Terrie's Take 946 - Japan's Tulip - the Akoya Pearl Industry, ebiz news from Japan

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon May 28 08:46:46 JST 2018

* * * * * * * * 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, May 27, 2018, Issue No. 946

- What's New -- Japan's Tulip - the Akoya Pearl Industry
- News -- Where all our tax yen are going...
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Nautical shrine in Asamino, Wisteria tunnels in Nagano
- News Credits

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Japan's Tulip - the Akoya Pearl Industry

Few non-mineral gems have withstood the test of time and stayed in 
fashion as well as the lustrous pearl. On the other hand, few 
farming-marine sectors in Japan have seen such extreme boom and bust 
conditions as the pearl industry either. A recent report in the Nikkei 
says that Japanese pearls are now experiencing a mini-boom, shipping 
record post-Lehman-Shock numbers to buyers mostly located in east Asia. 
In fact, pearls, just behind scallops, are now the second highest marine 
product export, and producers say they plan to increase production by 
20% next year.

But this happy situation is a recent one, and for 20 years the industry 
has been stuck in crisis mode - firstly because of the Asian financial 
meltdown in the late 1990s, which severely impacted the main pearl 
consumer markets, then secondly a virus that ravaged Japanese pearl 
stocks several years later.

Japanese pearls are well regarded thanks to their luster and 
translucence, and exports of processed pearls were worth JPY36.3bn in 
2017, up 350% over the lows of 2008 but well below the peak of the early 
1990's when exports earned about JPY90bn annually. This number does 
include pearls imported on a wholesale basis, processed, then 
re-exported. Still, even allowing for re-exports, by volume, shipments 
continue to hover around 20 tons, which means most of the value gains 
have been in product quality.

There are storm clouds on the horizon, however, as global production is 
ramping up significantly and Japan's market share continues to fall. 
Globally there are now dozens of producers, supplying both fresh water 
and salt water pearls. Most of the fresh water pearls (grown in mussels, 
not oysters) and in fact most of the world's new pearls, come from 
China, where production techniques have improved to the point that the 
best specimens are hard to tell from salt water ones - perfectly round 
and with good color. China produces about 1,500 tons of fresh water 
product a year.

-------------------- SAKE NIGHT 2018 ----------------------

Hosted by Canadian Rakugo-ka (comic storyteller) Sunshine Katsura, the 
first-ever foreign professional performer of Kamigata Rakugo, "SAKE 
NIGHT 2018 from All Over Japan" will feature a chance to sample over 400 
different varieties of sake from across all of Japan's 47 prefectures. 
The event is by invitation only and limited to 200 attendees, so don't 
miss out on a chance to be one of the lucky few by registering before 
noon on Friday June 8. Please register via email or FAX (Attention: Niki 
Kaihara or Eri Arai). Registered attendees will be notified by email.

E-mail: events at metropolis.co.jp, FAX: 03-4588-2278
Date & Time: Friday, June 15, 2018, 7:00-9:30pm (Reception begins 6:30pm)
Location: Ikebukuro Sunshine City Bunka Kaikan Buld, 4th floor 
Exhibition Hall B

Details: https://metropolisjapan.com/sake-night-2018/

[...Article continues]

For the more highly valued saltwater pearl, the annual global production 
volume is about 70 tons, so Japan still has the largest market share, 
but China is closing in fast. Both Japan and China focus on the Akoya 
species (Pinctada fucata - originally from Japan), while Australia, the 
Philippines, and of course Tahiti focus on the Tahitian and South Seas 
(white and gold) oysters. Other up-and-coming producers include Vietnam, 
Taiwan, Myanmar, the UAE, and other developing countries.

In case you're wondering, from stats on the web, Hong Kong is listed as 
the world's largest exporter of pearls because its dealers handle most 
of the freshwater production from China.

Japan's main producing regions are Mie and Ehime, with their numerous 
deep and protected bays, and efficient tidal flows. There are other 
centers around the country that are lesser known, such as Wakasa bay in 
Fukui. We visited Wakasa recently and discovered that the bay became 
newsworthy in 2000, when the oyster plague was killing more than half 
the shellfish in Shikoku and it was one of the few unaffected locations 
left. Unfortunately, the Wakasa breeders there got their spat from the 
same Shikoku site, and a couple of years later, the disease had spread 
there as well. They have since got the disease under control, with 
quarantining methods, but as a result of the virus, annual exports have 
fallen from 70 tons pre-plague to 20 tons now.

Various reasons are given for the devastating outbreak, including 
plankton-fueled "red tides", over-use of anti-parasite chemical formalin 
which is used to produce fugu fish, and an imported (from China) virus. 
While the real reason may never be agreed upon, the industry at large 
does agree that clean water and not over-stressing the oysters (although 
ironically, stressing them to a certain extent is key to producing 
pearls) are the main  contributors to producing viable pearls. We think 
this makes the plan to increase production by a full 20% a worrying 
measure, and we wonder if Mie and Ehime producers really learned any 
lessons from the disaster 20 years earlier?

