Bhutan looks to Japan for help in introducing electric vehicles

July 3, 2014

The tiny Asian nation of Bhutan has a very big goal, to convert the country’s vehicles to electric power. The Bhutanese people’s culture has a deep respect for the environment, which is reflected in the Prime Minister’s decision in favour of zero emission vehicles.

Currently Bhutan’s main export is clean electricity from hydroelectric plants, which is sold to neighboring India. But most of the revenue from those sales at present goes to importing fossil fuels for transportation.

Following an economic crisis, the kingdom banned the import of new vehicles in March 2012, and subsequently imposed a “green tax” on all vehicles: 20 percent on those with engines of 1.8 liters or more, 5 percent on those below.

Prime Minister Tobgay announced his plan to reduce the country’s oil imports by 70 percent last December. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn followed this in February with an announcement of an agreement between the nation and the carmaker to provide electric vehicles for the country.

The opportunity to sell zero-emission electric cars was underscored by the Japanese carmaker Nissan’s simultaneous announcement that it had appointed a national sales company for the kingdom, named Thunder Motors. Nissan and Thunder will work together to develop localized versions of the company’s electric vehicles designed for conditions in the Himalayan nation, whose average elevation is 8,000 feet above sea level.

The first stage of the program is for Nissan Leaf electric cars to become both Bhutanese government vehicles and taxi cabs in the capital city of Thimphu.The Nissan Leaf is the most successful electric car in history, with over 100,000 sold.

Based on World Bank data for 2009, Bhutan has just 46 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people, meaning that its 742,000 citizens operate roughly 34,000 cars. Ghosn announced that Nissan hopes to sell “hundreds of cars” in the short term and “thousands” soon thereafter.

Though Nissan is be the world’s largest producer of battery-electric vehicles,  it will not have an exclusive on electric-car imports to Bhutan.

The Nissan CEO told Green Car Reports: “We welcome others, Nissan is most able to compete when buyers compare the performance, price, and customer satisfaction of the Leaf against any other electric vehicle.”

The big picture, Ghosn suggested, is that Bhutan can provide an inspiration, perhaps even a model, for emerging nations as they look toward expanding vehicle sales.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged this week that the “government and private sector of Japan will examine what we can do” to support Bhutan’s plan to introduce electric vehicles.

Tobgay is the first prime minister of Bhutan to make an official visit to Japan since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1986. On his recent visit Tobgay said he told Abe that Bhutan wants to introduce the vehicles to help conserve the environment and to reduce spending on oil imports.

Tobgay also took the time to convey his country’s appreciation for a recently signed grants agreement with Japan for underprivileged farmers.

“This assistance has been instrumental in improving the livelihood of farmers through increased productivity, and contributing to the nation’s effort to achieve food self-sufficiency and security,” he said.

During the talks, Abe also briefed Tobgay on Japan’s intention to become a “proactive contributor to peace” through international cooperation, in the light of China’s apparent willingness to pursue claims for territory and other resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to the U.N. Charter and its purposes, including the peaceful settlement of disputes based on the principle of international law,” Tobgay said.

 

Sources: Japan Times, Green Car Reports

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Child Poverty and Pension Worries For The Japanese

May 19, 2014

At 16 percent, Japan’s relative poverty rate — the share of the population living on less than half of the national median income — is already the sixth-worst among the 34 OECD countries, just ahead of the United States. Child poverty in working, single-parent households  is by far the worst at over 50 percent, making Japan the only country where having a job does not reduce the poverty rate for that group.

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe charges ahead with his “Abenomics” policies to revive economic growth, things look set to get harder, not better, for Japan’s working poor. This deepening divide between the haves and have-nots could threaten Abe’s vision of Japan’s economic revival

Having ramped up spending on public works projects and business incentives, the government has also moved to shore up its finances, cutting welfare benefits last summer and last month raising the national sales tax to 8 percent from 5 percent. The regressive tax puts the biggest burden on the poor, and another hike to 10 percent is planned in a mere 18 months.

For those like Ririko Saito, who lives hand-to-mouth with her daughter on an hourly wage of ¥1,080 ($10.6), last month’s tax hike has made life considerably harder. An extra ¥1,300 a month she will be receiving from the government to offset the higher costs of essentials is just not enough to avoid the repeated utility cuts.

“As it is, we can only afford discounted groceries.” Saito said. “I’m not sure how we’ll manage, but I’ll just have to find a way.”

Team Abe’s success in reversing 15 years of price declines that have hurt business confidence and investment also squeezes the poor, who cannot count on bonuses or financial profits to offset rising living costs as he artificially stokes inflation.

Japan says it plans more aid for welfare recipients, largely through job training. That, however, is little consolation because even those with jobs often live under the poverty line. The government does not officially define the “working poor,” but the number of part-time, temporary and other non-regular workers who typically make less than half the average pay has jumped 70 percent from 1997 to 19.7 million today — 38 percent of the labor force.

