Terrie's Take 813 -- Building Dreams Out of a Baklava Bakery, e-biz news from Japan
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Jul 20 12:29:24 JST 2015
* * * * * * * * 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, July 19, 2015, Issue No. 813
- What's New -- Building Dreams Out of a Baklava Bakery
- News -- Alpaca Weddings in Nasu
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections and Feedback -- The Julie Hamp case and Japan's own legal
- Travel Picks -- Beautiful waterfall in Karuizawa, Ogres and Rocks in Gunma
- News Credits
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+++ WHAT'S NEW
Over the last seven years, Japanese friends have frequently asked us how
the resident foreigner community is doing. With the hollowing out after
the Lehman Shock then the 3/11 radiation fears because of Fukushima,
this has been an easy question to answer - "Not very well". And sure
enough, the student numbers in the international schools, the closure of
international supermarkets, and the failure of foreigner-owned
businesses were testimony that those specializing in servicing the
foreign community were having a hard time. However, since the second
half of 2013, with the twin supports of the Olympics being awarded to
Tokyo (giving rise to a renewed interest in internationalization by the
Japanese) and the weakening of the yen, suddenly Japan is looking
attractive to foreign investors again -- and the foreign resident
population is starting to recover.
We always look to the student numbers in international schools as our
gauge of the foreign resident community, and by all reports, the schools
are enjoying their best year since 2007, with long waiting lists of kids
whose foreign parents are wealthy enough to afford the JPY3MM or so a
year it costs to send them there. These are the same parents who shop at
international supermarkets, frequent foreigner-friendly beauty parlors,
and who generally keep the local foreign community economy going. Our
guess is that this inflow will continue for at least another five years,
so if you're thinking to get into the restauranting business with
foreign food, your prospects are about as good as they could be right now.
The biblical 7-year "down" cycle for the foreign community has done more
than just test the patience and loyalty of foreign businesspeople in
Japan (we know many who have left and who are doing much better in
Singapore and Hong Kong), it has also caused a personal mind-shift in
many people to do something more personally meaningful in their lives.
One friend, Mamta Reid, who by the way is a wonderful all-vegetarian
cook, is starting up her own restaurant in Yoyogi Uehara in September.
It will be called TUDORE TRANQUILITY (http://bit.ly/1Kfc3jy - but the
restaurant site is not up yet). Mamta started off in a classic manner by
having dinner parties at her home and doing catering as the
word-of-mouth spread. We wish her the best of luck and look forward to
Another friend, and the actual subject of today's Take, is Marc Simmons,
someone most readers will know better as the owner of the Simnet IT
company. Marc has lived in Japan for 25 years and has been a fixture in
the IT sector the whole time. He hails from Cyprus and the UK and was
formally trained in mainframe computing before arriving in Japan. Like
many other foreign small-business people in Japan, after the Lehman
Shock and the Tohoku disaster he found that those events were more than
just newspaper items, and the stampede of companies and staff exiting
Japan meant less work, lower fees, and personal hardship.
The pressure to stay afloat and keep employees happy built up
inexorably, and in 2013 Marc suffered what he thought at the time was a
heart attack. He was walking to work when he suddenly collapsed and a
bystander had to call an ambulance. On the way to hospital the massive
chest pains made Marc believe he was dying and he tried to write a
goodbye note to his son. But his hands were shaking so badly that he
wound up punching the wrong keys and the message never got sent. This
was probably just as well, because a barrage of tests at the hospital
found that rather than a heart attack, he was suffering from stress,
hypertension, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The pressure of
the declining foreign market IT business was literally killing him.
Marc realized then that it was time to change his life, but he didn't
know how this would happen until an innocuous meeting opened a new door.
