TT-648 -- Bicycles Back in Popularity, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *

A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, February 05, 2012, Issue No. 648


- What's New -- Bicycles Back in Popularity
- News -- Radiation-in-milk numbers
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- Oak Associates bankruptcy
- News Credits

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At 4-6 degrees Celsius for the last two weeks, and snow/ice
on the ground, it's a bit too cold for us to commute to
work on a bicycle. But for most of the rest of the year,
even during the peak of summer, we're out there with tens
of thousands of others, getting our workouts and thrills on
our bikes. Like many others, we discovered just how great a
bicycle can be in Tokyo after the 3/11 disaster last year.
For some days after the earthquake, as we zipped passed
snarled traffic jams on our bikes, watching with
schadenfreude (compare with "mudita" at those who
insisted on cars, and thought to ourselves that the age of
the bicycle has finally come to Tokyo.

Well, maybe not quite, because there are still few on-road
cycling lanes, and the existing obsession of sharing
cycling ways with pedestrian footpaths reflects the
thinking by civic planners that cyclists shouldn't be going
more than 15km/hr... The police, too, seem confused
about what cyclists should and shouldn't do -- like the
cop in Omote Sando several weeks ago who whistled
frantically to get us out of a right-turn road lane that he
felt should be reserved for cars. We just feigned deafness
and made the turn anyway. :-)

Probably because of the aging population, the absolute
number of bikes sold in Japan has been dropping in recent
years. Estimates by the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute
(JBPI) are that there were 9.45m bicycles sold in FY2010,
2.2% down on the previous year. While that may have been
the case for FY2010, we nonetheless suspect there will be
a dramatic recovery of cycle sales in FY2011 thanks to the
quake last year. Indeed, bicycle maker Asahi predicted
recently that it would close its FY2011 in February with a
massive 45% increase in profits.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

The JBPI says that there are probably around 13.7m cyclists
in Japan, which the Nikkei recently contrasted with the
nation's 25.8m runners and joggers. However, our guess is
that the number of really dedicated cyclists is probably
around 30% of this number, with the rest being home-to-
station commuting salarymen and mothers taking kids to
school. We couldn't get an accurate figure for the number
of "mama chari" (Mother Chariot) bicycles on the roads, but
it's a fair bet that most mothers are now buying
electric-assisted cycles and 380,000 of these were sold in

The Nikkei does say that cyclists in Japan are desirable
consumers, though, with an average spend per person per
year of around JPY13,300 (how on earth did they work
that out?) versus joggers who spend a measly JPY7,300. We
imagine that the Nikkei's number leaves out indirect sales
related to cycling, such as business bags. Go to Tokyu Hands
store and check out the business bags department. The
Shinjuku store now has about 10% of it's display area
dedicated to so-called 3-way bags, which are business bags
with concealed shoulder straps so let you tote it like a
backpack when commuting. Most buyers are cyclist
salarymen and women.

Then of course there are all the gadgets and a growing
selection of bike-geek stores. We can't really understand
why someone would want to pay out JPY300,000+ for a carbon
fiber frame that cuts a kilo or so off a bike's weight,
when in fact you're out there in the first place to get
exercise. Wouldn't the extra weight on an otherwise highly
reliable JPY100,000 cycle be more satisfying? Still, at
least it is a green way to keep the economy going, and to
keep the nation's gear-heads happy.

Maybe of more use to us would be Pioneer's newest
automobile-grade navigation system, the PotterNavi (yup,
that's really what it's called), which includes maps, a
GPS, communications, and accelerometer. This sells for
JPY40,000. Unfortunately for Pioneer, the device doesn't
have great reviews abroad, and we can see Garmin and
others quickly offering alternatives such as the Garmin
Edge 800 for a similar price. Still, thanks to Pioneer,
cycling aimlessly around town now has a new verb
associated with it -- "pottering".

With the government exhorting Japanese to save energy,
you'd think that commuting by bicycle would move to the
top of the fiscal stimulation agenda, next to solar cells.
After all, think of all the construction associated with
on-road cycle-ways and parking stations... Instead, there
has been virtually no interest by the national government
in promoting cycling as alternative transport, and there
have been even tighter regulations passed by local
governments who still see bicycles as a nuisance. For
example, where we are located in Roppongi, random parking
of cycles on roadsides has been frowned upon but
tolerated. However, from April, after a couple of bicycle
parking areas near the train station are completed, the
authorities plan to start confiscating illegally parked

Considering the inconvenience, crowding, and cost of
existing public bicycle parking areas in other parts of
Tokyo, we think this is ridiculous and demonstrates the
lack of mental connection bureaucracy has with the real
world. At the same time, though, if Shinjuku is anything
to go by, then enough people will openly flout the rules to
the point where the parking cops will eventually get sick
of issuing tickets and hauling away bicycles. This is
especially so since you can buy a replacement mama chari
for less than JPY10,000 at Don Quijote, making it more cost
effective to lose your bicycle once every three months than
to pay JPY100/day x 90 days for parking...! Doh.