“The Abe administration’s stance is more about fixing things, including poverty, with a trickle-down effect from overall economic growth,” said Takashi Oshio, a professor at Hitotsubashi University specializing in social security. “There’s little political capital spent on issues like alleviating child poverty. It doesn’t garner votes.”

Some economists say a broad recovery in consumption, a key ingredient of Abenomics, may not last if more and more households struggle to hold above the poverty line. In the longer run, problems associated with poverty such as worse access to quality education, poor health and crime could increase fiscal burdens and dent Japan’s growth potential by shrinking the pool of skilled workers.

“Rising poverty leads to a wider gap in education,” said Makoto Saito, an economist at NLI Research Institute. “Japanese companies are supposed to be creating value-added jobs, but at this pace there won’t be enough people to fill those positions.”To be sure, higher sales taxes are widely seen as inevitable given Japan’s public debt is more than twice the size of its economy, and growing.

But economists say the government could limit the pain with policies that redistribute wealth better. With current social spending skewed toward pension and health care schemes that mostly benefit the elderly, Japan is the only OECD country where the poverty rate among working households and households with children rose after benefits and taxes, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Politically, it’s easier to get the understanding of the electorate since multiple tax rates would benefit everyone, not just the poor,” said NLI’s Saito.”But if effective countermeasures aren’t adopted to help low-income earners, the poverty rate is just going to keep rising.”

The majority of Japanese people are also worried about their financial future according to a recent survey by the Japanese Government which revealed that around two-thirds of Japanese aged 35 to 64 are concerned they will not have enough money to last through retirement. The Cabinet Office survey of around 6,000 people late last year revealed growing anxiety among people that savings, retirement payouts and public pensions will prove insufficient in old age.

About 67 percent said they feel they will have inadequate economic resources to fall back on after they retire, with three-quarters of that group stating their provisions are “quite inadequate.” Only 1.6 percent said they feel they will have enough money and 21.7 percent said they will have the bare minimum. Around half of those surveyed also said they want to be able to keep working after they turn 65.

The survey’s results will go into a white paper on Japan’s aging society to be adopted by the Cabinet in June.

Source: The Japan Times, the OECD

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Japanese banknotes to be adapted for the visually impaired

May 9, 2014

Japan is to begin issuing modified versions of banknotes which are suitable for the visually impaired as it attempts to adapt to the its ageing society. From May 12th, new 5000 yen ($49, £29) notes carrying holograms of a different texture will be issued by the Ministry of Finance, in order to make it easier for the growing number of visually impaired people in Japan to accurately distinguish between the different denominations of banknotes.

As well as bearing a modified hologram, the new 5000 yen notes will also be both larger and squarer than their predecessors, so that they can be clearly distinguished from the 10,000 yen notes. Takayuki Suzuki, Vice Chairman of the Japan Federation of the Blind, said, “Holograms on the old notes were small, and so the new design will make it easier for blind people to feel the difference.”

The modifications come as part of an initiative by the government to address the issue of Japan’s ageing population, which is impacting upon its workforce and economic output . As of last year, an estimated 25 per cent of Japan’s 127.3 million citizens were aged 65 and over, a global record, and a number that is continuing in an upwards trend. Japan may have the third largest economy in the world, but the Japanese government are keenly aware of the potential harm the ageing population – and consequent decrease in workforce – could bring to Japan’s productivity and output. As such, the government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are introducing a number of different programs, including the new banknotes, designed to be more inclusive of elderly people in daily society.

Suzuki’s vision for the notes is one of great expectations, but he is aware that progress may be slow: ‘We’d like to see different notes having different widths and lengths like euros, but this would be difficult as all the vending machines in the nation would have to be adjusted.’

Sources include: Japan Daily Press, Bloomberg Business

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Japan to increase number of foreign and female construction workers

April 4, 2014

The Japanese government has decided to allow more foreign workers to work in the construction industry following the growing demand for manpower in Japan, reported Kyodo News Network.

The building of facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and planned reconstruction of areas hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, are drivers behind the ever increasing demand for workers in this sector, officials said.

The country has experienced a general labour shortage since spending on public projects was increased under President Shinzo Abe. 

Measures to create a new resident status, allowing apprentices from emerging economies working in the construction industry to remain in Japan longer than the current period of three years, will be introduced in April 2015. These measures will also permit previous trainees in Japan to return to the country.

The news comes at the same time as plans by The Japan Federation of Construction Contractors to double the number of skilled female construction workers in Japan to some 180,000 within the next five years to help ease the industry’s labor shortage.

“I hope more and more young people and women will enter the industry to help it remain attractive,” Mitsuyoshi Nakamura, chairman of the federation, said in February.

Sources include: Kyodo News Network; The Japan Times

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Japan to buy Canadian shale gas

September 29, 2013

During a visit to Ottawa, the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, announced that Japan would like to reinforce imports of Canadian natural gas in order to diversify supply in the post-Fukushima nuclear dearth.

During a joint press conference with his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, Abe stated that Tokyo “strongly hopes to strengthen cooperation” with Ottawa.

