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Update on Japan
Last Saturday marked one week since a bomb was thrown toward Prime Minister Kishida Fumio during an election campaign event in western Japan, on Saturday 15 April. The Prime Minister was unharmed after the attack.
The Japanese police plan to thoroughly review security arrangements following the second attack on a VIP in less than a year since the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.
After the attack on Abe in July, the National Police Agency renewed its rules for VIP protection. Some say lessons were learned from the case, as this time, a police officer quickly shoved the explosive device away and evacuated Kishida from the fishing port where he was campaigning. The prime minister was unharmed. But others say the police must seriously reflect on the fact that they allowed a suspicious person to enter the venue and throw a bomb.
Police sources say the officers guarding Kishida momentarily stepped aside as he walked toward the podium. They say this created an unguarded space between the prime minister and the crowd that had gathered for his speech. They say the officers remained on the alert during the period, facing the audience. But none of them, including the officers positioned within the crowd, noticed the suspect just 10 meters away from Kishida until the bomb was thrown.
No baggage checks were conducted at the site. The police will study why they were unable to prevent the incident, as they review security arrangements at events that draw an unspecified number of people.
On 22 April, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed his gratitude in person to fishermen for seizing the suspect who hurled an explosive device at him on April 15 in this west Japan city. Kishida met the fishermen and others at a hotel in the city of Wakayama and told them, “Not only me, but many others would also have been in danger if things took a wrong turn. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for your courage and action.”
In front of the fishermen and others, Kishida said, “You helped us seize the perpetrator at the risk of your own lives.” He also expressed his sympathy to a man who had sustained a graze on his back at the scene of the incident. He also promised to promote the fishing port, saying, “The image of Saikazaki must not be damaged. Once things settle down, I would like to visit Saikazaki again.”
Japan looks to expand the range of foreign workers eligible to stay in the country longer under visas for skilled labor, aiming to stem a potential exodus under the current program.
The “specified skilled worker” visa implemented in 2019 grants residence status to foreigners employed in 12 fields. Nine of those fields have a maximum residency of five years. Those in construction, shipbuilding and nursing care may receive visas that can be renewed indefinitely.
The proposed changes, which could receive cabinet approval in June and take effect next year, would give foreign workers in all 12 fields access to visas with no limit on renewals, as well as a path to permanent residency.
Japanese companies hire foreign workers under two general frameworks. One is the visa granted to highly skilled professionals such as engineers, who possess advanced expertise or technical skills. The other category covers jobs such as those in manufacturing, agriculture and construction. This framework includes technical trainees and those hired under the specified skilled worker visa.
Japan plans to scrap the technical trainee program and expand the specified skill visa path. Many former trainees apply for the specified skill visa, and this change would let workers develop their skills while staying in Japan for longer periods.
On Monday, officials from the Immigration Bureau met with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, conveying that multiple government agencies favor expanding the number of sectors eligible for long-term specified skilled worker visas.
Such revisions to this visa program are expected to be enacted around May 2024. That coincides with the first recipients of these visas hitting their maximum length of residency. Without changes, many workers will be forced to return to their countries of origin.
Given Japan’s labor shortage, reaching the government’s economic growth target for 2040 would require nearly quadrupling the number of foreign workers to 6.74 million, the Japan International Cooperation Agency estimates. Declining birthrates in several countries including Japan suggest that the competition for foreign workers will escalate.
Japan appears to be losing shine for foreign workers on the slow rise in wages. By comparison, unskilled employees can work up to 12 years in Taiwan, or 14 years in nursing care. South Korea grants permanent residency to foreigners who meet income and language requirements.
Major Japanese retailer Aeon will increase hourly wages for part timers by an average of 7% as early as March, as the economic recovery from the coronavirus intensifies competition for the country’s workers.
Aeon is Japan’s largest employer of part timers, and is believed to be responsible for around 2% of all domestic irregular workers. Its decision could trigger further hikes across industry lines for such laborers.
The plan will affect around 400,000 workers across 147 subsidiaries, who make up around 80% of the group’s domestic employees. Aeon’s annual part-time pay, which stands at around 1.2 million yen (€8,120), is expected to expand by an average of around 80,000 yen as a result. Aeon’s planned raise outpaces Japan’s December inflation rate of 4%, as well as the 5% hike that UA Zensen — a federation of unions at retail stores, restaurants and other businesses — seeks in spring labor negotiations.
The decision comes amid a growing competition for workers in Japan. Aeon currently pays part timers around 1,000 yen an hour on average. But openings for cashiers in the Tokyo area offered an average of 1,015 yen, according to a study conducted by a supermarket industry group last year.
“We want to secure the people we need to remain competitive” by offering higher pay, Aeon said.
