Terrie's Take 847 -- Unemployment Disease as a Foreigner in Japan. E-biz news from Japan.

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Apr 18 09:59:43 JST 2016

* * * * * * * * 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, April 17, 2016, Issue No. 847

- What's New -- Unemployment Disease as a Foreigner in Japan
- News -- US warns against currency manipulation
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- What's a DMC?
- Travel Picks -- Ando Museum in Kagawa, Tocho observatory in Tokyo
- News Credits

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Next week, the government will announce the unemployment figures for 
March 2016. In February unemployment increased slightly, to 3.3%, 0.1% 
above the number for January. Compared to other countries, Japan's 
unemployment figures are enviably low and so people wonder why the 
economy is at the same time probably headed into another recession. The 
reason is because Japan's recessions are not tied to the employment 
numbers in the same way as they are in the West. Rather, there are 
deeper systemic problems caused by cultural and demographic problems here.

According to noted Japan blogger and economics expert, Assistant 
Professor at Stony Brook University (New York) Noah Smith, the cause of 
Japan's poor economic performance even as its unemployment rate stays 
low, is due to three things: willingly unemployed housewives, the aging 
population reducing the workforce, and falling wages. In our opinion, of 
these three problems falling wages is having the biggest impact in the 
short-term. In fact, wages fell again in February 2016 from JPY300,130 
in January, to JPY292,430. Wages are now just one third of what they 
were in December 1997, although still well above the record low for 
incomes in February 1970.

Given that unemployment was at 4% back in 2013, when we had the high 
yen, and now that the yen appears to inexorably be returning to at least 
100 to the dollar, our guess is that unemployment will start increasing 
again, and as it does the average wage will continue eroding as well.

You may well ask how it is that wages are going down even as the number 
of job offers in Japan exceeds job applicants by a factor of 1.28. The 
answer to this is the mis-match of job types (technology and specialty 
positions) to the skills of the audience actually looking for a job. 
Noah Smith points out that Japan's low unemployment numbers are kept low 
by virtue of lots of "make-work" positions. So the problem isn't a lack 
of jobs or even lack of applicants, but rather that Japan is failing to 
retrain its workforce.

Now, as a contrast to this rather gloomy outlook for Japan's labor 
markets, we thought we'd lighten up this week's Terrie's Take by 
publishing (with some editing by us) an article by local author, Mike 
Thuresson, who as a Japanese salaryman, enjoys recounting the humorous 
cultural gap between Japanese hometown values versus American ones 
(where Mike is from). If you enjoy his writing, you can see more at:


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[...Article continues]

["Unemployment Disease as a Foreigner in Japan" by Mike Thuresson]

A few years ago I was unemployed in Japan for a few months. It was the 
first time I'd ever lost a job and I learned, the hard way, why work is 
Japan's national religion. I found unemployment in Japan to be dull and 
humbling, with multiple subtle humiliations pounding you into a funk 
that is difficult to escape. Let me give you an idea...

After being fired, I'd start my day opening my eyes a little before 
6:00am, and then lying there for half an hour, too inert to face the 
silence of my email inbox. One particular day, however, I got up before 
everyone else in the house so I could pound the cyber pavement in search 
of a job. I had a hop in my step that day, well, until I stopped to read 
a note on the kitchen counter from my wife. It's banality instantly 
punctured my breadwinning vibe: "Take the trash out. Don't waste bags, 
and tie it up right this time!"

Little domestic tweaks like this reveal how Japanese society's obsession 
with mottainai ("waste not, want not") puts the squeeze on the jobless 
man in Japan, driving him out of the house and into an office, where he 
belongs. I subsequently shaved, dressed, and took out our garbage and 
empty cans, hoping to avoid my neighbors. Nothing sticks out in a 
Japanese neighborhood mid-morning on a weekday more than an out-of-work 
salaryman, especially a foreign one.

And nothing gives away a change in your job status like the beer cans 
you put in your street's recycling bin (side note: beer-drinking 
statistics are even an official economic indicator in Japan and are 
often cited in newscasts).

In Japan, there are three categories of beer, the top one occupied by 
the premium Asahi, Sapporo, Suntory and Kirin brands. In my lowly state, 
there could be no drink guilt-free drinking from this beloved tier. I 
had to indulge in the middle category - the lower-malt, lower-cost 
happoshu ("carbonated alcohol beverage") - a fall that spoke volumes to 
anyone watching. And to my annoyance, my retired salaryman neighbor 
shuffled out with his cans at the same time as me. He glanced at my cans 
and commented, "Happoshu ka. Saikin taihen dane!" ("Ahh, happoshu is it? 
Things are tough these days aren't they!").

