Japan offers its sporting venues to the world

c44adf44925f415ab24b53e9d75bdbddJapan wants big sporting events to boost its economy and bring it international prestige. It is hoping to learn from the UK how to gain long-term benefit from hosting international tournaments.

For the past month, England has been hosting the Rugby World Cup and has been widely praised. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how England 2015 has succeeded. We believe it has succeeded at every level,” said Brett Gosper, the managing director of Rugby World Cup Limited.

On the field, it was the Japanese performance which really impressed Mr Gosper: “Possibly the greatest story of 2015 has been the success of the Japanese team. The Japan-South Africa game, I’m sure they’ll make Hollywood films of that one day,” he said.

The Japanese victory over South Africa was probably biggest upset in rugby history and the buzz of excitement over rugby in Japan at the moment is enormous. The Japanese TV commentator was so shocked when Japan won the game in extra time that he was unable to speak for 45 seconds.

Japan is now looking forward to hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

This week, I attended an excellent event in London called Presenting Japan, organised by Dentsu. Among other things, it emphasised the great opportunities for Japan associated with the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics in 2020. For example, there will be investment in signs in English, which should make it easier for foreigners to travel in Japan. There are plans to encourage more community sports participation, especially among Japan’s older people. Japanese people are also going to promote sport in developing countries.

This week the logo for the Rugby Word Cup was revealed bearing two of Japan’s most recognisable symbols, the rising sun and Mt Fuji. It has apparently been rigorously tested to ensure it is original and not a copy. The logo for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was criticised for its similarity to something designed for a theatre in Belgium.

Japan hopes that the legacy of the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics will be beneficial, both economically and diplomatically. At the London presentation, the Tokyo 2020 Chief Operating Officer Yukhiko Nunomara looked back to the last time the Olympics was held in Tokyo, in 1964. He said that it transformed the way Japan was seen by the rest of the world following the war. He also said it was a factor in bringing about the rapid economic growth which began in the early 1960s. One example is the famous shinkansen train, which went into service at around the time of the games.

David Cameron hails the UK’s “golden era” with China

chinese-queen-jinp_3477676bThe British prime minister David Cameron said the relationship between Britain and China is entering a “golden era”. Many business deals were signed during a trip to London by the Chinese president. Should Japan be worried?

There was a warm welcome for President Xi by the Queen, Mr Cameron and Britain’s politicians and business leaders. One Chinese newspaper called it a match made in heaven because the UK wants to attract overseas investment and Chinese investors are seeking quality destinations for their funds.

The UK would like Chinese money for big transport and energy projects, such as high speed rail lines and nuclear power plants. Those are fields in which the Chinese and the Japanese compete. For example, Chinese investors have agreed to take a stake in a new nuclear plant. Japanese companies such as Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Toshiba are also keen to help build nuclear power plants in Europe. However, the Fukushima disaster has damaged Japan’s safety reputation.

Another concern for Japan will be the diplomatic impact of President Xi’s visit. China and Japan are sensitive when their rival is courted by other countries. Yet even as the red carpet was being rolled out for President Xi at Buckingham Palace, the British Parliamentary Group was holding a reception for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a building beside Big Ben.

President Xi mentioned Japan briefly during his speech in the City of London. He said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against “Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War”.

He praised George Hogg, a British journalist who he says exposed the “atrocities committed by Japanese aggressors” in his reports.

Mr Xi said: “The enduring friendship forged between the Chinese and British people in the flames of war is an invaluable asset of China-UK relationship.”

Such rhetoric is so often used by the Chinese it was barely noticed by the British media.

However, there were some people who expressed disquiet about the British establishment’s enthusiasm for China. One critic used the BBC’s flagship radio programme Today to voice his concerns. China expert James McGregor warned that Britain would now be seen as being “on a leash” by the Chinese leadership. Mr McGregor, who is the chairman of consultancy group APCO Worldwide’s Chinese operations, said: “This is incredible what’s going on right now, with the British Government saying ‘we want to be your best friend, we want to be your best friend, we’ll do anything for it’.

“Well, if you act like a panting puppy, the object of your attention is going to think they have got you on a leash. China does not respect people that suck up to him. I think England is going to rue the day they did this.”

The Chinese state newspaper China Daily said the business deals stemming from the visit will only be the low-hanging fruits. “This visit is more about diplomatic realism. It is too early to talk about a UK-China ‘love story’.”

Japan embraces ASEAN region despite investment risks

 20150822001168722734-minihighres-400x238Japan is investing twice as much money in South Eastern Asian countries than it is in China. Many countries which were invaded by the Japanese in the last century now want Japan to help their economies grow.

This week I attended a conference about the ASEAN countries at Asia House in London. It gave a valuable insight into an extremely diverse region, from the small but wealthy city state of Singapore to the still largely rural economies of Laos and Mynanmar, formerly known as Burma. Japan’s trade body, JETRO, says that Japan’s investment into the ASEAN nations jumped 120% over the past year to $23.6 billion. A report by PWC Australia explains that this largely came at the expense of China, which saw Japanese investment decrease by 33% to $9 billion.

There are three principle opportunities for the Japanese in the ASEAN region. Firstly, there is an opportunity to grow the market for Japanese products and services.  Secondly, there is a chance to invest in infrastructure. And thirdly, Japanese companies are seeking to build products in reliable factories with workers who will accept lower wages than the Chinese.

Although parts of the ASEAN region remain poor, there are many countries where rapid economic growth is creating a growing middle class. Consumer spending is ASEAN countries is set to reach two trillion US dollars by 2020, according to PWC. That makes it an attractive market for Japanese companies, who face a shrinking domestic market on the Japanese islands. So, Honda is busy selling cars in Indonesia, Mizuho bank is issuing bonds in Thailand and food and drinks companies such as Kirin and Suntory have set up their regional headquarters in Singapore.

