TT-985 -- More Genetic Changes in Our Food Supply, 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 Monday, Mar 25, 2019, Issue No. 985

- What's New -- More Genetic Changes in Our Food Supply
- News -- Japan Olympic head to be scapegoated?
- Events -- Cybersecurity for Non-technical Managers
- Corrections/Feedback -- Correction on Chinese tourist spending
- Travel Picks -- Wolf spirits in Chichibu, Mukojima-Hyakkaen in Sumida
- News Credits


+++ More Genetic Changes in Our Food Supply

Last week Japan took a step closer to allowing genetically edited
plants and animals into our food chain. An advisory panel to the
Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), decided that
gene-edited foods are safe for the public to eat and are fundamentally
different to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foodstuffs that have
gained so much negative publicity here. The panel met as a consequence
of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deciding this year that
gene-edited foods can be reported on a voluntary basis and therefore
do not need special regulation. According to the FDA, many
gene-editing firms are in the process of consulting with them and
those that do have a safety protocol to follow. Likewise, the Japanese
have said that any gene-editing techniques used in the local food
industry would also need to meet certain criteria, although they
didn't say what these are. Probably because they are waiting for the
FDA to issue it's own guidelines later this year...! [Ed: Do we see a
tail wagging a dog somewhere?]

* FDA advance policy paper: [FDA website]
* There is a Japanese-only draft of the report (not the final yet),
here: [MHLW website]

Needless to say, the panel's decision hasn't been met with enthusiasm
by consumer groups, that feel gene-editing is just another attempt by
the same people who wanted to introduce GMO foods into Japan 20 years
ago. Their concerns would be heightened by the fact that the European
Union's (EU) highest court came to the exact opposite decision about
gene editing in June of last year. In that landmark case, the court
said that gene editing is still the artificial manipulation of genes
and therefore while the risks are not yet apparent they could be just
as insidious and unstoppable as GMO modified plants are perceived to
be. So CRISPR-Cas9 edited food experiments need to go through the same
lengthy and complex approvals process that GMO products do -
essentially killing the commercial incentive for researchers and
ensuring the technique won't be adopted in the EU.

So what is the difference between gene modification and gene editing,
that makes the Japanese science panel willing to support the
technology? Fundamentally gene modification involves introducing
foreign genetic material into a given gene, to give that plant (or
animal) new characteristics that don't exist in nature. For example, a
tomato that has a built-in pesticide. On the other hand, gene editing
involves taking an existing gene and clipping (modifying) it with
CRISPR so as to either remove some material or to cause it to
regenerate. An example of this might be an effort to breed wheat that
produces high fiber flour for gut health - which is a real U.S.
product that Calyxt will be marketing in 2020.

[Article continues below...]

------ Terrie's Slow-Poke Cycling Tour - Kyushu -------

Last year we threatened to run a cycling tour for readers, but got too
busy to actually do it. So this year we're making amends. The first
tour, which will happen in the third or fourth week of April (just
before Golden Week) will be a 5-6 day ride in Kyushu - most likely in
the Nagasaki region. This tour, and a Hokkaido tour in late August or
early September, will have a common format.

1. The tours are potluck, not professionally run. No complaining.
Jokes and helping each other out are mandatory.
2. There will be no support cars or spare bikes or guides. Instead, we
use Google maps and take the most scenic routes to arrive at our
hotels each night.
3. Our bags will be relayed by couriers so you can ride light. Yes, we
will have inner tubes and other basic spare parts.
4. Terrie is a slow poke, so while we will indeed be covering
80km-100km a day, it will take 6+ hours each day, with plenty of time
for lunch, photos, drinks, etc.
5. No hill climbing! Terrie is allergic to tall mountains.
6. Although the rides will run 5-6 days, people wanting to cut out at
3 days will be able to do so.
7. Our bikes will go with us on the Shinkansen. Terrie can show you
how to prepare and break your's down for simple transport.
8. If you don't have a road bike, you can rent one at [Excellent supplier, great prices.]
9. Anyone over 16, any gender, welcome.
10. There will be a JPY20,000 organizing fee per rider.
11. Other costs will all be at cost. Usually this works out to about
JPY13,000/day plus Shinkansen tickets.

If you're interested in a long, slow, fun, potluck cycling tour in
Japan, contact Terrie today and he will work with you and the rest of
the group to set the final dates and routes.

