What are your thoughts when you start working?


Nihonbashi Since I have started my part-time job at a Japanese Udon chain, I am now exposed to a much more Japanese environment than ever before. So far I have worked at foreign owned companies in Japan or then at a very American style local employer. Even though I have worked for more than 11 years in Japan, these days I am learning a lot about different behavior and rules. Of course one can argue that now because I work in the food industry, which has very little in common with life science and chemical environment that I have been active so far, therefore my observations only seem to be new. I personally doubt, because my husband is doing the same observations.
For me the most impressive new rule is to recite the motto of the company every day in the morning including the guidelines of the company. This daily ritual forces everyone to remember what the goals of the employer are and the expectations for the employees. Due to privacy reasons I am not able to provide the lines that I say every morning, but I have been introduced to Gosei, which is used in some companies in the food industry. The origin of Gosei comes from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, but is presently used as well by the The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). The goal in the past was that every evening the cadets were expected to meditate over the questions below.

Hast thou not gone against sincerity
Hast thou not felt ashamed of thy words and deeds?
Hast thou not lacked vigor?
Hast thou exerted all possible efforts?
Hast thou not become slothful?

I can tell you for sure that my thoughts and intentions at work have changed and my customer focus has increased immensely. I thought I knew how to appreciate my customers, but I think I was pretty shallow compared to now. I am sincerely grateful to have the opportunity to experience my self selected apprenticeship and learn so much daily. My recommendation for you is just to try to recite these lines in the next few mornings. I am sure you will see a difference too.

Brought to you by a happy student,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

P.S. Let me point out even though I am a pacifist, Gosei showed my an option on how to give my best daily.

What are the popular health foods for 2014 in Japan?


Big Site Last week the Health Food exhibition was held again at Big Site exhibition spot in Tokyo. Once a year the major health food providers promote their new health food products. It is the place to gain insights for the expected upcoming trends in the Japanese health food market. Based on my impression unlike earlier years I saw this year a big shift away from the usually promoted vitamins, minerals or then the green vegetables juice powder to much more herbal only remedies. Furthermore unlike last year the yoghurt boom seemed to be over on the development front. This does not mean that you will not see new yoghurt types on the shelf this year, but I guess the consumer response was not as positive as expected and not much further R&D investment occurred. I wonder what this shift to more herbal only products means for the general public. Is the demand for drinks like vitamin water or ionic drinks already fading? Most likely consumers are expected to shift slowly but surely to products from Africa like rooibos tea as a healthy choice or then acai from South America with lots of polyphenols are just examples of products that gain more foothold in Japan recently.
This year during the expo the focus was on products and manufacturing sites in Kyushu and Okinawa. At first Ukon (turmeric) from Okinawa seems the most obvious and got quite some attention, but I have to say a wide variety of herbs from the region was promoted. Kyushu is actually an area with a lot of health food related business. Just have a look at the overview of the manufacturing and research sites in English from the METI site for all the biotech related companies. The amount of different breweries and health food companies is definitely impressive!
Along the same lines when Japanese business is fighting to keep their turnover, the health food industry in Japan was growing 0.6% for 2012 to a total volume of JPY million 2,088,000. Below shows an overview of the top 10 companies in Japan, when Tasly Japan impressed me most from moving within one year from spot 20 to 10. (After the company name their respective sales turnover in million Japanese Yen is listed, plus their growth in percent experienced over one year.)

1. Kyusai, JPY mio 28,985 (6.3%)
2. Eigao, JPY mio 26,233 (2.9%)
3. Media Prais, JPY mio 25,275 (-4.3%)
4. Yasuya, JPY mio 18,327 (n.a.)
5. Everlive, JPY mio 14,094 (n.a.)
6. Asahi, JPY mio 12,637 (-8.8%)
7. Kenkoukazoku, JPY mio 12,615 (-4.5%)
8. HRK, JPY mio 8,098 (43%)
9. Ing, JPY mio 5,499 (-3.7%)
10. Tasly Japan, JPY mio 2,768 (69%)

What is your favorite Japanese health food? I must confess it took me a couple of years until I got used to the taste of “Aojiru” (a vegetable power mixed either with cold or warm water), which I prefer to mix into soymilk, because then it truly tastes marvelous.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What does it mean a record high number of foreign workers in Japan?


Japanese office Chances are you have noticed that recently the Japanese media pointed out that now a record number of foreigners are working in Japan. But what does it mean in reality? What kind of percentage of foreigners are truly working in Japan? According to the Asahi Shimbun now a record number of 717,504 foreigners were working in Japan in 2013 (based on data from the labor ministry Jan. 31, 2014). Compared to previous month of October this reflects now an increase of 5 percent. While the number is not small, I have to say I am surprised how small the figure is considering the total working force in Japan of 65.44 millions (Japanese Statistics Bureau). We have now reached a number that is just a bit more than 1 percent (actually 1.10%). This number seems extremely low to me, but let me provide some comparison with other countries.
In general it is said that the ratio of the share of migrants to share of population in industrial countries is 3.3 (industrial countries had a 3.3 higher share of migrants than their share of global population), highlighting the fact that migrants usually move from poorer to richer countries. Personally I perceive still Japan as one of the richer country in Asia and I would basically expect at least the same range or even higher percentage, because the global comparison percentage is focused on a ratio of the total population.
Based on Wikipedia now 14 Million of foreign workers live in the USA, which then reflects a ratio of about 4.4 percent, which I believe is considered rather high, especially as historically the USA was building their economic growth based on the ongoing immigration. Because immigration had been a hot topic in the American media for a while, let me then try to find a more suitable example. Why not relate then as well to the background of this blog as well: Switzerland.
When looking at Switzerland, I end up most likely with the other extreme, when one in four wage earners comes from abroad (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, or then much more detailed here). Basically I am ending up with another country that seems too far off with the comparison with Japan.
Personally I believe we can see this trend of increasing numbers of foreign workers in Japan, because more and more economical pressure within the country forces companies to try to find a market outside of Japan, most likely South East Asia. This is then reflected in the number of foreign workers, but furthermore in the respective changes. Asahi Shimbun states by nationality, Chinese formed the largest group with 303,886, up 3 percent from a year earlier. They were followed by 95,505 Brazilians, down 6 percent, 80,170 Filipinos, up 10 percent, and 37,537 Vietnamese, up 40 percent. These numbers make even more sense, when looking at the rather high number of Japanese companies that hired foreigner, furthermore the actual size of these companies (Asahi Shimbun).

