* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.
General Edition Sunday, Aug 11, 2013, Issue No. 722
- What's New -- Foreign Entrepreneurs Alive and Well
- News -- Toilet hacking threat?
- Upcoming Events
- Travel Picks -- Castles in Akita, Roses in Okayama
- News Credits
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+++ WHAT'S NEW
While we do spend an inordinate amount of time here at Terrie's Take worrying about where PM Abe is taking this country, we don't want readers to think Japan is headed off a cliff just yet. Well, actually, it might be if interest rates are suddenly stoked by the U.S. Fed, but apart from that, life here is pretty much the same as it has always been -- lots of people working hard, following the rules, and trying to get ahead. This applies to the foreign community as much as it does the Japanese one, even though the number of westerner foreigners in Japan has been sorely depleted since 2011. Maybe Abenomics will bring some of them back if he and the country scrape through the next few months.
Today we want to recognize two foreign entrepreneurs who are classic start-ups in their respective fields and who are using technology to build possible new futures for Japan. If we were to compare these guys with the foreigner entrepreneurs of 10 or 20 years ago, the big difference is that with a smaller foreign market these newcomers have to instead look at bridging their ideas much more quickly to the mainstream Japanese market -- meaning that they are competing more on the quality of their ideas than who they know.
Our first close-up is of Ejovi Nuwere, who after having been in Japan for six years, started Kaori-san KK on July 31st, 2013. Prior to this, he was running digital business development at Columbia Music Entertainment. His new business offers virtual personal assistants to foreigners and Japanese alike. All the assistants are bilingual and while his initial target was foreign businesspeople, already more than 50% of his customers are Japanese.
Interviewing Ejovi, he notes that there has been a noticeable change in the types of start-ups appearing since the Lehman Shock, with many more 1-person and 2-person operations springing up -- all with a very careful eye on costs. Such firms operate out of shared or serviced offices, where there is little or no deposit and no need for furniture and fit-out, they only employ staff when a client order comes in, and they source their staff from various online crowdsourcing sites and/or freelancer agencies. Pretty much the last thing they are thinking about is taking on a personal assistant -- until they need one of course.
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And that's the surprising thing. Once they find out how cheap the service is and how convenient it can be, they quickly realize the folly of staying at the office taking care of all the details themselves when they could be out doing more sales or project work. Time is money and the promise of a low-cost, proven, friendly, bilingual, competent assistant is extremely tempting. Our opinion is that people will get the value of Kaori-san very quickly and either Ejovi will be riding a winner concept this time next year or he won't. The quality of execution and the speed of market awareness will be critical factors in his success.
We asked Ejovi what some of the requests his team are receiving are. He said that because Kaori-san is unique in Japan as a personal assistant service, versus the physical presence approach of a TaskRabbit.com (there are several competitors in Japan already), they are mostly focusing on things that can be done from a call center. Kaori-san books taxies, hotels, air tickets, doctor's appointments, lunches, dinners, parties, and company events. They research medical devices, companies, potential business partners, venues, and phone lists.
One of the most memorable professional requests so far has been for a photographer who wanted to hire a helicopter, but not just any helicopter. His had to have the doors removed, so that he could get clean photos of the city below. Kaori-san also gets lots of personal requests, such as the foreign fellow who got a notice from his realtor in Japanese, and Kaori-san was able to not only translate the content, but also contacted the Realtor and took care of the details arising from the notice.
Ejovi's company is offering impressive value for money, charging just JPY2,980 for 5 requests a month, where a request is up to 30 minutes. If you have greater needs, the effective rate gets even cheaper the more commitment you make, and their top "Kaicho" level is just JPY14,980 for 25 requests/month. Shortly there will be a new plan which allows businesspeople to add their spouse to the plan as well. We think this will be popular for newly arrived expats.
Where does the name "Kaori-san" come from? Apparently she was an old flame, who impressed Ejovi with her sincerity and hard-working nature, and who has now been immortalized as his company name. Actually, and coincidentally, back when we still employed personal assistants -- before the Lehman Shock -- we also had a Kaori-san and she was great.
Find them at www.kaorisan.com.
44-year old Nicolas Soergel is half German and half French and started with a classic executive career in the telecommunications and IT industry. After 12 years of corporate life, including stints in Japan, he joined his wife's struggling family business, Chinriu Honten -- which produces umeboshi and various types of Japanese sweets. Yes, you can't get much further from the technology field than a company based in Kamakura that was established in 1871!
Like many traditional Japanese food companies, Chinriu was facing a declining business as younger Japanese stopped consuming traditional products and moved to a western diet. The declining population hasn't helped either. Nicolas, being a somewhat naive and optimistic type thought after he heard from his wife's family the problems they were having that there must be a solution to fix things. He rationalized that his experience with Sony in Germany, helping Dyson in Europe, and organizing teams and utilizing technology, would surely be useful in revitalizing an ailing traditional Japanese company.
