TT-394 -- Titanium Oxide and Hay Fever, ebiz news from Japan

General Edition Sunday, October 8, 2006 Issue No. 394

+++ INDEX
- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup
- Upcoming events
- News credits

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+++ WHAT'S NEW

Hay fever. It's the wrong time of year for it, hay fever usually hits in spring, but given that the next issue of Japan Inc. magazine carries details of a new invention to help control it, we thought we'd give some advance notice on the subject here at Terrie's Take.

Back in 2001, Terrie's Take 291, we reported the fact that the National Center of Child Health and Development in Tokyo reckoned that 90% of Japanese born in the 1970s have allergies of some type or other, and in particular hay fever and carpet mite sensitivity. In that issue we speculated that Japanese kids are brought up in an overly hygienic environment and have lost some of their resistance to the bugs around us.

Whether that is correct or not, we can't help feeling sorry for the kids affected. Take our own 9-year old daughter, Eva, for instance. Every spring and sometimes in the fall she suffers from hay fever ("kafunsho", allergic rhinitis) which sometimes seems to verge on asthma. Her eyes go red and itchy, the mucous membranes swell up, each day starts with a sore throat and runny nose, and on bad days there are pounding headaches. As parents, it's tough looking at attacks of hay fever and knowing that there really isn't a remedy for it.

Eva is not alone of course. In fact outside of China, Tokyo has one of the highest levels of hay fever and related allergy incidences in the world. When the affliction started to become prevalent in the 1970's and '80's it was generally thought to be caused by air pollution. However, more recent studies have proven that more than 60% of cases are in fact directly attributable to the excess of Japanese Cedar ("sugi") trees planted around the capital. They were planted in their millions in the 1950's and '60's, to serve as a convenient timber source. Now that many of them are 40-50 years old, they are at the peak of their lifecycle and collectively pump out about 1,800 to 2,000 pollen per square centimeter each spring. This means tons of pollen per acre.

The situation in Tokyo is now so bad it is estimated that at least 20% of the adult population suffers from hay fever. In spring of 2005 the matter came to a head when the pollen count increased 4,200% over the previous year due to a dry hot summer the year before. Even Governor Shintaro Ishihara came down with it, and as a consequence he initiated a program to reduce the number of pollen-bearing Sugi by replacing them with a new low-pollen variety over the next 10 years. If you'd like to know what the pollen count forecast and history are, you can check out the statistics on the Kafun home page produced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, at http://www.fukushihoken.metro.tokyo.jp/kanho/kafun/index.html.
In Japanese only.

Hay Fever is big business. Given that the majority of pollen allergy sufferers are aged 30-60 years of age - prime working age, it has both negative and positive real effects on the Japanese economy. On the debit side, according to an estimate by the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute (DLR), employee absenteeism and lowered productivity resulted in a JPY380bn (US$3.3bn) drop in GDP for the first quarter of 2005.

Perversely, on the credit side, DLR reckons the market for hay-fever prevention products and medicines is worth JPY750bn (US$6.52bn). The biggest selling items are eye drops and face masks - highlighting the lack of effectiveness of other remedies. DLR notes, however, that the large number of people staying indoors probably also impacted revenues in the leisure and restaurant industries.
In the first quarter of 2006, the pollen counts were almost back to normal levels, thanks to wetter weather, and DLR says that the nation's GDP for March-April recovered by about JPY229.4bn (US$1.99bn) as a result.

[Continued below.]

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But while the adults understand what is going on, it is the children who probably suffer the most, as in the case of our 9-year old daughter. A March 2006 survey by Rohto Pharmaceutical found that just over 30.2% of children under the age of 16 have hay fever. It is generally accepted that there is a causal effect between hay fever and asthma, with pollen, dust, mites, and other matter being the major points of blame. There have also been some studies in the last ten years which connect asthma to atopy (skin afflictions), through the interleukin-4 (IL-4) gene. Thus, controlling hay fever may be more important than just bringing sore eyes and a runny nose under control.

