Weekly Update: News on Japan & the Netherlands – Week 16, 2020

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Akihabara and Tokyo Business District after Tokyo State Of Emergency was declared. Click here to also have a look at the usually crowded Harajuku Takeshita Street.

Update on Japan

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan stood at 8,100 on the morning of Wednesday 15 April, health officials said, with a total of 146 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • On Wednesday 15 April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his government considers providing ¥100,000 (€851,12) in cash per person without setting an income limit, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.”Since a state of emergency was declared by the government (on 7 April), we’ve entered a different phase, its impact on the economy and society spreading further,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters after meeting with Abe. He was the one to suggest the cash handout program. Komeito is the junior coalition partner of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.On Tuesday, Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary general of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, proposed a similar plan to distribute 100,000 yen per person but by limiting recipients depending on their income levels.

    The government has already decided to give 300,000 yen to households suffering from income drops due to the spread of the coronavirus as part of the country’s largest-ever 108 trillion yen economic stimulus package. But critics say the scheme is not clear-cut in terms of which households are eligible.

    To strengthen support for struggling households and businesses, the government plans to submit a supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 to the Diet next week and have it approved on 22 April. Another extra budget would have to be compiled if Abe decides to launch the proposed 100,000 yen cash handout program.

  • Medium-sized firms in a range of industries across Japan are marshaling their technologies and know-how to produce high-quality, washable masks to meet soaring demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.Among those firms is apparel company Lifestyle Accent Inc. in Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, which has launched masks using fiber materials from washi, or traditional Japanese paper. It says this kind of material helps masks feel less stuffy and that they can be washed just like clothing items such as T-shirts.Mitsufuji Corp. from Seika in Kyoto Prefecture has invented masks using its unique silver-metalized materials, which has deodorizing and antibacterial effects. Named “hamon AG” and priced at 3,300 yen, it has strong durability and can withstand being washed more than 50 times.

    “We wanted to do something with the technology we have in a situation where many people are in trouble, unable to find masks,” a Mitsufuji spokesperson said about the product, which is made at its plant in Kawamata in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima. Having sold out once in mid-March after putting the product on sale, the company has ramped up production and orders can again be made at its website. Delivery is expected to take several weeks.

    On 1 April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to deliver two cloth masks per family, although several citizens mocked the plan, calling it “Abenomask” (Abe’s mask) in a pun on his signature economic policy called Abenomics. Others have called it “a waste of taxpayer money.”

    While wearing cloth masks is believed to have only limited effect in preventing infection with the virus, it is thought to be effective in not spreading it through airborne droplets when one coughs or sneezes.

  • Many Japanese people were still going to work on Monday, the first business day since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a 70% reduction in commuters to curb new coronavirus infections. Wearing facemasks they were still heading out as usual.Some workers voiced difficulty in following Abe’s request due to the nature of their jobs, while others said they could not do everything at home, although they have already started teleworking. Tokyo’s JR Shimbashi Station, normally bustling with business people, was quieter than usual in the morning.To lift the state of emergency in a month, Abe has said people need to reduce contact with others by as much as 80%. On Saturday, he asked companies to promote teleworking to achieve the needed 70% cut in commuters.

    A growing number of companies are switching to teleworking amid the spread of the virus, though Japan Inc. has been slow to adopt the practice. In Tokyo’s Marunouchi business and commercial district, many shops were closed with few people seen walking the streets.

    “I’ve shifted to teleworking, but I need to go to the office once a week, which is today,” said a 57-year-old public servant whose work involves disaster relief.

    “We cannot reduce the number of people who will be put in charge of support (if a natural disaster occurs),” he said.

  • With blunt warnings, flip-charts and daily online briefings, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has been delivering a tough message to the Japanese capital’s residents and shops: stay home and shut down to avert an explosive outbreak of the virus.Koike’s sterner stance has also pushed other governors to call on businesses to close despite the central government urging them to wait, a rare move in a country where national politicians are typically the ones to rule”It is rare for governors to resist national government orders,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University.”I thought governors would get authority akin to a CEO but… I feel more like a middle manager,” Koike said after winning a battle to ask pachinko parlors to close, but bowing to pressure to keep barbershops and home-furnishing centers open.