For more information, email:

[...Article continues]

The issue seems to be not in the immediate safety of gene edited
foods, which until now seem stable and mostly indistinguishable from
the original material. In fact, gene editing scientists explain their
technology for the rest of us (otherwise we couldn't have written
this) by comparing gene editing results as being similar to natural or
forced (but legal) mutations of plant strains that already happen in
the labs and nurseries all over the world. The difference is that you
don't need to wait 20 to 30 years to see if a cross breeding or forced
mutation has worked. Instead with CRISPR the results come in a single
season. The issue, rather, appears to be the fact that gene editing
with CRISPR is new, unknown, untested across generations and
communities, and could have unexpected consequences in the future. For
example, a plant variety is made more resistant to a particular
disease that targets it, but while the gene-edited plant itself is
still safe to eat, the absence of that variation in our diets could
cause a secondary change in how our immune system conditions itself.
Yes, this is the same consequence as regular breeding, but the fear is
that it is happening much more quickly and specifically, which somehow
usurps Mother Nature. (This fear that is not very scientific, as
scientists frequently point out.)

So the EU has decided it's not worth the risk.

It's not well known that GMO products are also legal in Japan, as
approved almost 20 years ago by a similar group of scientists advising
the ministry. To plant GMO a farm needs to meet the strict but not
impossible requirements set out in the "Conservation and Sustainable
Use of Biological Diversity Through Regulations on the Use of
Genetically Modified Organisms - Cartagena Act" (yeah, it's a
mouthful) passed in 2003. The fact that we don't see GMO plantings
here is because of the extreme negativity that Japanese consumers have
towards what they view as contamination of their food supply. The one
exception is ornamental flowers - GMO blue roses are legally grown in

But the great irony is that even as there are almost no GMO plantings,
Japan is also one of the world's largest importers of GMO food grown
elsewhere. For example, in 2015, 11.8m tons of corn and 2.33m tons of
soy were imported from the U.S. and over 90% is believed to have been
GMO product - and that is data from the agriculture ministry.

The Japanese have history of genetically modified foods with
unintended consequences, and we're not referring to the highly
controversial bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) - which may or may
not be a catastrophe depending on whose data you use. Rather, a better
facts-based case (but still debatable) was in the 1980s when chemicals
conglomerate Showa Denko used a new method to produce tryptophan using
genetically engineered bacteria in the fermentation process.
Tryptophan is a protein-building amino acid often used as a dietary
supplement and also for treating depression. After some consumers took
the product there was an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome
(EMS), a sometimes fatal flu-like condition, that was traced back to
the Showa Denko product. The fact that the tryptophan was genetically
modified caused public alarm and the product was quickly discontinued.
Later, scientists offered up an alternative explanation that an
oversupply of tryptophan itself could have been the problem, where it
has been shown that large doses can create an excess of histamines in
the body, which in turn can cause EMS. Whichever explanation is
correct, GMO or poor assimilation, the damage was done and for the
Japanese public this was the first serious finger-pointing towards the
dangers of GMO.

The potential of gene-edited food products is huge, both commercially
and for health improvement, but just as scientists internationally are
telling us to go slow and test stem cell therapies properly, we
believe that Japan should err on the side of caution until extensive
studies have been done on gene editing as well. While public antipathy
has dealt a death knell to GMO plantings, people are happily chowing
down on GMO bread and noodles, and so perhaps this is the same
direction that gene editing will go. It will be allowed, and thus
Japanese scientists will not be held back if there are commercial
breakthroughs to be made, but the first country these new plants will
call home is most likely going to be the USA, with consequent exports
back to Japan.

It's hard to argue that this isn't beneficial to Japanese academia,
since the IP license revenues will probably be many times more
profitable than actual farming here anyway. It (and the stem cells
stampede going on) could also make Japan a new destination for
European scientists who want a stable and unfettered environment in
which to conduct research and commercialize the results. Certainly
this should be a green light for Japanese academic institutions such
as the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) to send
their recruiters to Europe to attract gene editing scientists there
who have had their efforts effectively shut down. [OIST faculty members are an excellent international mix]

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- U.S. forces Japan to dump Iranian oil suppliers
- First crypto court case in Japan, for hacking youth
- Ichiro resigns, ANA honors him in a unique way
- Japan Olympic head to be scapegoated?
- Japan's Sunwolves axing a political in-fight?

