TT-726 -- From Epsilon to Weathernews, and 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 15, 2013, Issue No. 726


- What's New -- From Epsilon to WeatherNews
- News -- Is that Civit coffee the real poop?
- Web Content/Tech Job Vacancies
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Bamboo in Kyoto, Iwate Park
- News Credits

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The successful launch of Japan's Epsilon rocket and the SPRINT-A
satellite aboard this week has a lot of people excited. Coming
close on the heels of the announcement of the 2020 Olympics, the
feel-good factor was very tangible and seems to indicate that Japan is
regaining possession of a viable destiny, instead of being continually
written off as a loser country that will fade from view. The Japan
Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was quick to remind people that
this was not just another launch, but one that where the ecosystem
supporting the launch was deliberately downsized and automated so as
to reduce costs. They have said that the 1,200kg payload-capable craft
cost JPY3.8bn to loft, about half of the usual cost.

Hmmm we started thinking, 50% savings... does that mean the Epsilon is
a breakthrough launch system? Can the Japanese now compete with other
countries? Sadly, after checking Wikipedia for a list of launch costs
in other countries, we found that the roughly JPY3m/kg cost of the
Epsilon is still about 10-15 times more expensive than services out of
Russia and the USA (SpaceX for example). It seems that JAXA may have
reduced their own costs but they have a long way to go before they
challenge the world. Given that, why are the Japanese spending so much
time and energy on mastering space flight when they could simply
contract out?

The only plausible answer we can come up with and certainly is fuel
for conspiracists on the web is that Japan is in reality testing out a
platform from which it can send up military equipment and warheads
relatively cheaply, if nothing else, as a deterrent to China.
Certainly there seems to be a lot of coincidence between political
pronouncements from the Right on how Japan should have the means to
defend itself, and the timing of this launch. Well, we guess all
politicians thrive on power, but nonetheless it would be really cool
if JAXA did in fact come up with a really cheap launch system.

The thing that stood out for us about the Epsilon success was the fact
that the whole ecosystem was deliberately engineered for less people
and systems -- a very un-Japanese thing to do and for us a positive
sign that the nation's engineers are learning. Apparently the launch
was performed by just five people instead of the usual 150, and was
executed from a pair of laptop computers. This started us thinking
about what other Japanese organizations have turned their industry
upside down by re-inventing how things get done. It then occurred to
us, as we were getting rained on by Typhoon 18 (Man-yi) that there is
at least one company that seldom gets noticed by the media and yet is
a world leader in its sector -- Weathernews, Inc.

[Continued below...]

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

[...Article continues]

This is a company that has revolutionized the shipping industry with
its weather forecast routing services, along with many other
innovations. BP Shipping appears to be a satisfied customer and in a
testimonial on the Weathernews site, says that in the last two years
they have saved over US$10.70 on bunker oil alone for every US$1 they
have spent on the Weathernews Oceanrouteing service. This is on top
of time, wages, and equipment wear-and-tear -- so it appears to be a
compelling offering for serious operators.

One reason the company is so far in front of competitors is that they
only focus on weather, and because of that narrow specialization they
keep coming up with unique ideas in the space. Started in 1986 by
Hiroyoshi Ishibashi (who died in 2010), the company started out by
offering simple weather information to maritime vessels. While others
were doing this as well, Ishibashi came up with the idea of
integrating the forecasts in such a way that they could suggest to
shipping operators how to save money through taking alternative
routes, where the seas were easier or headwinds lighter. This worked
and today the company is the largest private meteorological
information company in the world. On revenues of JPY13.01bn, they
enjoyed Net Profit of JPY1.72bn and have a PER of 15.43, quite low for
an information company with so much technical knowhow. They are
present in 14 countries and 35 cities.

Working for Weathernews must be a nerd's delight, as of their 700
staff, 400 are meteorologists. The company utilizes multiple data
sources to try to better divine the weather, and has invested in R&D
centers here in Japan and in the USA, as well as preparing to launch
its own satellite. Actually, the reason for the satellite is
particularly interesting. In 2008 they started a project called the
Global Ice Center where they monitor the new North Sea Route (NSR),
which opened to shipping above Russia in the last decade thanks to
global warming melting the polar ice. The new route is particularly
interesting for Asian companies wanting to ship to Europe because
between August and October each year they can reduce their delivery
times and fuel costs by 1/3 to 1/2 compared to navigating the Suez
Canal or rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

Weathernews currently uses data from a medium-resolution NASA
satellite called Aqua to check the condition of the NSR, but is
looking for higher quality data from their own satellite. Using the
new bird, they will be able to look at grids of 500m compared to 9km
now, and get data once every 90-100 minutes versus the 3-day
turnaround on the NASA satellite. This order of magnitude improvement
in data quality and frequency will be of vital importance if
Weathernews is to help companies use the NSR as a proper commercial
route and not just as an adventure as they do now. In particular, they
will need information to help them avoid icebergs, unexpected
incoming storms, the actual window of access/passage, and of course,
other ships.