Nicolas did a top-to-bottom analysis of the family business and realized that what they needed was more products, more exposure, and a much bigger market. He met other owners of traditional companies in the area and eventually all around Japan, and found that they were facing the same problems. He then decided to become their international marketer and create a store front for hundreds then thousands of products that would be sold online to foreigners who love the idea of Japanese products but can't get the real thing in their own countries.
The plan took a major investment of time, money, and meetings with skeptical company owners, but in the end Nicolas is just one very friendly foreign guy and he won over even the toughest of old codgers to the idea of supplying him with products and letting him own the customers. Today under the brand of Nihon Ichiban, he has 1,400 products (SKUs) from over more than 60 Japanese producers of food, craft and design. By the end of this year he plans to expand the line-up by another 20-40 suppliers, making Nihon Ichiban the largest online store of its kind in Japan.
All products are shipped from his family's warehouse in Odawara, making it very convenient for his suppliers as they do not have to grapple with logistics and international shipping. Besides his own online shop, Nihon Ichiban also sells through Amazon in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France, as well as eBay Etsy, and Japan Tourist. This diversity of marketing allows him to develop an individual sales strategy for each and every product and brand, tailored for each sales channel. One year after its launch Nihon Ichiban is already the market leader for categories such as Japanese wind chimes, edible sakura products and whole katsuobushi.
You can find them at: http://www.anything-from-japan.com
Lastly, next week is Obon in Japan and we will be taking the weekend off to bask in the heat of the Japanese Alps (yes, it's hotter there right now than in Tokyo). This is one of our 4 weeks off a year, and we'll be back on duty on August 25th.
...The information janitors/
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- Aeon jumps into vege farming in a big way
- Consumer confidence falls
- Public debt exceeds 1 quadrillion yen
- Near record temperatures in latest heat wave
- Toilet hacking threat?
=> Aeon jumps into vege farming in a big way
National supermarket operator Aeon has announced plans to establish and operate 30 large-scale farms across Japan over the next two years, with the target of producing 20,000 tons of private-label veges a year. The company is leasing about 350 hectares of farmland under a new government program which will allow local governments to rent out idle farmland. Currently Aeon has just 12 directly managed farms, which are mostly in the Kanto region. The farms will be very high-tech, with cameras, soil analyzing sensors, and other automation to allow optimal use of the land. (Source: TT commentary from e.nikkei.com, Aug 11, 2013)
=> Consumer confidence falls
As higher prices associated with Abenomics' devaluation of the yen start to bite, ordinary consumers are steadily losing confidence about their economic future -- not a good sign. A monthly survey by the government has found that sentiment among householders fell 0.7 of a point to 43.6. The median of 50 is where there are equal numbers of optimists versus pessimists. This is the first downgrade of the index in the last 8 months. In the same survey, 86.2% of respondees said that they expect consumer prices to increase in the coming year. (Source: TT commentary from e.nikkei.com, Aug 9, 2013)
=> Public debt exceeds 1 quadrillion yen
A number that isn't used often, "one quadrillion" -- meaning a thousand trillon -- was the milestone reached on June 30th in terms of Japan's outstanding public debt. According to Bloomberg, this is more than 3 times the entire US$3.6trn GDP of Asia. This is a rather scary thought, if there is ever a collapse in trust in the yen, there certainly won't be anyone big enough to come to Japan's rescue. ***Ed: The problem is that now some independent analysts have done the math, they are finding that even with the consumption tax increase next year, the fiscal deficit will still be more than 10% of GDP, an increase over this year's deficit.** (Source: thediplomat.com, Aug 10, 2013)
=> Near record temperatures in latest heat wave
If you thought it's been hot over the last couple of days, you'd be right. On Saturday, the mercury soared to 40.7 degrees C, the fourth-highest temperature ever recorded in Japan. The record was 40.9 C in Saitama back in 2007. The near record temperature was taken at Shimanto, Kochi Prefecture and Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture. The temperature exceeded 35 C across 1/3 of the nation's weather monitoring stations, and as a result, 2 people died of heat stroke and 16 were hospitalized. (Source: TT commentary from mainichi.jp, Aug 11, 2013)
=> Toilet hacking threat?
Nice headline -- but would it really happen? U.S. security consulting firm Trustwave has created a global name for itself by discovering that a high-end smartphone controlled toilet made and sold by Lixil can be compromised and instructed to do all sorts of unspeakable things to the person sitting upon it. The toilet model in question is the Satis, and the app is called My Satis. A bug in the app apparently means that a prankster could get the bidet to do its thing while someone was least expecting it. ***Ed: OK, it's Bluetooth, so you'd have to be in the next stall -- but we suppose this hack might appeal to college kids at least.** (Source: TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Aug 9, 2013)
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.