=> U.S. forces Japan to dump Iranian oil suppliers

It's been interesting to see how Japan was allowed to continue trading
under the U.S. sanctions radar for years, bringing Iranian crude oil
in for local consumption. However, it appears that the Trump
administration is looking for reasons to smack Japan hard for
non-compliance, and so the nation's major importers have said that
they will cease trading oil from Iran from October. Notifications from
the U.S. have apparently been at multiple levels - from the actual oil
traders all the way up to the banks providing shipment financing. The
effective ban on Iran won't have much effect though, as only about 5%
of crude imports are from that country. ***Ed: This is a good example
of how the U.S. can easily influence Japan's foreign and national
trading policies. We always find it strange that the Trump
administration doesn't put more pressure on Tokyo, of the same kind,
to improve market access for U.S. products. Especially since diplomacy
doesn't seem that important any more - take the opportunity while you
can.** (Source: TT commentary from, Mar 19, 2019)

=> First crypto court case in Japan, for hacking youth

Surprising as it may seem, given that Japan has so far had almost
JPY100bn in losses through hacking of cryptocurrency exchanges, the
first defendant to have been caught in a hack is appearing in court
just this month. Not only had the individual managed to steal a mere
JPY15m of coins (a tiny amount compared to the professional hits of
the last few years) from a crypto site called Monappy, he is only 18
and therefore will be charged as a youth not an adult - meaning that
the sentence is likely to be a lot lighter. The Tochigi hacker found a
way to send multiple transfers of coins to his account, which he then
laundered on another cryptocurrency site. ***Ed: Interesting to see
this news article also mention that Mark Karpeles, who was the CEO of
Mt. Gox, Japan's most famous hacked site, was found innocent of
embezzlement and breach of trust, and thus escaped jail. Instead, he
was accused of post-hack manipulation of Mt. Gox's data, which earned
him a 2 1/2 year suspended sentence. Finally a free man.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Mar 15, 2019)

=> Ichiro resigns, ANA honors him in a unique way

In case you haven't heard, Japan's most famous baseball players
overseas, Ichiro Suzuki, retired from professional baseball last week,
at the age of 45. Ichiro returned to Seattle on Friday after a stint
in Japan (no doubt to assure his sponsors that he's still available),
and on leaving from Narita, ANA had a nice little surprise for him.
They changed the usual Seattle-bound gate number from 58b to Gate 51,
in honor of the shirt number he used to wear when at the Seattle
Mariners. A big crowd showed up to see him off. ***Ed: Although Ichiro
should probably have retired about 5 years ago, while still at a
relative peak, it's great to see such a savvy guy milk his commercial
endorsements to ensure a decent retirement package. You can't go
anywhere in Japan recently without seeing his face. In 2012, Forbes
reported that Ichiro was No. 4 in the U.S. baseball league in terms of
earnings, with US$24.5m that particular year. Back then, his Japanese
endorsements were worth US$7m a year... Probably a lot more in the
last couple of years.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Mar 22, 2019)

=> Japan Olympic head to be scapegoated?

Japan's Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda has announced
that he will resign the position in June, to take responsibility for
any possible fall-out to come as French authorities probe his
involvement in a payments scandal that we have reported before. At the
core of the scandal are payments of about $2m made to the
Singapore-based company associated with the son of a disgraced Olympic
official who has separately been accused of fixing the awarding of the
2016 Olympics to Rio. Tokyo of course was awarded the 2020 summer
Games. ***Ed: Takeda maintains that he is innocent, but with the
possibility of the games being moved somewhere else if the allegations
stick (although somewhat unlikely at this late stage), it appears he
is going to take the fall for what must have been a group decision to
pay the "consulting" fees. It's never been adequately explained just
what the "consulting" was. FYI, the Tokyo Olympics will wind up
costing US$25bn, about 3 times more than original estimates - we
wonder why there isn't an investigation into that?** (Source: TT
commentary from, Mar 19, 2019)

=> Japan's Sunwolves axing a political in-fight?

