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, Jul 22, 2018, Issue No. 954

– What’s New — Japan’s Modern-day Slavery Program Gets New Lipstick
– News — Russia again floats idea of bridge from Sakhalin to Hokkaido
– Upcoming Events
– Corrections/Feedback
– Travel Picks — Beppu Fireworks, Spooky Paintings in Kochi
– News Credits

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If you’re an employer of people, whether as a company owner or a
manager, you’ll know full well how difficult it is to find good staff
recently. Yes, it’s always been difficult to find experienced mid-career
hires in Japan, because of the risk aversion of the general population.
Particularly anyone over 30, once they have a reasonable job they want
to keep it for life. And if you are a multinational, there is the added
challenge of finding bilinguals.

It is no secret that Japan is in the middle of a severe manpower
shortage. Although the government was warned decades ago about the aging
workforce, half-hearted measures to turn the birthrate around and denial
that immigration was a solution have meant that we are now in the middle
of the worst worker shortfall in post-War history. For the first time
there are more job offers than job seekers across EVERY prefecture of
the country – which the Abe government trumpets as proof that Abenomics
is working. However, while he toots his own horn everyone else knows the
situation is really because of the mass departure of baby boomers from
the work force over the last 10 years, plus the fact that young couples
have no confidence about their futures (and thus are not having kids).

Indeed, the situation is dire. The national labor pool is forecast to
shrink from about 62m workers today (down from the peak of 86.99m in
1997) to just 30m by 2050. In health care alone there is a shortage of
500,000 workers. In manufacturing, the job openings ratio is 2.74 jobs
for every applicant, about double the national average of 1.33. Farming,
construction, retail… every sector is felling the pinch, and of course
since the operators of these businesses are also the main supporters of
the LDP, they are letting the Abe government know in no uncertain terms
that they are not happy.

The government’s bandaid solution, as we could guess all along, is to
bring in more unskilled/low-skilled foreigners on what looks to be a
Japanese version of the infamous “gastarbeiter” program run in Germany
during the 1960s and 70s. This was a harsh program enacted by both East
and West Germanies (before unification) that invited foreigners to come
work in their respective factories for up to three years, after which
they were supposed to return home. The East German side had the
strictest controls and the authorities there tried to limit contact
between these workers and the regular population – reportedly even
making it a deportable offense to have sexual relations with a German

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[…Article continues]

West Germany more tolerant and many of the workers from places like
Turkey wound up marrying locals, while the Vietnamese, who often existed
in a grey zone where they were technically illegal but also allowed to
stay, put down roots. Several decades later, this led to migrant
community kids being brought up as Germans and indeed the country found
that they weren’t so bad. In fact, in certain districts where the
Vietnamese families settled, although they only made up 2% of the
population, they accounted for 17% of the university student body. Much
as America discovered, newly migrated families often work harder and can
make outsized contributions to society.

The first steps to Japan’s own gastarbeiter program are already in
place, starting with the equally infamous Technical Intern Training
Program which was started in 1993 to “teach skills to young people from
developing countries in the hope the knowledge and techniques would be
passed on and made use of”. Yeah, right… As we have pointed out in
previous issues of the Take, what this program really does is to solicit
low-income farmers and factory workers from China, Vietnam, Nepal, and
Myanmar to come to Japan to work for a pittance. Now to be fair, after
some embarrassing exposes in the press, the government has cracked down
on some of the worst offending employers – the ones withholding
passports and salaries, seeking sexual favors and unpaid overtime, etc.

But the problems persist.

Just recently the Asahi Shimbun uncovered more evidence that the
training program continues to be a government-sponsored human rights
cesspit. The TV station, no friend of the LDP and Abe, took delight in
revealing that one of the leading “supervising organizations” in the
training program, Friend Nippon, was in fact simply dispatching trainees
to factories with almost no oversight. One case involved a group of 33
trainees sent to Mitsubishi Motors for welding training, where instead
they were simply put to work on the production line doing menial jobs.
Previously, there was a similar case over at Nissan Motors.

