TT-946 -- Japan's Tulip - the Akoya Pearl Industry, ebiz 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, May 27, 2018, Issue No. 946

- What's New -- Japan's Tulip - the Akoya Pearl Industry
- News -- Where all our tax yen are going...
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback
- Travel Picks -- Nautical shrine in Asamino, Wisteria tunnels in Nagano
- News Credits

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Japan's Tulip - the Akoya Pearl Industry

Few non-mineral gems have withstood the test of time and stayed in
fashion as well as the lustrous pearl. On the other hand, few
farming-marine sectors in Japan have seen such extreme boom and bust
conditions as the pearl industry either. A recent report in the Nikkei
says that Japanese pearls are now experiencing a mini-boom, shipping
record post-Lehman-Shock numbers to buyers mostly located in east Asia.
In fact, pearls, just behind scallops, are now the second highest marine
product export, and producers say they plan to increase production by
20% next year.

But this happy situation is a recent one, and for 20 years the industry
has been stuck in crisis mode - firstly because of the Asian financial
meltdown in the late 1990s, which severely impacted the main pearl
consumer markets, then secondly a virus that ravaged Japanese pearl
stocks several years later.

Japanese pearls are well regarded thanks to their luster and
translucence, and exports of processed pearls were worth JPY36.3bn in
2017, up 350% over the lows of 2008 but well below the peak of the early
1990's when exports earned about JPY90bn annually. This number does
include pearls imported on a wholesale basis, processed, then
re-exported. Still, even allowing for re-exports, by volume, shipments
continue to hover around 20 tons, which means most of the value gains
have been in product quality.

There are storm clouds on the horizon, however, as global production is
ramping up significantly and Japan's market share continues to fall.
Globally there are now dozens of producers, supplying both fresh water
and salt water pearls. Most of the fresh water pearls (grown in mussels,
not oysters) and in fact most of the world's new pearls, come from
China, where production techniques have improved to the point that the
best specimens are hard to tell from salt water ones - perfectly round
and with good color. China produces about 1,500 tons of fresh water
product a year.

-------------------- SAKE NIGHT 2018 ----------------------

Hosted by Canadian Rakugo-ka (comic storyteller) Sunshine Katsura, the
first-ever foreign professional performer of Kamigata Rakugo, "SAKE
NIGHT 2018 from All Over Japan" will feature a chance to sample over 400
different varieties of sake from across all of Japan's 47 prefectures.
The event is by invitation only and limited to 200 attendees, so don't
miss out on a chance to be one of the lucky few by registering before
noon on Friday June 8. Please register via email or FAX (Attention: Niki
Kaihara or Eri Arai). Registered attendees will be notified by email.

E-mail:, FAX: 03-4588-2278
Date & Time: Friday, June 15, 2018, 7:00-9:30pm (Reception begins 6:30pm)
Location: Ikebukuro Sunshine City Bunka Kaikan Buld, 4th floor
Exhibition Hall B


[...Article continues]

For the more highly valued saltwater pearl, the annual global production
volume is about 70 tons, so Japan still has the largest market share,
but China is closing in fast. Both Japan and China focus on the Akoya
species (Pinctada fucata - originally from Japan), while Australia, the
Philippines, and of course Tahiti focus on the Tahitian and South Seas
(white and gold) oysters. Other up-and-coming producers include Vietnam,
Taiwan, Myanmar, the UAE, and other developing countries.

In case you're wondering, from stats on the web, Hong Kong is listed as
the world's largest exporter of pearls because its dealers handle most
of the freshwater production from China.

Japan's main producing regions are Mie and Ehime, with their numerous
deep and protected bays, and efficient tidal flows. There are other
centers around the country that are lesser known, such as Wakasa bay in
Fukui. We visited Wakasa recently and discovered that the bay became
newsworthy in 2000, when the oyster plague was killing more than half
the shellfish in Shikoku and it was one of the few unaffected locations
left. Unfortunately, the Wakasa breeders there got their spat from the
same Shikoku site, and a couple of years later, the disease had spread
there as well. They have since got the disease under control, with
quarantining methods, but as a result of the virus, annual exports have
fallen from 70 tons pre-plague to 20 tons now.

Various reasons are given for the devastating outbreak, including
plankton-fueled "red tides", over-use of anti-parasite chemical formalin
which is used to produce fugu fish, and an imported (from China) virus.
While the real reason may never be agreed upon, the industry at large
does agree that clean water and not over-stressing the oysters (although
ironically, stressing them to a certain extent is key to producing
pearls) are the main contributors to producing viable pearls. We think
this makes the plan to increase production by a full 20% a worrying
measure, and we wonder if Mie and Ehime producers really learned any
lessons from the disaster 20 years earlier?

