TT-724 -- Japan Behind as MOOCs Change Education, e-biz 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, Sep 01, 2013, Issue No. 724


- What's New -- Japan behind as MOOCs change education
- News -- Ministry of Matchmaking
- Web Content/Tech Job Vacancies (***New***)
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Okazaki Jinja in Kyoto, Mt. Yari in Nagano
- News Credits

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----------------------DELTA AIR LINES-----------------------


Delta has cut check-in times for passengers at Tokyo (Narita) by up to
40%. Working in partnership with SkyTeam®, Delta has redesigned the
Tokyo Narita International Airport Terminal 1 lobby in the North Wing
and increased the common-use, self-service check-in kiosks to 111. The
upgraded kiosks are in the front area of the lobby so passengers can
check in quickly and easily before dropping their bags at the
individual Delta counters so they save even more time.

Discover more check-in options from Delta, please go to


Earlier this month, the largest home study organization in Japan,
Benesse, announced that it is setting itself a target of doubling the
number of kids it serves overseas, to make up for falling student
numbers and revenue here at home. The company started offering its
correspondence class subscriptions in China from 2007 and has had up
to 510,000 kids join (although from the wording of their press
materials, we sense that the dropout rate is also high). The company
now says that it is going to start an Indonesian office next.

Although Benesse's unique system of "Akapen sensei" -- friendly
homework teachers/markers -- helps make homework more acceptable to
kids, the problem for Benesse may not just be a falling number of
kids here in Japan, but also that the world has moved on from their
interpersonal business model. Instead of homework sheets in the post
and pencils, more and more kids are getting their homework from the
Internet, served by programs which are intelligent enough to find the
child's weaknesses in real time and help them recover in the same
session. This approach is light years ahead of the monthly turn-around
times offered by Benesse, a system they came up with 40 years ago and
which helped them build a multi-billion dollar business.

You can't blame Benesse for not being able to anticipate nor properly
participate in the brave new world of online education. Japan is so
far behind in this field that it regularly scores as the lowest
advanced country in using the Internet in education. For example, a
2011 report by the World Economic Forum had Japan at 39th place
globally, just behind Malaysia, Brunei, and Cyprus, for Internet
access in schools. Actually, given that many Japanese schools limit
their kids to once a week access and with strict supervision from the
teacher, we'd say that even this assessment is optimistic.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

This poor ranking is in stark contrast with the penetration of
Internet throughout the country, so that the problem isn't
infrastructure. Instead, it's the education system. We have had our
own kids go to a selection of Japanese, international, and foreign
schools over the years, and the difference in ICT usage and awareness
is stark. Japanese teachers are fearful that their students will use
the internet in an uncontrolled manner (yup, in other countries it is
called exploring) and see PCs as typing machines and little else. PC
classrooms sit empty and unused for most of the time and are off
limits to kids with time on their hands. So it's no wonder that the
way most teenagers, tomorrow's university students, experience the
internet here is on their mobile phones, where the incentive to use
their devices for e-learning is at its lowest.

Then there are the universities, which have to take the clueless
highschoolers and expose them to the world of learning over the
Internet. As part of our research for this story, we visited the
Waseda University Open Course Ware site
( which proudly points out that
it now has over 500 course videos available free of charge online.
This is an outstanding effort by the school, but it's obvious that
much of the work was done back in the early 2000's when standards for
e-learning were still developing, and while the university had budget
for such things. As of 2013, only 4 lecturers produced 20 videos as
courseware -- this out of a faculty of almost 6,400 full- and
part-time academic staff serving a school of 45,000 students.

Actually, on Waseda's portal, being told that you have to use
Microsoft Internet Explorer version 6 pretty much tells you when they
last spent any time and attention on the site. Microsoft stopped
supporting Explorer 6 in 2009... Looking at the videos as well,
although a significant amount of work has obviously been put into each
one, they are so antiquated in approach and content compared to the
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera, Udacity, iversity,
Khan Academy, and others, that it's obvious that the entire Waseda
project will have to be scrapped and rebuilt, else no one will come.
Our guess is that already, no one is coming.

Which brings us to MOOCs. These courses are all the rage in the USA,
and thanks to the Internet, in Kyrgyzstan, Waziristan, and even
Setagaya -- with a single course attracting 40,000 or more students.
They are generally free with optional paying upgrades, they are
high-grade, and for almost the first time in the history of
e-learning, they are no longer a curiosity. Since Japan needs to
invest in e-learning anyway, if only to get its adult population
mentally agile again, this is a sector that they (the government and
companies like Benesse) should be aggressively developing.

One of our kids, she's just 13, is studying university level calculus
via a MOOC (Coursera), and German. We find it amazing that she can
browse the hundreds of free courses on offer, and in an act of
personal commitment she can challenge herself to study at advanced
level those things she is genuinely interested in. This means that she
is mentally and emotionally engaged, and thanks to the relatively
short duration of the courses, she gets frequent feedback and a
reinforcing sense of achievement with each new certificate. Being 13
is not like it used to be, and thanks to MOOCs you no longer need to
feel roadblocked by the glacial pace of school.

