TT-847 -- Unemployment Disease as a Foreigner in Japan. E-biz news from Japan.

An Insider's comments on Japan's high tech business world
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

General Edition Sunday, April 17, 2016, Issue No. 847

- What's New -- Unemployment Disease as a Foreigner in Japan
- News -- US warns against currency manipulation
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- What's a DMC?
- Travel Picks -- Ando Museum in Kagawa, Tocho observatory in Tokyo
- News Credits

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Next week, the government will announce the unemployment figures for
March 2016. In February unemployment increased slightly, to 3.3%, 0.1%
above the number for January. Compared to other countries, Japan's
unemployment figures are enviably low and so people wonder why the
economy is at the same time probably headed into another recession. The
reason is because Japan's recessions are not tied to the employment
numbers in the same way as they are in the West. Rather, there are
deeper systemic problems caused by cultural and demographic problems here.

According to noted Japan blogger and economics expert, Assistant
Professor at Stony Brook University (New York) Noah Smith, the cause of
Japan's poor economic performance even as its unemployment rate stays
low, is due to three things: willingly unemployed housewives, the aging
population reducing the workforce, and falling wages. In our opinion, of
these three problems falling wages is having the biggest impact in the
short-term. In fact, wages fell again in February 2016 from JPY300,130
in January, to JPY292,430. Wages are now just one third of what they
were in December 1997, although still well above the record low for
incomes in February 1970.

Given that unemployment was at 4% back in 2013, when we had the high
yen, and now that the yen appears to inexorably be returning to at least
100 to the dollar, our guess is that unemployment will start increasing
again, and as it does the average wage will continue eroding as well.

You may well ask how it is that wages are going down even as the number
of job offers in Japan exceeds job applicants by a factor of 1.28. The
answer to this is the mis-match of job types (technology and specialty
positions) to the skills of the audience actually looking for a job.
Noah Smith points out that Japan's low unemployment numbers are kept low
by virtue of lots of "make-work" positions. So the problem isn't a lack
of jobs or even lack of applicants, but rather that Japan is failing to
retrain its workforce.

Now, as a contrast to this rather gloomy outlook for Japan's labor
markets, we thought we'd lighten up this week's Terrie's Take by
publishing (with some editing by us) an article by local author, Mike
Thuresson, who as a Japanese salaryman, enjoys recounting the humorous
cultural gap between Japanese hometown values versus American ones
(where Mike is from). If you enjoy his writing, you can see more at:

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[...Article continues]

["Unemployment Disease as a Foreigner in Japan" by Mike Thuresson]

A few years ago I was unemployed in Japan for a few months. It was the
first time I'd ever lost a job and I learned, the hard way, why work is
Japan's national religion. I found unemployment in Japan to be dull and
humbling, with multiple subtle humiliations pounding you into a funk
that is difficult to escape. Let me give you an idea...

After being fired, I'd start my day opening my eyes a little before
6:00am, and then lying there for half an hour, too inert to face the
silence of my email inbox. One particular day, however, I got up before
everyone else in the house so I could pound the cyber pavement in search
of a job. I had a hop in my step that day, well, until I stopped to read
a note on the kitchen counter from my wife. It's banality instantly
punctured my breadwinning vibe: "Take the trash out. Don't waste bags,
and tie it up right this time!"

Little domestic tweaks like this reveal how Japanese society's obsession
with mottainai ("waste not, want not") puts the squeeze on the jobless
man in Japan, driving him out of the house and into an office, where he
belongs. I subsequently shaved, dressed, and took out our garbage and
empty cans, hoping to avoid my neighbors. Nothing sticks out in a
Japanese neighborhood mid-morning on a weekday more than an out-of-work
salaryman, especially a foreign one.

And nothing gives away a change in your job status like the beer cans
you put in your street's recycling bin (side note: beer-drinking
statistics are even an official economic indicator in Japan and are
often cited in newscasts).

In Japan, there are three categories of beer, the top one occupied by
the premium Asahi, Sapporo, Suntory and Kirin brands. In my lowly state,
there could be no drink guilt-free drinking from this beloved tier. I
had to indulge in the middle category - the lower-malt, lower-cost
happoshu ("carbonated alcohol beverage") - a fall that spoke volumes to
anyone watching. And to my annoyance, my retired salaryman neighbor
shuffled out with his cans at the same time as me. He glanced at my cans
and commented, "Happoshu ka. Saikin taihen dane!" ("Ahh, happoshu is it?
Things are tough these days aren't they!").