Japanese pearls are a seasonal product, and while pearls in other parts
of the world take 2-7 years to mature, local cultivators can seed their
Akoya oysters in February and harvest the pearls in December - thus
allowing the industry to modify their seeding efforts and production
volumes. Seeding the oysters is still done by hand, with small rounds of
fresh water mussel (mostly imported from the USA), inserted one at a
time into each shell-fish. Dexterity and a light touch are both
important skills to achieve a high yield, and the factory we visited at
Wakasa had 12 people working full-time at studio-like stations, with a
variety of precision dental-like tools at their disposal.

The history of cultured pearls, which the Japanese claimed they
invented, is actually rather more interesting. In fact, it wasn't
Kokichi Mikimoto who discovered the process, but rather a British
biologist named William Saville-Kent, who in the late 1800's had a lab
on Thursday island in Australia. His process was brought to Japan by Dr.
Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise, and for which Nishikawa received a
patent in 1916. Nishikawa subsequently married Mikimoto's daughter and
the Mikimoto company acquired the technology that way. Of course if you
read the Mikimoto literature, you'd think that its founder Kokichi did
all the heavy lifting. To his credit, he tried many times to cultivate
pearls but was only able to produce hemi-spherical product. It was
Saville-Kent's breakthrough that made cultured pearls a proper,
controllable process. [Mikimoto's take] [Saville-Kent's short biography]

...The information janitors/


--------------- Cycle Japan's Highest Road ----------------

Japan Travel is proud to announce the next in its "Explore Japan" series
of get-aways. This time it's our Cycling and Sightseeing Tour from the
Japanese Alps to Kyoto, scheduled to run from September 1 - 10, 2018. A
highlight of the tour is traversing Japan's highest road.

Join this carefully designed bike tour for advanced cyclists, and get
ready to explore the nature, history and culture of Japan along stunning
rural roads and the famous Nakasendo Trail and through the ancient
capital of Kyoto. For this special tour, Japan Travel partners up with
Peter Link, a knowledgeable, experienced and reputable guide and cyclist
who will bring you the best of Japan and make sure your trip is truly

Shop the tour here:

+++ NEWS

- Japanese FX traders move the Turkish Lira
- Uber launches collaborative service in Awajishima
- Foreign engineers to be surveyed
- Where all our tax yen are going...
- Airbnb tie-up with Familymart - shame about the timing

=> Japanese FX traders move the Turkish Lira

Who knew that Japanese foreign exchange investors are so heavily into
the Turkish Lira? According to, Japanese margin traders
held 323,537 long positions on the lira on May 15, up from 266,955
contracts late last year. They are of course hoping for a recovery of
the currency and bonds in that country, which historically pay high
interest of 14%. Instead, the Lira has plummeted 22% against the yen
year - making it the second-worst performing foreign exchange pair
currency with the yen (after the Argentinian peso). ***Ed: And we
thought the Kiwi dollar was risky enough!**

=> Uber launches collaborative service in Awajishima

In a strange coincidence related to one of our projects, Uber
Technologies has announced that it has decided to hybridize its ride
hailing service, and start a hailing service that uses the services of
local taxi companies instead of its own vehicles. The service will be
launched in Awajishima, which is the smallish island located between
Kobe and Tokushima on Shikoku. The collaboration will serve the island's
population of 150,000 people. ***Ed: A remote part of the country that
threatens no one. We wonder how Uber has been doing in the only other
area it's permitted to operate in - the Kyotango peninsular in Northern
Kyoto Prefecture. (Source: TT commentary from, May 22, 2018)

=> Foreign engineers to be surveyed

Interesting to see the labor ministry intend to survey roughly 2,500
companies and 8,000 foreign engineers (out of the total 52,000 foreign
engineers working in Japan). The ministry is trying to figure out just
what is needed to get more foreign engineers to move to Japan, along
with comments from them about ease of finding positions and mobility. A
report drawn from the survey results will be available some time early
next year (2019) - should be interesting. ***Ed: As we have mentioned in
Terrie's Take previously, Japan is becoming a hot destination for
software engineers in India, even despite the necessity to learn
Japanese as a prerequisite.** (Source: TT commentary from, May 24, 2018)

=> Where all our tax yen are going...

