LDP consolidates its position in April elections

On Sunday, April 23rd, several municipalities in Japan held local elections, marking the second round of quadrennial elections. Voters casted their ballots to decide the mayors for 88 cities, chiefs for 12 of Tokyo's 23 wards, and assembly members in 294 cities and 21 Tokyo wards.

Sunday was also the day of by-elections for five vacant seats in parliament, which saw the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) emerge victorious in four out of the five districts. The LDP's strong win in the by-elections underscores the significant decline of left-wing parties in Japan. Moreover, the rise of the right-wing populist political party Nippon Ishin no Kai and Kishida's ruling bloc's key gubernatorial wins further consolidated the LDP's position after the two rounds of local elections. Sunday's elections also showed an increasing trend in the number of uncontested elections, with 25 out of 88 mayoral candidates running unopposed, and 40% of the electoral districts struggling to gather the minimum number of candidates required to run.

Opposition parties's weak organization in comparison to those of the LDP and their inability to offer new candidates are some of the main factors bringing to no major surprises on election days like last Sunday. And the next appointment with ballot papers might be sooner than we think: there are speculations that the favorable outcome of these elections may prompt Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to call for a general election in the near future.

Study Tour in Giappone: molto più di un viaggio!

March 25 - April 1 Study Tour in Japan: much more than just a trip!

Meetings, get-togethers, visits to production facilities of important Japanese manufacturing and to Universities, and overall a beautiful team spirit: 21 companies that participated in the tour, represented by 35 participant travelers, including entrepreneurs and professionals from Ancona, Pesaro, and Brescia created a beautiful atmosphere, making the Japanese experience a professional and personal enrichment.

Discover more about the Study Tour HERE (article in Italian).

Japan's seasonal national problem

In every Japanese office, in the period going from February to May, there is at least one colleague who cannot help but keep sneezing, coughing, nose-blowing, and generally feeling pretty bad every day. The cause is the feared kafunsho season, the hay fever problem that every year affects millions of people in Japan.

The reason why so many people suffer from these symptoms is the high number of Japanese cedar and cypress trees in the country, which produce a high amount of pollen every spring. The reforestation policies of post World War II brought the allergy to go from being a rare condition in Japan to being a "national problem", as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida defined it last 3rd April during meeting of the House of Councillors' Committee on Audit. The Japanese PM also added that relevant ministers will work on effective countermeasures in order to achieve results.

Kafunsho does not only affect those who suffer from it, but also for the companies and the employers, who each spring see their employees take sick leaves and the productivity of the office decrease. Kafunsho also has an impact on the National Health System, with a lot of time and money spent on visits and medicines prescriptions for millions of people. And the problem seems to be getting bigger and bigger: experts said that the 2023 Kafunsho season not only began 2 weeks earlier, but is expected to be the strongest (in terms of pollen quantity) of the last 10 years.

While it might be still early for Japan to solve this issue, in the past years there has been an improvement in how people deal with it. More and more companies have improved their policies, with measures such as "hay fever allowances" or the coverage of some of the treatement costs being introduced. Defeating hay fever in Japan is definitely an enormous and challenging goal for the Japanese Government, but the potential rewards make it a worthwhile endeavor to continue seeking out for new solutions.

More than just a sports win

Samurai Japan have won. Last Wednesday, March 22nd, The Japan National Baseball Team defeated the defending champions, Team USA, in a 3-2 victory gaining their 3rd World Baseball Classic title, the first since 2009.

The final was a great showdown, with the two best teams in the world facing each other, and the 9th and last inning of the game couldn't get more climatic: Shohei Ohtani, Japan's superstar (who plays for Los Angeles Angels) pitching to U.S. legend Mike Trout, his teammate in the Angels team. This is everything the fans had dreamed of, and it was happening in a decisive play for the victory. The duel was won by the Japanese player, who tossed away his hat and glove in an explosion of joy, joined by his teammates and by the celebrations of all the fans.

