The Crucial Role of Japan's New Foreign Minister in Advancing Gender Equality

September was an extremely busy month for Ms. Kamikawa Yoko. Less than a week after becoming Japan's first female foreign minister in almost two decades, she flew to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly and met with 16 leaders and foreign ministers over the course of just 5 days. A very busy agenda for the biggest surprise of the Japanese cabinet reshuffle, which took place last September 11th and saw Kamikawa take the place of the previous foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

This ministerial reshuffle saw Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appoint five women to his cabinet last month. A move that many saw as an attempt to boost his poor approval rating, currently standing at 33%, the lowest value since he took office in October 2021. Regardless of the intentions behind this choice, it is true that it represents a small but important step towards a more relevant female representation in Japanese politics (before that, only two out of 19 cabinet members were female) and in society in general.

The government's pledge is to promote women as a core pillar of a "new form of capitalism". However, for Japan to catch up on women's equality, there is a "long road ahead", as quoted by Kamikawa during her inaugural press conference on September 14. Statistics support this statement: despite an increase by 1.22 million in the number of working women compared to five earlier, Japanese women still earn 75% less than men. Additionally, despite evidence showcasing that Japanese companies that have more female directors tend to beat their peers in terms of stock market performance, in 2022 women accounted for only 15.5% of director roles at Japan’s largest companies.

A "long road ahead" might sound intimidating, but Kamikawa's meetings with G7 foreign ministers represented a promising initial stride in the right direction. By nurturing trust with fellow foreign ministers, including female counterparts from nations such as France, Germany, and Canada, Kamikawa's efforts lay the groundwork for potential collaborations that could significantly advance gender equality within Japan.

Shibuya ward's quest for a change passes through a Halloween ban

Ken Hasebe, the mayor of Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, has made his stance clear: "I don't want people to come to Shibuya if they're only coming for Halloween," he declared at a press conference held at the ward office on September 12th. This strong statement aims to ensure the safety of the ward's streets during the Halloween nights from October 27th to 31st, as these days have witnessed an increasing influx of intoxicated revelers in recent years.

Issues such as public drinking, property damage, and littering have become a serious concern not only during the Halloween season but also throughout the rest of the year. Many consider the streets of this self-governed district a haven for youth, primarily due to its vibrant nightlife. In response to residents' complaints, the Shibuya Ward launched patrols last September to curb public alcohol consumption and is contemplating year-round restrictions on such behavior.

Hasebe's ultimate objective is to transform the youthful and bustling Shibuya into a sophisticated neighborhood, a global icon comparable to cities like New York or Paris. Since assuming the mayoral position in 2016, Hasebe has worked towards redefining the ward's image. The construction of Shibuya Parco and Shibuya Scramble Square, two shopping complexes, aims to cater not only to the younger demographic but also to middle-aged and older adults. Diversity is a central theme in Hasebe's agenda, dating back to 2012 when he introduced a statute recognizing cohabiting same-sex couples as being in a relationship equivalent to marriage, later approved by the Shibuya ward in 2015.

The ward's development also involves the support and promotion of innovation-driven startups. Through initiatives such as shared offices and a specialized "startup" visa, the local government seeks to attract both Japanese and foreign entrepreneurs to converge in Shibuya and achieve success on the global stage.
Although the prohibition of Halloween celebrations might initially cause some discontent, it is a crucial initial stride toward fostering a prosperous long-term future for Shibuya's development.

The Rise of AI in Japan: Opportunities, Challenges, and Ethical Considerations

Take a look at this commercial. It is the latest commercial of the "Oi Ocha catechin green tea" drink, by the Japanese beverage company Ito En Ltd. While it seems like a typical Japanese commercial, you will be surprised to discover that the model is actually not a real human: it's an AI-generated representation. This is the first case of a commercial in Japan featuring a model generated by artifical intelligence (in this case provided by the company AI model Inc.).

The commercial has  drawn a lot of attention, particularly across various social media platforms. While some users expressed concern that AI will soon replace human performers, others highlighted the use of AI models as a potential solution to off-camera scandals: if your performer doesn't exist, there is a reduced risk of tarnishing the company's reputation due to their actions or declarations, and also eliminates the risk of sexual abuse by talent agencies.

AI is progressively becoming a focal point of discussion globally, with major tech companies implementing it across various fields. At the recent Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, Japan's major annual electronics show held last week in Chiba, AI took the spotlight. In a panel held on October 14th, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida presented a draft of 10 guidelines for AI-related businesses, emphasizing the need for both companies developing AI and users to exercise responsibility, cautioning against overreliance on the technology and biased data usage in machine learning.

Despite numerous calls for caution from the government, the AI train in Japan is running fast and shows no signs of slowing down. With local governments incorporating generative AI for some of their operations, and even the Japanese Police adopting AI in hunt for online crimes, it's evident that many perceive this technology as an invaluable tool for tasks that are time-consuming or beyond human capabilities. Establishing clear regulations for its use will be critical in ensuring the responsible and ethical integration of AI into Japanese society.