    Abe has stressed the need to avoid going out and urged businesses to allow telework, aiming at the earlier mentioned 80% reduction in person-to-person contact.

    But his government has been reluctant to push for broad business closures for fear of further damage to an economy that was already on the verge of recession before the outbreak. Many businesses have called for direct compensation for lost revenue if they close, a cost that the government is wary of shouldering.

  • Japan may see new hirings slow and job losses increase, particularly among service-sector firms struggling to cope with the intensifying pain of the crisis, according to an analysis of survey data by a private think-tank.Dai-ichi Life Research Institute conducted the analysis on the government’s March confidence survey, involving taxi drivers, hotel and restaurant staff – who are known as “economy watchers”. The analysis, using a technic known as “text mining”, showed that the word “job” was frequently used in combination with the word “adjustment”.The combination of the terms “hiring activity” and”stagnation” also appeared many times in the survey. Both these combinations did not show up in the government’s February survey, a sign that the coronavirus may be forcing an increasing number of retailers to consider job cuts, Dai-ichi Life Research said in a report.

    Words like “subsidies” and “consulting for (government) help” were also used in tandem with the term “jobs” as frequently as when the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial crisis, the institute said.

    The economy-watchers survey, released last week, showed service sector sentiment hit a record low in March, as the coronavirus crisis prompted travel bans and hurt consumption in a major shock to the economy. Japan’s jobs data for March will be released on 28 April.

Montage of three states of an electronic sign giving COVID-19 directions near Azartplein in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The three states are ‘Stay inside’, ‘keeping a distance of 1.5 meters’ and ‘Fine = €390’.

Update on the Netherlands

  • The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands stood at 28,153 in the afternoon of Wednesday 15 April, health officials said, with a total of 3,134 people who lost their lives as a result of the disease.
  • Over 85,000 companies have applied for NOW. On Tuesday 14 April, The Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) wrote that after the Easter weekend the number has increased to 85.827 (which was still 78,769 on Friday). UWV also answered more than 12,000 questions about the emergency measure.The number of applications per day at the emergency counter is now steadily decreasing. The emergency desk opened last week on 6 April, when tens of thousands of companies already came to file their request. Within two days, the counter already passed 50,000 applications. In the meantime, about 36,000 have been added.Nearly 70,000 companies have already been paid money from the UWV, amounting to around 1.3 billion euros in total.
  • This year’s King’s Day celebrations on 27 April will be very different than usual, with no festivals, markets and parties. This year’s event will be designed to allow people to celebrate it from their home, with a heavily modified program which ends with a home toast, or: the ‘national toast’.”To the health of everyone, including our King Willem-Alexander,” said Pieter Verhoeve, president of The Royal Union of Orange Societies in the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bond van Oranjeverenigingen in Nederland, KBOV) and Mayor of Gouda. “Kings Day 2020 is all about togetherness,” he said on Tuesday evening. He and the KBOV, which has about 300 member associations, expressed their hope that as many people as possible will hang out a flag “for the king on his birthday, and for each other”.The unusual King’s Day starts at 9:45 AM with the bells ringing across the country. At 10:00 the King’s Day broadcast starts on TV with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Concertgebouworkest), which plays the Dutch National Anthem: ‘Het Wilhelmus’.”Our members suggested that it would be nice for people to sing along from doorways and balconies,” said Verhoeve. “After all, we are the only country in the world that has celebrated the birthday of the head of our state since the 19th century!”

    In the afternoon there will be an ‘internet market’ for clothes – although few details have yet been published of how this will work. In addition, children are being urged to write a digital letter to the king, wishing him a happy birthday and telling him about what the coronavirus crisis means to them.

