Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 45 & 46, 2022

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Originally released through a crowdfunding campaign in 2021, the Nicobo is a stationary robot designed to keep its owners company. (Photo courtesy of Panasonic)

Update on Japan

The number of foreign visitors to Japan rose to nearly 500,000 in October, the first month it fully reopened to overseas visitors after more than two years of COVID restrictions, more than doubling the volume from September.

On 11 October, Japan ended some of the world’s strictest border controls, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is counting on tourism to recharge the economy – especially with the yen hovering near a 32-year low against the dollar.

The number of foreign visitors, for both tourism and business, rose to 498,600 in October, more than double September’s 206,500 and surging a massive 2,155% from the year before, the Japan National Tourism Organization said, though it was still down 80% on 2019.

This year, 1.52 million foreign visitors have arrived, a far cry from the record 31.8 million in 2019 and the government’s 2020 goal – pegged to the Summer Olympics, that were ultimately postponed – of 40 million.

Kishida has said the government aims to attract 5 trillion yen in annual tourist spending, but that may be a bridge too far for a sector that withered during the pandemic. Hotel employment fell 22% between 2019 and 2021, government data shows, and service workers who found other jobs may be hard to lure back.

Major gains will likely also be difficult until Chinese tourists return. A record 9.5 million Chinese people came to Japan in 2019, about a third of all visitors, but with COVID-19 spreading in China, its culture and tourism ministry said on Tuesday cross-border group travel was still suspended.

Other trends are more encouraging. Inbound searches for hotels on the online bookings site Agoda shot up nearly 16-fold between January and October, mainly by customers in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, said Hiroto Ooka, the company’s Japan-based head of North Asia.

“We are seeing the weak yen in a positive way,” he said. “Many searches are coming in, and I think partially the yen being weak is the reason for that.”

Japan said on Tuesday it was reopening its ports to cruise ships from March 2023, with some 166 ships slated to visit next year, industry group Japan International Cruise Committee (JICC).

Japan closed to cruise ships after Carnival Corp’s Diamond Princess became one of the first hotbeds for coronavirus infection in early 2020, and JICC head Satoru Horikawa said the industry would take all possible steps to keep passengers safe.

“We look forward to welcoming all our guests, on board and in port, in the future,” he said.

As the aviation industry faces pressure to reduce its environmental impact, Japan Airlines has operated the first net-zero emission flight in the country thanks to sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.

SAF made up 40% of the fuel used for a JAL charter flight on the Haneda-Naha route. The sustainable fuel is produced mainly from waste oils, and is said to cut CO2 emission by about 80%.

The airline is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through using SAF and other measures. The company says the flight’s CO2 output was net-zero, because of the fuel-efficient plane and emission trading.

JAL is planning to start using SAF in regular flights in 2024. Its rival ANA has been using the fuel since 2020.

As the aviation industry faces pressure to reduce its environmental impact, Japan Airlines has operated the first net-zero emission flight in the country thanks to sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.

SAF made up 40% of the fuel used for a JAL charter flight on the Haneda-Naha route. The sustainable fuel is produced mainly from waste oils, and is said to cut CO2 emission by about 80%.

The airline is aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 through using SAF and other measures. The company says the flight’s CO2 output was net-zero, because of the fuel-efficient plane and emission trading.

A passenger on the flight said he is interested in this initiative by the airline industry and wants to support it. Aoki Noriyuki, Chair of the Sustainability Promotion Committee of Japan Airlines said “We are trying to come up with strategies for air travel that will make us proud of what we are doing for the global environment and society.”

JAL is planning to start using SAF in regular flights in 2024. Its rival ANA has been using the fuel since 2020.

Cute and cuddly are not words that come to mind when Panasonic is mentioned, but the company plans to roll out as early as the spring a pet-like robot test-marketed last year as it moves beyond its traditional appliance business.

The robot, named Nicobo, is roughly 20-centimeters wide and can wag its tail or change expressions in response to human interaction. It will imitate sounds when spoken to, but cannot hold actual conversations or move. The device will be marketed mainly toward those living alone or the elderly looking for more companionship.

Panasonic Holdings sold 320 Nicobos in less than seven hours during a crowdfunding campaign in 2021. Deliveries began last spring, and the company has decided on a wider release in response to favorable feedback.

Each unit was priced at 39,800 yen (€273 at current rates) during the crowdfunding period. Panasonic has not decided on a cost for the general release, but it is looking at a lower price point than rival products, like Sony Group’s Aibo robotic dog or Sharp’s Robohon smartphone robot, to win over consumers who have never purchased a robot.

The Aibo sells for 217,800 yen before tax, while the standard Robohon model starts at 132,000 yen pretax.