Thank you for (not) smoking

Smokers of Japan, beware! With the health-themed 2025 Osaka-Kansai EXPO on the horizon, Japan is preparing for the event by enhancing new measures to reduce the smoking habits of its citizens. In particular, the Osaka city government is set to expand the no-smoking zones (smoking prohibited in the streets) from the current six locations to the whole city by 2025.  

Japan’s government is also trying to reduce the number of bars and restaurants that permit smoking. On 1st April 2020, a revision on the Health Promotion Law banned smoking on the grounds of hospitals, schools, city halls, and also in restaurants, but still permitted it in small establishments (up to 100 square meters), thus allowing smoking to remain very common in small bars and similar businesses. The revised law also does not restrict smoking in living spaces. However, it is becoming more and more common to ban smoking in condominiums, with the creation of no-smoking condominiums.

A strong desire for a healthier Japan is also recently coming from major drugstore chains in Japan. Japan's largest drugstore chain, Welcia Holdings Co., announced their plan to help people quit smoking from February 2024 by ending cigarette sales at all of its stores by the end of February 2026, as selling cigarettes is contrary to its corporate philosophy of "promoting healthy lifestyles." The same decision was also taken by other drugstores like Sugi Yakkyoku and Tomod's.

Despite the cheap price of cigarettes (around 3 USD) and the lack of visually striking images on the packs, as seen in many other countries, smoking rates in Japan continue to fall. A health ministry survey showed that in comparison to the 2019 survey, in 2022, the rate of male smokers decreased by 3.4 percentage points to 25.4 percent, whereas the rate of female smokers reduced by 1.1 points to 7.7 percent. The health-themed EXPO has nothing to worry about—Japan is well on its way to becoming a smoke-free nation!

Aperitivo della Camera - Lasagna Night!

From: 24/10/2023 7:00 PM
to: 24/10/2023 9:00 PM
Venue: NIDO

For the month of October, we have a special edition of Aperitivo della Camera: "Lasagna Night"!

We'll be waiting for you on Tuesday, October 24th at "NIDO" in Oimachi to try many kinds of lasagna!

Unlike the usual Aperitivo, this time reservations are required! (Limited to 30 people)

Date: October 24th (Tuesday)
Time: 19:00-21:00
Venue: NIDO
Address: 〒140-0014 Tokyo, Shinagawa City, Ōi, 1 Chome−55−12 ベルフルーレ

Admission fee:
ICCJ member 2,000 yen (tax included)
Non-members 3,000 yen (tax included)

*Cash-on drinks: From 500 yen (cash only)

Register here: 

New tax regulation meets the concern of small businesses

Hundreds of thousands of small businesses and freelancers in Japan are very concerned. The reason is the new tax regulation that took effect last October 1st. This regulation is known as the Qualified Invoicing System, a new system decades in the making with the aim of enhancing transparency in the collection of consumption tax.

Before the introduction of the Qualified Invoicing System, small businesses in Japan with annual sales of less than ¥10 million were exempt from paying consumption tax. However, under the new system, these businesses are now required to issue qualified invoices, necessitating their registration with the tax office and payment of taxes.

The primary causes of concern revolve around the potential consequences, including the risk of losing transactions or facing demands for discounts equivalent to the amount of consumption tax. Additionally, the requirement to register with the tax office and pay taxes represents a significant shift in their financial obligations. A petition on opposing this regulation has already garnered nearly 450,000 signatures, and the protest has gained momentum on social media with the creation of the hashtag #STOPインボイス (STOP invoice) and the corresponding website

The new law is complex, and it is easy to see both sides of the argument. For freelancers and small businesses, this law essentially translates into a 10% tax increase. On the other hand, the system is designed to prevent "tax profit" (a situation where a portion of the tax does not reach the national treasury but remains with businesses) and enhance the transparency and fairness of each payment. To address these concerns, it is crucial for the government to provide comprehensive explanations about this new introduction and to strengthen its monitoring efforts to ensure that small businesses are not unfairly treated by more dominant business partners.

The delicate future of Japanese higher education

There is good and bad news for Japanese universities. The good news is that in the World University Rankings 2024, released last September 27th, Japanese universities showed significant improvement in their standings. The University of Tokyo ranked the highest in the country, with a jump of 10 positions, from 39th place to 29th. Kyoto University ranked 55th, from 68th in the previous year, and the most remarkable leap was made by Tohoku University, advancing from 250th place to 130th.

Last September 13th, Tohoku University itself became the first recipient of funding under the "Universities for International Research Excellence" program launched by the Japanese government. This program aims to elevate the stature of the country's universities and colleges to an internationally renowned level. The choice of Tohoku University over the other two eligible institutions, namely The University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, came as a surprise to Japan's research community. This is not the first recognition that Tohoku University has received in recent times: the university ranked 1st for four consecutive years in the Japan University Rankings released in March by Times Higher Education, a British academic journal.

