TT-686 -- JapanTourist.jp Turns One and is 800-strong

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
(http://www.terrie.com)

General Edition Sunday, Nov 12, 2012, Issue No. 686

+++ INDEX

- What's New -- JapanTourist.jp turns one and is 800-strong
- News -- Bankruptcies back up
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- Anyone but Makiko Tanaka
- Travel Picks -- Fine restaurants in Hokkaido, Niigata
- News Credits

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+++ WHAT'S NEW

Sometime later this week, our sister publication,
Metropolis will mark a significant milestone: its
JapanTourist.jp website will surpass Lonely Planet for the
sheer number of articles available about Japan in English.
Actually the site already passed LP some weeks ago in terms
of the number of words written. While this milestone may
not mean much to anyone other than the team at
JapanTourist.jp, it's significant because it proves two
things: 1) crowd-sourcing works, and 2) there is a huge
knowledge gap about Japan that needs filling, and for
inbound tourism at least, there is a demand to match.

The background of JapanTourist.jp is that in April 2011
it was apparent when half the foreigners resident in
Japan were leaving the country, that Metropolis'
publishing business would fall off a cliff for a while. The
team realized it would have to move quickly to mitigate
the immediate damage as well as coming up with a
longer term solution to address the gradual demise of
paper publishing. After some discussion it was decided
to create a new type of media that would be the
antithesis of paper... nothing like having a lofty goal!

The defining characteristics would be: no paper, no
inventory, extremely low costs of operation (although the
technology investment might be significant), mobility, and
most importantly something that would appeal to the
imaginations of both advertisers and consumers. The
answer was to create a crowd-sourced engine that we
now describe as "Wikipedia-meets-Amway", but doing
away with the negative aspects of the MLM model (such
as requiring people to sell things). Picking inbound
tourism as the first site theme was obvious, because like
English publishing, inbound travel was also expected
to fall off a cliff for a while -- no thanks to the creeping
cloud of radiation from Fukushima.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

A related company, MetroWorks, supplied the software
engineering talent, in particular a genius engineer from
Holland named Wouter Thielen, and the team set to work
creating something that we had no idea would work or not.
This was the really exciting part of the project --
creating blue sky features and functions for which there
was no prior model. Indeed, we eventually found there is
only one other major crowd-sourced content site in Japan,
an all-Japanese destination not in tourism. After several
resets we came up with a basic working model and launched
the site with a modest PR effort on November 4th, 2011.

JapanTourist.jp became one (year old) last week.

A key realization during the design effort was that
JapanTourist.jp should not be just software, but rather an
integrated business model. It should be an engine that can
create massive volumes of content at low operating cost,
and yet do so with enforceable quality control -- something
difficult to do with kuchikomi sites. The model consists of
a cyberspace production pipeline of article contributors,
editors, and translators, who are all serviced and
supported by the software platform. But at the top of that
pipeline is a critical human element, being our Regional
Partners. These people organize and motivate the
contributors, and ensure that the quality of contributions
is good enough to make it into the central database.

Since launching, the things learned from the JapanTourist.jp
model have been fascinating. For example, as the Regional
Partners started to network to solicit English-writing
contributors in their regions, they found themselves
becoming windows of access for foreign tourism for their
prefecture as well. By virtue of being part of a national
network, they are getting introduced to and being
well accepted by local tourism authorities who until now
had little access to foreigners. In some prefectures, the
Regional Partner is already working at the highest levels
of local government and getting themselves inserted into
the 2013 budget cycle. It goes without saying that after
getting endorsed by local government, private regional
travel companies are not far behind.

There are currently 37 Regional Partners, approximately one
per prefecture in the center of the country, but with some
far-flung prefectures still to be filled. The Regional
Partners come from all walks of life, including housewives,
radio DJs, translators, tourist attraction operators,
self-employed business people, and of course teachers and
professors. What they all have in common is that they are
dedicated to living and life in Japan, usually by virtue of
being married to a Japanese partner, AND they want to help
Japan do a better job at marketing itself than it has done
so far. Enthusiasm means energy and commitment, and
certainly the Regional Partners have needed that in order
to build solid and sizable contributor teams.

