was the reduced traffic due to the corona crisis. In addition, since March 2020 it is only allowed to drive 100 kilometers per hour. According to the RIVM, it is not possible to make a precise distinction in the effect of these two factors.

The Dutch Supermarkets PLUS and Coop will merge, the companies announced on Monday 13 September. This creates the third largest supermarket formula in the Netherlands, only Albert Heijn and Jumbo are larger. In time, the stores will all be given the PLUS brand name. The merger of the two headquarters will result in the loss of an unknown number of jobs.

The merged company will soon have 550 branches and a combined turnover of approximately 5 billion euros. The merger is expected to be completed in early 2022. The merger should result in a cost reduction of EUR 50 million per year. The merged company will use that money for investments in online groceries, among other things.

The head office of the new combination, which will employ more than 40,000 people, will be located in Utrecht, where PLUS is already headquartered. Coop’s head office in Velp will close.

As a result, jobs disappear because of overlap. The two companies were not yet able to name an exact number. It is clear, however, that compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out.

It will take about three years to convert all Coop stores, according to Duncan Hoy, general manager of PLUS. He will also become general manager of the merged company. Fred Bosch, now general manager of Coop, will become financial director.

“In this highly competitive and consolidating market, scaling up offers more strength for both companies,” Bosch explains the merger.

The merger of PLUS and Coop has yet to be approved by the regulator and the member councils of the two cooperatives. At both companies, two-thirds of the members must agree.

Update on Dujat & Members

The Netherlands’ strong partnership with Japan continues to go from strength to strength and the Netherlands remains highly attractive for Japanese investors.

On 10 September, The Japan Times published an article on the bond between the Netherlands and Japan, in which Dujat was also featured. The detailed report can be found here.

On Thursday 14 October, Dujat will visit the region of Brabant again, where we we organize the event ‘Japan & The Netherlands: World Leaders in Smart Maintenance, a symposium about aerospace, industry and infrastructure’, in collaboration with Brabant Development Agency (BOM).

The event will take place at Gate2 which is part of Aeroparc Gilze-Rijen in Brabant. As usual, Dujat will arrange bus transport for participants from Amsterdam-Amstelveen area to the venue, and back. Of course it is also possible to go by own transport. For more information, please refer to the invitation (sent yesterday) or our website. If you missed the invitation and would like to register, please contact our office.

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

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

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Stroombaan 10 | 1181 VX Amstelveen | The Netherlands

Sources: Nu.nlNOSJapanTodayNHKNikkei Asia