This experience drove me to make a monthly pilgrimage to Hello Work,
Japan's English-named national unemployment insurance service (yes, they
even try to turn the shame of unemployment into a cute thing in Japan).
At the Hello Work office, you had to follow their purely ceremonial
requirement of "applying" for their listed job openings in order to
qualify for your welfare payout.

I entered the Hello Work to find dozens of other unemployed people were
there - mostly Japanese men in their 50s, but a few older women as well.
We were all there to search through Hello Work's job databases and list
up the jobs we wanted to "apply" to (rumor has it that
government-friendly companies provide the listings just to serve the
purpose of this ceremonial job search requirement).

Then we'd wait there for the staff to decide how many of your selected
jobs you were qualified to apply to. After this, a clerk - a
sweaty-armpitted, grumpy older man with matted-down hair growing low on
his forehead - would call out your name. He'd bark, "Mr. Suzuki, 20
jobs. Please come forward."

Sometimes it was only 10 or 15 jobs, but whatever it was, the whole room
knew it. Presently my name was called, its unnatural foreign sound was
like a record needle scratching across a vinyl surface. It instantly
caught the attention of the whole room. Everyone stopped to stare at me
as the clerk called out my results: "Su-re-son-san: zero jobs!"

People couldn't help laughing, but thankfully I'd learned from previous
visits to sit in the front row so I didn't have to see their faces. I
quickly walked up, took my welfare slip and walked out head-down,
muttering to myself.

Later, on the way home, I spotted a successful friend in the distance
walking toward me. I quickly dove into a pricey cafe to avoid him, and
of course then had to buy something.

You could multiply all of the above disasters by a hundred - it's all
part of the experience of being an unemployed foreigner in Japan.
Fittingly, though, this dreadful period came to an end in the most
random, uninspired way possible. I stumbled across a job accidentally
when I emailed a former colleague about returning a book he'd borrowed
from me the previous year. His company has a job opening appropriate for
a foreigner, "Why don't you come in and talk about it?"

And hola!, that's how I ended my time as a jobless man in Japan and
gloriously returned to Asahi-sipping salarymanhood.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Factory shortages due to Kumamoto earthquakes
- Chinese woman deported for illegal tour guiding
- Gold demand soars 35%
- US warns against currency manipulation
- Chinese LOVE curry roux

=> Factory shortages due to Kumamoto earthquakes

The immediate tragedy of the Kumamoto earthquakes will become
compounded, as some of Japan's largest auto manufacturing firms start
cutting back domestic production due to the shortage of parts from
subcontractor factories in and around Kumamoto. Most low-tech parts
factories will apparently try to resume production in a week's time, the
period in which aftershocks are expected to settle down. However,
semiconductor maker Renesas Electronics has said that its auto-related
production may not resume "any time soon," because of continuing
aftershocks. ***Ed: Kumamoto was considered previously relatively safe
from earthquakes and was on the site list of most manufacturers trying
to diversify their facilities around the nation.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 17, 2016)

=> Chinese woman deported for illegal tour guiding

Back in March a Chinese women was deported from Japan from her working
illegally as an unlicensed tour guide for Chinese groups visiting
Fukuoka. She provided interpreting services and escorted the groups to
stores that she was receiving kickbacks from. The Kyodo article reckons
the women received about JPY30m in illicit payments from stores
receiving her groups. At the same time, the police are now prosecuting a
Chinese male student in his twenties, for similar activities. He
apparently earned about JPY40m from store kickbacks. The police are also
charging six managers of three travel agencies and three duty-free
stores for their participation. ***Ed: Clear warning sign here from the
authorities to tourism sector operators that they need to clean up their
act. The tour guide situation is particularly problematic, though, since
there is a shortage of suitable guides due to the archaic qualification
requirements imposed by the government, so we expect more prosecutions
to come.** (Source: TT commentary from, Mar 3, 2016)