Though the Japanese company is widely known for its TVs and other electronics, it faces growing competition in the field from rivals in China and South Korea. It is also losing ground with younger customers, and a 2021 survey by Panasonic found that just 53% of Japanese respondents in their 20s recognized the brand.

Panasonic also aims to turn the Nicobo into a source of recurring revenue. The robot will come with a subscription service that allows users to store facial data and conversations on the cloud.

Trying to stay warm while cutting energy bills this winter? Wear a turtleneck, says Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.

The governor, wearing one herself under a jacket, encouraged residents to don turtleneck jumpers both to stay warm and as a way of reducing energy consumption.

“Warming the neck has a thermal effect. I’m wearing a turtleneck myself and wearing a scarf also keeps you warm. This will save electricity,” Koike told reporters on Friday.

“This is one of the tools to get through the harsh winter energy climate together,” she said, adding that French President Emmanuel Macron was “taking a lead in wearing turtlenecks.”

Japan has long conducted an annual Cool Biz campaign, in which a casual dress code is encouraged in offices to save energy during the country’s sweltering summers. The winter version is dubbed, appropriately enough, Warm Biz.

Like many countries, Japan — which is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050 — has faced a squeeze on its energy supply since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in August called for a push to revive the country’s nuclear power industry in a bid to tackle soaring imported energy costs. But such a move would likely prove controversial in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, triggered by a massive tsunami, which led to the suspension of many reactors due to safety fears.

Eleven years later, 10 of Japan’s 33 nuclear reactors are back in action, although not all are operational year-round and the country remains heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels.

Update on the Netherlands

Train station Zuidas under construction until 27 November

The corona pandemic is not over yet, but the situation is starting to look better. If nothing crazy happens in the coming months, the end is in sight. In addition, the infamous ‘code black’ in healthcare is far away for the time being – according to Susan van den Hof, head of the RIVM’s Center for Epidemiology and Surveillance of Infectious Diseases.

Tuesday is the thousandth day of the corona crisis in the Netherlands. Almost three years ago, on 27 February 2020, a man from Loon op Zand in Brabant was told that he had contracted the virus. The then health minister Bruno Bruins announced that first confirmed infection in a direct TV broadcast.

The virus spread quickly after that. A large part of the population will become infected, Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned a few weeks later. That came true. The counter now stands at more than 8.5 million positive tests and almost 23,000 registered deaths. The actual numbers are larger.

But in recent weeks, the corona virus has found it remarkably difficult to spread. The number of positive tests is falling rapidly, while this should increase in the autumn. According to the RIVM, this is because people have built up protection and are less susceptible due to vaccinations, the summer wave and the autumn wave and previous infections.

“The situation is now very different from previous years in November. Two years ago no one was vaccinated yet. Last year we did, but we had the more pathogenic delta variant. Now our starting situation is much better,” says Van den Hof.

She does not make any predictions for the coming winter and the period after, but does say that for almost a year we have only been dealing with different versions of the omikron variant of the virus in the Netherlands. “That offers perspective, the previous variants lasted much shorter. If omikron stays, I am quite optimistic. I am also less afraid of code black. If nothing crazy happens this winter, we will probably have reached the end.”

The end of the pandemic does not mean the end of the corona virus, because the virus will not disappear, Van den Hof emphasizes. People will continue to get infected, patients will continue to end up in hospitals and people will continue to die from the consequences in the future. “But then it becomes a predictable seasonal disease. Then we have a virus that we have learned to live with well. And we continue to vaccinate high-risk groups, as we do with the flu shot.”

It is important that the Netherlands prepares, because there may be a new pandemic in a few years, says Van den Hof. “We have set up many things. I would like to consolidate and expand them, so that we are more flexible in the event of a next epidemic and gain a faster and better insight into what is happening. Measuring virus particles in sewage, for example. Perhaps that will be possible soon less, but if we need it again, we have to be able to scale up quickly.”

4 billion euros will be made available for infrastructure projects throughout the country. The investments are part of an amount of 7.5 billion euros that the cabinet had released in the coalition agreement to make new residential areas accessible. The rest of the money goes to investments in infrastructure for cars (2.7 billion euros) and cyclists (780 million euros).

Minister Mark Harbers and State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen (Infrastructure and Water Management) and Minister Hugo de Jonge (Housing) divide the billions. The money will be spent on new railway lines, roads and cycle paths. In addition, money is being invested in existing railway lines and roads.

The ministers emphasize that due to the nitrogen problem, rising prices and staff shortages, there is still much uncertainty about the implementation and delivery of projects. Nevertheless, they think it is important to “set the pace and continue to work on accessibility and housing”.