+++ CANDIDATE ROUND UP/VACANCIES
=> BiOS, a leading bilingual IT services and resourcing company, is actively marketing the following positions for customers setting up or expanding in Japan, as well as other employers of bilinguals.
** HIGHLIGHTED POSITION
BiOS is urgently looking for an Account Manager with experience in recruiting and account management for IT infrastructure service delivery, at our BiOS office in the Minato-ku area. The candidate will be responsible for supporting the continued development and management of our existing clients, and serving as the BiOS frontline and primary point of contact for new clients and onsite staffs, as well as networking and developing opportunities with potential clients. You will also be responsible for providing a permanent recruitment support.
Due to the technical nature and demanding work environment, this position is suitable for someone with solid experience in recruiting, sales, account management, or similar client-facing tasks, preferably in IT. In addition, since this role requires direct communication with both internal staffs and clients who are bilingual in English and Japanese, fluent English and Japanese will be required.
Remuneration is JPY3.6m - JPY4.5m plus commission, depending on your experience and skill level.
** POSITIONS VACANT
- Bilingual IT Support Engineer, Japanese IT firm, JPY3.5M - JPY4.5M
- Helpdesk/Desktop Support Engineer, global food/beverage import firm, JPY3M - JPY4.5M
- Bilingual Data Center Operator, data center services provider, JPY3.5M - JPY4.5M
- Technical Support Engineer, global medical firm, JPY4M - JPY5M
- Bilingual Sales Administrator, BiOS, JPY3M - JPY3.5M
** BiOS Job Mail
Every 2 weeks BiOS sends out a regular communication to its job seeking candidates, called BiOS Job Mail. Every edition carries a list of BiOS's current and most up-to-date vacancies, with featured entries containing a short job description and every job being linked to the main entry on the BiOS home page. Regardless of whether you are unemployed and searching, thinking about a career change, or just curious to know if there is something out there that might suit you better, the BiOS Job Mail newsletter is an easy and convenient way for you to stay informed. If you would like to register for the BiOS Job Mail, or to find out more, please email email@example.com.
+++ UPCOMING EVENTS/ANNOUNCEMENTS
-----------------ICA Event - September 19th----------------
Panel Discussion featuring key speakers: Ayako Takemoto, Annie Chang, Xinmei Cai and Ery Blackstone of Women in Technology Japan (WITJ)
Title: "High Achieving Women Balancing Work and Lifestyle"
Details: Complete event details at http://www.icajapan.jp/
Date: Thursday, September 19th, 2013
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: RSVP by 10am on Tuesday 17th September
Venue is The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan http://www.fccj.or.jp/aboutus/map
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
=> No corrections this week.
+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS
=> Kubota Castle, Akita
Honor or wealth? The dilemma of General Satake
If you could go back in time and change your life, what would you change? What would you choose? Peace and prosperity? Or honor in battle, even if it meant losing your life? 400 years ago, this was Daimyo Satake's dilemma, in the battle of Sekigahara.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a warrior, general and Japan's second great unifier, but his greed for power and conquest had brought him unstuck. After his death, power in the nation states was split into two factions, the Tokugawa Ieyasu side and Ishida Mitsunari (Toyotomi Hideyori) side. Forces loyal to Tokugawa Ieyasu included many clans of Eastern Japan, while forces loyal to Toyotomi Hideyori included many clans from Western Japan.
Among samurai fans it is without question the battle of Sekigahara (in modern Gifu) that was one of the most important wars in Japanese history. On that fateful day of October 21, 1600 the two sides met and a bloody battle ensued, with thousands of deaths and many more injuries. This battle was the turning point for Ieyasu to establish his shogunate, and defined the Tokugawa family's reign for another 300 years.
=> Miyama English Garden, Okayama
A traditional English garden
Nestled on a hillside at the entrance to Miyama Park in Tamano-shi, Okayama prefecture is the Miyama English Garden. The garden was designed by British designer Peter Thurman, to commemorate the city's 60th anniversary as a municipality. The garden is located in the geographic center of the city, thereby allowing easy access to both local citizens and visitors alike. Miyama English Garden is currently in its 13th year and boasts 150,000 plantings of 300 varieties of trees and bushes, including Japanese cherry and plum trees, camellia trees, azalea shrubs, numerous deciduous trees, annual and perennial flowers, and English roses.
When designing the Miyama English Garden, Peter Thurman visited Tamano-shi for three months, during which time he communicated and exchanged ideas with the locals while enjoying the natural scenery of Miyama Park and surrounding areas. The garden is said to be reminiscent of the Sissinghurst Castle garden in the south east of England, in that it has the same "romantic" feel and it uses six garden "rooms" or distinct areas of plantings separated by hedges. Each garden room displays a distinct theme which is carried out by the careful selection of plantings and color schemes.
The garden is beautiful in any season, but the staff generally agree that spring is the most colorful season to visit.
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (email@example.com)
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