An Insider's comments on Japan's high tech business world

* * * * * * * * TERRIE’S TAKE – BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

General Edition Sunday, May 25, 2015, Issue No. 805

– What’s New — SIM Madness of the Phone Variety
– News — e-cigarettes have formaldehyde problem
– Upcoming Events
– Corrections/Feedback
– Travel Picks — Fuwa fuwa bakery in Saitama, British Cafe in Miyagi
– News Credits

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One of the most frustrating things for tourists coming to Japan is how
to get their cell phone working once they get off the airplane. At, some of the most popular articles are how-to
explanations about free WiFi, WiFi mobile routers, and pre-paid cell
phone rentals. While it is true that over the last 6-12 months the
ability to get connectivity into your phone has improved significantly
thanks to the appearance of low-priced data SIMs, mobile routers, and
public WiFi spots, one glaring gap is the continuing difficulty to
connect your foreign cell phone to the Japanese voice network, other
than through expensive roaming.

The reason is because on April 1st, 2006, the Diet ratified a new law
that restricted members of the public from buying pre-paid phones (or
for that matter, any phone) without proper person identification — ID
which you can’t get unless you’re a registered resident of Japan. They
did this because of the levels of “Ore-ore” fraud occurring with old
people unable to tell the difference between a Yakuza caller pretending
to be one of their kids, and the real McCoy.

While not being able to recognize your own kids on the phone would seem
to be a matter for Darwinian selection to us, the authorities with their
new law also shut down the ability for tourists to buy local voice
connectivity (except for B-Mobile, which is alone in having one prepaid
option for voice and data) without using an expensive roaming service
from their home country. So if you’ve ever wondered why you can choose
from tons of unlimited data SIM cards, but can’t get voice, that’s the

What’s stupid about the 2006 legislation is that it only affects voice
connectivity, and therefore if you’re a Yakuza who knows how to use
Skype or Google Hangouts, you’re still free to make local phone calls
and impersonate kids in trouble. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that
incoming tourists would be sufficiently fluent enough in Japanese that
they would be a source of ore-ore scamming anyway, so why do the
authorities care about needing any ID more comprehensive than a
passport? They’re not a threat anyway.

——— Help Us Test New No-Network Maps App ————

Japan Travel is getting ready to launch its first iPhone app, which will
be a No-Network mapping tool. The tool lets foreign tourists use their
smart phones to prepare Google-like maps and find their way around Japan
without having a local network connection. Testing will require you to
download the application (you will need an iPhone) and to use it next
time you go out for a walk. Estimated test time and reporting back any
bugs will be about 30 minutes. For testers who are pre-registered on, you will be paid 500 points after you report back
in from the test. We are hoping to have about 100 people test the
application, so please help us if you can.

To register as a tester, send an email to To
register for Japan Travel, go to:

[…Article continues]

So if you’re a tourist, what to do if you want voice? Well, as we
mentioned, you could buy a B-Mobile voice/data SIM at the rather
expensive price of JPY9,800, here:

Or you could simply buy one of those remarkably cheaper prepaid data
packages, taking care to pick one that is suitable for VOIP calls. This
Wikia page has a pretty good rundown on what’s available and for how much:

So if you were to combine one of these prepaid data SIMs with a Skype
050 phone number for Japan, which you can buy for JPY490 per month if
you have a credit card connected Skype account, then you have the
equivalent of a domestic voice account at prices not much different to
what local residents pay, but without having to be resident in Japan.
Furthermore, you can use that Skype number in other countries as well.

Another stupid telecoms “rule” which thankfully will disappear shortly
is the removal of locked SIMs on cell phones sold by local carriers. The
practice of locking the phone’s SIM is to stop users from defecting to
another carrier with the same cell phone. The Ministry of Communications
has issued a guidance that all cell phones sold from this month onwards
have to be free of SIM locking.

Although SIM-free phones are a microscopic segment of the market at
present (about 3% in 2015), the removal of SIM locking has spurred
strong interest from foreign smart phone makers who now see the
opportunity to market direct to the consumer versus having to sell their
devices to an unmotivated carrier first. The Nikkei has been carrying
reports of companies such as Huawei and Asus making moves to get set up
in Japan and market their mid-market machines that have become so
popular overseas.

Actually, though, where we think the real action will be is in parallel
imports of the SIM-free brands just mentioned, as well as many exciting
but not yet locally supported Chinese brands such as Meizu, Xiaomi, and
OnePlus. Right now, even though Huawei and Asus are releasing models
that are about 30% cheaper than local Japanese offerings, the reality is
that you can get the same models in Hong Kong for half that price again.