The government is investing a total of 1.1 billion in traffic flow on national roads. This concerns the construction of new roads (801 million euros) and investments in traffic systems (300 million euros) that should ensure better traffic flow.

In addition, the government has concluded deals with regional governments for local projects. For example, the North/South line in Amsterdam will be extended to Schiphol and Hoofddorp. The Ministry of Infrastructure also wants to increase capacity on the A10 South near Amsterdam. That is one of the busiest roads in the country.

Furthermore, more than 1.5 billion euros is being invested in Zuid-Holland in improving the railway and the stations between Leiden and Dordrecht. In Rotterdam, more than 600 million euros are being invested in a possible new bridge over the Maas.

In North Brabant, more than 800 million euros will go to the Brainport Eindhoven region. Public transport in particular needs to be expanded and improved.

The intention is that all these projects will make new residential areas more accessible. The government previously set itself the goal of building 900,000 new homes by 2030.

Until Sunday 27 November, there are no trains to Amsterdam Zuid station due to work, and fewer trains around Schiphol. The work on the track at the Amsterdam Zuidas will have consequences as far as Nijmegen.

Contractor BAM is working on the track at the Zuidas to replace switches and install new switches. In addition, the company relocates cables and pipelines and moves signals. The work started from Sunday 13 November for the planned durance of two weeks. 

The NS warns travelers about consequences for other train routes, such as between Utrecht and Nijmegen. Normally there is a train from Amsterdam South to Nijmegen, but this will not run in the coming weeks. This has consequences for train times to Nijmegen.

“On weekends and on weekdays from 8 p.m., two trains run between Nijmegen and Amsterdam instead of four,” says a spokesman. This train stops earlier, at Amsterdam RAI. The company advises to check the travel planner carefully before departure.

Train tickets are valid during the work on Amsterdam metro lines 50, 51 and 52, which arrive and depart at Amsterdam Zuid station. The NS also provides replacement bus transport.

Work on the track started at 04:00 on the night of Saturday 12 to Sunday 13 November. According to ProRail, the jobs are necessary because of the expected growth in the number of passengers. The company also tackles crowding on the platforms of Schiphol Airport station, among others. “Due to these activities, we will be able to run more trains between Schiphol and Amsterdam Central in a few years’ time,” says ProRail.

Changing and moving the points at Amsterdam Zuid station will ensure that the Intercity direct (Amsterdam-Breda) can run along the east side of Amsterdam in the future. This creates space on the west side, allowing more trains to run between Schiphol and Amsterdam Central.

In the third quarter of 2022, the turnover of stores in the Netherlands increased, but that is entirely because prices rose. Fewer products were actually sold. Many retailers believe that prices will continue to rise.

This is evident from figures from Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Retail turnover was 4.2% above the level of the same period last year. But that’s because retailers raised prices. Prices rose on average by 8%. Consumers actually bought 3.6% less.

The majority of retailers, 64%, think sales prices will rise further in the fourth quarter. At the start of the third quarter, just over half expected a price increase.  

Incidentally, fewer products were not sold everywhere. More items were sold at drugstores and clothing and shoe stores.

But on the other hand, shops for furniture and home furnishings had a hard time. There the volume decreased by no less than 16.5%.

Do-it-yourself stores and stores in kitchens and floors also suffered a blow, where the volume fell by 8.9%.

Supermarkets saw turnover increase by 8.6%, but prices also rose here. The number of products sold fell by 2%.

Specialty shops in food, such as cheese shops and butchers, even sold 8.7% less, but due to higher prices, turnover here increased by just 0.1%.

Online stores recovered from the drop in turnover they had to deal with in the first half of the year. However, the 3% increase in turnover lagged behind that of brick-and-mortar shops. Online stores did good business during the corona crisis.

There were 47 bankruptcies of shops in the third quarter. That is more than double the 19 in the same period a year earlier. The number of bankruptcies is lower than in the same period before the corona pandemic.

Update on Dujat & Members

Yesterday, together with LIOF – we visited the impressive company Vekoma Rides Manufacturing, daughter company of Sansei Technologies. Vekoma is the largest supplier of roller coasters and opened its doors to tell us more about their sector, innovative products and most of all their beautiful company. It was very interesting to hear how they collaborate with Sansei Technologies in Japan to deliver these beautiful high quality rides all over the world.

Next week on Wednesday 30 November, we organize a seminar on the Opportunities and Risks of AI in Europe, in collaboration with Jones Day and IBM. The seminar will take place at the Jones Day office in Amsterdam. Feel free to contact us if you are interested!

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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Sources: Nu.nlNOSRTL NieuwsCBSNHKNikkeiJapanToday