Another opportunity for Japanese businesses is infrastructure. Earlier this year, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to invest more than a hundred billion dollars in Asian infrastructure projects, much of it through the Asian Development Bank. That should benefit countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, which want Japanese money for transport projects, renewable energy and rural development. The Japanese have extensive experience in these areas although they are cautious helping industries which might become rivals to Japan.

It is not always a straightforward process. For example, Japan offered to build a Shinkansen high speed railway in Indonesia but the government asked the Chinese to build it instead. As Richard Dailly of Kroll said at the Asia House conference, the competition pitted a Chinese state enterprise against corporate Japan – something of an uneven battle.

Another incentive for Japan to expand in the ASEAN region is the relatively low cost of labour, especially in comparison to China, where wages are rising. Japanese car manufacturers have long been producing in Thailand but the political situation there – a military government – makes investors cautious. Instead, Vietnam and Indonesia are seeing heightened Japanese investment interest.

Mr Abe has committed Japan to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is primarily expected to enhance Japan’s trade with the United States. Four ASEAN members – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam – are also TPP signatories and others, including Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, are considering joining. This could create a good trade environment for Japan.

The ten countries of the ASEAN region have another ambition: to become a single market. The impression I got from the meeting at Asia House is that this will be a slow process. Yet if a single market increases prosperity in the ASEAN region, that would be welcomed by Japan, which also stands to benefit from its neighbours’ economic progress.

Clinton and Obama split on US-Japan trade deal

japan-rice-2009-8-19-22-10-0Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe hailed a trade deal with the US and other countries as a major political victory. The deal has been welcomed by Japanese exporters like Toyota but Japanese farmers are worried about its implications.

The Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aims to make commerce easier between twelve countries, including the US and Japan. It removes many restrictions on imports and exports and should sweep away tariffs and bureaucracy. Because the major players, Japan and the US, enjoy such a large share of the global economy, the media’s attention has been on them rather than the other signatories, such as Peru.

For Japanese exporters seeking greater access to the US market, it presents an opportunity to compete more vigorously with their international rivals. Car makers such as Honda and Toyota expect to benefit. Therefore TPP has the backing of the powerful Japanese business group, the Keidanren.

For Japan’s farmers, TPP is a potential problem. They are worried that Japan will now allow imports of large quantities of rice, which is cheaper than the home-grown crop. Up to now, Japanese farmers have received subsidies from the government and there have been heavy tariffs on some types of imported rice. The leading Japanese newspaper the Nikkei asserts that the Japanese government has managed to exclude five agricultural products from the TPP deal; rice, wheat barley, dairy products, sugar cane and beet and beef (except organ meat).

Still, many Japanese people are concerned about the longer term implications of opening Japan up to this rigorous international competition.  Will it mean that rice farmers lose their livelihood? Or can they adapt to cope with the competition?

However, for the international journalists, the Japanese farmers are not the main story about TPP. The reporters are more interested in a disagreement between Hilary Clinton and President Obama.

Mr Obama – like Mr Abe – hailed the deal as a success. He told business leaders: “I wanted to get the best possible deal for American workers and American businesses, and that is what we have achieved.”

However Mrs Clinton said she cannot support the agreement. The Republican party in the US is not supportive either, which could mean it is not ratified in Congress. The Financial Times says Mr Obama hopes to get TPP passed by Congress before he leaves office in January 2017 but the political process is complicated. 

China – which is not part of the TPP deal – reacted cautiously. China’s Ministry of Commerce called TPP “one of the key free trade agreements for the Asia-Pacific region”, according to the Xinhua state news agency website.  “China hopes the TPP pact and other free trade arrangements in the region can boost each other and contribute to the Asia-Pacific’s trade, investment and economic growth,” it said.

Abe’s ally urges women to have more babies

20150905_asp501What is most important for Japanese women? Getting ahead at work or having babies? These are questions raised in the international media this week, following controversial remarks by a male politician.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga encouraged women to “contribute” to the nation by bearing lots of children. Speaking on a Fuji TV news show, Mr Suga expressed his hopes that a recently announced marriage between two Japanese celebrities would encourage more women to marry and have babies.

Mr Suga is a close political ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The international press generally presented his comments as old fashioned and patronising. For example, the British newspaper The Guardian, which supports gender equality, reported the comments under the headline Sexism Row. It went on to explain that Japan performs poorly in international gender equality comparisons. In the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, it ranked 104th out of 142 countries. The Guardian also highlighted Japan’s low female participation rate in the labour force.

At the recent World Assembly for Women in Tokyo, Mr Abe declared that “Abenomics is Womenomics”. The Japanese parliament recently passed a law calling on companies to find ways to promote more women. Previous initiatives do not seem to have gone well. For example not a single Japanese company has applied for a government subsidy to encourage firms to promote women.

This could undermine efforts to create more jobs for women to compensate for a shrinking workforce. Around 60% of Japanese women leave their jobs for childbirth and many find it difficult to resume their careers. Japan’s business newspaper the Nikkei suggests this is because they lose touch with new technology. The Womenomics plan includes support for mothers to regain workplace skills as well as help for companies that let fathers take time off to care for children.

Japanese women fascinate the international media, which often suggests they have a strange attitudes towards sex and romance. For example, the artist Megumi Igarashi has gained enormous attention for making a boat in the shape of female genitals. And this week  many websites reported a new service in Tokyo to send a handsome man with tissues to wipe the tears from distraught women in their offices. Hiroki Terai, creator of Ikemeso – the firm advertising the service, said: “Japanese women are under tremendous stress at the office here in Tokyo, which often ends in in tears. We are here to provide a kind word and brush the tears away by one of our seven lovely men on call.”