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, February 07, 2016, Issue No. 837

– What’s New — Robert Rann, the Entrepreneur Behind Grape Off
– News — World’s first 99% robot-operated vege farm
– Upcoming Events
– Corrections/Feedback — Marcus Yip Hospital Fund
– Travel Picks — River Cruising on the Sumida, Skier’s Guide to Japan Alps
– News Credits

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One reason why we produce Terrie’s Take is to provide foreign business
people with information and viewpoints about what it takes to succeed in
the Japanese market and to do business with Japanese companies. In the
blizzard of “news worthy” announcements we see weekly about venture
capital investments, massive business deals, and takeovers, it is easy
to forget the 90% of business people who don’t hit the news, and yet
these are the people who form the bedrock of our society.

One particular interest for us is foreign business owners, because of
the risks they have to take to develop new product/service lines in an
already competitive market, and the lack of support they get from the
Japanese establishment. In the last eight years, foreign business owners
have had to deal with a massive shift in the market, firstly with the
demise of foreign banking after the Lehman Shock and all the business
those companies used to buy, then with the aftermath of the Tohoku
earthquake and the permanent disappearance of many foreign senior
executives. As a result, dozens of foreign-owned companies have either
quietly gone under, been sold off, or are struggling to morph into
something quite different. The media space is a good example, where more
than half of the foreign players in publishing have either sold and
moved on. The imported food, education, recruiting, IT, and personal
services sectors have been equally hard hit.

But as the saying goes, “That which does not kill us, makes us
stronger,” (German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche) and such challenges
are the crucible for future success. Those with the fortitude to remain
in business during the last harsh eight years are now starting to
benefit from Abenomics, and they are doing so by dreaming up more
interesting and robust services and products. Today we thought it would
be interesting to interview someone who has demonstrated an
all-important ability to morph with the changing global business trends
and to survive and thrive.

Such a person is Robert Rann, of Grape Off.

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[…Article continues]

Rann’s story is a fascinating one. At 56 years old, he’s been a police
officer, an international lawyer, in-house counsel to investment
bankers, a turn-around consultant for internet companies, online
marketer, resorts sales manager and consultant, and most of all a wine
connoisseur. That’s a lot of hats, and the result is that he is a highly
experienced entrepreneur and businessman.

We first came across Rann shortly after he arrived in Japan, when he was
helping out a media firm, and a little after that when he was appointed
the CEO of an internet recruiting firm called Asia-net. Rann’s old boss
at the time, Dayle Bowen, was the founder of Asia-Net, the first online
recruiting company in Japan. In Bowen’s Linked In recommendation of
Rann, he makes some observations that Rann has proven repeatedly since:

“It was my honor to work with Robert at Asia-Net. When Robert joined the
team in Tokyo, despite the tremendous opportunity in front of us, we
were growing really fast and the management team on the ground in Tokyo
was starting to reel. Robert came on board and provided several
incredibly valuable contributions. Firstly, he is one of the most
naturally confident leaders I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,
and that confidence transferred to everyone around him. Secondly, he is
perhaps the best sales executive I’ve ever met. Robert immediately began
building a team of competent sales executives around him. In just one
year he was responsible for growing our revenues from $100,000 per month
to $1,000,000 per month. Amazing…!”

We agree with Bowen that Rann is at the top of the silent 90% — in that
not only does he have fortitude, he also knows how to get results. The
following is a short interview with Rann.


TT: The wine sector is a crowded one and the competition has to be
severe. What got you into the business?

Rann: Well, I love living in Japan — the people, the culture, and the
lifestyle are all great. My background is an international lawyer with
experience in start-ups, online marketing, real estate, resorts, AND 35
years as a collector of wines. But I was always frustrated that I could
buy wines in the US and Europe for $10 to $20 that were fantastic but
could never find those wines in Japan – so Grape Off was born.

TT: Wine is a competitive business, how is Grape Off different?

Rann: Firstly we are unique in that we represent great wineries that
have never been sold in Japan before. People like to discover great new
flavors, and since we only buy winery direct they can now get those
wines at the lowest possible price. I love to pleasantly surprise my

Secondly, we have been diligent about getting our wines in front of the
best audience, meaning the team and I wore out a lot of shoe leather
getting into many of the finest hotels in Japan. In fact, we currently
have one of the few exclusive contracts with the Hilton Hotels in Japan,
for their Wine Experience III. That program features 30 different Grape
Off wines at their 12 hotels around Japan.

TT: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Rann: Web marketing is far more complex than it used to be and the IT
undertaking was massive, taking much longer than I expected. In
addition, just as we started to grow, the overall economy started
improving under Abenomics, and Tokyo experienced what has become a
chronic talent shortage. As a result, it took us more than a year to
hire a sales team – but we’re there now.

