Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 47 & 48, 2023

This newsletter was shared with Dujat members on 5-12-2023. The next newsletter was sent out today.
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Update on Japan

The water level of Lake Biwa, which is Japan’s largest lake, has plunged due to a lack of rain, causing trouble for some ship operators.

The lake covers an area of roughly 670 square kilometers. It supplies water to more than 14 million people in the Yodo River basin, which spans prefectures including Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka.

A shortage of rain since the summer has caused the lake’s water level to drop. It was 69 centimeters below the benchmark as of 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday. That’s 30 centimeters lower than the seasonal average.

Shiga Governor Mikazuki Taizo on Tuesday released the results of a survey the prefecture conducted last month on how the decline in water level has been affecting the fishing industry and tourism.

The survey found that the increased height difference between ships and piers at certain ports has made it difficult for people to embark and disembark and for cargo to be loaded and unloaded.

Some fishers have reported that their boats’ propellers were damaged after hitting rocks and debris on the lake bottom.

Mikazuki said that there has not been any significant impact on the lives of the people of Shiga so far, but the prefectural government will keep a close eye on the situation.

The governor repeated his request for people to save water.

Advance sales of admission tickets for the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka began Thursday, 500 days before the global event in western Japan opens, amid lingering concern over ballooning costs.

The Japan Association for the 2025 World Exposition aims to cover most of the operational costs through admission fees, setting a sales target of 23 million tickets for the event running from 13 April through 13 October. The organizer hopes that 14 million tickets, or about 60% of the sales target, will be sold in advance.

Facing headwinds such as slower-than-expected progress in the building of pavilions by overseas participants due to high material and labor costs, the association is aiming to build momentum through pre-opening events.

The cost shouldered by the central and local governments and the business community to build venue facilities has swelled to up to 235 billion yen, nearly double the previous estimate.

About 30 countries have selected builders for their pavilions at the expo, but construction had not started as of Wednesday, according to a senior official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The rising construction costs for pavilions prompted Mexico and Estonia to withdraw from the expo, which will be held on Yumeshima, a man-made island in Osaka Bay.

Advance tickets are cheaper than those that will be sold during the expo, with an adult one-day ticket purchased during the event priced at 7,500 yen.

Of them, opening tickets for adults, priced at 4,000 yen, will allow single entry between the opening day and April 26. The tickets are priced at 2,200 yen for visitors aged from 12 to 17 and 1,000 yen for those aged between 4 and 11.

One-day tickets for adults, priced at 6,000 yen, will allow single entry on any day through the close of the event if purchased between Thursday and 6 October, 2024. Multiple-entry season and summer passes for adults are also available priced at 30,000 yen and 12,000 yen, respectively.

Russia has also pulled out of the expo, citing a “lack of efficient communication with the host.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference Wednesday that the Russian invasion of Ukraine contradicts the philosophy of the world expo, which cherishes sympathy for others and respect for diverse cultures and values. Japan does not envisage Russian participation in the event unless the situation in Ukraine changes, he said.

The total number of participating countries and regions currently stands at around 160, with the recent addition of nine countries including Denmark and Finland, as well as nine international organizations, according to the Foreign Ministry.

About half of the hospitals that accept My Number identification cards as health insurance certificates in Japan say they see no benefit for patients, a recent labor ministry survey showed, despite the government’s push for people to register for the integrated cards.

The number of people who have already adopted the cards as their health insurance certificates has surpassed 70 million, but the actual use of them remains low among patients, standing at around 4%, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The government plans to scrap the current health insurance certificates in the fall of 2024 by replacing them and integrating their functions with the My Number cards, which carry a 12-digit number for each individual that links together various personal data, such as taxes and social security information.

The integrated cards allow medical institutions to view the cardholder’s data, including medication prescription records and health checkups, and offer patients appropriate treatment options, the government says.

But the My Number ID system has become unpopular among the public following revelations of personal information leaks and registration errors, with some calling for health insurance certificates’ phasing out to be postponed, or for the plan to be rolled back.

In the survey, conducted between July and September this year, only 29.6% of the 892 hospitals that have installed the new system for utilizing the cards said they are using it to view patients’ health data, with consent, while 68.2% said they are not using the system.

Of the hospitals that use the system, 51% said they did not see any particular merits or did not know when asked a multiple-choice question about its benefits for patients.

Some 31.8% said that by using the system, they could make arrangements over redundant prescriptions or problematic mixing of medicines.

