Biweekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 49 & 50, 2023

This newsletter was shared with Dujat members on 19-12-2023. The next newsletter was sent out today.
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Update on Japan

The Chinese character meaning “tax” has been chosen as the kanji that best describes this year in Japan.

An association based in Kyoto that promotes the use of kanji characters announced the result of its annual poll in a calligraphy performance at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto City on Tuesday 19 Decemner.

Chief priest Mori Seihan wrote the kanji “zei” on a large sheet of Japanese washi paper.

The character received 5,976 votes, the most among the 147,878 entries, from 1 November to 6 December.

This is the second time that “zei” has been chosen in the poll, following 2014, when consumption tax hikes were implemented.

Association officials say the character was chosen because debates on tax hikes were held through the year. They say discussions also took place on income tax cuts, the introduction of an invoice system and on tightening rules of the “furusato nozei” tax donation scheme.

Japan is investing about 13 trillion yen, or over 90 billion dollars, to promote decarbonization efforts in the private sector. It will issue so-called green transformation bonds to cover the cost.

The government says part of the money will go toward helping steel, chemical and other sectors with large carbon footprints transition to equipment that emits fewer greenhouse gasses.

Officials say they will allocate more than 3 billion dollars to this over the next five years, and more than 9 billion over 10 years.

The government also plans to help cover the price difference between fossil fuels and next-generation energy sources such as hydrogen.

The investment in this will likely total more than 3 billion dollars over the next five years, and 21 billion dollars over 15 years.

The government also plans to assist other industries, such as storage batteries, semiconductors and nuclear power generation. Officials plan to include some of the total costs in the draft budget for fiscal 2024.

A flying taxi was tested near the 2025 World Exposition site in Osaka in line with plans to offer airborne cab services at the event.

The project, backed by the ministry of industry and Japan Airlines, used a German-made vehicle for the manned trial earlier this week. JAL heads one of the groups planning to offer flying cab services during the expo.

JAL officials say they plan to use a different vehicle for the actual services at the expo, but will use takeoff and landing data from the trial.

Kunezaki Masato of Japan Airlines said, “We were able to fly the vehicle safely, so we want to realize the flight at the expo using the know-how we acquired from this operation.”

Four groups, including those headed by ANA Holdings and SkyDrive, plan to provide airborne cab services at the expo.

Safety standards for flying taxis are still under discussion and remain a key challenge to starting such services.

Engineers at Central Japan Railway are developing a train that runs on hydrogen fuel cells and produces zero carbon dioxide emissions. The company says the use of such clean energy can help decarbonize the railway industry.

JR Central demonstrated the technology at a research facility in Aichi Prefecture on Monday. Engineers tested the train on a railway track to check it had sufficient power to run and accelerate.

The cells generate electricity from the chemical reaction between hydrogen fuel and oxygen. They emit only water. The train also gets power from storage batteries.

The company says the goal of the research is to develop hydrogen-powered trains to replace diesel-fueled models now in use.
Tanaka Hidemitsu of Central Japan Railway said “To decarbonize the industry it is necessary to reduce use of diesel engines.”

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike expressed the city’s intention to make high school tuition in the area free of charge for all students, regardless of their family income, during a meeting of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on Monday (4 December).

“Within the current environment, child-rearing families face many worries, including feeling anxious about the future,” Koike said. “By doing something drastic, such as making high school tuition effectively free of charge or reducing the burden of school lunches, we are aiming to fully support child-rearing families in a swift manner.”

Under the current system, for families who reside in Tokyo with an annual income of less than ¥9.1 million, a national fund offers a subsidy of up to ¥118,800 for students in public schools and, combined with the aid from the city, offers up to ¥475,000 for students in private schools — essentially making high school tuition free for low income households.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the average cost of tuition at private high schools in Tokyo stands at ¥483,311 this fiscal year. But when combined with other expenses, such as one-off enrollment fees, the average amount of money needed for the first school year is ¥956,918.

Koike expressed her intention to abolish the income limit for the tuition aid, meaning that all households in Tokyo, regardless of income, would be able to send their children to both public and private high schools.

Although details of the plan are yet to be hashed out, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed that they intend to carry out discussions toward expanding the aid system to cover more students. Details of whether or not this aid would cover students in vocational or international schools remains unclear.

Koike stated that she aims to have the plan in place by the 2024 fiscal year, noting that she is looking to make a move ahead of the national government.

“I will also work to have the national government, with their responsibility, offer better support toward child-rearing families,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Osaka Prefectural Government decided on a plan — a first of its kind in the nation — that would offer free high school tuition regardless of household income, which they plan to begin from the 2026 fiscal year. Most prefectures currently have income limits in place to determine which households can receive financial assistance.

Regarding Tokyo’s declaration, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said in a news conference on Tuesday that the government is working to offer more comprehensive support to child-rearing households.

“It’s important that baseline aid from the national government is coupled with support from local municipalities,” said Matsuno. “As a country, we will continue to work with various prefectures to reduce the financial burden of high school level education.”