In another initiative here in Japan, Weathernews offers a smartphone
service that gives at least 30 minutes warning of pending localized
rainstorms. To do this, they not only use their weather-monitoring
radar and predictive systems, but have also turned to the web and
crowdsourcing techniques to get user feedback and photos. Currently
they have 1.6m users for their mobile weather services and about
300,000 of them are so-called "weather reporters" who provide input
that the company integrates into its client information feeds. The
Asahi recounted an incident last year where a train operator stopped a
scheduled service after a Weathernews reporter spotted a cloud that
looked as if it could turn into a tornado.

Lastly, and with a note of irony for JAXA, remember that Weathernews
satellite they will put up shortly? They apparently plan to put it
into orbit for several hundred million yen, about 1% of the normal
price, because they are using reusable radar parts normally used for
aviation, the unit itself is micro-sized, only measuring 27cm cubed,
and perhaps most importantly, it will be launched from a low-cost
Russian rocket...

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Is that Civit coffee the real poop?
- How foreign M&A should be done
- Tokyu selling its Tokyu Hands building
- Kaze Tachinu movie grosses JPY10bn
- Big turn-around for Japan Display

=> Is that Civit coffee the real poop?

The Japanese do love their coffee, and among aficionados, Kopi Luwak,
an Indonesian coffee that comes from coffee berries excreted by the
Asian Palm Civet is one of the most sought after. The problem is that
since only 700kg of the coffee is produced each year, it is
astronomically priced, currently retailing for about US$700/kg. So
there is a lot of fake product around. But now a research team led by
scientists from Osaka University have come up with a GC-MS-based
marker analysis test that allows them to tell the real product from
fake ones. The test checks the relative levels of citric acid, malic
acid, and inositol/pyroglutamic acid, with certain ratios being
consistent with real Kopi Luwak. ***Ed: This is the first time anyone
has been able to come up with a scientific test for civit coffee --
now we need an iPhone sensor and app for that.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Jul 27, 2013)

=> How foreign M&A should be done

Although it's not been plain sailing for Kirin in absorbing its
various overseas acquisitions, the fact that the company has stuck
with its original vision and has taken its lumps is now starting to
pay off. This article in the Nikkei covers some of the ups and downs
of Kirin's businesses in Australia, its largest international market,
focusing on the cheese and dairy business. Apparently after investing
about JPY600bn on various beverages and dairy businesses, Kirin is
experiencing a severe profit squeeze on its dairy products line, with
margins of just 4%. The company has just announced that it is going to
double-down and spend another JPY12bn to almost fully automate its
cheese production at its Burnie plant in Tasmania, while closing 3 of
the other plants. Besides Burnie, Kirin will leave the King Island
factory and its specialty lines there alone. The new production line
is expected to double cheese output to 25,000 tons a year. (Source: TT
commentary from, Sep 14, 2013)

=> Tokyu selling its Tokyu Hands building

Hmmm, is Tokyu under some financial pressure? How else to explain the
fact that a Tokyu realty firm is selling the 1,500 sq. m. plot of land
that currently is home to the building for Tokyu Hands, the iconic
hobbies retail store. The buyer will be real estate developer Hulic,
which plans to put up a new commercial complex several times higher
than the current building. ***Ed: Fear not, Tokyu Hands still has ten
years left on its lease. No word yet where they will move to, though.
Hikarie perhaps?** (Source: TT commentary from, Sep 13,

=> Kaze Tachinu movie grosses JPY10bn

Obviously Studio Ghibli co-founder and director Hayao Miyazaki's new
movie has struck a chord with Japanese audiences. It is the first
animation in the last 3 years to gross more than JPY10bn in box-office
sales domestically. The movie, named "The Wind Rises" in English, is
Miyazaki's last and has drawn more than 8.1m people in Japan to see it
so far. The movie was released July 20th in Japan and will only appear
in English in the USA in February 2014. (Source: TT commentary from, Sep 14, 2013)

=> Big turn-around for Japan Display

Cobbled together from the failed LCD businesses of Hitachi, Toshiba,
and Sony, the Japan Display company was saved by a timely JPY200bn
investment from the government's Innovation Network Corp. (INCJ) in
2011. Since then the company has pulled off an impressive recovery and
has gone on to become the world's largest maker of LCD displays for
mobile devices. Now the INCJ will be rewarded for its risky investment
with the company planning a JPY200bn IPO as soon as March 2014. If the
IPO is priced to expectations then Japan Display will have an overall
valuation of between JPY700bn and JPY800bn. (Source: TT commentary
from, Sep 13, 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



=> Are you in web content or engineering? If so, this section is for you.