Over 42% also said they do not see any particular merits for the hospitals themselves, or that they do not know of any benefits.

In separate surveys targeting patients, 36.3% said in their mailed responses that they did not see any merit in using the cards, while 46.2% made similar responses online, according to the health ministry.

The My Number ID system was launched in 2016, allotting a 12-digit number to every citizen and foreign resident in Japan.

A Japanese government panel has proposed that a new on-the-job training program for foreign workers be introduced to replace the current system for foreign technical trainees.

The move comes after the existing scheme, which includes an up-to five-year commitment and prohibits workers from moving to another employer, was cited for labor abuses.

In a final report on Friday, the expert panel recommended replacing the current initiative with one that would allow foreign workers to switch employers under certain conditions.

The report says the new program would aim to train interns basically for three years and would cover specialized knowledge and skills in such industries as nursing care, construction and agriculture.

The report says if the trainees have worked for more than a year and have acquired certain technical and Japanese language abilities, they should be allowed to change their employers within the same field.

But employers in Japan are concerned that the changes could encourage trainees in rural areas to move to urban areas where wages are relatively higher.

Japanese employers are also concerned about how to share the cost of training foreign workers among stakeholders.

Under the current system, many trainees pay substantial fees to staffing agencies and brokers in their home countries.

Japanese firms are concerned that their share of costs may increase as the new program would have a framework for them to share the costs that trainees pay to participate in the current program.

Murata Kazutoshi has accepted foreign technical trainees for many years at his strawberry farm in Hokota City, Ibaraki Prefecture.

He expressed his support for the new on-the-job training program, which he views as being closer to reality in that foreign technical trainees are just workers.

He also said that additional costs may deal a blow to farmers, but that farmers need to improve the working environment so that they can be chosen by participants of the new program.

The panel plans to submit its report to Justice Minister Koizumi Ryuji as soon as next week.

Telecom carrier NTT has teamed up with Amazon to launch a satellite internet service in Japan with a trial scheduled for as early as 2024, the companies said on Tuesday, in a move aimed at challenging rival operator SpaceX in the fledgling sector.

Amazon’s broadband service, Project Kuiper, began with the launch of two prototype satellites in October. The internet e-commerce group plans to establish a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) and provide broadband connections around the world.

SpaceX’s Starlink already has more than 5,000 satellites in LEO and the American company has been working with Japanese telecom carrier KDDI to provide satellite broadband services in Japan since 2021.

Amazon’s Japanese partners include NTT, its mobile and international telecom units, as well as Sky Perfect JSAT, a satellite broadcaster.

The group said in a statement that their service will be available to businesses and government organizations. “The companies plan to use Project Kuiper to provide their customers with new connectivity options to build out resilient, redundant communications networks,” the statement said.

An NTT spokesperson said that a retail customer service is under consideration.

Project Kuiper is set to begin testing services in the second half of 2024. NTT and Sky Perfect JSAT plan to take part in the testing.

Satellite broadband has so far required a separate antenna and has been used mainly to provide internet connection to remote areas and islands, and war zones where normal services have been cut off. Satellites are also used as backup for terrestrial networks in case those connections are lost in accidents or natural disasters.

Gaining business from the government alone, however, will not be enough to pay for the cost of developing satellite infrastructure, which is why operators are working on providing satellite-to-smartphone services, said Atsushi Murakami, president of Satellite Business Network, a Japanese space consultancy company.

Starlink is aiming to launch a “direct to cell” service in 2024. This will allow the user to send text messages, but will not offer as many functions as regular terrestrial services do, due to limited bandwidth.

NTT is Japan’s largest telecom carrier and KDDI is the No. 2. The third largest carrier, SoftBank, has a partnership with another satellite broadband operator, OneWeb.

In places where satellite networks are not available, operators have to gain approval from local governments to provide their services. But even if they gain approval, there may not be enough demand for their services at this point, Murakami said.

Japan is already mostly connected to broadband internet via optical fiber networks, which can support the transmission of large amounts of data and services such as online games and movies.

“Consumers are unlikely to switch to satellite-to-smartphone services until the quality of those services catches up with those of optical fiber networks,” Murakami said.

Update on the Netherlands

After the Dutch elections and a difficult first week for the formation of the new government, the party leaders of PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB will be discussing with each other in the near future. In this way, scout Ronald Plasterk hopes to take the formation one step further.