It's not often that we can "see the future" in a new technology
development, but if we were to bet on the future of study and
improvement of the academic scores of Japanese kids, it's going to be
self-learning on MOOCs.

At least Todai (Tokyo University) is aware of MOOCs. They are listed
as a partner for Coursera and have a couple of courses online (yes,
just two). One of them, "From the Big Bang to Dark Energy!" looks
interesting enough that we ourselves signed up for it. The course
starts September 3rd, is 4 weeks long (20-25 hours), and we will get a
certificate of completion from Prof. Murayama at the end of it. No
indication until the course starts as to how many students it will

There are of course other excellent self-learning services online. The
American School in Japan has for a number of years had its kids who
are struggling with math log on to a service called ALEKS. The
software behind ALEKS was developed in the 1990's by a Professor
Jean-Claude Falmagne at UC Irvine, and was licensed to the ALEKS
Corporation in 1996. It uses Knowledge Space theory and artificial
intelligence to measure the aptitude of users and in response serve up
appropriate challenges and lessons to help the person learn just those
areas that they are weak in. ALEKS is a huge hit, and has been used by
millions of students in more than 100 academic subjects.

Oh, and if you want to learn a foreign language while the kids are
doing their math, then we recommend They cover over
38 languages, have more than 12m registered users, and yes, they let
you learn Japanese.

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+++ NEWS

- Ministry of Matchmaking
- Fujifilm getting a head start in stem cells
- Can generate alt power, but can't distribute
- Can you count to JPY100tn in one year?
- Debt servicing costs hit record

=> Ministry of Matchmaking

There isn't one yet, but if the idea catches on, there could well be a
ministry of matchmaking in Japan's future. The government has budgeted
JPY200m to be allocated between 10 prefectures, so that the local
authorities can hold matchmaking events. Apparently about 30% of the
population has never been married by the age of 50 (20% of men and 11%
of women), and the budget is planned for parties, tours to under
populated towns and cities, and other events. ***Ed: Sounds like a
boondoggle to us -- Japanese are not marrying for a variety of reasons
that go beyond mere lack of opportunity to meet others. Thankfully
they're only throwing a modest amount at this.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Aug 31, 2013)

=> Fujifilm getting a head start in stem cells

Japan's open-minded attitude to stem cell research is having a
beneficial effect in encouraging large corporations to jump into the
field. And no wonder, given that a key aspect of stem cells is to
treat aging diseases -- older people have most of the world's wealth
and will spend for treatments that delay the inevitable. The latest
participant in the field, with a rather significant investment of 50
people to kick things off, is Fujifilm. The company is establishing a
department for regenerative medicine, consisting of an R&D team and a
business team. (Source: TT commentary from, Aug 30)

=> Can generate alt power, but can't distribute

Revenge of the power utilities? A Bloomberg report has found that
although the Japanese solar market is growing by leaps and bounds,
projects in northern and southern Japan are now getting stalled or
cancelled because local utilities are unable to find the grid capacity
to handle the extra power -- a situation known as "grid congestion".
Although 22.4GW of new renewable energy projects have been approved by
the government under the Feed-in Tariff program, apparently the
southern areas of Chugoku and Kyushu Electric only have less than 1GW
of grid capacity. It is hoped that new legislation due shortly will
deregulate the distribution of power, and facilitate improvements in
the grid. ***Ed: Why don't they just shut down some of those nuclear
reactors for good and switch to solar -- if all the approved projects
went ahead, up to half of the nuclear power plants could be made
redundant.** (Source: TT commentary from, Aug 30,

=> Can you count to JPY100tn in one year?

As is always the case when bureaucrats smell a trough nearby, pork
barrel projects kidnap commonsense and we get yet another budget
blow-out. Currently in the name of expansionary Abenomics, the
government's many organs have submitted budget requests for next year
totaling a record JPY99.2trn -- a record amount. These are of course
just budget requests, and will doubtless be pruned back a few trillion
or so by the Ministry of Finance, but clearly there is no sense of
needing to rein in spending at this stage. ***Ed: Scary. Some things
never change.** (Source: TT commentary from, Aug 30,

=> Debt servicing costs hit record

The downside of massive budget requests on a tax base of just JPY45trn
or so is that the remaining 55% of the budget needs to be borrowed.
This year, the Ministry of Finance will request JPY25.3trn to service
the nation's public debt. That is an increase of 13.7% over the debt
servicing costs of FY2012. The nation's overall public debt is now
JPY1qdrn. (Source: TT commentary from, Aug 27, 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



=> This week as start a new section in the 'Take, announcing vacancies
in companies related to Web content and technology.