  • According to Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science, the impact of the coronavirus particularly affects the cultural sector, which has been hit hard with the loss of this season.”The loss of turnover is many times greater than we can ever solve. We must also be realistic about that,” said Van Engelshoven about what she considers to be a “vital” cultural sector. “What I am aiming for is to support the sector in such a way that when we return to the ‘new normal’, there will be new demand as soon as possible and it will start working again.”
  • Eventure, an employment agency that specializes in supplying staff for events, parties and festivals, has already filed for bankruptcy. This was confirmed by director Rob Seveke to the Dutch online newspaper NU.nl.”One event after another is being canceled and expectations are very unfavorable in that respect,” said Seveke, who filed for bankruptcy last Friday. Eventure provided staff for major events such as Lowlands, Emporium and The Four Days Festivities (Vierdaagsefeesten). “These are the months we should be talking about, our season runs from March, April to October. We achieve 90% of our turnover in this,” said Seveke.Besides Eventure, several other firms have also already filed for bankruptcy. Among them are Sandwich Fashion Group, the wellness center Thermen Barendrecht, after running for 27 years, as well as various restaurants across the country.Statistics Netherlands (CBS) is keeping track of bankruptcies and publishes regular updates on their website (view here).
  • Various sectors in the Netherlands are working hard to prepare for the new so-called ‘1.5 meter society/economy’. As Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, it will be very unlikely that we can expect to go back to normal completely, even after we conclude the ‘intelligent lockdown’.One of the sectors that is eagerly looking forward to the relaxation of the rules is the catering industry. Restaurants and cafes had to close their doors quite suddenly mid-March, and many businesses in this sector have very few reserves to last long without income.”In fact, the Dutch cabinet has called on all entrepreneurs to come up with a plan for the 1.5 meter economy,” explained Vivian van der Wielen of the Dutch trade association for the hotel and catering industry (Koninklijke Horeca Nederland, KHN).

    An important question is how profitable it can be to run a café or restaurant at all if the number of customers remains very limited by the 1.5 meter measure. “Public health is what matters most, so one must always be responsible,” emphasized Van der Wielen.Meanwhile cinemas and theaters seem to run into the same problem. In principle, this group has previously been told by the government that large events and meetings with many people are not allowed until 1 June. In his  speech of 7 April, Prime Minister Rutte specifically mentioned the cinemas as a sector severely affected by the coronavirus.

    “It is not yet known when the cinemas may open again, but it is clear that in the first period from the opening the cinemas will have to deal with certain restrictions,” reports the Dutch Association of Cinemas & Filmtheaters (NVBF). “The safety of visitors and employees is most important.”

  • Another sector that is very busy preparing for the ‘new normal’, is the public transport. The activities of the ninety transport companies in the Netherlands are severely limited by the measures against COVID-19. How do they prepare to do their work in the ‘1.5 meter society’?Naturally, the future is being considered, confirms director Pedro Peters of OV-NL, Industry Association for Dutch Public Transportation sector (Openbaar Vervoer Nederland). But it is an almost impossible puzzle with many, many uncertainties, he adds immediately.”The main feature of public transport is that it is mass transport,” he explains. “Our main task is to transport large groups of people. That goal is completely at odds with the 1.5 meter society that we are stuck with for the time being.”The government has designated the public transport as a ‘vital function’ within society. This means that currently around a third of the regular timetable runs for about 500,000 travelers per day. That is less than one tenth of the more than 5 million passengers who check in on a normal working day. The sector is currently suffering a loss of 200 million euros per month.

This morning, the second part of the DUJAT Corona Crisis Webinar took place successfully, with participants from both Japan and the Netherlands.

With these two webinars concluded, we now look forward to other ideas of providing information and organizing online events. For this, we are also open to ideas and suggestions from our member. If you have any idea or request, feel free to reach out to us!

Kind regards,

Jinn van Gastel
Project Manager at Dujat

DUJAT (Dutch and Japanese Trade Federation)

蘭日貿易連盟 | www.dujat.nl

Stroombaan 10 | 1181 VX Amstelveen | The Netherlands

Sources: NOSNRCMainichiNHKJapanTodayWorldometersbusiness.gov