Last week the formation started with difficulty. Pieter Omtzigt of NSC reported that he did not want to negotiate with the PVV. Geert Wilders will have to distance himself more clearly from opinions that are contrary to the Constitution if the NSC wants to consider doing business with this party. VVD leader Dilan Yesilgoz, in turn, only wants to provide tolerating support and not sit in a cabinet.

Mutual distrust between PVV leader Wilders and Omtzigt also overshadowed the exploratory phase. Personal relationships were under pressure: Wilders lashed out at Omtzigt online, accusing him of ‘political games’.

Geert Wilders does not want to say anything more about this today and is remarkably positive. He wants to look ahead, he said after his second conversation with scout Plasterk.

The conversations in pairs continued from Tuesday 5 December. Starting with Geert Wilders and Caroline van der Plas from the BBB. This is followed by a conversation between Wilders and VVD leader Yesilgoz. The parties are not yet going to negotiate, but they will talk to each other. The formation is therefore a very small step further.

Nine Dutch municipalities receive money from the government to tackle their shopping areas. The government wants to get consumers back to physical stores.

The outgoing cabinet has allocated a total of 26 million euros for this, outgoing Minister Micky Adriaansens (Economic Affairs) announced today. In many municipalities, the vacancy of retail properties is increasing, making shopping areas less attractive for local residents and visitors.

With this contribution, municipalities can tackle this problem, according to Adriaansens. “Shopping areas, for example, become more attractive through facade renovation, better walking routes and more public seating areas,” says the minister. “More greenery also creates a shopping area where people like to do their shopping.”

Apeldoorn, Emmen, Enschede and Waalwijk are four of the nine municipalities that will receive part of the 26 million euros. Nissewaard, Sluis, Someren, Terneuzen and Westervoort also receive subsidies.

In September 2022, eleven other municipalities, such as Alkmaar and Hilversum, already received a contribution from the government to tackle their shopping area. The same applied to nine municipalities in March this year.

Next year, a number of municipalities will receive a subsidy. After that, the subsidy pot, which contained a total of 100 million euros, will be empty.

The Netherlands will start by pledging 15 million euros to the new climate damage fund, Outgoing Prime Minister Rutte announced this during his speech on Friday 1 December at the COP28 summit in the United Arab Emirates.. He calls the 15 million “relatively quite a lot”. Germany and the United Arab Emirates, among others, are investing $100 million in the fund as starting capital.Mainly poorer countries can receive money from the climate fund if they are hit by floods or other disasters that are more serious as a result of climate change.

This fund is an important condition for developing countries to move forward with negotiations on reducing emissions and switching to sustainable energy.

Countries have now made hundreds of millions in pledges for the fund. It is expected that more will be added today on the second day of the summit.

This climate summit will also discuss tightening the climate goals to limit global warming (maximum target of 1.5 degrees). You increasingly hear that richer countries should not be climate neutral by 2050, but ten years earlier. Rutte is sceptical: “It has taken so much effort to achieve the goals we now have. So I only see this succeeding if you have major technological breakthroughs in the coming years.”

Instead of setting new goals every time, Rutte believes it is more important to achieve the old goals first. “That is the most important message of this climate summit: implement it! Everything we have agreed must now be translated into action.” According to Rutte, the Netherlands can talk about this with authority, because the emissions reduction target has been identified for the first time this year. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions must have decreased by 55% compared to 1990.

The chairman of the climate summit, Sultan al-Jabr, also CEO of the state oil company, called on countries to work together with the fossil industry to achieve climate neutrality. Rutte agrees with that. “I have always found banning those companies very stupid, because then you don’t use that enormous knowledge and expertise. You really need companies like Shell, just think about making green hydrogen, for example.”

He did not respond to the question whether the Prime Minister still has a sufficient mandate here, because a next cabinet could allocate much less money for climate. “That means nothing for the agreements made here. The formation takes an endless amount of time, you never know what the outcome will be. The current cabinet has a line, and we will continue that and I think there is a lot of support for that.”

The waste industry wants thousands of additional return points for deposits for returning plastic bottles and cans. Supermarkets, stations, schools and airports should have thousands of new deposit machines and other return points in the coming years. This is stated in a new plan from the waste sector, which has previously been criticized for bottles lying around.

The additional deposit machines should ensure that consumers return more plastic bottles and cans. This is stated in a new plan that the Packaging Waste Fund has submitted to the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT). Too many small plastic drinks bottles are not yet returned.