Yes, it is true that the HK parallel imports won’t carry the
all-important “Giteki” mark, the Japanese equivalent for the USA’s FCC
certification. However, the fact is that local data SIM vendors seldom
check whether a user’s phone is compliant anyway, and so probably the
mark’s relevance will get “drowned out” by a flood of cheap parallel
imports as well as of course the tens of thousands of tourist phones
coming in. It seems to us that the Ministry of Telecommunications
realizes that this law is unworkable, and they may well do away with it
before the Olympics.

Smart companies like Rakuten are of course salivating at the opportunity
of grabbing market share away from the traditional telco’s, and since
late last year have been trying to pull mobile customers into their
business ecosystem by offering an ASUS-made SIM-free phone, a standard
voice/data SIM, and of course other services, for just JPY26,000 for the
phone and JPY2,200/month for unlimited phone network usage. Rakuten is
leasing its connectivity from NTT DoCoMo.

Another company that is making waves at the low end of the market is
Japan’s largest supermarket operator Aeon (a company that incidentally
was founded in 1798), and which offers basic two-year voice/data
packages for around JPY2,000/month, using cheap SIM-free foreign phones
(price includes the phone). The catch is that the data speeds are slow
and of course limited. But, hey, unless you want to watch streaming
video on your phone, maybe speeds and data volumes that were normal 3
years ago are still good enough for most users today.

Now if only Aeon could make these prices available to tourists…

…The information janitors/


————- Bilingual Web Designer Vacancy ————–

Japan Travel KK, the operator of, has a vacancy for
an experienced bilingual web designer, to work on service roll-outs for
the portal. This is a chance to work with a dynamic leader in the Japan
inbound travel sector — in a stimulating and front-line position where
your work will be seen and used by millions of people a month.

Ideally the applicant will have a minimum 5 years experience in web and
user interface design. Any nationality, as a visa can be supplied to the
qualified individual, however, English and Japanese capability is
desirable. Modest salary to begin, then significant increases as the
business becomes self-sustaining. Great team, modern office in
convenient location in Roppongi. Choice of PC, Mac. Adobe CS6/Creative
Cloud applications.

Interested applicants please send your resume to

+++ NEWS

– Japan-South Korea food spat
– Consumers keeping purses closed
– Nikkei hits 20,196 — a 15 year record
– e-cigarettes have formaldehyde problem

=> Japan-South Korea food spat

Japan has lodged a trade complaint with the WTO this week, challenging
South Korea’s restrictions on Japanese food products from 8 prefectures
in and around Fukushima. Japan is saying that radiation levels in food
is back to normal, and that South Korea has no reason to continue the
restrictions. South Korea is responding that Japan isn’t supplying it
with adequate data to decide whether to change the restrictions or not.
***Ed: Just another example where the rivalry between the two nations
has gone beyond the point of reason. The reality is that Japanese
exports of seafood to South Korea were only US$213m in 2006-2013 and
fell to a not-so-much-worse level of US$96m in 2012-2014. We wonder if
the court action may not cost Japan more than the export increase that
might eventually come from a favorable result?** (Source: TT commentary
from, May 21, 2015)

=> Consumers keeping purses closed

While the Japanese stock market is being artificially pumped higher and
higher, the reality is that the average consumer is finding things a lot
tougher than a year ago. Economists are saying that real wages have
fallen about 4% since late 2012, and that this is the main factor behind
the lack of GDP or inflation growth. Indeed, consumer spending was
stagnant again for Q1, rising only 0.4% and meaning that after the 5%
fall in spending after the April 2014 tax increase, there will have only
been a recovery of less than 1% (i.e., a net 4% drop in spending
overall). ***Ed: Symptomatic of the consumer spending stress is the
ongoing increase in food prices. Go to a supermarket and it’s visibly
obvious that people are cutting back.** (Source: TT commentary from, May 18, 2015)

=> Nikkei hits 20,196 — a 15 year record

One thing you can be sure of over the next few months, the Japanese
stock market is going to continue going higher. A tsunami of public
funds from the GPIF and other entities being ploughed into the local
markets means that it doesn’t matter if the Japanese public comes along
for the ride or not. Now the Nikkei has just hit another 15-year high,
at 20,196. ***Ed: Our guess is that individuals will slowly start to
come back to the markets and that the rise in the Nikkei will accelerate
— providing of course that there is no external shock such as a war or
natural disaster. If this happens, PM Abe can then reasonably say that
his policies afterall have had a positive effect on the economy.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Mar 19, 2015)

=> e-cigarettes have formaldehyde problem

A health ministry study has found that four out of nine e-cigarettes
being sold in Japan deliver the smoker more formaldehyde than a regular
cigarette. Researchers said that the vaporizing solutions sold to go
with the devices were creating formaldehyde as a by-product of the
vaporization process. Furthermore, 48 of the 103 solutions sold also
delivered nicotine, which is illegal for the e-cigarette product
category. ***Ed: Looks like Japan Tobacco will get some help to fend off
the e-cigarette challenge, as the health ministry works to restrict or
ban them. Hypocrisy all around…** (Source: TT commentary from, May 22, 2015)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of
posting them, thus breaking our links — we apologize for the inconvenience.