Japanese pearls are a seasonal product, and while pearls in other parts 
of the world take 2-7 years to mature, local cultivators can seed their 
Akoya oysters in February and harvest the pearls in December - thus 
allowing the industry to modify their seeding efforts and production 
volumes. Seeding the oysters is still done by hand, with small rounds of 
fresh water mussel (mostly imported from the USA), inserted one at a 
time into each shell-fish. Dexterity and a light touch are both 
important skills to achieve a high yield, and the factory we visited at 
Wakasa had 12 people working full-time at studio-like stations, with a 
variety of precision dental-like tools at their disposal.

The history of cultured pearls, which the Japanese claimed they 
invented, is actually rather more interesting. In fact, it wasn't 
Kokichi Mikimoto who discovered the process, but rather a British 
biologist named William Saville-Kent, who in the late 1800's had a lab 
on Thursday island in Australia. His process was brought to Japan by Dr. 
Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise, and for which Nishikawa received a 
patent in 1916. Nishikawa subsequently married Mikimoto's daughter and 
the Mikimoto company acquired the technology that way. Of course if you 
read the Mikimoto literature, you'd think that its founder Kokichi did 
all the heavy lifting. To his credit, he tried many times to cultivate 
pearls but was only able to produce hemi-spherical product. It was 
Saville-Kent's breakthrough that made cultured pearls a proper, 
controllable process.

http://bit.ly/2xhWURV [Mikimoto's take]
http://bit.ly/2JeQA2x [Saville-Kent's short biography]

...The information janitors/


--------------- Cycle Japan's Highest Road ----------------

Japan Travel is proud to announce the next it its "Explore Japan" series 
of get-aways. This time it's our Cycling and Sightseeing Tour from the
Japanese Alps to Kyoto, scheduled to run from September 1 - 10, 2018. A 
highlight of the tour is traversing Japan's highest road.

Join this carefully designed bike tour for advanced cyclists, and get 
ready to explore the nature, history and culture of Japan along stunning
rural roads and the famous Nakasendo Trail and through the ancient 
capital of Kyoto. For this special tour, Japan Travel partners up with 
Peter Link, a knowledgeable, experienced and reputable guide and cyclist
who will bring you the best of Japan and make sure your trip is truly 

Shop the tour here: http://bit.ly/2jX9kFv

+++ NEWS

- Japanese FX traders move the Turkish Lira
- Uber launches collaborative service in Awajishima
- Foreign engineers to be surveyed
- Where all our tax yen are going...
- Airbnb tie-up with Familymart - shame about the timing

=> Japanese FX traders move the Turkish Lira

Who knew that Japanese foreign exchange investors are so heavily into 
the Turkish Lira? According to Bloomberg.com, Japanese margin traders 
held 323,537 long positions on the lira on May 15, up from 266,955 
contracts late last year. They are of course hoping for a recovery of 
the currency and bonds in that country, which historically pay high 
interest of 14%. Instead, the Lira has plummeted 22% against the yen 
year - making it the second-worst performing foreign exchange pair 
currency with the yen (after the Argentinian peso). ***Ed: And we 
thought the Kiwi dollar was risky enough!**


=> Uber launches collaborative service in Awajishima

In a strange coincidence related to one of our projects, Uber 
Technologies has announced that it has decided to hybridize its ride 
hailing service, and start a hailing service that uses the services of 
local taxi companies instead of its own vehicles. The service will be 
launched in Awajishima, which is the smallish island located between 
Kobe and Tokushima on Shikoku. The collaboration will serve the island's 
population of 150,000 people. ***Ed: A remote part of the country that 
threatens no one. We wonder how Uber has been doing in the only other 
area it's permitted to operate in - the Kyotango peninsular in Northern 
Kyoto Prefecture. (Source: TT commentary from reuters.com, May 22, 2018)


=> Foreign engineers to be surveyed

Interesting to see the labor ministry intend to survey roughly 2,500 
companies and 8,000 foreign engineers (out of the total 52,000 foreign 
engineers working in Japan). The ministry is trying to figure out just 
what is needed to get more foreign engineers to move to Japan, along 
with comments from them about ease of finding positions and mobility. A 
report drawn from the survey results will be available some time early 
next year (2019) - should be interesting. ***Ed: As we have mentioned in 
Terrie's Take previously, Japan is becoming a hot destination for 
software engineers in India, even despite the necessity to learn 
Japanese as a prerequisite.** (Source: TT commentary from 
asia.nikkei.com, May 24, 2018)


=> Where all our tax yen are going...