The wage boost is expected to cost Aeon 30 billion yen or more per year. In order to lessen the blow, the retailer plans to expand profits by installing more self-checkout machines and streamlining operations at its stores, as well as by growing sales of store-brand items with higher margins.
Some companies have also started making similar moves. Oriental Land, which operates the Tokyo Disney Resort, will lift part-time pay by 80 yen per hour in April, to between 1,140 yen and 1,530 yen.
Non-regular workers earn around 60% of what full-time counterparts make per month in Japan, according to data from the labor ministry. Raises for such workers could provide a boon for lower-income households, which are disproportionately impacted by the rapid rise in consumer prices.
The Japanese government has formed a team to create a strategy for using artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT to make administrative tasks more efficient while setting ground rules.
The team held its first meeting Monday, including representatives from relevant ministries and agencies. Members agreed that generative AI will not be given access to sensitive information and that precautions will be taken against other risks, such as privacy breaches. So-called generative AI is being eyed to help in various applications, such as in drafting responses ahead of parliamentary hearings or anticipating questions in news conferences.
“AI has entered a new phase,” said Hideki Murai, a special adviser to the prime minister and the head of the strategy team. Murai said Japan seeks to move ahead with using AI in government while maintaining an awareness of the risks and the international context.
Monday’s meeting was organized by the Cabinet Office and included the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications; and the government’s digital affairs and privacy agencies.
Some government bodies have been independently exploring the use of generative AI. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to use ChatGPT to update online instructions on filling out applications for certain services. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications will soon pilot using generative AI to streamline work.
“In the future, AI could become a powerful tool to help make processes more efficient,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister of economy, trade and industry, to reporters Friday.
The advent of generative AI has raised concerns over safeguarding privacy and intellectual property. Some Japanese officials have taken a cautious view toward using ChatGPT for personal and corporate data. Tottori Prefecture Gov. Shinji Hirai has banned the use of ChatGPT in his administration.
“I will not delegate matters relating to local government decision-making to a machine,” Hirai told a news conference last Thursday.
Hokkaido Prefecture Gov. Naomichi Suzuki has said that his government has no plans to use generative AI and that “it needs to be handled with caution.” The national strategy team will examine the potential of having private-sector companies adopt AI.
The U.S. and China have emerged as leaders in generative AI software. Along with Microsoft-backed OpenAI — the company behind ChatGPT — Google, Baidu and Alibaba Group Holding have built their own rival tools.
Besides the need to ensure that such tools can work with the Japanese language, experts here raise other concerns. Ichiro Satoh, a professor at the National Institute of Informatics, has called for common rules on generative AI across government agencies.
“If generative AI becomes integrated into existing applications, it may become impossible to distinguish where AI was involved with the work,” he said.
Japanese LGBTQ activist groups delivered a statement to the government on Friday 21 April, urging that Japan enact an anti-discrimination law and legalize same-sex marriages ahead of a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations being hosted by Japan in May.
Japan is the only G7 country that does not recognize same-sex marriage or provide other equal rights protections for LGBTQ people. Calls for an enactment of an anti-discrimination law and other legal protections have increased since an aide to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida remarked in February that he wouldn’t want to live next to LGBTQ people and that citizens would flee Japan if same-sex marriage were allowed.
The remarks triggered public outrage, and Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party has begun preparing legislation that would promote awareness of LGBTQ rights but not mandate them. Some conservatives have shown resistance to the proposed bill and progress is uncertain.
Activists see the upcoming G7 summit as a chance to push their cause, which they hope to have included in the leaders’ joint statement.
Three groups spearheading the drive organized a conference in March at which they formulated a statement that they submitted Friday to Masako Mori, the government’s special adviser in charge of promoting LGBTQ awareness. It urges the government to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities, instead of merely promoting awareness of the issue.
“Enactment of awareness promotion is far from the global standard. Even an anti-discrimination law is just a first step,” said Yuichi Kamiya, executive director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation. After meeting with Mori on Friday, the activists said she showed understanding and promised to give the statement to Kishida.
Activists say Japan’s conservative government has stonewalled the push for equal rights, which they say is supported by the general public. Support for LGBTQ people has slowly increased in Japan, while recent surveys show that most Japanese back legalizing same-sex marriage.
On Thursday, Kishida told a group of journalists from G7 member countries, including The Associated Press, that Japan promotes policies to achieve an inclusive and diverse society, but that whether to allow same-sex marriage requires careful consideration.
“An introduction of same-sex marriage is an issue that affects the foundation of the people’s lives and family values of each individual. I consider this an issue that broadly affects all nationals,” Kishida said. “It is important to take into consideration views among all levels of the public, legal actions related to same-sex marriage, and the extent of (alternative) partnership systems on municipal levels.”
Kishida said he hoped to deepen discussion of the issue in parliament, and added that each country has different backgrounds and issues to consider.