Interesting article in the Kyodo News about the real reason the
Japanese Super Rugby team, the Sunwolves, was axed from the SANZAAR
competition. We thought they were playing reasonably well even if they
are dead last in the Australia conference (having won just one less
game than the second last team). According to the writer, the axing of
the Sunwolves is a case of politics as well as an unfair costing
policy towards the Japanese, whereby they were being charged fees that
none of the other teams have to pay. The article says that the main
political pressure came from South Africa, which was none too happy
about Japan's backing of France to host the next Rugby World Cup in
2023 over South Africa. ***Ed: Perhaps no coincidence that Dentsu is
planning a locally run league involving other international teams, and
run in conjunction with the big sports agency CSM?** (Source: TT
commentary from, Mar 23, 2019)

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



=> Cybersecurity for Non-technical Managers

Jonathan Siegel presents "Cyber self-defense: When to worry and how to
stay vigilant”.

If Facebook privacy, data breaches and ransomware have gotten your
attention, come hear about the practical steps you can take to
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worries that are prevalent in all of our lives. He’ll also provide a
fact check on recent stories about changing your passwords, covering
your laptop camera, and printing out rather than cloud-storing
sensitive data.

Jonathan is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional
(CISSP™) with a Masters in Cybersecurity from Brown University, as
well as a B.A. in Physics and Computer Science from the University of
California Santa Barbara. He is the Chairman and Founder of Xenon
Partners, a small private equity firm.

The event will be held at the Oakwood Premier Tokyo Midtown and
includes light food and drinks. The entrance fee is JPY1,000, which
includes a glass of wine.

Seating is limited to 50 people, so please reserve at the following
address if you plan to attend:

Time: 7:00pm.
Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Venue: Oakwood Midtown (in the Tokyo Midtown complex), resident
lounge. Enter directly to Oakwood and press the reception button on
the monitor.
Address: 9-7-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Phone: 03-5412- 3131


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=> In Terrie's Take 983 we ran commentary about how much the Chinese
spend while traveling as tourists. Our reader sets us straight about
one of the statistics.

**** Reader: The US$294bn you cite in the Nikkei as "Chinese spend" is
actually reported by them (citing Bain) as the global "personal luxury
goods" market, which they highlighted to note the 1/3 share taken by
Chinese shoppers. The actual total Chinese tourist spend abroad
happens to be a similar if slightly smaller number... around $260bn in

That number seems to be around 1/5 the global total.



=> Mitsumine Shrine in Chichibu
Sacred trees, wolf spirits and opulent carvings

This large and very beautiful mountain shrine is dedicated to wolf
spirits (among others), and you can see a number of wolf statues
around the grounds. Though they are now extinct, Japanese wolves once
roamed these mountains, and people believed wolf spirits protected
people's homes from fire and burglary. Because of that the Shrine was
very popular with the people of Edo.

Walking around the shrine grounds is a pleasure - you never know what
will be around the corner. Keep your eyes open for lovely views over
the surrounding mountains, an elegant red tower, ornate carvings on
the main hall, a mysterious stone with a hidden dragon, and sacred
trees that will renew your strength if you place your hands and
forehead against their trunks. There is also a very beautiful red gate
named Zuishinmon, which is one of the most beautiful gates I have
seen, a statue of Yamato Takeru who founded the shrine some 1900 years
ago, and a memorial to Mas Oyama who founded Kyokushin Karate.

=> Mukojima-Hyakkaen Gardens
An Edo period garden in the middle of Tokyo

Surviving almost as an after thought in modern Japan, Mukojima is a
blue-collar residential area of Sumida Ward in Tokyo. Rarely on the
must-see places for tourists, Mukojma is actually a little delight
that just finds ways of giving. The Seiko Watch Museum finds its home
here, as does the Tobu Museum. But perhaps most authentic of all is
the Mukojima Hyakkaen Gardens. A stunningly calm and peaceful place,
these strolling gardens were created in the early 1800s, and are the
only gardens in Tokyo still surviving from the Edo Period.

The gardens are a treasure of botanical gold, with well over 200
different species of plants. Indebted to traditional Japanese
sensibilities, Hyakkaen features what are known as the classic seven
herbs of spring and the seven herbs of fall. Plum blossoms are
particularly popular during spring and, with 360 trees planted, it is
easy to understand why. Summer brings outs the hydrangeas which, like
the plum blossoms, draw in the crowds. The traditional Japanese garden
layout is certainly one of the most impressive features of Hyakkaen.
The gardens are by no means large, but you would have a difficult time
working that out - visitors are always surrounded by a sense of



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