TT-571 -- Keeping China Out of Japan's Forests, e-biz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, June 27, 2010 Issue No. 571


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Last week the Forestry Agency and the Ministry of Land
co-announced that they are considering imposing
restrictions on foreign ownership of Japan's forests on the
basis that they want to "prevent corporations and
individuals not suited to manage forests" from owning them.
To help them out, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has
stuck its oar in as well, by saying that they don't want
foreigners owning forests in the catchment area of the
Tokyo water supply.

Hmmm, well given that forests cover 67% of the country, and
that the topology means that pretty much most of the
forested area is responsible for the water catchment of at
least one of Japan's 148 cities, this approach would mean
that most of Japan's forests would become off limits to
foreign investors. Right now there is no restriction on foreign
ownership of private forest and they can use the land as
they see fit.

The speculation is that the Agency and Ministry decided to
move after it came to light that Chinese investors have
been acquiring private forests along the shores of the
Tama River since May, and this has obviously put the wind
up the bureaucrats.

The irony is that while they may fear Chinese plans for
using the forests, it is an undeniable fact that Japan's
forests are generally very poorly managed, and that foreign
ownership may in fact improve the state of the forests
here. Not only are forests overwhelmingly planted out in a
single species, either Japanese Cedar (Sugi) or Cypress
(Hinoki), which cause untold misery to city dwellers in
Tokyo in the form of Hay Fever twice a year, but many have
been abandoned by their absentee or aged owners and
subsequently are in a severe state of neglect. Privately
owned forests account for about 58% of coverage, so
abandonment is not a small problem, and artificially
established plantations account for 41% (as of 1995) of all
forests, meaning they represent a large problem as well.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Generally speaking commercial forests need to be thinned on
a regular basis, at least every few years, and branches
lopped. This ensures that each tree grows to a robust size
and that the quality of the timber produced is relatively
free of imperfections. Unfortunately, due to lack of
manpower (aging of the workforce) and funds (foreign timber
is so much cheaper), many of the nation's forests have not
been thinned out since they were planted in the 1960's. As
a result, trees are spindly thin and the timber itself full
of knots and generally low in quality. Whenever a major
storm passes through the forests surrounding Tokyo, it
looks like a giant has snapped the trees off like match

So who is responsible for the mess currently confronting
the Japanese forestry industry? Ummm, surely not the very
same Forestry Agency trying to change the rules now?
You really have to wonder where they get the chutzpah
from to say to the press the phrase "not suited to manage
forests" as the reason for keeping the Chinese out. In
fact, they should look at themselves in the mirror first.

Another irony in confronting foreign ownership is the fact
that Japanese companies have happily raided the forests of
other countries for cheap timber for decades -- leading to
the razing of rain forests in Indonesia, Thailand, and most
recently Burma. OK, it's not just the Japanese, but the
problem got so bad that the United Nations' (UN) World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) decided to start a program in Japan in
the early 2000's to raise the awareness of the traders and
consumers of timber, about responsible logging and forest
management of timber sourced both here at home and
from abroad.

Then in 2004 they introduced a certification program
administered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which
assures purchasers that wood products have been tracked
through a 'chain of custody' -- meaning that timber has
come from forests which are well managed, taking into
account all relevant environmental, social and economic
principles and criteria. And, boy, do we ever need that
here in Japan. The program has been quite successful and
producers of pulp and paper have since changed who they buy
from and what they buy.

So are the Chinese a threat?

In 2006 conservationist C.W. Nicol wrote that the Tokyo
Metropolitan Government itself said that to combat Hay
Fever caused by Sugi, it would fell 1,200 hectares of
plantations per year for 10 years. That's 12,000 hectares
-- which we're darned sure will be significantly more land
coverage than the Chinese are able to buy privately.
Further, to get at the trees, the government plans to build
a network of roads and tracks that Nicol reckons will cause
significant pollution and erosion. So right now we'd say
the Governor of Tokyo is a bigger threat to the forests of
Tokyo -- he is apparently an allergy sufferer and is all
for getting rid of the plantations.