Update on the Netherlands
The Dutch online payment system iDEAL is taken over by EPI, an initiative of a number of major European banks. EPI is working on a single payment platform for the whole of Europe, of which iDEAL is the ‘starting point’.
The European Payments Initiative (EPI), in which major banks from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium work together, is taking over iDEAL BV from Currence, which manages the online payment system for Dutch banks. EPI will look at how iDEAL best fits into the goal of developing one uniform payment standard for Europe. The amount of money involved in the acquisition has not been disclosed.
“The start of a new international adventure,” says Currence CEO Daniël van Delft about the takeover. According to him, several large French and German banks see the Dutch payment system as the ‘most suitable starting point’ to work on ‘the strongest possible basis’ for the European payment system.
More than 1.2 billion payments are made annually in the Netherlands via iDEAL. About 70 percent of all payments at webshops in our country are paid with the system. For the time being, nothing will change for Dutch iDEAL users.
In addition to iDEAL, EPI is also acquiring the Luxembourg payment company Payconiq International (PQI). Both acquisitions are still subject to regulatory approval.
After ING previously joined EPI, ABN Amro and Rabobank have now also become shareholders. Other EPI shareholders include major French banks such as BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, La Banque Postale and Société Générale, Belgium’s KBC and Deutsche Bank. Talks are still ongoing with more major European banks. An earlier attempt by European banks to develop a joint payment system failed.
The parties behind EPI are now joining forces to work on a single payment platform for Europe, with the aim of ‘increasing efficiency through direct and instant payments between bank accounts’. The new payment platform can form a European alternative to the payment solutions of parties such as Apple, Google, PayPal and credit card companies.
According to EPI, the plan is in line with the strategy of the European Commission and should make Europe a ‘world leader in payment innovations’. “EPI will leverage the strong operational experience, know-how and local market knowledge of iDEAL and PQI. We are developing a new, scalable platform to best meet modern and evolving payment needs,” said EPI CEO Martina Weimert.
EPI is working on a digital wallet for payments, similar to Apple Pay and Google Pay, and instant account-to-account payment systems. First, payments from person to person will be possible. The first pilot will be carried out in Belgium, France and Germany at the end of this year. Expansion to other countries will happen ‘at a later stage’.
This is followed by payments ‘from individuals to professionals’, for example for paying a window cleaner. EPI then expands the payment platform to online and mobile payments. In time, payments in shops will also be possible.
A new electricity connection will be built between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. For the first time, a Dutch offshore wind farm is directly linked to this.
The undersea cable LionLink has a length of about 250 kilometers. It will be able to supply two million households with electricity around 2030, expects Minister Rob Jetten (Climate and Energy). Jetten and his British colleague Grant Shapps will present the power cable on Monday afternoon at a North Sea summit in Ostend, Belgium.
Grid operator TenneT and its British counterpart National Grid are developing the cable. “The North Sea will become the largest supplier of green electricity for the Netherlands and large parts of Europe,” says Minister Jetten. “Close cooperation in offshore wind energy and interconnections between North Sea countries are essential in this respect.”
The new connection not only supplies electricity, but can also reduce CO2 emissions. “If there is a surplus of wind energy, it can immediately be shared with countries with a power shortage and vice versa,” says Jetten.
Connecting wind farms via the first cross-border power cable of this size is a new step towards an integrated network in the North Sea. The Netherlands will continue to focus on offshore wind energy in the coming years. The physical space and ecological impact are also taken into account.
Another seventeen Dutch restaurants received a Michelin star on Monday 24 April. The Amsterdam restaurant Vinkeles has acquired a second one. De Librije in Zwolle and Inter Scaldes in Kruiningen in Zeeland retain their three stars. This means that the Netherlands now has 125 starred restaurants.
Maastricht has three newcomers: Château Neercanne, Au Coin Des Bons Enfants and Studio. Amsterdam also has three newcomers with Vanderveen, Bistro de la Mer and Coulisse. In Utrecht, two restaurants have been added with Karel 5 and Maeve.
In addition, LIZZ in Gouda, Flavours in Weert, Brass Boer Thuis in Zwolle, Central Park in Voorburg, Restaurant Smink in Wolvega, Codium in Goes, De Woage in Gramsbergen, Yama in Rotterdam and Basilica in Harderwijk received a star. Nadine Mögling received the award for the best sommelier of the year. She works in star restaurant Bij Jef in Den Hoorn on Texel.
The so-called green stars were also awarded for the third time to restaurants that are leaders in the field of sustainability. Four restaurants were the lucky ones. Two of them are located in Koudekerke: Hof Aan Zee and Morille. Rotonde in Rotterdam and De Dyck in Woubrugge also won a green star.
Last year, 94 restaurants received one Michelin star and 21 establishments were awarded two stars. Three restaurants then received a green star.