So far, between the marketing efforts of Metropolis and the
Regional Partners, JapanTourist.jp has managed to recruit
almost 800 writers, who between them produce over 200
articles a month. This is about ten times the volume of the
next most prolific site. An article is either 350 words
minimum and 3-5 photos, or a selection of at least 6
high-grade photos and captions.

As you would imagine with a community site like this, not
everyone writes all the time, and in reality about 2/3 of
registering contributors actually get around to it, with
1/3 doing so regularly. But some of the contributors are
really dedicated and have made prodigious efforts. The top
contributor is a Japanese lady in Kanagawa who has written
an incredible 199 articles in English in one year...!
Needless to say, she and her husband have already earned
Delta rewards to fly to the USA next year.

Another key part of the JapanTourist.jp is the points system.
Although you wouldn't write for JapanTourist.jp to make a
living, the points mean that anyone can contribute at any
time (for example, after they finish work or in the
weekends), from anywhere -- not just Japan. Metropolis has
done a good job of making the points redeemable against
motivating rewards, such as the return airfares to the USA
mentioned above, courtesy of Delta, hotel stays all over
the country courtesy of Solare Hotels and their Chisun and
Loisir brands, and apparel coupons courtesy of Adidas.

Now that JapanTourist.jp is a proven entity and is the largest
single repository of structured Japan-bound travel content,
the team is ready for the next leg of the project -- which
is online marketing. Just as during the development phase,
there are lots of ideas about how to get the site and Japan
tourism in general out in front of a global audience. One
of the most exciting ideas is a campaign to recruit almost
half a million Japanese high-schoolers learning English to
write articles inviting foreign tourists to their home
towns. Not only will this create unique and diverse
content, it will help Japan's future adults to see foreign
tourism in Japan as a positive and desirable thing, which
surely will be half the battle won in increasing tourist
numbers here.

...The information janitors/

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+++ NEWS

- Home shopping shakeout continues
- Skymark's first foreign route to be New York
- Bankruptcies back up
- Tottori manga artist conference
- Power utilities invest in hydrocarbon facilities

=> Home shopping shakeout continues

TV home shopping company Sotsu Corp., better known as Nihon
Chokuhan, has gone bankrupt with debts of JPY17.4bn. The
company started out with mail order education programs then
moved into mail order music, but like many other mail order
firms has been under huge competitive pressure from online
shopping companies. Sotsu has about 190 staff and more than
1m registered shoppers. Transcosmos has indicated that it
is willing to sponsor the firm's restructuring efforts and
help to turn it around. ***Ed: We find it strange that mail
order firms in Japan can't adapt to the online business
model, given that they are already selling "sight-unseen"
products and have strong sourcing capabilities. Technology
deficiency perhaps?** (Source: TT commentary from
japantimes.co.jp, Nov `0, 2012)

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nb20121110a5.html

=> Skymark's first foreign route to be New York

While the many LCCs entering Japan are firmly focused on
Asia, Japan's indigenous Skymark Airlines will try
something different, by flying a Narita-New York route. No
indication yet of what the pricing will be, but our guess
is somewhere around JPY50,000 return. If they can achieve
this, then we think they will be quite successful
attracting budget travelers and in raising the awareness
of Japan in the USA. (Source: TT commentary from
e.nikkei.com, Nov10, 2012)

http://e.nikkei.com/e/ac/tnks/Nni20121109D0911N04.htm?GID=58

=> Bankruptcies back up

After 5 months of straight declines, the number of
corporate bankruptcies leaving debts of more than JPY10m
rose significantly in October to 1,035 or a 6% increase.
Also, significantly, the number of bankruptcies of firms
exceeding JPY1bn in debts rose to 48 companies, the highest
number this year. Actually, the total liabilities of all
companies was 53.5% more than last month, at JPY239.35bn.
***Ed: What's concerning is that none of these bankruptcies
were major companies and so the average losses per company
were quite high. As we mentioned in TT683, we expect a lot
more business failures between now and the same time next
year, due to the banks wrapping up the loans moratorium put
in place back in 2009.** (Source: TT commentary from
e.nikkei.com, Nov 8, 2012)