The mechanism for hay fever is that the immune system recognizes an allergen in the environment, such as Sugi pollen, and produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
These antibodies are unique in that they signal the immune system to release histamine. While histamine is a normal compound found in body cells, in an allergic reaction it circulates through the bloodstream and constricts the small muscles around air passages in the lungs (inducing wheezing or asthma), increases the flow of mucus, and causes smaller blood vessels to contract and pass fluid into tissues.
Coughing and sneezing are the body's way of trying to expel the allergens from the air passages, while the difficulty of breathing with asthma comes about from the windpipe muscles constricting.

Most people combat hay fever with a combination of masks, pills, plasma air conditioners, and even moving somewhere else. But there is now an interesting new remedy available
-- that of photocatalysts, and specifically Titanium Oxide (TiO2). The Japanese are literally a decade ahead of the rest of the world in this area of materials science, building on the discovery in 1967 by Todai graduate student Akira Fujishima and his professor, Kenichi Honda, that TiO2 has natural self-cleaning and antibacterial properties.
They discovered that under the presence of ultraviolet light, TiO2 can break down and render harmless airborne pollutants and organic matter such as mold and bacteria.

The discovery caused an international sensation when announced. The properties have since became known as the "Honda-Fujishima" effect, and in cooperation with Toto Limited, Japan's largest sanitary ceramics products manufacturer, the technology has been commercialized. This was a smart move for Toto, which today owns four basic patents related to photocatalysts. The business from IP licencing alone will be worth JPY1bn (US$8.69m) to the company in 2006, consisting mainly of its photocatalytic process provided to 80 licencees globally. Based on projected increases in usage of photocatalytic technology in the next 5 years, Toto can expect this highly profitable revenue to increase at least five-fold.

The first TiO2 products were self-cleaning, non-yellowing white building tiles released in 1994. More recently, however, the compound's antibacterial properties are receiving much more attention. TiO2 now appears in such diverse products as air-purification systems, odor-fighting refrigerators and ovens, self-disinfecting medical devices, and even a formaldehyde-busting wall paper! Readers may recall that formaldehyde is one of the suspected causes of sick house syndrome. The overall market in Japan by 2010 for TiO2 products is estimated to reach around JPY1trn (US$8.69bn).

We'll cover the actual company offering the new hay fever busting invention in a later issue of Terrie's Take, but in the meantime, you can check out Zen World's English website at http://www2.ocn.ne.jp/~lmint28/home.html. The grammar on the site needs some work, but the electron microscope photos pretty much say it all. From what we have discovered in our own recent research (for the magazine story), photocatalysts do appear to be a viable alternative in controlling pollen and other unwanted airborne bacteria and matter. They are odorless, convenient, and cost nothing to run after being applied.
Lastly, keep that feedback rolling in. We love hearing your comments, such as this issue's repartee on whether or not rich retirees should get a tax break for foregoing their pensions. Our reader thinks they shouldn't, we give reasons why they should. You can find it in the CORRECTIONS and FEEDBACK section at the end of today's newsletter.

...The information janitors/

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+++ NEWS
back

- FX reserves at record high
- Sarakin get insurance policy payouts on lenders
- Aozora bank IPO
- Sanyo to slash 10% of subsidiaries
- LINC Media ties up with heavyweights

-> FX reserves at record high

The Ministry of Finance has announced that Japan's foreign exchange reserves rose to a new record high of US$881.27bn.
Japan has the world's second highest reserves behind China, whose holdings reached US$954.5bn in the same month. Broken down, the holdings were: US$861bn in US dollar currency, US$2.36bn in IMF reserves, US$2.73bn in SDRs, US$14.74bn in gold, and US$330m in other foreign currencies. ***Ed: Who says the Japanese aren't America's best friends?**

(Source: TT commentary from forbes.com, Oct 5, 2006)

http://www.forbes.com/markets/feeds/afx/2006/10/05/afx3071150.html

->Sarakin get insurance policy payouts on lenders

In a statistic that is bound to stir the controversy over money lender interest rates, the FSA has made public data that shows the top 17 consumer finance firms received between them roughly JPY30bn in life insurance payouts on borrowers in fiscal 2005. While this number in itself is not particularly noteworthy, what is more sensational is the fact that about 14% of the total, JPY4.3bn (US$37.39m) was paid out after the borrowers, 4,900 people in FY2005, committed suicide. ***Ed: The Japanese press is now saying that since 14 of the 17 firms use the same form to create an insurance policy as to register a loan application, the money lenders must therefore be using the borrower's life insurance as collateral.