Another big challenge was that the established importers had sewn up
exclusive relationships with the famous-brand wineries, so we had our
work cut out scouring the world for the best new wine makers missed by
others. Although you may laugh, it was a tough job tasting over 100
wines for every new winery we actually took on. We have a tasting team
of eight people who must unanimously agree that the wine we are tasting
is good enough for Grape Off to import – so organizing that team is no
small feat either.

TT: What are you favorite wines?

Rann: I would have to say our PureCoz Napa Valley Meritage, which is an
amazing “big” red wine often compared to Silver Oak but better priced.
And the Chateau Franc Mayne Grand Cru Classe, which is a classic French
Bordeaux. As for whites, I love the Napa Valley Bread & Butter
Chardonnay which President Obama recently ordered for his TPP meeting in
the Philippines, and Purity from PureCru, which is a specially made
white wine for red wine drinkers.

TT: What do you think of Japanese wines, especially the Chardonnays
coming out of Nagano and nearby regions?

Rann: To be honest, I am a bit surprised how poor the quality of wine is
in Japan considering how the Japanese have perfected almost everything
else they touch like, beer, French, Italian and almost any other
cuisine, but they have yet to rise to international standards in wine.
With that being said there are a few wine makers in Japan that are
starting to impress the market — but they are still the minority in the

TT: Where are you taking Grape Off in the future?

Rann: We have so many things going on at Grape Off right now. We
currently have almost 100 different wines, multiple wine clubs,
including two NPO clubs that offer their customers a chance to “do
something good and get something good”. Each month we make donations to
each NPO [Ed: for example, TELL] to help support their activities in
Japan and internationally, in return for their members buying several
bottles every month. We also plan to launch an international wine
training program where we will take our customers abroad to learn more
about wine at the actual wineries.


You can check out Robert’s Grape Off site here:

…The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

– Retail electricity customer defections gather steam
– LNG glut causing cannibalization of supply channels
– World’s first 99% robot-operated vege farm
– JPY12.5bn rebuild of southern-most island of Okinotorishima
– Chile now top wine exporter to Japan (not France)

=> Retail electricity customer defections gather steam

In 2015, the Abe administration passed a partial revision of the
Electricity Business Act to open up the nation’s JPY7.5trn retail
electricity market. The Act aims to separate the grids from the
generation of electricity so that new producers and distributors can
compete with the ten existing power companies. Early data in suggests
that the move of consumers to KDDI, Tokyu, Tokyo Gas and other new
entrants is slow but steady, with about 54,000 customers in April moving
across. ***Ed: The numbers imply about 700,000+ defections from the
monopolies over the next 12 months – about 2% of the market and
certainly no threat, yet, to TEPCO and others. Probably this is because
KDDI and others have meager discounts to offer –typically just 3% or
so.** (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 05, 2016)

=> LNG glut causing cannibalization of supply channels

Nothing like a cyclical feast or famine to upset the status quo of power
brokers in the world — with energy supply being THE major point of
leverage in the last 150 years. Japanese LNG is a good case in point,
where, with control of about 30% of the world market, Japanese firms are
facing a glut of petrochemical products and diving prices –
US$20/million BTUs two years ago (2014) to just US$4.95 last Friday –
and have for the first time started offering unused product on the open
market. ***Ed: The whole LNG market in Japan is complex and interesting,
starting in the 1970s when nobody else wanted to buy from remote fields
(such as Brunei) because of the huge and risky investment required to
pump, liquify, transport, then sell it.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 29, 2016)

=> World’s first 99% robot-operated vege farm

Automation of the Japanese farming sector is nothing new, but robotics
in the nation’s food supply is about to reach a whole new level when
leading factory-lettuce grower, Spread, opens its new Kyoto Pref.
factory farm in mid-2017. The company’s new automated system will
perform every part of the transplanting, growing, and harvesting of
lettuces, leaving only seed planting to humans. As a result, the company
reckons it will boost production from a current 21,000 lettuces a day to
50,000, and within five years, to 500,000 (A DAY…!!!!). ***Ed: That’s
a lot of lettuce!** (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 02,

=> JPY12.5bn rebuild of southern-most island of Okinotorishima

Copying the Chinese moves for domination in the Spratlys? Or building a
bargaining chip for later? Whichever the strategy of the Abe cabinet,
the net result will be some very unhappy neighboring countries now that
the government has announced that it will spend around JPY12.5bn to
rebuild “structures” on its southern-most island (actually more an islet
or even less), Okinotorishima. The island is in the middle of nowhere
(literally), being about 1,500km south of Tokyo and 1,000+ km from both
Taiwan and the Philippines. Japan will build a deep water pier and
lighthouse on the atoll, as well as a raised road on top of the
surrounding reef. ***Ed: …and between the road and the atoll we guess
they will add plenty of rocks and sand so as to triple the size of the
property. Well, at least unlike the Chinese in the Spratlys, this islet
is real and doesn’t submerge at high tide.** (Source: TT commentary from, 02 Feb, 2016)