————– Have a Tour to Promote? ——————–

Japan Travel is recruiting tour operators who would like to list their
inventory on our new Tours Marketplace ( Listing
is free, and only successful bookings will attract a marketing fee. Take
advantage of our position as Japan’s largest independent inbound travel
website (714,000 unique users in March, 2015) and give your tours the
exposure you need to develop your business. We are particularly
interested in tours that include a unique aspect of Japan and where your
marketing collateral includes strong photography and/or videos,
evocative descriptions, and strong appeal. After June 1st, all new tours
MUST include at least a one-night stay or formal (not public) ground

Operators and agents wishing to apply, contact


—————— ICA Event – June 22nd——————-

Speaker: Pieter Franken – Chief Technology Officer, Monex Global Vision
Title: “How has Open Source technology helped my Organization”

Details: Complete event details at
Date: Monday, June 22nd, 2015
Time: 6:30 Doors open, Buffet Dinner included and Cash Bar
Cost: 4,000 yen (members), 6,000 yen (non-members) Open to all. No sign
ups at the door!!!!!!!
RSVP: By 5pm on Thursday 18th June 2015. Venue is The Foreign
Correspondents’ Club of Japan

—————— Operation Nepal ————————

The Japan Emergency Team announces “Operation Nepal” its 89th Disaster
Operation since 1987.

Volunteers able to for a minimum of three days are urgently needed as
well as emergency supplies including canned and instant food, rice,
bottled water, powdered milk, used laptop and tablet computers, sleeping
bags, tents and unused Airline Miles.

To volunteer or for information on where to send supplies please send a
note to

To donate Postal Furikae 00160 7 162438.

The Japan Emergency Team would like to thank Lenovo Computer for their
kind donation of ten Laptops and Tablet Computers.


=> No corrections this week.



=> Fuwa Fuwa Bakery Cafe, Saitama
Cozy neighborhood bakery serves freshly baked goodies

If you like Earl grey cookies bursting with the distinct fragrance of
earl grey tea, then Fuwa, Fuwa is for you. The Japanese onomatopoeia
“fuwa fuwa” conjures up images of cushy, soft, fluffiness, and this
could not be a more appropriate name for a neighborhood bakery cafe that
churns out scrumptious freshly baked goodies.

The beautifully landscaped garden outside the shop is reminiscent of the
Italian countryside and is especially lovely in the spring when the
flowers are blooming. Inside, the cafe is equally inviting. Festive
flags and cheerful children’s books line the windows that look out into
the garden while colorful stained glass lamps hang above the tables.
Kids immediately feel at home in the cozy nook generously supplied with
books and toys. The cafe’s toilet is equipped with a diaper-changing
table and is noteworthy for this small establishment.

=> Polly Put the Kettle On, Miyagi
Tea and scones, anyone?

I love visiting independent cafes in Sendai. There are so many to choose
from, all with delicious food at reasonable prices. A more recent
addition to this selection is Polly Put the Kettle On, which not only
has a great name, it also has great food.

Polly’s, as it’s known for short, looks like it’s a bit off the beaten
track, but is actually only 10 minutes’ walk from Kitayobancho subway
station. It was started in 2014 as a British cafe — the owner has lived
in the UK, so he knows his stuff. And you can order in English from the
bilingual menu. Unusually, the regular closing day is Saturday, but this
does mean that you can come on a Sunday, when many other cafes are closed.

It’s perhaps a bit more “patriotic” than the average cafe you would find
in the UK, with the many flags everywhere, but there are other nice
touches amongst the decorations. I also enjoyed the fact that Classic FM
was playing on the radio in the background.

My favorite part, though, has to be the food. My first order here was a
salty beef bagel and an apple cider. The choice of name is a little
misleading — the apple cider is not what anyone on either side of the
Atlantic would expect, but rather was a warm, flat, non-alcoholic apple
drink with cinnamon. The name aside, it is delicious. A true comfort
drink best enjoyed during inclement weather, which makes it perfectly
suited to a British-themed menu.



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