Update on the Netherlands

The Dutch word for grabflation (“Graaiflatie”) was named Word of the Year 2023. No less than 65% of the almost 15,000 votes chose the word.

This year’s Word of the Year is an economic term with a negative meaning, editors-in-chief Ton den Boon and Ruud Hendrickx of Dikke Van Dale said on Tuesday about the term. “It’s a kind of taking advantage of inflation.” 

According to Van Dale, the definition of grabflation (grab + inflation) is “inflation that is driven by corporations using excessive price increases as a means to increase revenue and boost their profits”. Another translation used for the word is “Greedflation”. 

Vreugdebier finished in second place. Van Dale describes that term as “beer that (football) supporters throw onto the field from the stands because they are happy with a goal”.

Nepobaby is in third place. A nepobaby is “someone who is said to owe his job, especially in the entertainment or creative industries, to his famous parents who also work in the industry.”

According to Van Dale, the reason why grabflation is such a popular word is because everyone has to deal with it.

The ten nominations were based on submissions from the Dutch public.The title has been awarded annually since 2007. These are words that suddenly appeared in the past year and are therefore related to current events.  “Graaiflatie” was also selected as the word of the year in Belgium.

The Amsterdam city council considers the Europaboulevard in Amsterdam South to be the most suitable location for the new erotic center. The center must replace some of the window prostitution in the Red Light District, so that the nuisance there decreases.

Mayor Femke Halsema announced in a letter to the city council on Monday that the city council considers the location on Europaboulevard to be the most suitable. The center should be located just off the A10 at the Buitenveldert exit. The research also looked at the NDSM shipyard in Amsterdam North and another location in South, near the RAI.

The possible arrival of an erotic center caused a lot of protest last year from residents of the locations investigated. The city council chooses this location because it has the fewest disadvantages. Due to its location close to the A10 and Amsterdam RAI station, the place is easily accessible. The site is also not immediately next to a residential area and the area is “a strong, socially resilient neighborhood compared to the other areas surveyed in the city”.

The erotic center should have room for a hundred sex workers. When the center is completed, the number of prostitution windows in the Red Light District will decrease. In this way, the municipal council wants to reduce nuisance in the Red Light District. The neighborhood has been asking for years to do something about the nuisance. The erotic center must also ensure that the workplaces of sex workers become safer.

In addition to prostitution, the center also has room for catering, entertainment and culture. Visitors must enter through a secure entrance. For example, the city council wants to combat viewing tourism and ban groups that cause nuisance.

Residents of South and North protested against the arrival of the center last year. Local residents in the South fear nuisance, unsafe situations and traffic congestion. They made their dissatisfaction known at well-attended information meetings. Some opponents are not only against the location of the center, but want the center not to be built at all.

Mayor Halsema understands the concerns about the quality of life of local residents and calls the choice of a suitable location “a particularly difficult task”. But Halsema believes the center is an important means of combating nuisance in the city center.

There is also dissatisfaction among sex workers in the Red Light District. Some people think that their workplace in the Red Light District is safer than that in the new center. They would prefer the municipality to take harder action to make the Red Light District safer. But there are also sex workers who are in favor of the new erotic center.

Early next year, the Amsterdam city council will vote on the arrival of the center. A majority of the city council is expected to support the arrival of the center. The city council thinks that the construction of the center will take seven years.

Mental health care is in such bad shape that patients, psychiatrists and mental health institutions are asking the next government to intervene. In a letter to the informant, the interest groups come up with three solutions to prevent the sector from further decline.

MIND, NIP, NVvP and the Dutch mental health service argue that investments must be made in mental health in society, so that fewer people need help. The inflow is now increasing sharply. The number of people with mental complaints increased by 53% between 2009 and 2021, while the budget for mental health care increased by 11%. There are now 80,000 people on a waiting list.

According to the organizations, it is also important to make the sector attractive to employees. Healthcare workers spend a large part of their treatment time on administration and experience a high workload. In 2021, there were 4,800 vacancies in the sector. If nothing changes, that number will rise to 11,200 in 2030, the interest groups warn.

The four organizations also believe that the healthcare system should become simpler, with better financing and less market forces. Now a third of mental health institutions are writing red figures.

The sector has raised the alarm more often in recent years. The mental health service already said in 2021 that it would not be possible to eliminate the long waiting lists. The absenteeism rate among staff at the time was also already 6% and an estimated 3,000 employees were ill for a long period of time.

Hiring more people is not enough to solve the problems, said Jan Derksen, professor of psychodiagnostics at Radboud University, said last year “In the long term, we must do more about education and against stress in society. We must ensure that people are not so vulnerable.”

Increased concentrations of pfas have been found in a ditch between Rotterdam airport and the adjacent vegetable gardens. The GGD therefore advises not to eat fruit or vegetables from those vegetable gardens for the time being.

