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Update on Japan
Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward wants Halloween partygoers to celebrate the occasion this year in a virtual reproduction of the famous district. Officials are pleading with people to avoid the real-world version to prevent overcrowding and other risks to safety.
A group that includes telecom firm KDDI and a local tourism association will run an online event from October 27th through 31st.
Visitors can use an app to create avatars and explore the digital version of the area around Shibuya Station, complete with the iconic scramble crossing.
The real area has drawn huge Halloween crowds in recent years, which has resulted in unruly behavior and other problems. Ward officials are on high alert for this year’s Halloween, which is the first since Japan eased its COVID-19 restrictions.
They have banned drinking on the street at certain times and will increase security.
Japan welcomed more than 2 million international visitors for a fourth consecutive month in September, official data showed on Wednesday, marking a near full recovery to pre-pandemic levels even though the Chinese market has been slow to rebound.
The number of foreign visitors for business and leisure was 2.18 million last month, data from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) showed, up slightly from 2.16 million in August. Visitor numbers improved to 96.1% of levels seen in 2019 before the outbreak of COVID-19 led to travel curbs around the world.
Japan ended some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 border restrictions a year ago when it resumed visa-free travel for many countries, and went on to scrap all remaining controls in May.
Arrivals have maintained a rapid recovery pace, peaking at 2.32 million in July, as airlines added more international flights and the yen’s slide to a near 33-year low made Japan a bargain destination.
The number of visitors arriving from 15 markets, including the United States, South Korea and Singapore, reached record levels for the month of September, the JNTO said. Travellers from Mexico were a record for any month.
The strong demand from those markets is helping to compensate for figures from mainland China that are still 60% below 2019, when Chinese accounted for nearly a third of all visitors and 40% of all tourist spending in Japan.
Chinese arrivals were down slightly from August when Beijing lifted restrictions on group travel to Japan. Diplomatic relations have soured following Japan’s decision to release treated water from its stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
The treated water issue appears to be weighing on Chinese tourism demand, but “the trend towards recovery is likely to remain unchanged,” Sompo Institute Plus economist Masato Koike said in a note.
More than 17 million visitors have arrived in Japan in the first nine months of 2023, JNTO data showed, still far from the record of about 32 million in 2019.
Japan will work with Denmark to develop mass production technology for floating offshore wind turbines, Nikkei has learned, seeking to combine the two countries’ expertise to create de facto global standards for the industry.
The two governments are expected to reach an agreement on Tuesday. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who is currently visiting Japan, will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday to confirm the details.
Denmark is a leader in offshore wind power, home to industry giants like wind turbine maker Vestas and Orsted, the world’s leading wind turbine operator.
Under the new plan, industry, academia and government from both countries will begin joint research aimed at reducing costs. Japanese power companies, shipbuilders and universities are expected to join the effort.
Other countries will also be invited to participate, with the aim of developing low-cost manufacturing technology to realize mass production of large-scale equipment.
Floating offshore wind systems rely on not only wind turbine technology but also shipbuilding technology to float them on the water. Mass production technology has so far proven elusive.
Denmark is likely partnering with Japan because it believes the country has the shipbuilding technology essential for floating equipment, as well as the fact that Japan is expected to be a major market. Japanese companies with expertise in floating structures include Japan Marine United, Modec and Hitachi Zosen.
Floating systems offer an advantage over traditional offshore systems because they can be placed in deeper waters compared to conventional models that are fixed to the seabed.
The technology is considered critical to the spread of renewable energy in Japan.
The Japanese government is aiming to select operators for offshore wind power generation facilities equivalent to 10,000 megawatts by 2030 and 30,000 MW to 45,000 MW by 2040. The floating type is expected to become the dominant form by 2040.
Japanese manufacturers have lagged behind Western peers in seabed-fixed offshore wind farms, which do not require floating technology.
The scale of floating offshore wind power installed worldwide stood at 17 MW in 2020, a figure that will soar to 10,900 MW in 2030, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. U.S. and European companies are rushing to develop the technology to build more offshore wind farms.
Japanese industry has set a voluntary goal of raising the domestic procurement ratio of offshore wind power generation equipment to 60% by 2040.
Honda Motor and logistics provider Yamato Transport are joining hands to put battery-swap electric vehicles on Japanese roads, Nikkei has learned, in an effort to build greener commercial fleets without the downtime associated with conventional EVs.
Honda will present a battery-swap version of its N-Van microvan at the Japan Mobility Show 2023, which starts in Tokyo on 25 October.