“The workers were employed by 127,000 enterprises, up 6 percent from a year earlier, another record. More than half of the employers were relatively small, with a work force of less than 30. More than one-third of the workers, 260,000, were employed by manufacturers, while 16,000 worked for construction companies.”

While it is good news to see that there are changes ongoing in Japan to rebuild the economic strength, at the end the speed of the execution of these company strategies is what really can make a difference. Japanese companies are not known for making quick decisions, so I hope by learning to adjust due to financial pressure we can see a new business culture arise.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Time to celebrate: 150 Years of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan!


What a wonderful event! 2014 is a special year for two countries dear to my heart: Japan and Switzerland. We can celebrate that now 150 years ago on February 6, 1864 representatives from the Tokugawa shogunate and the Swiss delegation signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce. This is especially noteworthy, when considering this was just the eighth of such an treaty signed by Japan with a foreign country. More details on the history of the friendship between the two countries can be found on the Link of the official site of the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs.
In order to get you in the mood of the upcoming celebrations in February have a look at the video showing the similarities for both countries

I hope there will be an opportunity to potentially find you at one of the special events organized to celebrate this long friendship of two countries.

Brought to you by a very happy Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Where is the Japanese economy going?


DVC00038.JPG When I look at the Japanese media, I see a lot of comments that especially in 2014 now everything is so much better: The economic situation, the mood of the consumers, we can highly expect a rise in consumption with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and the outlook for future sales of the private industry is much brighter. To be honest, this is a topic that interests me very much. Since the last quarter of 2013 I felt and observed that although there are more people going out, filling up the malls or supermarkets, I could not see people really purchasing much. I made the same observation in business, especially when talking with others. The orders just did not seem to come in, plus to make it worse the order volume were lower than the same period last year (which had not been that good either). On one side with the rise of the stock market we can see an upwards trend, but when I look into the reality of the daily life the baskets of the people shopping contain only the necessary daily goods. I might be at the wrong places and I might be missing the bright side. Basically I cannot find people really splurging with money.
For the Japanese employees there is a high hope that one day the steady decrease of salary will turn around and as promised by the Japanese prime minister the salary would rise again. Furthermore in December the winter bonuses were paid and many hoped for a positive surprise. Here again, I don’t know anyone who was lucky. It seems the lucky ones were the ones who did not get the bonus cut in any way. Seeing such a big gap to the Japanese media, I got concerned. I was lucky to find a well researched article (Deflation Watch: New Year’s scorecard) in the Japan Times that basically reflects the same thoughts. We are being told that things are moving towards the bright side, while most of the Japanese population has to live with a much darker reality. While on one side I am happy to see that my senses are not completely wrong, at the same time I am worried about the rising gap between what I am told to see and what I am personally observing.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Highly recommended Japan business review


View from Tokyo Tower Sadly there are only very few good Japanese business related resources online. Most that I know is either outdated, far from being practical or written with pink glasses on to show that Japan is the most unusual market on this planet. I think readers deserve to have access to useable, real life business information. Whenever I come across highly recommendable blogs or websites my goal has always been to share it with you. Furthermore I expect with the increased hype now with the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo, even more people are interested to know more about the real Japan. One of best resources I know are the Beacon reports. I can only recommend you to subscribe to their mailing list. The content is always very professional, down to earth and with highly valuable insights.
This time the article focuses on the topic “Can Japanese firms compete in a global market?”. I especially like the article because there are enough facts listed to give you the opportunity to establish your own opinion. For this time I keep my opinion to myself, apart from hoping that you like the articles and the Beacon Reports as much as I do. My hat tip to Beacon Reports!

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Are we moving forward to move backwards?


woman in Tokyo The election of the “new” Prime Minister in Japan has occurred and we can start to look back on the most recent election on who represents best the interests of the Japanese society in the Japanese Diet.
Based on a recent survey on gender equality by the Cabinet Office (information based on Yomiuri Shimbun) 51.6 percent of respondents supported traditional roles for married couples. Personally I am surprised that this percentage has increased by 10.3 percentage points from the previous survey in 2009. While some are arguing Japanese society has reconsidered the value of a family since the March 11 earthquake and prefer to value family time much higher, I cannot agree with this viewpoint. Common families have to survive on an increasing tighter budget combined with the continued dark economic outlook, I believe most Japanese simply yearn for the good old times: There was a time when one salary could fully support a family and the common choice was the woman could stay at home. I just wonder how many families can actually still afford to have the wife to stay at home. Or there is another option: Japanese men have become more creative on how to survive on a tighter budget. Based on the Japan Times the pocket money of salarymen is at its lowest level since 1982 with ¥39,756 per month.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)