** (Source: TT commentary from nikkei.co.jp, Oct 6, 2006)

http://www.nni.nikkei.co.jp/AC/TNKS/Nni20061006DA6JX062.htm

->Aozora bank IPO
Rumors are that Aozora Bank may go public as early as November, in a deal that values the bank at around US$10bn.
If correct, the IPO could be the largest in Japan since the listing of J-Power in 2004. The major beneficiary of a listing would be the Cerberus private equity fund, which owns 62% of Aozora. Cerberus would likely make about JPY500bn (US$4.34bn) on paper from the listing.
(Source: TT commentary form yahoo.com, Oct 4, 2006)

http://sg.biz.yahoo.com/061004/3/43twh.html

->Sanyo to slash 10% of subsidiaries

Sanyo is looking to do the unthinkable for a major Japanese corporation, and ditch about 30 group companies -- about 10% of the group's related holdings. The company says that the streamlining will return it to profit in FY2007. The company has 231 consolidated subsidiaries and 72 equity-based affiliates. The cuts are planned to reduce the number of employees by about 1,000 people -- mostly here in Japan. ***Ed: The company has not yet identified which subs will be on the block, but we imagine that the local private equity firms are working overtime to register expressions of interest.

** (Source: TT commentary from nikkei.co.jp, Oct 6, 2006)

http://www.nni.nikkei.co.jp/AC/TNKS/Nni20061006D05JFA06.htm

->LINC Media ties up with heavyweights

LINC Media (Japan Inc's sister company) has announced that it has formed a business partnership with two major Japanese companies. These are leading office furniture maker, Itoki Corp, and SI house Hitachi Information Systems. The 3 firms will jointly manage the Japan Concierge Service, (http://www.japanconcierge.com/) a market entry and support system designed for foreign firms.
Japan Concierge offers a comprehensive set of services ranging from introducing foreign firms to Japanese business partners and setting up offices, factories or commercial facilities, through to helping to build and support IT infrastructure. Itoki was established in 1890 and has a client list of more than 20,000 companies. Hitachi Joho was established in 1959 and is a 7,000-person company with JPY176bn (US$1.53bn) in sales.** (Source: TT commentary from lincmedia.co.jp web site, Sep 22, 2006)

http://www.lincmedia.co.jp/pressRelease09222006e.html

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources are now removing their articles after just a few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.

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+++ CANDIDATE ROUND UP/VACANCIES
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+++ UPCOMING EVENTS/ANNOUNCEMENTS

back

ICA Events - Oct 19

Presenter: Brent Jacobs, Group Manager, Windows Live Operations - Microsoft

Title: Deploying and Managing Large-Scale Online Services at Microsoft

Details: http://www.icajapan.jp/ (RSVP Required)
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+++ CORRECTIONS/FEEDBACK

In this section we run comments and corrections submitted by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and amplify our points, by email, to editors@terrie.com.

-> TT393 on Pensions. We said that if the government really
wanted wealthy retirees to forego the pension, they needed to give proper incentives, such as a tax break on death duties.

*** Reader: Although I am not a tax expert, I think it just takes common sense to see what the effect of the tax break would be. People who thought they would save more on tax than they receive in pension, would take this up en mass, to the effect of being a tax break for the rich, costing the government taxes. Looking in the short term like you are hides the loss of future revenues with a small reduction in current expenditures. Although this is standard practice for politicians it is what caused the problem in the first place. I was disappointed to see this in political commentary. I hope find solutions to problems in commentaries not new ways to fiddle the books and hide problems from the public.

*** We Respond: We believe that the right formula would be to offer death duty tax breaks that do not exceed the pension due to be received. I.e., the government would simply be trading one for the other. For wealthy pensioners, this allows them to in effect "save" in small increments for the cost of inheritance taxes, by foregoing their pensions on a monthly basis. For the government this has the benefit of providing immediate access to cash, rather than them having to wait for people to die before tangling with the heirs and their lawyers. Having the money now does indeed raise the temptation to put off the problem a couple more years, but at the same time if the government is truly interested in fixing the problem, then it also gives them a chance to put these advance payments into investments yielding high rates of interest -- and that surely is beneficial.

Thanks for the feedback.

...The information janitors/

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+++ ABOUT US
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