- Trainee Web Client Account Manager

Japan Inc. Holdings is offering an opportunity for a bilingual,
outgoing person to train as an account manager for existing and new
customers buying media and services from the firm. The role will
involve working alongside experienced sales staff, learning the web
media business, how to interact with customers, and the basic
psychology of sales. This role is perfect for someone who recently
returned from study abroad, got into a regular Japanese firm, and now
wishes they could have a more international environment. We are an
equal opportunity employer. The portals that we are supporting include, a site dedicated to owners of dogs, and, a site focusing on foreign tourists planning to
come to Japan.

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

We are also looking for experienced bilingual sales staff, who may be
either Japanese or other nationalities. Strong Japanese-language
skills and 3-5 years experience are essential. Please send your resume


- Bilingual account manager for major tourism portal
(, JPY3M - JPY5M
- Bilingual experienced sales manager for web media properties,
JPY4M-JPY5M + 10% commission
- Japanese language web project manager, 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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Date: Saturday, September 21 from 1pm to 5pm
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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,



=> No corrections this issue.


---------------- Help Still Needed in Tohoku --------------

The Japan Emergency Team, operator of Japan`s only Disaster Relief
Vehicle is asking for help to keep the Disaster Relief Vehicle
running. The DRV, a 30 foot converted Motorhome sleeps up to ten, has
shower, cooking, facilities and is still on site in Tohoku where it
assisted in providing showers, food and emergency assistance as it
still does. In addition it has a mobile `convenience store` which
provides necessities to those in temporary housing.

The Japan Emergency Team was formed in 1989 when 38 students from Chuo
University went to assist in the San Francisco Earthquake making
history as the first overseas disaster assistance from Japan. When
there is not an ongoing disaster in progress the DRV visits schools,
government and other events to promote disaster awareness and is as
much in demand when there is a disaster as when there is not.

Sponsorship includes a logo on the side of the DRV, participation in
regular disaster awareness events and more. Those able to help are
asked to contact for a sponsorship packet or to invite
the DRV to an event.



=> Bamboo Masters of Teramachi, Kyoto
Chopsticks, Tea Whisks and Souvenirs

Are you looking for an unique and easy to carry gift, one that
represents Kyoto culture and history? Step inside Takano Chikko, a
bamboo shop in the heart of Teramachi, Kyoto. See how the master
artisans make these gifts and utensils from the bamboo. The shop, set
in a traditional Kyoto townhouse (Machiya) recently won an award for
the best souvenirs for travelers. I was surprised at how many things
can be made from bamboo, and all of them handmade. The shopkeeper here
tells me the nature of bamboo means that mechanization cannot be used
to bring out its best, so a handmade craft and art industry has grown
up around it.

Bookmarks, chopsticks, macha tea whisks, and the flute-like shakuhachi
are also made from bamboo. Some artisans take months to make a perfect
shakuhachi, so this is a real labor of love and a great way to be in
tune with nature. And speaking of Mother Nature, bamboo gives a third
more oxygen and takes in over four times the amount of greenhouse
gases compared to a similar sized tree. And even though it is a grass,
it grows faster and is stronger than hardwood. It also flexible which
means it can be bent into curved or rounded shapes without breaking.
Perfect for making art.

=> Iwate Park in Morioka, Iwate
A Picturesque Summer

Morioka Castle, constructed in 1598, was a beautiful three-story
Castle which served as the residence of the Nanbu family. In 1874,
when the age of the samurai eventually came to an end, the castle was
demolished and the park became desolate. In 1906, the park was revived
and named Iwate Park. This well-maintained park is now a place of
recreation and relaxation for many city residents and a popular
cherry-blossom viewing park during the Spring. Although the castle no
longer stands today, you can still see the beautiful stone walls
throughout the park and enjoy the gardens on one of many walking
trails throughout the park.



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