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In 2014 Marc attended a Turkish event in Shinjuku where serendipity led
him to a stall selling Halloumi cheeses and Carob syrup. Marc had spent
his childhood holidays at his grandfather's home in Cyprus when school
in England was in recess, and the foods he sampled at the stall
transported him back to those simpler days. Buying some of the products,
he befriended the Cypriot owner of the business, Hasan Nuri. The two men
quickly hit it off, discovering similar interests, backgrounds, and even
the fact that they might be distantly related. Tokyo is a small place
The upshot is that Marc decided to invest in Hasan's business, Hasel
Foods (http://bit.ly/1VjjY5o) and moved out to the "wilds" of Sayama in
Saitama Prefecture to help part-time in the bakery. Today while he still
runs SimNet in Tokyo but in his spare moments his passion is the bakery
and the Mediterranean food import business that the two business
partners are building up.
Hasel Foods' flagship product is Baklava - a desert that is close to our
hearts, since it's highly popular in Australia as well. Baklava is not
only delicious, it's literally a work of art, consisting as it does of
30-plus layers of phyllo dough (paper-thin sheets of raw, unleavened
flour dough) alternating with a spiced nut mixture. The pastry is
prepared on large trays and melted organic shortening is poured on top.
After baking, the whole thing is soaked in fragrant sweet syrup made
with honey, lemon, and cinnamon. The Baklava is then cut into small
pieces of various shapes (triangles, squares, or diamonds) and cooled
before packing and dispatch. Yum...!
Hasel Foods is the only company in Japan making freshly-cooked Baklava.
It is all hand-made and requires years of study and practice to make
well. Authentic Baklava is made from high-grade butter, honey, organic
shortening, pistachios, etc., earning it the title "King of desserts."
Indeed there have been wars fought over it. While Baklava is commonly
regarded as a Greek specialty, it is widely found in Turkey and many
Arab and other Middle Eastern cultures, and is generally served on
special occasions in religious ceremonies.
Marc and Hasan's business currently serves Japan's 4,500-person Turkish
community and approximately another 10,000 people from other
mediterranean countries, so they have a solid base and ship about four
tons of product a month. However, the partners want to expand their
operations and so of course are looking to introduce Baklava and their
other 150+ SKUs (40 of which are breads and other bakery items) to
others in the foreign community and the mainstream Japanese market.
Their most popular products are: pita bread, Halloumi cheese, pickled
olives, black olives, 100% pomegranate organic juice, feta cheese, and
Yes, you can buy Baklava from other sources in Japan, but it's not fresh
and you can taste the difference. To prove this point, you can either
try their products by visiting their website at http://bit.ly/1VjjY5o
(or calling 04-2941-3730), or visiting one of the many restaurants that
serve Marc and Hasan's Baklava. Several of the best ones are:
* Pamukkale restaurant in Shinjuku
* Saray (they have 4 restaurants in Tokyo) restaurant - the main one is
So to sum up, we have seen the 3/11 event in particular cause many
long-term foreign friends to reassess their mission in life, and embark
on more "soulful" directions. We applaud this, because we think a career
shouldn't be about "work" but rather be an expression of your life goals
and the creation of something worthwhile. Sometimes even the most
negative event comes with a silver lining and we wish Marc, Hasan,
Mamta, and the many others who are starting new businesses in Japan the
best of luck over the coming years. If you love food, please consider
supporting their efforts.
Also, if any other readers have new businesses with an interesting
background story, we'd love to hear from you and to tell it on your behalf.
* Hasel Foods (Marc and Hasan's company)
...The information janitors/
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well, with various members of the team being experts on each.
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developing web systems. Any nationality, as a visa can be supplied to
the qualified individual, however, English and Japanese capability is
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atmosphere, modern office in convenient location in Roppongi. Immediate
start, but we will wait for the right person.
Interested applicants please send your resume to info at metroworks.co.jp
or to info at japantravel.com.
- Delta wants to sponsor Skymark recovery
- Mountain of unneeded plutonium. Why?