In concrete terms, the Waste Fund wants eight hundred additional deposit machines in and near supermarkets and another eighteen hundred machines elsewhere. An additional 2,800 so-called manual collection points should also be added, such as special bins at sports clubs.

“This will give consumers across the country many more options to return their plastic beverage bottles against payment of a deposit. This will significantly increase collection figures,” explains the organization, which is responsible for the collection and recycling of packaging on behalf of the business community.

Because the collection target for plastic bottles was not achieved, the Waste Fund received a warning letter from the ILT earlier this year. Last year, only 68% of all plastic bottles were returned. That is far below the legal target of 90%.

The inspection demanded improvement, based on analysis and a plan. This led to an improvement plan from the Waste Fund in October. But according to the ILT, that was not good enough, after which the fund was given extra time to make the plan more concrete.

The Waste Fund is talking to various parties about the installation of collection machines. In addition, the intention is that major national campaigns and promotions will continue to encourage consumers to return deposit packaging. We also collaborate with shopping centers, amusement parks and festivals, for example.

Ultimately, the Waste Fund expects to reach the required 90% by 2026. “Behavior change takes time, but we are confident that consumers will fully embrace the deposit system on plastic bottles and cans within a few years.”

The NS is expanding its timetable from next Sunday 10 December. The rail carrier will deploy more than 250 more trains per day. Four intercity trains will run per hour between the major cities, including on weekends and off-peak hours. In total, the NS runs more than 1,800 extra trains per week.

Fewer trains will run at quiet times, such as on the route between Amsterdam and Almere Oostvaarders, and Utrecht Centraal and Woerden. There, the number of sprinters goes from four to two during off-peak hours. Between Utrecht Centraal and Hoofddorp, and Hoofddorp and Leiden, the number of sprinters will increase from four to two on Fridays.

The NS says that the new timetable “fits the new travel behavior after corona”. Fewer people are on the train on Fridays, but during off-peak hours and at weekends, passenger numbers return to pre-corona levels. That is why the number of trains will also be expanded during the weekend.

The rail operator notes that Tuesdays and Thursdays have become “typical commuter days”. The new timetable therefore increases the number of trains from Monday to Thursday.

The NS is also expanding the number of new ICNG intercity trains. There are now fourteen trains of this type (Intercity New Generation) running through the country and this is being expanded step by step. The new train is used more often on the high-speed line between Amsterdam and Breda, and on the Amsterdam-Rotterdam and The Hague-Eindhoven routes. Next year, test rides will also be carried out with the ICNG to Leeuwarden and Groningen and to Brussels.

The new trains have recently been experiencing disruptions. The NS reported in October that they did not perform much better on the high-speed line than the old NS trains. It was agreed with manufacturer Alstom that one new train will be delivered every week from this autumn. All 99 new trains should be in use by early 2026.

The staff shortage at the NS is decreasing. Last year, office workers had to be deployed as assistant conductors to combat the dropout. Two conductors must be present on large trains. If these are not available, a train will be canceled.

The NS now reports that thanks to the recruitment of new train staff, office staff are no longer needed on the train. The last assistant conductors will stop on 9 December. However, the NS does call the recruitment of new staff crucial for the timetable. Special attention is paid to finding technical personnel, such as technicians, the carrier reports.

Update on Dujat & Members

As of last month, we are pleased to welcome three new member to our community: NTT Netherlands B.V., Het Concertgebouw, and Nowhere Netherlands B.V.. We look forward to welcoming them to our events!

On 17 January 1984, Dujat was founded with the aim to strengthen the trade relation between the Netherlands and Japan. Since then, it has grown into a large networking organization with a member community of over 170 companies.

We are pleased to invite you to celebrate our 40 year anniversary with us on Monday 22 January, at Theater Amsterdam. For this event, it is our honor to welcome H.E. Mr. Hiroshi Minami, Ambassador of Japan to the Netherlands, and Mr. Maarten Smidts, Director of Top Sectors and Industrial Policy at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate as our guest speakers.

In addition, we will have a special programme in store that highlights the history and future of Dujat, followed by a networking reception and a walking dinner.

It will not only be an opportunity to celebrate 40 years Dujat and the development of the relation between Japan and the Netherlands, but of course to also wish each other a happy new year. We hope to see you there!

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: NOSNu.nlNHKNikkeiJapanToday