This dispatching gig is big bucks for Friend Nippon (FN). Apparently
they have already sent out over 5,000 people, whom they make a
JPY20,000~JPY30,000 “supervisory fee” per month per person – a tidy sum
of about JPY100m per month. Unfortunately, it’s not just FN. there are
apparently another 2,000 similar bloodsucking groups out there, looking
for their cut of the action. It’s really disgusting.

In another case, also uncovered by the Asahi, trainees from Vietnam were
found to have been dispatched by a Morioka company to do soil
decontamination work in Fukushima. They were apparently working in one
of the mostly heavily contaminated areas, where we guess it’s difficult
to get Japanese workers to go to. After that little effort was
publicized the Justice Ministry has pledged to investigate all 1,002
construction companies currently receiving foreign trainees, to ensure
compliance. Not that we expect them to come up with anything, since
everyone already knows this program is just one step up from a
modern-day slavery system.

So it’s surprising that the government has the chutzpah to double down
on the Technical Intern Training Program with an announcement that
workers who’ve been through the program, who can speak some Japanese,
and who have had a favorable rating from their employers and their
handling organization, will be allowed to apply for a new 5-year
low-skilled work visa to continue on here. Applicants meeting the
language and some other unspecified conditions will also be allowed to
bring in their families.

The new visa is also theoretically available to applicants still in
their home countries, but one wonder how they would meet the language
and other requirements unless they were actually in-country. They’re
likely to be poor, with little access to tertiary education. So in our
minds the main objective of the new rules is to bolster the existing
system, i.e., to funnel people into a virtual slave program – the 3-year
internships – then give them a few more basic freedoms for an extra five
years, to keep them incentivized. In a way, this is similar to how you
get amateur gamblers hooked.

The beneficiaries of the new visa program will be those corporate
sectors most desperate for workers – primarily those meeting the 3-K
definition: Kitanai (Dirty), Kiken (Dangerous), Kitsui (Physically
Tough) – all jobs that refined young Japanese who are now finding it so
easy to get undemanding office jobs, want to avoid like the plague. The
government expects that they will bring in about 500,000
unskilled/low-skilled laborers on the new program by 2025. Throw in the
family members and you have 1m new immigrants over the next seven years.

And of course this is not the only channel into Japan’s workforce. There
are already more than 260,000 (as of 2017) more privileged foreigners
(mostly Chinese) studying in Japan, and in some ways these people are
far more desirable to the country as they are already learning Japanese
and of course gaining local skills. Most of these students are quickly
snapped up by Japanese employers as they graduate, and by virtue of
their 4-year local college degrees, they are on a fast track for
permanent residency. No temporary visas for them.

The government has said it wants to increase the foreign student
population to 300,000 by 2020. It should meet this target handily.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this expected big influx of
unskilled/low-skilled people is going to be crimes of desperation. As we
have already seen over the last 25 years, these new interns and laborers
are an easy target for scam-prone factory owners and perverts – who are
kind of like abused kids getting to kick the dog (in this metaphor, the
immigrants are the dog). Like those before them, some of the migrants
will not receive their salary for months or years, will endure brutally
hot/cold factory conditions, get injured, or will be sexually coerced,
and as you can imagine, this will cause intense resentment and anger. In
a very small subset of those migrants, this will inevitably lead to
emotional outbursts and violent crimes – as has already happened in the
past. Consider the 2013 murder of of a company president Police and
female employee by a 30-year allegedly abused Chinese trainee at a fish
farm in Hiroshima Prefecture. That case certainly gave the xenophobes
around the country something to harp on about.

Lower down the scale, the mere fact that you are underprivileged and
seeing your Japanese colleagues having a nice life while you have
nothing, is bound to make even the most reasonable and mild-mannered
person want something better. For this reason, the authorities are
already having a problem in the Technical Intern Training Program with
workers running away – much as slaves did in the 17th and 18th centuries
in the USA. They even call them “runaways” in the English press here…

Anyway, in 2017, approximately 6,000 interns disappeared, mostly to find
better-paying jobs, or to escape sexual or physical harassment. There
were 251,721 foreign trainees in Japan as of the end of June 2017, of
which 104,802 were Vietnamese and 79,959 were Chinese. Needless to say,
being the bulk of the worker population, the bulk of the runaways were
from Vietnam.