Now the bad news: Japan is a country with declining population, and is experiencing the ripple effects of this trend also in higher education. An estimate from the Ministry of Education suggests that between 2040 and 2050 the number of students entering Japanese universities will decline by approximately 130,000 compared to 2022. This challenge is particularly real for female-only universities, where declining enrollments are already prompting considerations of admitting male students as an immediate solution.

The government plans to raise ¥300 billion in annual funding starting as soon as fiscal year 2024, with the goal of providing substantial financial support to the designated universities for a period of up to 25 years. A long-term investment, that will hopefully elevate Japanese universities to the global forefront and challenge the negative forecasts for the future. 

Moda Makers: The International Trade Fair of Made-in-Italy Fashion Manifacturers

Moda Makers is a showcase of the excellence and know-how of Italian SME manufacturers of women’s ready-to-wear fashions, accessories, and sportswear.

The 16th edition will be next 14 and 15 November at ModenaFiere, in the very heart of Emilia-Romagna’s fashion valley, and will feature both local manufacturers and companies from all over Italy, highlighting the 2024/2025 Fall/Winter Collections.

Dozens of white and private label producers will showcase their brand collections featuring thousands of designs in apparel like knitwear, blouses, and outerwear. The exhibitors of Moda Makers are chosen not only for their top-notch product quality, materials, and design, but also for their commitment to environmental sustainability.

Moda Makers exclusively caters to wholesalers, distributors, purchasing centers, and retailers seeking to develop private-label clothing lines and connect with entrepreneurs for orders and production discussions. The event sees visitors from a broad range of countries, including Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Taiwan, Portugal, and Spain.

For all further information:


The Evolving Landscape of Japan's Work Culture

The traditional Japanese working system is built upon a lifelong commitment to a single company. Historically, Japanese employees would join a company, put in long and intensive hours to support its success, and dedicate their entire careers to it, reflecting a profound sense of duty and loyalty towards the employer.

While this remains true for many Japanese workers, who view quitting as a betrayal, a global survey on attitudes toward work showed that this feeling is becoming increasingly rare. Job changes have become more common, not only among young workers but also among older ones; in 2021, 40% of job changes were made by workers aged 45 or older (compared to 31% in 2012). The rising number of job changes is also due to the increasing number of companies now offering time and/or performance-based contracts to their employees.

A departure from tradition can also be seen in the new and diverse work arrangements offered to employees. In an attempt to attract more individuals to join civil service, the government is considering the introduction of a four-day workweek for central government staff. Some companies have begun offering new gadgets and furniture to encourage employees to take naps during working hours, while others permit employees to take a "Gaming day off," granting special permission to stay home from work on the release day of a popular video game.

While it might still be too early to describe this as a profound change, in general, the Japanese work environment seems to be shifting away from strict tradition towards adaptability and an improved focus on employee well-being.


Italy: New rules for the EU Blue Card

In a few months, several things will change in the EU blue card application procedures and requirements.

The EU Member States are required to complete the transposition of the Directive (EU) 2021/1883 by November 18, 2023. This is the date by which each Member State needs to enact the necessary laws, regulations, and administrative measures to comply.

In Italy, the government has issued a draft of legislative decree containing the amendments to the law requied by the directive.

Below is a summary of the main new provisions included in the proposed draft:

  • Education/professional experience required for unregulated professions:
    • 2 years University-level degree or
    • Post-secondary professional qualification of at least 2 years or
    • 5 years of professional experience in the sector relevant to the job offer or
    • 3 years of professional experience (acquired in the previous 7 years) for managers and specialists working in the field of information and communication technologies

We do not know yet the requirements that will be set for proving the educational qualification or professional experience in terms of documents.

In addition to the above, we found also the following changes:

  • Beneficiaries of international protection are also entitled to apply for an EU Blue Card, as well as seasonal workers
  • Job Offer:
    • Minimum 6 months
    • Annual salary not lower than that established by national collective agreements
  • During the first 12 months of legal employment, the EU Blue Card holder is subject to restrictions both on the change of employer and on carrying out works not fulfilling the criteria for admission
  • The EU Blue card holder can exercise a self-employed activity in parallel with the activity as a highly skilled worker
  • Short-term mobility: a third-country national who holds a valid EU Blue Card issued by another Member State can enter and stay in Italy for 90 days in any 180-day period to carry out a professional activity
  • Long-term mobility: After 12 months of legal residence in a Member State as an EU Blue Card holder, the third-country national can enter Italy without a visa for highly qualified employment for a period exceeding 90 days, further to the issuance of the work permit. As soon as possible and within 1 month after the EU Blue Card holder has entered Italy, the employer must apply for an EU Blue Card work permit.