The Japanese economy may seem in pretty good shape, thanks to the nice 
financial bump being provided by the tourism boom. But in the background 
the nation's very negative socioeconomic trends are slowly grinding us 
all towards a poorer future. Specifically, the government's Council on 
Economic and Fiscal Policy has released data showing that Japan's social 
security costs will soar 60% over the next 25 years, from JPY121.3trn in 
FY2018 to JPY190trn in 2040. Leading this surge of costs will be pension 
benefits at JPY73.2trn, up 30% from this year. ***Ed: We've said it 
before, the nation can't withstand this kind of out-of-control social 
spending without a worker base to support it. Given we still have a 
falling birth rate, it's only a matter of time before benefits become 
much more severely restricted. Our guess is that the retirement age will 
be lifted to 70 or higher within the next 5 years.**


=> Airbnb tie-up with Familymart - shame about the timing

Combini store chain FamilyMart has signed a deal with Airbnb whereby it 
will hold local Airbnb rentals keys on the behalf of room owners, so 
that visiting guests can pick up the keys and let themselves in to their 
room. The two companies will start with 150 stores in and around Tokyo 
to begin with and expand from there. ID confirmation will be by means of 
tablets installed at each store. ***Ed: Apparently Seven-11 has a 
similar key holding deal with JTB - although we're not sure where JTB is 
getting its rooms from. The "timing" problem comes from the new 
restrictive Minpaku regulations coming into force next month.** (Source: 
TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, May 21, 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.



------- High-growth Company Networking in Noosa -----------

Morgo is an annual retreat for high growth companies going global from 
Australia - its in Noosa this month featuring inspiring speakers from 
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reinvigorate your business - and in previous years the Morgo magic has 
seen new ventures, ideas and friendships begun and built.

We've secured a special price for members - when you register, use promo 
code Special_N18

For more details: http://bit.ly/2rUG0ni [Morgo event home page]
For registration: http://bit.ly/2IYbkLO [Registration page]



=> No corrections or comments this week.


--- Japantravel.bike fully operational - rent one today ---

The www.japantravel.bike One-Day Rental Cycle Pass service is officially 
launched, and we offer more than 5,000 power-assisted bicycles all over 
Tokyo. The service is developed on top of the DOCOMO BIKESHARE bicycle 
rental platform, and offers a new smartphone interface, which provides 
international tourists easy access, a fast -payment system, and 
multilingual customer support. Passes start at a flat rate of JPY 1,620 
for a basic rental at the bike port (more for pre-bookings), and renters 
can use the bicycle or any replacement, for up to 24 hours (from 00:01 
to 23:59 each day). 580+ bicycle ports across Tokyo allow convenient 
rental and return to any port within the area. JapanTravel.Bike is 
currently available in Tokyo and Nara, and will be coming soon to other 
major cities in Japan.

To rent one: www.japantravel.bike


=> Hotaka-jinja Shrine in Azumino
An impressive Shinto shrine in the Nagano countryside

Near Hotaka station in the farming countryside of Azumino, about half an 
hour by train from Matsumoto, Hotaka shrine is an impressive, spacious 
shinto shrine, with a number of interesting features to enjoy as you 
stroll around the grounds.

There seems to be a distinct nautical theme, even though the shrine is 
about as far from the ocean as it's possible to be in Japan. There are 
statues of seafarers, one riding some mythical animal through the waves, 
and carvings in wood and stone of ocean scenes, boats and turtles being 
tossed around by unfriendly waves.

The shrine is surrounded by peaceful forest, and there are also a couple 
of imposing torii gates and impressive wooden halls for visitors to 
admire. You'll also see elegant metal sculptures in the shape of origami 
cranes, these near a carp pond, where it's very relaxing to watch the 
fish glide serenely through the milky water.


=> Kawachi Wisteria Tunnels, Fukuoka
Flowing gardens of purple, pink, and white

Tunnels of wisteria bloom the length of a football field - which is why 
people from around the world come to this majestic garden hidden in the 
mountains of southern Japan each spring in late April and early May. The 
millions of tiny hanging blossoms are meticulously arranged by the 
master gardeners here bring in international garden enthusiasts as well 
as a steady flow of casual visitors. Located in Kawachi Fuji-en, on the 
outskirts of Kitakyushu.

Wisteria, or fuji in Japanese, is a parasitic vine that can be found 
naturally clinging to trees in the Japanese countryside, and which is 
cultivated to produce an other worldly grandeur here. Although you can 
find many outstanding wisterias around the country, such as the giant of 
Ashikaga Flower Park, near Tokyo, dating all the way back to 1870, the 
distinguishing feature of this garden is its gorgeous tunnels of flowers.

These photographs are from a rainy day on May 3. Although wisterias 
thrive in sunlight, the rain didn't deter people from coming, and cars 
lined up throughout the day to enter the park. The diffused light of 
such a cloudy day illuminates the flowers with a soft glow and makes for 
a magical sight among the mountaintops draped in mist.




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

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