Time will tell if the Japanese intend to turn the new
unskilled/low-skilled work visa program into a copy of Germany’s
use-and-throw-away gastarbeiter system. No one seems to be saying if
after the five years the workers will have a route to stay on as
immigrants. For example, what will happen if they intermarry? This is
highly likely to happen, since most of the trainees are required by the
intern program to be here alone. Our guess is that the Abe government is
counting on companies and voters getting used to having hard-working
foreigners around, which will soften the opposition to immigration
sufficiently that the workers will be allowed to stay. We think that’s
why the rules beyond the end of five years are a bit fuzzy. It’s
intentional, so as to not alarm the country’s xenophobic voting
population that a groundshift in immigration is taking place.

…The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

– Diet approves up to 3 casinos
– Shinkansen attack leads to knife ban
– Earthquakes linked to lower male baby births
– Russia again floats idea of bridge from Sakhalin to Hokkaido
– Bakers breathe easy – Canada wheat allowed in again

=> Diet approves up to 3 casinos

Despite ongoing protests from many quarters, the LDP seems intent on its
decision to allow at least three casino “resorts” to start operations in
the mid-2020’s in Japan. The bill was bulldozed through parliament,
indicating that as far as PM Abe is concerned it’s a done deal. In a nod
to claims of increase gambling addiction, the new bills limits access to
the casinos for Japanese residents to just 3 times a week, 10 times a
month, and for an entry fee. Foreign tourists will get in any time, for
free. Osaka, Wakayama, Yokohama, Sasebo, and several Hokkaido cities
have already expressed interest in acquiring licenses. ***Ed: Given that
the Japanese are one of the world’s most prolific gambling populations,
probably the addiction fears do have some foundation. On the other hand,
there are so many things to gamble on already, it’s hard to imagine the
risks being any worse than they are now.** (Source: TT commentary from, 21 Jul, 2018)

=> Shinkansen attack leads to knife ban

Japan’s over-protective bureaucracy is having a massive knee-jerk
reaction, again, after the transport ministry said that it would ban
passengers from using or carrying unpacked knives on all trains. Train
staff have been given permission to eject passengers who are seen with
knives. The measure was put in place after an unprecedented stabbing
attack on a shinkansen in June, when a male passenger trying to protect
two female passengers was killed by another crazed knife-wielding male
passenger. ***Ed: Ridiculous. Of course we have sympathy for the
deceased, but the fact is that knife-carrying crazy people don’t need a
train upon which to carry out their attacks. And in the meantime
millions of others will be inconvenienced by the ban on peeling fruit,
cutting a sandwich, or even possibly cutting your fingernails. No word
on how JR plans to enforce this yet.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jul 21, 2018)

=> Earthquakes linked to lower male baby births

Japanese gynecologist-cum-statistician, Dr. Misao Fukuda of the M&K
Health Institute has published a paper finding a direct correlation
between natural disasters such as the Kobe and Tohoku earthquakes, and
the birth rate of boy babies. He and his research team have found that
fewer boys were born in the nine months following both earthquakes. This
follows on from other research he has done, finding a similar decrease
in male births after extreme weather events. ***Ed: It is well accepted
in Japan that female baby producing sperm are more robust by a
significant factor than male ones. Now Dr. Fukuda is suggesting that
emotional stress, not just physical conditions, exert gender influence.
So if you want boys, lead a stress-free life in Kokura, Kyushu (low
earthquake zone)!** (Source: TT commentary from, Jul
20, 2018)
[Ed: Note this article is behind a paywall.]