Rather than the bureaucrats getting in on the action, what
would make better sense for everyone would be for the WWF
to be given a chance to run its certification process for
all new forest acquisitions, thus assuring that a neutral
and scientifically based body is running the program. New
purchasers of a forest would then be subject to uniform and
politics-free rules that would give us sustainable and
responsible forestry.

But will it happen? Given the current level of xenophobia
practiced by the very top people in the Tokyo Metropolitan
Government and some of the coalition government partners,
probably not. But given that they don't have the cash to
throw around that they once did, and that the DPJ has
already said that it plans to open some infrastructure
projects to private investment, perhaps someone will figure
out that our forests, not just airports and roads, are part of
the nation's most important infrastructure assets.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Manga lawsuits on the way?
- Down Under cheese prices come down
- Who needs holidays?
- Chinese tourist numbers up 36%
- Government debt at record level

-> Manga lawsuits on the way?

A manga publishers group, called the Digital Comic
Association, is threatening legal action against mainly
U.S. websites that take scans of the Japan-based manga then
add local language captions to them. The association
reckons there are more than 30 websites that it plans to go
after, starting with those site owners who are connected to
foreign commercial publishers. **Ed: While we agree that
Japanese manga publishers should be able to protect their
intellectual rights, here we have a case of where the DCA
might be cutting off its nose to spite its face. Until very
recently, they have done little to promote manga as a
cultural export from Japan -- typically loading up
contracts with parsimonious conditions and unreasonable
pricing, thus restricting the spread of manga. A much more
practical approach would be to allow some sort of "fair
use" arrangement so that fan sites in particular be allowed
to stay in business.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jun 26, 2010)

-> Down Under cheese prices come down

Who would have thought it? The Euro has slipped so much in
value in the last few months that milk products, and
particularly cheeses from the continent are now
cost-competitive with product from Australia and New
Zealand. As a result, the folks down under, who have 70% of
Japanese imported cheese market, have had to agree to price
cuts of around 6-8% to maintain market share. In fact, the
situation is not as bad as it sounds, because cheese prices
from the antipodes were hiked last year anyway, and
further, the Japanese retail sector has already cut its
retail prices by a similar amount earlier this year.
(Source: TT commentary from, Jun 26, 2010)

-> Who needs holidays?

A survey by online travel booking site Expedia has found that
Japanese employees take the lowest number of holidays a
year among developed nations, even though they may
be entitled to them. According to the survey, the average
Japanese worker takes about 9 days a year in leave, even
though they are entitled to 16.5 days. In contrast, the
French take off an average 34.5 days a year. ***Ed: Putting
things in perspective, the Japanese do have a lot of
national holidays, almost double some western countries, so
most workers are at least getting some time off.** (Source:
TT commentary from, Jun 24, 2010)

-> Chinese tourist numbers up 36%

The staff at the Japan Tourism Agency will be happy,
because tourist numbers appear to be on the mend.
Apparently 600,000 Chinese tourists visited the country in
the first five months of this year, up 36% over the same
period last year. This number is expected to climb rapidly
once the visa restrictions are relaxed from July this year,
with Chinese tourists expected to hit 1.5m. ***Ed: However,
those expecting a shopping bonanza may be in for a
surprise. Scuttlebutt we've heard on the street is that the
tourists coming through now are being much more selective
about what they spend their money on, focusing mainly on
electronic goods and skimping on food, accommodation, and
tourist attractions.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jun 26, 2010)

-> Government debt at record level

It's not like we need a reminder about how indebted the
government is at present, but nonetheless a reminder was
provided in the form of FY2009 data put out by the Ministry
of Finance. The data shows that the nation's public debt
rose 12% to JPY317.4trn (US$3.52.67trn). As a result,
public debt is expected to exceed 200% of GDP for the first
time this fiscal year. (Source: TT commentary from,
Jun 25, 2010)

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.


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The moves by the DCA on the Manga websites is just another example of Japanese organizations taking a legalistic view of the world, even though their actions hurt their own position. The recording industry of Japan has had an on-going battle with YouTube Users to keep J-POP videos off of the site. While it may have changed recently, 4-5 years ago when they launched their campaign most of the users were non-Japanese who had little to no other access to J-Pop music. Once again, they were punishing potential customers just due to their legal position. Not a very smart way to run a business.