A Michelin star is a globally recognized award for restaurants with excellent cuisine and excellent service. Three stars is the highest score.
As of 2025, the NS may vary the prices of train tickets, for example for travel during rush hours or on certain routes. This is stated in a letter from State Secretary Heijnen (Infrastructure) to the House of Representatives. Whether there will be a separate rate for the rush hour is not yet certain.
A rush-hour charge could lead to less traffic in the morning and evening rush hours and better spread of passenger traffic throughout the day. The Dutch Railways will also be given the opportunity to charge higher prices on busy routes, so that there will be money to use more or longer trains. Conditions will be attached to a rush hour charge, says the State Secretary.
For years, train passengers have been able to purchase a discount season ticket for travel outside rush hours. The Dutch Railways (NS) will now have the option of making travel during rush hours more expensive. The government is also looking into whether NS needs more financial support to properly implement the main rail network, the most important rail connections in the Netherlands, in the coming years.
There are agreements with NS until 2025, but new agreements must be made for a new permit for the period after that. The NS has still not recovered from the loss that occurred during the corona period. In order to make the company financially healthy again, State Secretary Heijnen is prepared to waive compensation for the main rail network at certain times in the new permit. Subsidies are also an option.
The State Secretary emphasizes, however, that more research is needed first. After the summer, it will submit a final plan for the new permit to the House. NS now pays 80 million euros per year for the permit.
Fewer people are still traveling by train than before the corona pandemic. The increased costs of energy, personnel, equipment and maintenance are also playing tricks on NS. “This has led to a financial shortfall that requires solutions,” Heijnen writes to the House. She writes that it will also be examined “how the timetable is adapted to a changing transport demand”. In practice, this means that fewer trains may run at quieter times.
The State Secretary emphasizes that NS must continue to cut costs and also writes that it is not yet clear which measures are necessary to cover the financial shortfall. According to European guidelines, agreements on new concessions must be made before December 25 of this year.
Travelers association Rover calls the reports about the rush-hour charge worrying. “A teacher cannot stand in front of the class later because the train has become unaffordable,” says Rover director Freek Bos. “The climate and housing tasking requires that the use of trains and buses should increase. Chasing travelers out of rush hours rather causes the opposite.”
Bos also does not understand why there is talk of reducing the timetable. “Paying more for less is the beginning of a downward spiral for the train,” he says. The travelers association wants the cabinet to stop “the demolition of public transport” and to focus on the growth of the number of train passengers.
Advertising for online gambling will be permanently banned as of 1 July. The law forbids untargeted advertising for online games of chance on radio and TV and on billboards in the street. This should prevent gambling addiction among young adults and vulnerable people.
Minister Franc Weerwind of Legal Protection thus responds to the House of Representatives, which has been pushing for stricter rules for some time.
Sponsorship for online games of chance will soon also no longer be allowed, for example in TV programs or at sports clubs. There will be a transitional period for this, so that sports clubs, for example, can look for other sponsors. From 1 July, 2024, it is no longer allowed for TV programs and events. Sponsoring sports clubs, for example with shirt advertising, is no longer allowed from 1 July 2025. Advertising via the internet remains permitted, for example on social media, but under strict conditions.
Since October 2021, online gambling has been legal in the Netherlands. There was immediately a lot of advertising for the gambling companies. Often with well-known names, such as former football players Andy van der Meijde and Wesley Sneijder.
Well-known Dutch people have not been allowed to advertise gambling companies since June last year. Now there is a law that will restrict it completely. When this law comes into effect, the providers of games of chance must actively prevent advertising from reaching young people under the age of 24 or other vulnerable groups.
SP Member of Parliament Michiel van Nispen, who encouraged the ban, is pleased that it will now actually be implemented. “The interests of the people of society are finally being put above those of big money.” Van Nispen regrets that the minister is sticking to the transitional period for sports sponsorship. “It may continue until mid-2025. So until then, youth idols may continue to walk around the field as walking advertising columns for this addictive activity.”
ChristenUnie leader Mirjam Bikker says about the ban: “Finally, that wave of irritating gambling commercials is coming to an end. Too many people, and certainly also young people, become addicted in silence, with all the misery that entails. We want the money-hungry gambling industry, which force themselves unscrupulously on vulnerable people, stop as soon as possible. Today we celebrate the success of firmly curbing their advertising. We can’t wait for the ban on shirt sponsorship and sports venues to come into effect. What England can do, we can do too.”
Update on Dujat & Members
We are pleased to welcome 5 new Dujat members since the last announcement: GLOBIS Europe BV, Krosaki Europe BV, Honorary Consulate Japan Rotterdam, Van Doorne N.V., and Willemsen Business Management B.V. We look forward to introducing them to our network at our upcoming events!
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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Sources: Nu.nl, NOS, RTL Nieuws, NHK, Nikkei, JapanToday, Mainichi