- Interesting re-do of CPI measures
- Alpaca weddings in Nasu
- Full-timer conversion subsidies renewed
=> Delta wants to sponsor Skymark recovery
An interesting development in the Skymark bankruptcy recovery efforts
this last week was that Delta Air Lines has stepped forward as a
potential investor in the new Skymark. Delta was apparently put up to
the deal by Intrepid Aviation, the aircraft leasing company that Skymark
owes many millions to. If Delta became involved, this would likely
scuttle the currently mooted ANA sponsorship of Skymark. Delta of course
has a close relationship with Japan Airlines, ANA's recently recovered
main competitor. ***Ed: as the USA Today story notes, one major hurdle
for Delta will be how to monetize the relationship. Delta flies in to
Narita while Skymark has slots at Haneda. Maybe there will be permission
from the government to allow some horse trading between the new partners
of slots at each location? If so, that would be interesting.** (Source:
TT commentary from usatoday.com, Jul 15, 2015)
=> Mountain of unneeded plutonium. Why?
While the public focuses on how many reactors will re-start in the next
12 months, another problem is emerging - a mountain of unneeded
plutonium from spent uranium fuel processing plants abroad. Japan now
has bout 47 tons of separated plutonium, making it the largest holder of
the material among non-nuclear weapons states. The original idea was to
mix the plutonium with uranium (MOX) for use in suitably modified
reactors. The problem is that not only are any of these new reactors
being completed any time soon, but also the existing MOX-capable
reactors have also been off line for the last two years. In the
meantime, the MOX fuel supplies from abroad keep arriving. ***Ed:
Actually, one really has to wonder why the Japanese are even interested
in using plutonium. In most other countries, the idea of trying to
recover plutonium has been abandoned, except as a means of building
weapons. So as a friend pointed out to us, the stockpile of plutonium
here in Japan can only be for one reason - so that if the nation
suddenly needs nuclear weapons it won't need to go far to get them.
Maybe this is what Abe's new national secrets and constitutional
reinterpretation efforts are all about?** (Source: TT commentary from
wsj.com, Jul 15, 2015)
=> Interesting re-do of CPI measures
Perhaps it's just a sign of the times, but the Japan Times had a nice
comment on the price components that go into setting the Consumer Price
Index (CPI) for Japan. For example, the statisticians are removing the
tracking of price rises of McDonald's Happy Meals for kids and replacing
them with pricing tracking for hearing aids... presumably mostly not for
kids. The CPI is based on 585 items commonly bought by the Japanese
public, and the statisticians will remove 32 currently tracked items,
replacing them with 33 new items. ***Ed: The index excludes fresh food -
a major sink for the meager funds of Japanese workers, and so we don't
put much store by it. Apart from rent/mortgages, food is the biggest
expenditure item for most households. So to us, excluding fresh food is
like lying through numbers.** (Source: TT commentary from
japantimes.co.jp, Jul 18, 2015)
=> Alpaca weddings in Nasu
The UK's Daily Mail has an amusing "isn't Japan weird?" article on their
website, about alpaca weddings at a hotel in Nasu. The newspaper calls
the weddings, which involve a photo shoot of the lucky couple with an
alpaca from the local zoo, a "new craze". In fact, it isn't so new, in
that these weddings were being advertised on the web by the Hotel
Epinard Nasu as long ago as 2012. Still, it is a bit weird, and as
someone points out in the comments, alpacas may look cute but they have
some nasty spitting habits as well... ***Ed: If you recognize the Hotel
Epinard Nasu, it's managed by the Fortress fund in Roppongi Hills. Very
nice bit of viral marketing, and we look forward to see more from their
Naqua group.** (Source: TT commentary from dailymail.co.uk, Jul 16, 2015)
=> Full-timer conversion subsidies renewed
The 2013 introduction of subsidies to companies that convert
non-permanent workers to full-timers is about to be extended into 2016.