Shohei Ohtani, the 28-year-old from Ōshū, a small city in Iwate Prefecture, was already considered by some one of the best, if not the best baseball player who has ever lived. At the end of the final, he was named the most valuable player of the tournament for his outstanding performances, and there is no doubt that he is now ranked number 1 worldwide.

This is more than just a sports win for Japan. It is a powerful injection of confidence and soft power going straight into the country's veins. At this moment, Shohei Ohtani is the face representing Japan in the eyes of the world. A country's power and international influence comes not only from the status of its economy and its political agenda, but also from its cultural influence. And there is no doubt that Samurai Japan's win last week and Ohtani's worldwide fame represent an enormous positive value for Japan.

Japan's bet on the Metaverse

The first time we heard the words "Metaverse" and "Japan" used in the same sentence was last October, when Japan PM Fumio Kishida announced a plan for the country to invest into a new era of digital transformation, based on NFT and the Web 3.0, the third generation of the World Wide Web.

The Metaverse is a three-dimensional virtual space, a digital representation of the real world, where we are able to meet people, talk, make purchases, play games, and do almost any real-word interaction, but digitally. Hopes in the Metaverse are so high that some have defined it "The future of the internet".

Since last autumn, Japan has decided to jump on the Metaverse boat. First, with the Government's announcement to promote efforts to expand the use of Web 3.0 services, and now, on 27th February, with an agreement between 10 major Japanese tech companies, including Mitsubishi and Fujitsu, to build a Japanese Metaverse Economic Zone. "Ryugukoku" is the name (TBD), and it will serve as an Open Metaverse Infrastructure, for marketing, insurance, payments, and services. This Ryugukoku infrastructure will be created from a Role-Play Game perspective, based on the concept of Hajime Tabata, game creator, and advisor for the Japanese Government's Digital Agency.

At the moment, the Metaverse is still in a developmental stage, bus it is expected to grow a lot, and also very quickly. According to Bloomberg, the Metaverse is predicted to be worth 824.53 billion USD by 2030. If the Metaverse will actually prove to be the future of the internet, and if Japan will be able to exploit its potential to the fullest, this can be a very precious chance to make a huge step into a new digital era, and to fuel a giant boost for the Japanese economy.

Japan: to mask or not to mask?

On March 13th, COVID-19 guidelines on mask wearing in Japan will be drastically eased. In a press conference held last Friday, President Fumio Kishida and his COVID-19 task force announced the new policies, created in response to the drop in COVID-19 cases of the past months and the consequent downgrade of the disease to a less threatening category.

"The use of masks will be left up to individuals in most situations", stressed the government, explaining that under the new guidelines, students will no longer be required to wear masks in schools from April 1st, but mask-wearing will continue to be recommended at medical institutions, elderly care facilities, and on public transportation during the rush hours.

A similar announcement was made in May last year, and repeated last October by PM Kishida, in a clear struggle to get the message through. Differently from other countries, Japanese people seem to be very resilient in abandoning their mask-wearing habit. Peer pressure plays a key component, as most people tend to make decisions based on the behaviour of people around them.

With Japan never really having had a mask mandate, and the use of masks having generally been left up to individuals since the very beginning of the pandemic, the question is if the new guidelines of 13th March, based exactly on this idea, will actually have an impact on the citizens' habits. Hajime Yamaguchi, a professor of health psychology at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo, believes that not much will change, and that we might have to wait until Golden Week (the holiday period in May) to start seeing people maskless.

The lovers (and colleagues) day

Last Tuesday was Valentine's Day, and Japan, like many other countries, celebrated this lovers' festivity. Here, though, the celebration comes with a twist (or we would better say two?): in Japan, only the women give chocolate as a present, and they don't just give it to the loved one, but to all the men in their lives, especially male co-workers. It's the so-called giri choco, literally "obligation chocolate", a practice with very few equivalents in other countries.