The companies plan to equip the vehicle with swappable batteries designed for electric motorcycles, and test whether it can maintain its range and other capabilities even when transporting packages.
EVs take time to charge, which means they are a less efficient way to deliver packages than gasoline-powered vehicles. Being able to swap out depleted batteries for charged ones means the vehicles can get back on the road more quickly.
Still, swappable batteries have less capacity than conventional EV batteries. Developing cells with a higher energy density will be critical to this push.
New overtime caps are expected to lead to widespread labor shortages in Japan’s logistics industry starting in 2024. Yamato hopes that battery-swap EVs will help advance its decarbonization efforts while still allowing it to delivery packages efficiently.
In Japan, the use of swappable batteries so far has been limited to two-wheel vehicles. Four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers have set common standards for the technology, and Honda is working to bolster sales of electric motorcycles.
Meanwhile, battery-swap four-wheelers are gaining popularity in emerging economies like China and India, partly because swap stations are easier to set up than charging infrastructure. EV startup Nio is expanding its network of both battery-swap and charging stations in China.
Honda expects demand for such vehicles to continue growing overseas.
Honda and Yamato have bolstered their partnership over the years. In June, they began testing a light commercial EV that Honda plans to launch in 2024.
Japan’s food industry faces the same dire demographic problems plaguing the rest of the country. A shrinking and aging population has led to chronic labor shortages, but one startup believes robots could save the day.
Delibot, developed by Connected Robotics, can fill and package 250 food containers per hour. An average worker can do 300 to 400 ― but robots never sleep.
Labor productivity in the food processing industry is very low compared to other manufacturing sectors, such as machinery and chemicals. The Ministry of Industry puts the rate at only about 60% of the national average.
The problem is partly due to the many intricate steps involved in preparing food, such as removing small bones from fish and packing ingredients into cans.Those tasks largely rely on humans, who cannot be easily replaced by automation.
While items like auto parts have a clearly defined shape, many foodstuffs do not. Workers need to use their own judgment to determine how to pick up, for example, 100 grams of a certain food, a job that confounds many robots. Moreover, some foods are soft and sticky, making them very difficult for robot hands to grasp.
Delibot has a pair of robotic hands which can locate the position of a heap of potato salad in a case, scoop exactly the right amount, and drop the food into a plastic container. It then places the portions on trays that pass by on a conveyor belt.
The device can be adjusted to accommodate foods of different sizes, textures and softness.
A supermarket in Japan has been using four Delibots since last year. They are tasked with packaging six different items, including potato salad and tofu paste.
Connected Robotics fused advanced hardware and AI technologies to create Delibot.
Weight sensors in the arms measure the food in the container and determine how much the device needs to move its hands to grasp the portions.
The engineering team intensively researched and developed the shape and surface of the hands so that they can accurately and neatly serve precise amounts of different foods.
For example, to get around the problem of sticky potato salad, the engineers decided to cover the hands with special vinyl.
Sawanobori Tetsuya, President and Founder of Connected Robotics, studied computer science in graduate school before entering the restaurant industry.
He discovered how labor intensive food preparation can be, with its many repetitive and excruciating tasks. The experience prompted him to establish a company that would build robots to reduce the food industry’s reliance on manual labor.
Before Delibot, his company developed and sold other robots, including one that automatically boils noodles and another that makes swirls for soft-serve ice cream.
Sawanobori said the company now aims to cut manufacturing costs and mass-produce Delibot devices.
“There are many small companies in the food industry and many of them cannot afford high-end custom-made robots,” he said.
He said he hopes to expand his business overseas. If Delibot can meet the demands of Japanese customers, who Sawanobori says are very exacting about the quality of the food they offer, he believes it should be marketable in other countries.
Sawanobori’s ultimate goal as an entrepreneur is to build a food machine that can be used in space. But first, he wants his robots to help solve some of the food industry’s problems on the ground.
Update on the Netherlands
In 2024, construction of the first large system for CO2 transport and storage will start in Rotterdam. Porthos, a project of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Energie Beheer Nederland (EBN) and Gasunie, has made a final investment decision.
The project, which involves transporting CO2 from the port of Rotterdam to empty gas fields under the North Sea, involves an investment of 1.3 billion euros. The companies Air Liquide, Air Products, ExxonMobil and Shell will capture CO2 and supply it to Porthos. They invest in the capture installations themselves.
In the empty gas fields about 20 kilometers off the coast, the carbon dioxide is then permanently stored about 3 to 4 kilometers below the bottom of the North Sea. A total of 37 megatons of CO2 will be stored, approximately 2.5 megatons per year for fifteen years.