The subsidy for major companies is currently JPY400,000 per employee up
to 15 people, and for SMEs JPY500,000 per employee. The expectation is
that number of employees per company and also the size of the grants
will increase in FY2016. Over the last two years, about 16,000 people
converted to full-time status under the scheme -- not a lot, but it's a
start. ***Ed: The key message here is that if you can put up with all
the paperwork, there is money to be had by simply structuring your
future hires as temps first then permanents.** (Source: TT commentary
from the-japan-news.com, Jul 19, 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.
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+++ UPCOMING EVENTS/ANNOUNCEMENTS
------------------ ICA Event - July 22nd-------------------
Speaker: Brian Nelson - Co Founder and CEO, Director (Chairman of the
Board) of BNC K.K
Title: "Replacing Cash and Protecting People Utilizing Smart Phone"
Details: Complete event details at http://www.icajapan.jp/
Date: Wednesday, July 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 Monday 20th July 2015. Venue is The Foreign
Correspondents' Club of Japan
=> What happened to Julie Hamp? Well, she got released without being
charged -- pretty much what we said would happen.
*** But perhaps more interesting than her release was that fact that
Japan has its own auto industry fugitives, 25 of them in fact. As the
writer points out, while drugs are bad in Japan, price fixing is not.
But laws are laws, and if Japan were really serious about enforcing
them, then it would give up its own fugitives to justice in the USA.
Read this very interesting counterpoint to the Hamp case on Crain's.
+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS
=> Picchio's Sengataki Waterfall Tour, Nagano-ken
An eco-tour to a beautiful Karuizawa waterfall
After days of rain, the sun finally came out for our tour to Sengataki
waterfall. Mr Kuwata, our Picchio guide, drove us from the Picchio
tourist center in the Hoshino resort to a car park 1km from the
waterfall. From there, we walked to our destination, one of Karuizawa's
most beautiful natural sights.
With the binoculars provided, we had the opportunity to see the
surrounding wildlife in all its glory, as some of Karuizawa?s
fascinating birds and insects came out of their shelters from the rain.
In this forest, there are all types of creatures - the famous Karuizawa
Flycatcher, frogs, toads, bears, so many kinds of insects that even the
Picchio experts can't name all of them yet - but they like to stay
hidden, so you have to keep your eyes peeled.
Our particular tour group was lucky, not only because of the change in
weather, but also our observation skills - one of us managed to spot a
Flycatcher, a beautiful local blue bird, although it was very far away,
so it took some time for the rest of us to find it with our binoculars!
=> Oni-oshi-dashi Park
The best view of Mount Asama in Gunma
"Onioshidashi" literally means "ogres pushing rocks down [from the
mountain]". Considering the park's unique landscape and the fact that
it's right beside an active volcano, you can see where such a vivid name
came from. When you get out of your car, all you need to do is turn
around and there you will see the magnificent Mount Asama looming over
you. Onioshidashi park gives you the best view of this mountain anywhere
in Nagano and Gunma prefectures, and it's situated ideally on the border
between the two.
After going through the entrance, there are shops, cafes, stalls selling
food, and professional photographers ready to take your picture in front
of Mount Asama and its beautifully rugged environment. Buying a photo
costs ¥1000, a good price for a great memory. As you ascend the winding
path towards the temple, you begin to get a glimpse of the red
buildings, a striking image in the rough, grey landscape. Amongst these
buildings, you will find a place to wash your hands and mouth before
approaching the temple, food and drink stops, the temple itself, and a
gong, which people are free to ring for themselves.
It's not only immensely satisfying, ringing this gong with a clear view
of the volcano ahead of you, then listening to it echo - it's also a
beautifully haunting sensation. After all, Asama was not only
responsible for the stunning rugged landscape, but also the death of
many locals hundreds of years ago. The temple was built in 1958 in
remembrance of them, and in dedication to the Kannon, the Buddhist
goddess of mercy. The sound of the gong is melancholy, reverent, and
creates an impression of the peoples' fearful respect towards the active
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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