http://e.nikkei.com/e/ac/tnks/Nni20121108D08SS421.htm

=> Tottori manga artist conference

Lest we forget, Japan may have some problems, but it is
still the center of the manga world. Yonago city, Tottori,
is host for the 13th International Comic Artist
Conference, which is expected to draw about 180
participants, including 19 Chinese artists and others from
South Korea. An associated exhibition will feature 700
works by 350 artists, including works by the creator of
Detective Conan, Tottori-born Gosho Aoyama. ***Ed: It's a
shame that the organizers are not attracting more
attendees, given the scope and apparent quality of the
exhibition. Groups like this need to realize that if
they can hitch a ride on METI's Cool Japan program,
they can generate much broader PR for their events.**
(Source: TT commentary from mainichi.jp, Nov 08, 2012)

http://bit.ly/VPUYG6

=> Power utilities invest in hydrocarbon facilities

In a good sign for the anti-nuclear movement and not so
good for the atmosphere, the nation's power utility
companies are planning to add 18GW of gas-fired and 5GW of
coal-fired plants to the nation's grid over the next 10
years, expanding overall non-nuclear output by 30%. The
coal will come primarily from Indonesia since the
low-grade bituminous product there is relatively cheap,
while the natural gas is mainly LNG from Australia and the
Middle East. TEPCO is apparently planning to site a coal-
fired plant in Fukushima, for obvious political reasons.
(Source: TT commentary from reuters.com, Nov 09, 2012)

http://reut.rs/VPUW14

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

***------------------------****-------------------------***

------------- Japanese Travel Writers wanted -------------

Do you know someone who can write native-level Japanese and
who is interested in travel? The JapanTourist.jp division
of Metropolis KK has two brandname clients in the tourism
sector who need to have a substantial number of travel
articles written about Japan. These are paid positions.

While professional writers are welcome, the JapanTourist.jp
project is a writer community set up for talented amateurs
to have a forum to test their skills. Therefore, we welcome
housewives, retired people, and Japanese living overseas
who would like to re-connect with their home country.

All work can be done from your own home, with stories and
editing discussions taking place by email and through the
JapanTourist.jp backend dashboard and associated tools.

Interested writers may contact JapanTourist at:

http://japantourist.jp/register/, or at:
support@japantourist.jp

-----------------------------------------------------------

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-----------------------------------------------------------

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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.

=> In TT685 we sympathized with politician Makiko Tanaka's
frustration with the bureaucrats in the Education Ministry,
which she now heads. A number of readers wrote in to remind
us that fixing the bureaucrat problem is not always
resolved by using a thick, blunt instrument (such as
Tanaka). Here is one such response.

*** Our reader says:

I am a full professor at a private Japanese university, and
someone who has formerly worked closely with several
Japanese ministries including Education and Foreign
Affairs. Regarding your comments on Makiko Tanaka's latest
brouhaha, Japanese bureaucrats at least deserve some credit
for guiding Japan to economic success during the post-war
period, but in the Information Age their usefulness has
largely expired. Having "gotten theirs" (money, benefits,
power, and prestige) during Japan's heyday, their only
objective now is seemingly to protect or expand their
perks. As such, they deserve to be exposed, but I would use
caution on supporting Tanaka as a bureaucrat-fighter for at
least three reasons.

First, although many of the officials she attacks are
certainly venal, arrogant, and incompetent, Tanaka fights
without grace or effectiveness. Her frontal assaults, like
most head-on battles throughout history military or
otherwise, are fun to watch but are the least likely to be
successful at defeating the enemy. [Ed: Shades of Takamori
Saigo?] She attacks individuals she hates intensely rather
than the root issues, so the root issues get little or no
attention. Also, by painting all bureaucrats with the same
brush she alienates everyone who might actually agree with
her and/or be able to do something to fix the problem:
those on the inside.