Sales/Business Development

Japan Inc. Holdings is looking for a Salesperson or Business
Development Manager to work in its new team managing a major
Japanese-language pets portal. The opportunity involves getting
involved at ground level in developing a line of services and media
offerings for Japanese fans, retailers, and professionals in the
sector. The portal is at, and thanks to a
crowdsourcing business model is on track to become Japan's largest
pets portal in the next 6-12 months.

Friendly team, contact with partners and prospects all over Japan, and
a leadership role are all part of the opportunity.

You should be outgoing, bilingual, good at developing new ideas,
energetic, and be interested in helping improve the lives of pets,
especially dogs, in Japan. Ideally we are looking for a native
Japanese person, however fluent bilingual non-Japanese applicants will
also be considered. Salary commensurate with experience. We prefer
applicants with 3-5 years experience in web business development and
marketing OR someone straight out of college who is willing to be
trained and mentored. Please send your resume to


- Bilingual account manager for major tourism portal
(, JPY3M - JPY5M
- Japanese language senior editor, bilingual, JPY4M - JPY5.5M
- Bilingual web designer, for mostly Japanese-language websites for
foreign firms, JPY4M - JPY5M
- English-only experienced PHP Zend software developer, 5 years
experience, JPY3.5M - JPY5M
- IT Engineer to support 40 users in web media sector, 1-3 years
experience, limited Japanese OK, JPY3M - JPY4.5M

Interested individuals may e-mail resumes to:




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

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,

-------------------Tokyo Gift Show 2013--------------------

The largest international trade show in Japan, "The 76th Tokyo
International Gift Show autumn 2013" exhibits personal gifts, consumer
goods and decorative accessories and opens soon!

With the motto "Let's meet at the Gift Show", the industry
professional-oriented Tokyo Gift Show takes place over 3 days during
September 4-6 and takes over the whole Tokyo Big Sight venue.

Bi-annually, The Gift Show selects a theme reflecting Japanese
peoples` varied lifestyles, this time focusing on the outdoors. It
brings together new and cutting edge food, fashion and design
products. Drop by to find the next big thing in lifestyle design.



=> No corrections or feedback this issue.



=> Okazaki-jinja and Konkaikomyo-ji, Kyoto
A primer on Kyoto's shrines and temples

When I was staying at Hotel Heian no Mori, Kyoto, I went to Okazaki
Shrine and Konkaikomyo Temple, both located less than ten minutes away
from the hotel. Their closeness enabled me to compare and learn the
crucial differences between shrine and temple architecture, apart from
their religious origins.

Okazaki shrine is believed to be the East shrine along the four
compass points when Emperor Kanmu moved the capital to Kyoto which was
then named Heian-kyo. The shrine was built to protect the Imperial
Court in 794, and so the locality became known as Higashi-tenno
(Eastern King) machi. The shrine was planned in a simple square
layout, with the buildings at the edges, making it easy to navigate.

In 1178 the shrine received an offering from the empress praying for a
healthy child, and even today many people come here for the same
reason, hence also the presence of many rabbit sculptures here. There
is also a wedding room nearby, so during auspicious days of the
Japanese calendar the shrine is filled with flute music and ceremony
from the many traditional weddings held here.

After Okazaki shrine, I walked five minutes northwards to visit
Konkaikomyo temple, through the little alley next to the shrine.
Konkaikomyo temple was founded in 1175, and is one of the eight head
temples of the Pure Land School, which along with Zen and Nichiren are
three of the more well-known schools of Buddhism in Japan. As it is
the main temple for this neighbourhood, it is also known as Kurodani
temple. A chain of houses and cemeteries divides into precincts of the

Read more at:

=> The Ascent of Mount Yari, Nagano
Spear Mountain in the Southern Alps

Not for the faint-hearted. This 3,180 metre mountain stands tall
amongst Japan's Minami Alps and is ranked as one of Japan's 100 most
famous mountains. Almost any Japanese hiker will know of the
spear-shaped peak, and will be extremely impressed once they hear that
you've scaled it. Be well prepared however, just getting to the
mountain is long and tiresome, not to mention climbing it.

As with most mountains, there are many trails to take you to the
summit, but here is one of the most common and easy to follow routes.
You'll have to begin by making your way to the Kamikochi resort in
Gifu prefecture. Private cars cannot access Kamikochi, so you will
need to catch a shuttle bus (from ¥1000 one-way) or taxi (¥4000+).
It's best to spend the night there (tent/lodge/hotels are all
available) and set off on the "Kamikochi Course" trail around 6am the
following morning. The trail runs west following the river upstream.
The route is well sign-posted but as a responsible hiker a map is a
must. There are water stops during the first leg of the hike, but they
grow scarcer as the trail begins to ascend. Expect to have to pay ¥100
for the bathroom.

Read more at:



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