The foreign community in Tokyo is well served by cycling
groups. One of these is, a non profit
volunteer organization run by Tony Torres, Mayuko Terao,
and others. This group is probably for more advanced
cyclists and is advertising a somewhat challenging Japan
Alps Coast to Coast Challenge 2012 tour set for September.
But of particular interest to us is their planned Cycling
Festival (essentially a tour and a race) on the Oshika
Peninsular this summer, amidst the largely cleared ruins of
tsunami-ravaged Tohoku. Apparently they had the Festival
scheduled last year, but a typhoon disrupted plans and
sent the 40 or so entrants home again. Cannondale kindly
provided hundreds of bicycles to Tohoku residents after the
tsunami and we understand are involved with the event.

Other groups that you might want to check out are:

And if you want to research the cycling law, since it's
confusing as to whether you can cycle on footpaths or
not, then check out this page at Metropolis:

Lastly, Metropolis' own Don Morton, the movies review
maven, is a keen cyclist and has given a couple of courses
for those of us less ambitious than the japanc2c guys and
yet wanting to see more of Tokyo. His cycling group is
called Half Fast.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Radiation in milk numbers
- Japan to start selling yen again?
- LCC AirAsia gets operators licence
- JAL starting to recover
- Tax revenues up

-> Radiation in milk numbers

It's suspicious that major dairy companies have suddenly
decided to start publishing radiation-in-milk figures from
this month onwards. The 19 companies, who form the backbone
of the Japan Dairy Industry Association, say that they want
to allay public fears about contamination of their
products. All we can say is "How come they didn't do this 9
months ago?" The reason is probably because the public
would have stopped drinking milk altogether. Anyway, from
here on out, 180 plants will be inspected and resulting
numbers published. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 2, 2012)

-> Japan to start selling yen again?

With a slew of huge corporate losses, including Panasonic's
jaw dropping JPY700bn of red ink just announced, Japan's
government is back on the war path about the high yen and
is signalling that it will probably step back in to the
currency markets. While government intervention worked for
all of 3-4 weeks at the end of last year, one gets the
feeling this is a King Canute act, and the yen will stay
high until Japan really is in serious fiscal trouble of its
own -- something not expected to happen at least until the
country burns through the Consumption Tax increases being
mooted for two years from now. In other words, 10-12 years
from now. Anyway, the yen was back up to JPY76.12 this last
week and is forecast to rise to JPY75. (Source: TT
commentary from, Feb 2, 2012)

-> LCC AirAsia gets operators licence

The high yen is blamed for keeping tourist numbers down,
and this may be true for your average tour-taking foreign
visitor. However, once the Low-cost Carriers (LCCs) start
operating, then there will be a new type of strange
traveler arriving on Japan's shores -- backpackers and
others who know how to travel on a shoe string. For them,
a high yen is a small impediment and offers the chance of
possibly picking up some part-time work along the way. So
it is notable that this last week, AirAsia Japan, a joint
venture between ANA and Malaysia's AirAsia, announced that
it has received its air transport operation licence.
AirAsia is the second LCC to receive a licence, after Peach
Aviation, and will start flying to Japan from Incheon and
Busan in South Korea from October (domestic flights between
Tokyo, Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Okinawa will start from
August). (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 3,

-> JAL starting to recover

Just in time to see the LCCs hit the market, formerly
struggling Japan Airlines (JAL) appears to be regaining
health. The company said that it expects to make a net
profit increase of 30% to JPY160bn when its ficsal year
ends next month. This is a pretty spectacular turn-around,
given that the company went bankrupt just two years ago.
Kyocera founder, Kazuo Inamori, is still at the helm
as Chairman and his drastic medicine for the company of
cutting staff and unprofitable routes has worked -- even as
sales on domestic routes fell 18% and internationally by
27%. Clearly market share is not everything in the airline
business. (Source: TT commentary from, Feb 2,

-> Tax revenues up

One small ray of hope for the government was to be found in
December tax revenues. Even though the high yen is hurting
some high-profile exporters badly, nonetheless, most
companies have already located abroad and are largely
immune to FX losses. As a result, tax income was up 3.1% to
JPY2.6trn, with corporate taxes up 28%. JPY1trn of taxes
came from wage earners, and JPY89.6bn from tobacco.
(Source: TT commentary from, Feb 1, 2012)

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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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

=> Reader comment:

Don't know if you noticed that the long-established firm
Oak Associates has filed for bankruptcy? Apparently they
went under on January 11th, when they filed with the Tokyo
District Court to begin bankruptcy proceedings. The company
had over JPY200m in debt. If anyone is owed money by Oak
Associates, they can contact the trustee lawyer, Toshiaki
Nakata, at 03-6438-5511.


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