=> Gold demand soars 35%

The Bank of Japan's negative interest rates policy is having a bigger
effect than expected, and not in a good way. Investors are now turning
to gold as a hedge against inflation and/or future monetary controls.
The demand for gold bullion soared 35% for Q1 of this year (versus Q4
last year), with 8,192kg being sold. This jump in demand is in keeping
with an overall trend for more holdings in gold. As we reported several
weeks ago, gold demand for 2015 rose almost 100% to 32.8 tons over
2014's 17.9 tons, with most of that demand coming at the end of the
year. (Source: TT commentary from, Apr 14, 2016)

=> US warns against currency manipulation

Finance Minister Aso got totally shut down with his efforts to appeal to
the just-held G20 IMF summit in the USA to support Japan's ongoing
efforts to weaken its currency. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned
countries to "avoid manipulating their currencies to boost trade". He
instead urged those countries running large trade surpluses, i.e., a
clear signal to China and Japan, to boost their spending and support
growth and job creation. The IMF downgraded its global economy outlook,
despite an announcement by China that they had had a 6.7% increase in
growth over Q1, 2016. ***Ed: A classic Big Dog-Little Dog story, unusual
in the public nature of the rebuke being delivered by the US to Japan."
(Source: TT commentary from, Apr 16, 2016)

=> Chinese LOVE curry roux

House Foods, the maker of the best selling Vermont Curry roux our kids
grew up on, is now enjoying the financial benefits of releasing the same
product in China. Chinese moms can't get enough of the stuff, and the
company's overall sales for FY2015 rose 15% or by about JPY10bn, while
overseas (mostly China) revenues soared 50% to just over JPY1.6bn.
***Ed: The company faces some head winds in 2016-2017 due to intense
competition within Japan, but if it learns from China and starts to
promote its products around Asia, we can think of many other countries
that will love Vermont curry.** (Source:, Apr 15, 2016)

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.



No events this week.

+++ CORRECTIONS/FEEDBACK -- One man's Ramshackle hut is another's ski resort

=> In last week's Terrie's Take we referred to the term DMC several
times, without defining what a DMC is. In tourism parlance, a
Destination Management Company refers to a firm that provides end-to-end
services to help its customers in a given destination - in this case
Japan. Many DMCs are not travel agents in the destination country,
preferring instead to research in that country, while providing the
licensed services in their home country. Regular travel agents on the
other hand, are licensed in the destination country and also handle
travel requests for other locations around the world, although they may
also specialize in just one destination.



=> ANDO MUSEUM on Naoshima, Kagawa
An archive of the architect's works by the man himself

One would imagine that a museum dedicated to the works of Tadao Ando
would take on a similar style and feel to his iconic works on Naoshima.
The Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House Project and Lee UFan Museum are
often depicted in pictures to have a very distinctive look - clean
lines, simple shapes, and a monochromatic color scheme with lots of grey
concrete, an artful use of light - a simplification perhaps of the work
of a master.

So to find the museum housed in a small traditional wooden house in the
Honmura district of Naoshima, distinguished from its neighbors only by a
tidy metal plate declaring it the ANDO MUSEUM was a bit of a surprise to
me. At first glance it seems removed from his usual aesthetic, but
entering the house, you see how Ando has taken pains to preserve as much
of this 100-year old building's shell as far as possible, a principle of
preservation and blending in with the surroundings that he has kept to
in designing his other structures on Naoshima.

=> Observing Tokyo High Up...for Free
See Tokyo's mega nightlife from the top of Shinjuku

I have many friends mention the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan
Government Building, or what locals call 'Tokyo Tocho'. This Shinjuku
skyscraper is not just another government building, it's one of the most
popular tourist attractions in Tokyo. And you know why? Because this
building offers a ride to its 45th floor FOR FREE. And from that floor,
you can see the whole of Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Building stands 243 meters high and consists of two towers. Each tower
has an observatory at a height of 202 meters. In fact, until 2007 the
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was the tallest building in
Japan, a record now replaced by the Midtown Tower in Roppongi.

If the weather is good, you can see all of Tokyo's exciting landmarks:
Mount Fuji, Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine, and the Tokyo
Dome. Each observatory has a cafe and gift shop. The north observatory
is open until late, making it a great spot to enjoy the night view of
this mega city.



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