=> Chile now top wine exporter to Japan (not France)

We guess they don’t pay farmers much in Chile, because thanks to
JPY600-JPY1,000 per bottle passably drinkable wines, which are also
freely available in supermarkets anywhere in Japan, Chilean wines last
year outstripped French ones in terms of import volume. Chile sold
51.59m liters of wine to the Japanese in 2015, versus France at 51.51
mega-liters. In terms of value, the total Japanese market for wine last
year was worth about JPY114.2bn, and Chilean wines accounted for
JPY18.5bn of this total, while France kept its top dog status with
JPY30bn. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 7, 2016)

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.



—————- ICA Event – February 18th —————-

Speaker: David Malkin – Reactive Inc. – Data Scientist Statistics &
Decision Science
Title: “Everything is Computation – In the Real World of Artificial
Intelligence “

Details: Complete event details at
Date: Thursday, February 18th, 2016
Time: 6:30 Doors open, Buffet Dinner included with charges and pay as
you go cash bar.
Cost: 4,000 yen (members), 6,000 yen (non-members). Open to all. No sign
ups at the door!!!!!!!
RSVP: By 1pm on Monday February 15th, 2016, venue is The Foreign
Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

+++ CORRECTIONS/FEEDBACK — Marcus Yip Hospital Fund

=> Although not a correction, we wanted to highlight a special campaign
going on right now for our very own Marcus Yip, Australian chef
extraordinaire, who has been stricken with terminal cancer. Marcus for
many years ran the Australian-Asian fusion restaurant 148 Hiroo,
initially located in Ebisu and more recently in Azabu Juban. The
restaurant is still going strong, but Marcus has had to retire.
Unfortunately he has been battling cancer for the last two years, and
after an initial improvement with an experimental drug late last year,
we’re sorry to hear that he has had a relapse and things are not looking
good. The funds are to help Marcus and his family with the mounting
medical bills, not to mention the simple need to keep the family clothed
and fed. Yes, we donated US$200, and we hope that other readers will
find it in their hearts to donate something as well.



=> Tokyo Sumida River Cruising
Enjoy the Venice of Tokyo

Tokyo often conjures up images of a vast, urban landscape, dotted with
high-rise buildings and covered in concrete. However, Sumida City, one
of Tokyo’s eastern wards, offers a refreshing change as a waterfront
town with more than four different rivers passing through it. The
largest of these is the Sumida River, in close proximity to two of
Tokyo’s most well-known attractions: the Ryogoku Sumo Arena, where
national tournaments are held, and Tokyo Skytree, a 634 meter tall
broadcasting tower that is Tokyo’s newest landmark. Either can be
conveniently accessed by one of the frequently running water buses that
ply the Sumida River; the former arriving at Ryogoku Wharf and the
latter at Oshinari Park Wharf.

Yet venturing into the heart of Sumida via its narrow waterways affords
a truly unique perspective on the lifestyle and culture of the city’s
shitamachi (traditional working-class neighborhoods). These waterways
have been used by cargo boats since olden times, shuttling goods to and
from local factories. During the cruise, staff explain Sumida’s rich
history, pointing out bridges where electric streetcars used to cross or
comparing views of the Yokojikkengawa, Kitajikkengawa, or Onagigawa
rivers with their depictions in old woodblock prints.

=> Ski Guide to Nagano, Niigata, and Gunma
Choosing resorts based on travel by train, bus, or car

Skiing season started late this year (2015-2016). December is usually
unpredictable, but it took until January for most mountains to become
fully operational. Japan’s ski boom of the 1980s and 1990s is long gone,
but the good news is that skiing is now much more affordable and slopes
far less crowded. The plethora of ski resorts to choose from can be
overwhelming. You should pick the resort most suitable to your choice of
transportation. Here is a short guide comparing the differences when you
visit a mountain by train, bus or car.

By Train
For skiers without their own equipment, traveling on an express train
makes for the most pleasant trip. Unfortunately, it is also the most
expensive mode of transportation. A one-day Gala Yuzawa ski trip with
train fare, lift ticket and ski rentals is fine for a working adult but
harder on the budget if you are paying for a family of four. However,
nothing beats Gala when it comes to convenience. After a 75 minute ride
from Tokyo Station, you arrive at a station where you can literally put
on your skis and board a gondola to the lifts. Surprisingly, Gala is not
a tourist trap but offers a wide range of intermediate runs for more
experienced skiers as well.

For more, go to….



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