This experience drove me to make a monthly pilgrimage to Hello Work, 
Japan's English-named national unemployment insurance service (yes, they 
even try to turn the shame of unemployment into a cute thing in Japan). 
At the Hello Work office, you had to follow their purely ceremonial 
requirement of "applying" for their listed job openings in order to 
qualify for your welfare payout.

I entered the Hello Work to find dozens of other unemployed people were 
there - mostly Japanese men in their 50s, but a few older women as well. 
We were all there to search through Hello Work's job databases and list 
up the jobs we wanted to "apply" to (rumor has it that 
government-friendly companies provide the listings just to serve the 
purpose of this ceremonial job search requirement).

Then we'd wait there for the staff to decide how many of your selected 
jobs you were qualified to apply to. After this, a clerk - a 
sweaty-armpitted, grumpy older man with matted-down hair growing low on 
his forehead - would call out your name. He'd bark, "Mr. Suzuki, 20 
jobs. Please come forward."

Sometimes it was only 10 or 15 jobs, but whatever it was, the whole room 
knew it. Presently my name was called, its unnatural foreign sound was 
like a record needle scratching across a vinyl surface. It instantly 
caught the attention of the whole room. Everyone stopped to stare at me 
as the clerk called out my results: "Su-re-son-san: zero jobs!"

People couldn't help laughing, but thankfully I'd learned from previous 
visits to sit in the front row so I didn't have to see their faces. I 
quickly walked up, took my welfare slip and walked out head-down, 
muttering to myself.

Later, on the way home, I spotted a successful friend in the distance 
walking toward me. I quickly dove into a pricey cafe to avoid him, and 
of course then had to buy something.

You could multiply all of the above disasters by a hundred - it's all 
part of the experience of being an unemployed foreigner in Japan. 
Fittingly, though, this dreadful period came to an end in the most 
random, uninspired way possible. I stumbled across a job accidentally 
when I emailed a former colleague about returning a book he'd borrowed 
from me the previous year. His company has a job opening appropriate for 
a foreigner, "Why don't you come in and talk about it?"

And hola!, that's how I ended my time as a jobless man in Japan and 
gloriously returned to Asahi-sipping salarymanhood.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Factory shortages due to Kumamoto earthquakes
- Chinese woman deported for illegal tour guiding
- Gold demand soars 35%
- US warns against currency manipulation
- Chinese LOVE curry roux

=> Factory shortages due to Kumamoto earthquakes

The immediate tragedy of the Kumamoto earthquakes will become 
compounded, as some of Japan's largest auto manufacturing firms start 
cutting back domestic production due to the shortage of parts from 
subcontractor factories in and around Kumamoto. Most low-tech parts 
factories will apparently try to resume production in a week's time, the 
period in which aftershocks are expected to settle down. However, 
semiconductor maker Renesas Electronics has said that its auto-related 
production may not resume "any time soon," because of continuing 
aftershocks. ***Ed: Kumamoto was considered previously relatively safe 
from earthquakes and was on the site list of most manufacturers trying 
to diversify their facilities around the nation.** (Source: TT 
commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Apr 17, 2016)


=> Chinese woman deported for illegal tour guiding

Back in March a Chinese women was deported from Japan from her working 
illegally as an unlicensed tour guide for Chinese groups visiting 
Fukuoka. She provided interpreting services and escorted the groups to 
stores that she was receiving kickbacks from. The Kyodo article reckons 
the women received about JPY30m in illicit payments from stores 
receiving her groups. At the same time, the police are now prosecuting a 
Chinese male student in his twenties, for similar activities. He 
apparently earned about JPY40m from store kickbacks. The police are also 
charging six managers of three travel agencies and three duty-free 
stores for their participation. ***Ed: Clear warning sign here from the 
authorities to tourism sector operators that they need to clean up their 
act. The tour guide situation is particularly problematic, though, since 
there is a shortage of suitable guides due to the archaic qualification 
requirements imposed by the government, so we expect more prosecutions 
to come.** (Source: TT commentary from kyodonews.net, Mar 3, 2016)