Now that the decision has been made, Porthos will award the final orders to the contractors who will realize the project. The project is expected to be completed in 2026.
The European Union has recognized Porthos as an important project to achieve climate goals and has made 102 million euros available in subsidy for this purpose.
Since yesterday, train passengers on the route between Rotterdam, Delft and The Hague must take into account fewer and regularly no trains, the NS reports. Until Sunday 3 December, ProRail will be carrying out work on tracks, platforms, switches, overhead lines and train protection.
The NS further warns that trains may depart from other platforms and at different times than usual. The consequences for the train journey will differ per situation.
The most inconveniences will be during the weekends, but there will also be no or fewer trains between Rotterdam Central Station and The Hague Central Station on several weekdays.
Travelers on other routes, such as the line between Amsterdam Central Station and Vlissingen, are also affected by the work. Travelers are advised to check the journey planner shortly before departure to see how the trip is going.
According to the NS, the work is necessary to cope with the growth in passenger numbers in the coming years. More trains should run on the route.
The affected customers had all already reserved a hotel via the website or app. Some time later they received an email from Booking’s official email address, claiming that their reservation would be canceled if they did not provide their bank details via a link in the email. Some people were asked to make another payment for verification.
Notifications of such phishing emails also appeared in the platform’s official app. The originally Dutch company denies that its systems have been hacked and says that there is something wrong with the email systems of the individual hotels.
That reading seems likely, cybersecurity company Heimdal concludes after an analysis. It appears that criminals have hacked into hotels’ systems and were able to send fraudulent emails through their systems. These then end up in the message box of the Booking app. It is common for hotels to communicate with customers through Booking’s systems.
In any case, there are already reports online from affected customers who had booked in Great Britain, France and Singapore. In the latter country, dozens of people have already been scammed for a total of almost €40,000, the police in Singapore reported two weeks ago.
Booking.com writes in a statement to the British newspaper The Observer that it is taking the matter seriously. “While Booking’s systems and infrastructure have not been affected, we are acutely aware of the impact such scams can have on our business, our hotel partners and our customers.”
It is not clear what exactly Booking will do to prevent phishing via its own systems. However, it says it will contact affected customers. The company also warns customers to pay close attention to possible fraudulent messages.
There are currently 52,000 vacancies in the Dutch healthcare sector. According to broadcaster Randstad, this is a new record. Due to an aging population, there are four times as many care jobs available than ten years ago, according to research by the company. There are also still shortages in other sectors.
Compared to last year, the number of vacancies in healthcare was one fifth higher. The fact that shortages are increasing is partly due to the increasing aging of the population, Randstad believes.
After presenting the quarterly figures, General Manager Jeroen Tiel and data specialist Bart van Krimpen of Randstad Netherlands point out the pain points of the Dutch labor market. Randstad recorded a decline in turnover in the past quarter, because the economy is cooling down this year.
An aging population means there will be more work for healthcare workers. Furthermore, healthcare staff relatively often give up due to, for example, the high workload. There is an increasingly urgent need for supervisors and caregivers in particular.
“Absenteeism has recently fallen slightly, but it is still at a high level,” says Van Krimpen.
The shortage is also large in other sectors. There are more than 460,000 vacancies open. That is slightly less than at the beginning of the summer, but still 9% more than this time last year.
According to Tiel, the labor market in the Netherlands is closed, just like in countries around us. He does see solutions, such as training people for positions that are in high demand. He also sees opportunities for labor migration and the deployment of people who are at a distance from the labor market.
Tiel hopes that people will focus more on future-proof jobs, such as in the energy transition. According to him, administrative and logistics jobs are in danger of disappearing due to the application of artificial intelligence.
Update on Dujat & Members
The Dutch elections for the House of Representatives elections are just around the corner. On 22 November, Dutch citizens will vote to determine the course for the next four years.
Ultimately, 26 political parties are participating in the election. 20 parties are participating in all 20 electoral districts. The candidate lists per electoral district can be found on the website of Kiesraad.
Dujat members are invited to join tomorrow’s webinar of OmnicomPRGroup Netherlands where they will inform you about the current political situation in the Netherlands. During this online roundtable, they will discuss the political outlook for the Dutch election in November and the possible consequences for its position in the EU, among other things. There will also be a Q&A where you can ask your questions.
The webinar takes place from 12:30, registration is possible here. For questions about the event, please contact Mr. Jacques Bettelheim, Director Public Affairs.
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.
Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat
DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)
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