Pfas is a collective name for substances that can be harmful to people and the environment. Owners of the vegetable gardens are advised not to use ditch water to water their crops, to wear gloves while gardening and to wash their hands afterwards.

Increased concentrations of pfas have also been found around the fire brigade training site at the airport complex. The reason for the increased concentrations in the area is probably an extinguishing agent that the fire brigade used in incidents at the airport until 2020. That contained pfas, according to the management of Rotterdam The Hague Airport (RTHA).

According to RTHA management, the elevated values ​​do not pose an acute risk. “Additional measurements are needed to draw conclusions from this.” A follow-up study will be completed in the first quarter of 2024.

An information meeting will be held by the airport on 19 December. Members of the vegetable garden association and the pony club, which is also located next to the polluted ditch, have been invited to this event. According to the GGD, it is not yet clear to what extent the increased pfas values ​​are harmful to animals that drink water from the environment.

Dutch consumers hardly made any more online purchases in the third quarter. They bought much less clothing and electronics, but spent considerably more on holiday bookings than a year earlier.

In the months of July, August and September, consumers spent 7.4 billion euros on online purchases. That is 4% more than a year earlier, according to research by market researcher GfK. The number of purchases grew much less rapidly at 1%.

It is striking that we skimp on products. We bought 2% less of this than in the third quarter of 2022. Clothing (-13%) and electronics (-5%) in particular end up in the online shopping cart less often.

Consumers are more eager to pay for holiday bookings. They spent 32% more on package holidays and 20% more on individual airline tickets and accommodation. According to the researchers, this is mainly due to last-minute bookings for the autumn holidays.

Yet it is not the case that we go on holiday that often. There are also other causes for this extra spending, says Marlene ten Ham of “We see that online spending on travel is increasing faster than the number of online travel purchases (+6%.). This may be due to inflation, but also because people opt for more expensive trips than before.”

The researchers see that Dutch consumers are increasingly finding foreign online stores. They cross the border digitally more often not only for plane tickets and stays abroad, but also for toys and clothing.

According to Dutch municipalities, local fireworks bans make little sense if there is no national ban. Many municipalities abandon a fireworks ban or fireworks-free zones because it is difficult to enforce.

With New Year’s Eve approaching, the ANP asked all municipalities about fireworks rules. Of the 342 municipalities, more than 150 responded.

About 50 municipalities said they have established fireworks-free zones. 16 municipalities have imposed a general ban that applies to the entire municipality. About 90 municipalities do not have fireworks-free areas.

Municipalities face the problem that it is difficult to enforce a ban. “As long as there is no national ban on the sale, purchase and lighting of consumer fireworks, and it is also easy to buy illegal fireworks, a local ban will unfortunately not help to reduce the nuisance,” the municipality of Almelo said. There are no fireworks-free zones in the city of Twente.

Other municipalities also find a national ban more effective, such as The Hague, where smaller fireworks-free zones have been established. “A national fireworks ban provides more clarity to residents, sellers and enforcers and is therefore more effective.”

Municipalities also say that it is difficult to penalize people when fireworks are set off. This is because enforcers must see a violation in order to hand out penalties. Since many municipalities have too few enforcers, the chance of being caught is very small.

The enforcement problem is a reason for some municipalities not to support a national ban, as long as sufficient enforcement cannot be guaranteed.

The municipalities that have imposed a local fireworks ban recognize that enforcement is difficult. But they have imposed a ban anyway, with the aim of combating nuisance.

This year, for the first time, a fireworks ban applies in the city of Tilburg in Brabant. “Our priority is to ensure that the ambulance and fire brigade people can do their work properly.” If a fireworks fountain is lit at the same time in the same street and a fight breaks out, enforcement officers always give priority to the fight, the municipality says.

With the ban, these municipalities mainly want to contribute to a change in behavior regarding fireworks. And that change takes time. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” a spokesperson for the Gelderland municipality of Heumen told the ANP.

129 municipalities responded to the question from the ANP whether they were in favor of a national fireworks ban. 39 municipalities said they support a national ban, 17 municipalities are against a ban and 73 municipalities are neutral.

Municipalities that are in favor of a ban say they are concerned about injuries and damage. Municipalities that are against a ban believe that lighting fireworks is a tradition that should be changed as little as possible.

Border municipalities also doubt whether a national fireworks ban is effective, because many fireworks are also purchased in Germany and Belgium.

Update on Dujat & Members

© Twycer /

On Monday 11 December, 2023, Ms Hilde van der Meer, Commissioner of NFIA, presented the Deshima Netherlands Awards 2023 at the Dujat December Dinner.

The award in the category ‘well-established’ was presented to YANMAR Europe / ELEO and the award for ‘newcomer’ went to Sekisui Design Studio. Congratulations! For more information about the awards, the winners and other nominees, please click here.

With a record number of 470 guests, it was also the biggest Dujat December Dinner so far which highlights the grow of the Dutch-Japanese business community. Next year’s dinner will take place on Monday 9 December 2024: save the date! 

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.nlNHKThe Japan TimesJapanToday