=> Gold demand soars 35%

The Bank of Japan's negative interest rates policy is having a bigger 
effect than expected, and not in a good way. Investors are now turning 
to gold as a hedge against inflation and/or future monetary controls. 
The demand for gold bullion soared 35% for Q1 of this year (versus Q4 
last year), with 8,192kg being sold. This jump in demand is in keeping 
with an overall trend for more holdings in gold. As we reported several 
weeks ago, gold demand for 2015 rose almost 100% to 32.8 tons over 
2014's 17.9 tons, with most of that demand coming at the end of the 
year. (Source: TT commentary from Bloomberg.com, Apr 14, 2016)


=> US warns against currency manipulation

Finance Minister Aso got totally shut down with his efforts to appeal to 
the just-held G20 IMF summit in the USA to support Japan's ongoing 
efforts to weaken its currency. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned 
countries to "avoid manipulating their currencies to boost trade". He 
instead urged those countries running large trade surpluses, i.e., a 
clear signal to China and Japan, to boost their spending and support 
growth and job creation. The IMF downgraded its global economy outlook, 
despite an announcement by China that they had had a 6.7% increase in 
growth over Q1, 2016. ***Ed: A classic Big Dog-Little Dog story, unusual 
in the public nature of the rebuke being delivered by the US to Japan." 
(Source: TT commentary from phillyvoice.com, Apr 16, 2016)


=> Chinese LOVE curry roux

House Foods, the maker of the best selling Vermont Curry roux our kids 
grew up on, is now enjoying the financial benefits of releasing the same 
product in China. Chinese moms can't get enough of the stuff, and the 
company's overall sales for FY2015 rose 15% or by about JPY10bn, while 
overseas (mostly China) revenues soared 50% to just over JPY1.6bn. 
***Ed: The company faces some head winds in 2016-2017 due to intense 
competition within Japan, but if it learns from China and starts to 
promote its products around Asia, we can think of many other countries 
that will love Vermont curry.** (Source: asia.nikkei.com, Apr 15, 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.



No events this week.

+++ CORRECTIONS/FEEDBACK -- One man's Ramshackle hut is another's ski resort

=> In last week's Terrie's Take we referred to the term DMC several 
times, without defining what a DMC is. In tourism parlance, a 
Destination Management Company refers to a firm that provides end-to-end 
services to help its customers in a given destination - in this case 
Japan. Many DMCs are not travel agents in the destination country, 
preferring instead to research in that country, while providing the 
licensed services in their home country. Regular travel agents on the 
other hand, are licensed in the destination country and also handle 
travel requests for other locations around the world, although they may 
also specialize in just one destination.



=> ANDO MUSEUM on Naoshima, Kagawa
An archive of the architect's works by the man himself

One would imagine that a museum dedicated to the works of Tadao Ando 
would take on a similar style and feel to his iconic works on Naoshima. 
The Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House Project and Lee UFan Museum are 
often depicted in pictures to have a very distinctive look - clean 
lines, simple shapes, and a monochromatic color scheme with lots of grey 
concrete, an artful use of light - a simplification perhaps of the work 
of a master.

So to find the museum housed in a small traditional wooden house in the 
Honmura district of Naoshima, distinguished from its neighbors only by a 
tidy metal plate declaring it the ANDO MUSEUM was a bit of a surprise to 
me. At first glance it seems removed from his usual aesthetic, but 
entering the house, you see how Ando has taken pains to preserve as much 
of this 100-year old building's shell as far as possible, a principle of 
preservation and blending in with the surroundings that he has kept to 
in designing his other structures on Naoshima.


=> Observing Tokyo High Up...for Free
See Tokyo's mega nightlife from the top of Shinjuku

I have many friends mention the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan 
Government Building, or what locals call 'Tokyo Tocho'. This Shinjuku 
skyscraper is not just another government building, it's one of the most 
popular tourist attractions in Tokyo. And you know why? Because this 
building offers a ride to its 45th floor FOR FREE. And from that floor, 
you can see the whole of Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government 
Building stands 243 meters high and consists of two towers. Each tower 
has an observatory at a height of 202 meters. In fact, until 2007 the 
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was the tallest building in 
Japan, a record now replaced by the Midtown Tower in Roppongi.

If the weather is good, you can see all  of Tokyo's exciting landmarks: 
Mount Fuji, Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine, and the Tokyo 
Dome. Each observatory has a cafe and gift shop. The north observatory 
is open until late, making it a great spot to enjoy the night view of 
this mega city.




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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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