=> Russia again floats idea of bridge from Sakhalin to Hokkaido

Russia has once again floated the idea of a 45km bridge between Sakhalin
island and Hokkaido in Japan. The Russians are promoting a road and rail
bridge, providing fast and reliable transportation of goods between Cape
Crillon in Sakhalin and Cape Soya on the northern-most part of Hokkaido.
Russia is already building a US$8m bridge from the mainland to Sakhalin,
and therefore a link between the two nation’s islands would provide
Japan with uninterrupted land access all the way to Europe. ***Ed: Hard
to see the Japanese government, which still fears Russia, opening up its
northern border. Then there is the small matter of Cape Soya not being
served by rail or even decent truck-worthy roads. Still, this could
certainly be bundled into the Sakhalin oil and gas pipeline that Japan
is indeed interested in building access.** (Source: TT commentary from, 18 Jul 2018)

=> Bakers breathe easy – Canada wheat allowed in again

It’s been a tense month for commercial artisanal bakers in Japan, as
their main supply of hard wheat (high protein) flour, from Canadian, was
suspended last month. The agriculture ministry banned import and sales
of Canadian wheat after finding genetically modified (GM) wheat grains
mixed in with regular supplies. Japan has a very strict ban on GM
products, being unconvinced of their long-term safety. Canada is the 2nd
largest exporter of wheat, supplying about 1/3 of shipments. ***Ed:
Canadian hard wheat is a popular base ingredient for sourdough bakers.**
(Source: TT commentary from, 22 Jul 2018)

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.



No upcoming events this week.



No feedback or corrections this issue.


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=> Beppu Fireworks Festival
The art of light and music

The Beppu Hanabi Taikai (Beppu Fireworks Festival) is a must-see summer
event. The festival is held annually on either the last weekend of July
or first weekend of August.

Beppu Hanabi Taikai is held at Spa Beach, which overlooks the Pacific
Ocean. Hundreds of colorful and varied stalls are set up in preparation
for the fireworks spectacle. The stalls sell typical festival food such
as yakiniku (grilled meat), takoyaki (octopus balls), yakisoba (fried
noodles), crepes, apple candy, kakigori (shaved ice covered in syrup),
and cotton candy. People dressed in yukata (summer kimono) browse the
stalls and form large queues to get their hands on their favourite
festive treats.

Members of large companies and organizations gather on a stage by the
sand to praise the god of the hot springs in the form of a traditional
dance. The dance goes on and on until darkness falls. At this point you
need to be quick on your feet and secure a good spot on the beach
because everyone will dash to get the best view of the fireworks
display. For the next hour you can relax and enjoy the brilliant
multi-colored spectacle in the starlit sky.

Venue: Beppu Spa Beach When: Jul 27th – Jul 29th 2018 , 7:00pm – 9:00pm

=> Ekin Festival in Kochi Pref.
Spooky Paintings by Candlelight

Walking the narrow streets of small town Akaoka at night with nothing
illuminating your way but candlelight and paper lanterns strung up
above, one instantly notices this is not your typical festival. Feeling
a little more like Halloween, Ekin Festival is a trip into the
frightening scenes of famous kabuki plays as depicted by one local artist.

Hirose Kinzou, better known as Ekin in Kochi, lived from 1812 to 1876
and is famous for his shibai-e byoubu, or theatrical images on folding
screens. To protect the sensitive condition these paintings are in, no
street lights (or even those of vending machines) are allowed on during
this two day festival which happens every 3rd weekend of July.

Rather, each painting is folded out in front of stores on the street,
lit by a single candlestick. Personally, given the nature of these scary
images, this seems like the only proper way to view them. Plus, it just
makes for a great, fun festival.

After wandering through the streets and taking in all the spookiness,
you will find a central square where the typical Japanese festival
yatai, food booths, are set up in plenty. This area is well lit by high
beam super lights of the 21st century, and there’s a stage with some
kind of entertainment constantly going on in the background. The food
here is very good, so eat, have a beer, and relax for a bit (if you’re
lucky enough to find a table!).

When: Jul 21st – Jul 22nd 2018 , 6:00pm – 9:00pm



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