Second, Tanaka complains about trivia such as party
invitations and missing jewelry and is typically dead wrong
with her arguments. Her stated position on the current
3-universities issue (Japan has too many universities,
therefore quality is declining, therefore the solution is
to stop all new universities) is staggeringly incoherent.
Does Japan have too many convenience stores because some
have fewer customers than some bureaucrat thinks they ought
to have? Japan's problem is crap undergraduate education
for reasons that have been clearly identified for decades
but are too numerous to list here. America has 4,500
universities -- nearly six times as many as Japan -- and
they are all more or less doing just fine because they
offer good products: quality general education, a
transformative experience, good research facilities,
international networks, opportunities for creative
thinking, vocational training, etc.

Who knows whether or not any of the 3 new universities
might have one or more of these hidden in the wings?
Whether Japan has "too many universities" is something for
the market to decide. The role of the government should
either be to get out of education altogether and get
independent entities certify schools, or at least help
certify as many new schools as possible and let the bad
ones go under due to poor performance -- and good riddance.
In addition, one of the dirty secrets of the "tei-in"
(student capacity) figures is that they are are totally
arbitrary. They have no basis in rigorous analysis. The
numbers are simply made up (I have witnessed this
first-hand) by administrators and bureaucrats to fulfill
their fantasies of order and control.

Third, speaking as someone who has met her, Tanaka is less
a talented politican than she is a rich, spoiled
self-promoter. Japan desperately needs true reformers who
are widely read, smart, fearless, and articulate. Tanaka is
a Road Runner cartoon where Kasumigaseki is the Road Runner
and Tanaka is Wiley E. out to get them. However, without
fail it is the coyote who gets the anvil in the face while
the Road Runner races off into the sunset with a cheerful
"beep beep!" Japan also desperately needs positive female
role models, and while Tanaka may be entertaining she sets
a terrible example for Japanese women in general. Most
Japanese I have asked see her not as a model for
administrative reform but as a reason women should stay at
home -- and locked in the kitchen if possible.

***------------------------****-------------------------***

+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS

=> Kame - Niseko's Secret Restaurant, Hokkaido
Rustic fine dining in the Niseko countryside

As a Hotel Manager in Niseko, my main task is to ensure
that my guests get the most out of their visit to the area.
In the early years of the resort this would be a simple
task, accomplished by pointing guests in the direction of
the slopes and letting the famous powder snow do the work
for me. As the resort has developed over recent years, so
too has its reputation as a fine dining destination and the
number of culinary tourists has increased as a result.

Luckily for my guests and I, there is a veritable wealth of
fantastic dining options with enough variety to tickle all
range of taste buds. With complete disdain for my own
waistline I have selflessly sampled most of the restaurants
and cafes in the area in order to provide the best
recommendations, and whenever I need an absolutely
guaranteed happy customer my Go-to place for the past
couple of years has been Kame.

Kame, The Secret Restaurant, was built with the Field of
Dreams mantra of "If we build it they will come" very
firmly in mind. Situated at the end of a muddy dirt track
off route 343 outside Hirafu village, it can be difficult
to find in summer, even more so in winter with the huge
snowdrifts. But for visitors wanting something special, the
extra effort is well worth it.

http://japantourist.jp/view/kame

=> Ikinari-ya, Niigata
300 year-old classic Japanese restaurant

Ikinari-ya is a 300+ year old high-class, traditional
Japanese restaurant. The restaurant opened in the mid-Edo
era, when stylish Edo culture was flourishing all over
Japan. Thirteen different tasteful detached rooms are
scattered about the 6,600m2 beautiful garden of Ikinari-ya.
All dishes are lovingly prepared with local products and
fresh materials. And if you’d like, you can request
professionally trained, authentic Geisha to come in and
entertain you in your room. But this, of course, is very
expensive and requires a reservation!

http://japantourist.jp/view/ikinari-ya-niigata

***------------------------****-------------------------***

***********************************************************
END

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+++ ABOUT US

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

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