But do Japanese women really enjoy the giri choco tradition? According to a recent poll made by the Mainichi Shinbun, they don't, at least not anymore: 83% of interviewed women said that they don't want to give chocolate to male colleagues this year. Not even men seem to enjoy the gift: 61.4% answered that they are actually not looking forward to it.

This is not the first year showing a shift in Japan's giri choco tradition. In 2019 Black Thunder, one of Japan's most loved chocolate makers started running a giri choco-suspension ad campaign. Since then, many Japanese companies are supporting this change, with more and more offices banning giri choco. The practice was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on female employees and is seen by more than 40% of male and female workers as a form of power harassment.

The pandemic was a good opportunity for people to reconsider how they relate to other people, and this year's Valentine's Day might be very different from the past. The results of the polls and the shift of major brands in their marketing strategies are clear indicators of the fact that there is a strong desire for change in Japanese society. And giri choco might soon change into honki (authentic) choco.

Reply Totem is searching for sponsors for the Tokyo expedition of its Brawl Stars team

Reply Totem, Italian Esports Team of the Reply network focused on the selection and growth of gamers, influencers, and content creators in the Gaming world, is looking for one or more sponsors to structure a commercial activation on the expedition to Tokyo of its Team of Brawl Stars, an internationally renowned mobile game.
By winning the title of European Champion, the team has qualified for the Snapdragon Mobile Masters World Championships, to be held in Chiba between May 13 and 14.
For more information, please write to iccj@iccj.or.jp

The wage raise that Japan deserved

When on January 5th Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for business leaders to speed up the wage rise process, his voice was definitely heard. According to a Reuters monthly poll, more than half of Japanese companies are currently planning to raise wages this year.

One of the first companies responding to this call to action was the clothes giant Uniqlo, which announced the plan to raise the pay of its staff by up to 40% starting in March. This action was followed by the announcements of Canon, the camera and printer maker, and Suntory Holding, the drinks group, respectively planning to raise salaries by 3.8% and 6%. It is true, though, that at least for now the wage raise seems to remain limited to Japan's top companies, while smaller ones, currently struggling with a spike in raw material prices and the results of almost three years of the pandemic, simply cannot afford it.

The main reason for Kishida's call was that, if no action is taken, the continued spike in prices will lead to "stagflation". This word, coming from the union of stagnation and inflation, would mean a big impact on households purchasing power. Kishida added that a pledge from the Government of 7.5 billion US dollars will be focused on reskilling workers for the next 5 years.

This shift in the direction raises expectations for Japan's economic recovery. The hope is that big companies' actions will start a virtuous cycle of rising wages, involving also medium and small companies, and leaving behind the long period of deflation and low growth that Japan is going through.

Is Japan ready for the Reskilling Revolution?

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum announced an ambitious plan: the Reskilling Revolution aims to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills, and economic opportunities by 2030. With the collaboration of 50 CEOs, 25 ministers, and 350 organizations, the aim is to prepare companies and workers with the needed skills for a future where digital and AI (Artificial Intelligence) will become more and more prevalent.

While this project takes shape, the high pace of today's digital transformation puts the entire world in immediate need of a skilled workforce. Under this aspect, Japan is facing some challenges: a society with a declining birthrate and an aging population means that the workforce keeps shrinking and the number of talented workers decreases year after year. In addition to that, according to the World Talent Ranking report released in December 2022 by IMD, Japan ranked last for the international experience of senior managers and 62nd for language skills among the 63 countries taken into consideration.

In order to keep up with overseas competitors, nearly half of the Japanese companies are showing interest in hiring foreign talents. In particular, IT and engineering companies rely more and more on workers from overseas, so much so that some even decided to make English the official language inside the office. However, attracting foreign skilled workers is not always simple. According to a Swiss survey, in 2022 Japan ranked 41st out of 63 companies in attracting talent.

Investing in skilled people and valuable workers also means investing in the value of a country. While 2030 might be just around the corner, Japan needs now to find efficient solutions to its problems, in order to keep up with the high-paced need for skills that the world is currently going through.