The Japanese economy may seem in pretty good shape, thanks to the nice
financial bump being provided by the tourism boom. But in the background
the nation's very negative socioeconomic trends are slowly grinding us
all towards a poorer future. Specifically, the government's Council on
Economic and Fiscal Policy has released data showing that Japan's social
security costs will soar 60% over the next 25 years, from JPY121.3trn in
FY2018 to JPY190trn in 2040. Leading this surge of costs will be pension
benefits at JPY73.2trn, up 30% from this year. ***Ed: We've said it
before, the nation can't withstand this kind of out-of-control social
spending without a worker base to support it. Given we still have a
falling birth rate, it's only a matter of time before benefits become
much more severely restricted. Our guess is that the retirement age will
be lifted to 70 or higher within the next 5 years.**

=> Airbnb tie-up with Familymart - shame about the timing

Combini store chain FamilyMart has signed a deal with Airbnb whereby it
will hold local Airbnb rentals keys on the behalf of room owners, so
that visiting guests can pick up the keys and let themselves in to their
room. The two companies will start with 150 stores in and around Tokyo
to begin with and expand from there. ID confirmation will be by means of
tablets installed at each store. ***Ed: Apparently Seven-11 has a
similar key holding deal with JTB - although we're not sure where JTB is
getting its rooms from. The "timing" problem comes from the new
restrictive Minpaku regulations coming into force next month.** (Source:
TT commentary from, May 21, 2018)

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.



------- High-growth Company Networking in Noosa -----------

Morgo is an annual retreat for high growth companies going global from
Australia - its in Noosa this month featuring inspiring speakers from
our community, and offshore. It's uniquely designed to recharge and
reinvigorate your business - and in previous years the Morgo magic has
seen new ventures, ideas and friendships begun and built.

We've secured a special price for members - when you register, use promo
code Special_N18

For more details: [Morgo event home page]
For registration: [Registration page]



=> No corrections or comments this week.


--- fully operational - rent one today ---

The One-Day Rental Cycle Pass service is officially
launched, and we offer more than 5,000 power-assisted bicycles all over
Tokyo. The service is developed on top of the DOCOMO BIKESHARE bicycle
rental platform, and offers a new smartphone interface, which provides
international tourists easy access, a fast -payment system, and
multilingual customer support. Passes start at a flat rate of JPY 1,620
for a basic rental at the bike port (more for pre-bookings), and renters
can use the bicycle or any replacement, for up to 24 hours (from 00:01
to 23:59 each day). 580+ bicycle ports across Tokyo allow convenient
rental and return to any port within the area. JapanTravel.Bike is
currently available in Tokyo and Nara, and will be coming soon to other
major cities in Japan.

To rent one:


=> Hotaka-jinja Shrine in Azumino
An impressive Shinto shrine in the Nagano countryside

Near Hotaka station in the farming countryside of Azumino, about half an
hour by train from Matsumoto, Hotaka shrine is an impressive, spacious
shinto shrine, with a number of interesting features to enjoy as you
stroll around the grounds.

There seems to be a distinct nautical theme, even though the shrine is
about as far from the ocean as it's possible to be in Japan. There are
statues of seafarers, one riding some mythical animal through the waves,
and carvings in wood and stone of ocean scenes, boats and turtles being
tossed around by unfriendly waves.

The shrine is surrounded by peaceful forest, and there are also a couple
of imposing torii gates and impressive wooden halls for visitors to
admire. You'll also see elegant metal sculptures in the shape of origami
cranes, these near a carp pond, where it's very relaxing to watch the
fish glide serenely through the milky water.

=> Kawachi Wisteria Tunnels, Fukuoka
Flowing gardens of purple, pink, and white

Tunnels of wisteria bloom the length of a football field - which is why
people from around the world come to this majestic garden hidden in the
mountains of southern Japan each spring in late April and early May. The
millions of tiny hanging blossoms are meticulously arranged by the
master gardeners here bring in international garden enthusiasts as well
as a steady flow of casual visitors. Located in Kawachi Fuji-en, on the
outskirts of Kitakyushu.

Wisteria, or fuji in Japanese, is a parasitic vine that can be found
naturally clinging to trees in the Japanese countryside, and which is
cultivated to produce an other worldly grandeur here. Although you can
find many outstanding wisterias around the country, such as the giant of
Ashikaga Flower Park, near Tokyo, dating all the way back to 1870, the
distinguishing feature of this garden is its gorgeous tunnels of flowers.

These photographs are from a rainy day on May 3. Although wisterias
thrive in sunlight, the rain didn't deter people from coming, and cars
lined up throughout the day to enter the park. The diffused light of
such a cloudy day illuminates the flowers with a soft glow and makes for
a magical sight among the mountaintops draped in mist.



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