Huge deposits of shale in the west mean that Canada is the third largest producer of natural gas. “Canada possesses a significant level of energy resources, including natural gas, which show considerable potential in terms of energy cooperation” he noted. Japan’s natural gas imports have increased since the Fukushima disaster and now the country wants to “ensure a stable supply of LNG (liquefied natural gas) at competitive prices” the Prime Minister explained.

At his side, Stephen Harper, whose government is a strong supporter of fossil fuels,  stated that he and Abe met with Canadian business leaders and that “the discussion was focused on energy.” The two countries are currently conducting two “very important” economic negotiations, he continued without giving any further details.

Before these comments, the Japanese media had said that Tokyo and Ottawa may come to an agreement which would allow Japan to import up to 40 million tons per year of Canadian shale gas. This would represent over 45% of the volume of LNG imported by Japan in 2012.

The media also reported on the possibility of Japanese aid to facilitate Canadian exports of LNG. Tokyo could, among other possibilities, assist in the construction of pipelines in Canada to transport gas from production sites to ports, while supporting the development of an infrastructure to help process shale gas into LNG.

As the third largest global economy, Japan is the largest consumer of LNG in the world. Yet, it pays higher prices for the gas than both Europe and North America. Asian contracts are often long-term and are as such based on oil price indexes, meaning the cost is ultimately higher than those on the gas market for short-term contracts.

This discrepancy is even more detrimental to Japan since it had to greatly increase imports of natural gas to compensate for the shutdown in nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. As a precaution, none of the 50 reactors are now in operation.

If this more recent agreement with Canada materializes, it will occur after two recently concluded agreements with the United States for the delivery of 6.7 million tons of shale per year to Japan from 2017.  Japan clearly hopes to negotiate lower prices by multiplying contracts of this kind with other shale-rich nations.


Japan to fund $470 million ‘ice wall’ around Fukushima plant

September 6, 2013

The Japanese government is to invest almost half a billion dollars (47 billion Japanese yen; £300m) in the building of a frozen wall around the perimeter of the Fukushima nuclear plant, in a bid to prevent further leakage of radioactive water and waste.

The announcement comes just days before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) joins together to elect the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games, for which Tokyo, along with Istanbul and Madrid, is in the running. Such a decision has been interpreted by many as a means of eliminating any concerns the IOC may have for the safety of the sporting event.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was heavily damaged in the 2011 earthquake, which also triggered a devastating tsunami, from which the prefecture is still recovering. Since then, the nuclear plant has leaked several hundred tons of radioactive and contaminated water into the sea. The damage to the plant has also exacerbated the contamination, as water must be continually pumped over the reactors to cool them, a process which releases an additional 400 tons of contaminated water into the sea each day.

With increased leakage over the past few weeks, concerns have grown rapidly, with many questioning Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) capability of implementing a solution to this increasingly grave problem. Indeed, the government has shown its determination to solve the issue at all costs, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying: “Instead of leaving this up to TEPCO, the government will step forward and take charge. The world is watching if we can properly handle the contaminated water but also the entire decommissioning of the plant.”

And the government’s solution? Drastic, to say the least, arriving in the form of an ‘ice wall’, which will be constructed around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The ground around the plant will be frozen, to a depth of 30 metres, using a system of thin pipes which will be installed under the ground. These pipes will carry a type of coolant, which will lower the underground temperature to as much as -40 degrees Celsius. The ice wall would act as a barrier, preventing contaminated water from leaking from the plant’s immediate surroundings, as well as keeping uncontaminated groundwater from coming into contact with the radioactive water, which collects around the plant.

Of the government funding32 billion yen (£200m) will be invested in the building of the ice wall itself, whilst the remaining 15 billion will be put towards upgrading current water treatment units, so that they are capable of removing all radioactive elements bar water-soluble tritium.

Japanese construction company Kajima Corp will be running stringent tests on the ‘ice wall’ project plans, and, if successful, work will begin on the project, with an expected completion date of March 2015. Many remain sceptical, however, of the durability of the government’s plan. Whilst similar walls have been constructed in the past, for example around tunnels and subways, a wall of this scale has never been attempted, and indeed some critics are dubious of the longevity of the ice wall. Running costs would be huge, say the experts, and frozen walls are usually a short-term solution to leakage problems. Use of these ice walls has not as yet been proven for long-term use. In any case, the issue of contaminated water leakage will continue to exist throughout the two year construction process; a problem which will require a contingency plan in the meantime.

Sources include BBC News, the Independent

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Deflation in Japan approaching an end, suggests government

August 17, 2013

The Japanese government has today offered a more positive view of the country’s economic situation than it has in the past four years, suggesting that Japan may be nearing an end to the deflation which has affected the market in recent months.

The government’s report is based on an in-depth assessment of consumer prices across Japan during the last economic quarters, and their findings suggest that deflation may finally be coming to an end, as increased consumer prices revealed a steady improvement in Japan’s economy, thus allowing companies to pass on the rising costs to its customers.

The government’s economic report for August stated that “recent price developments indicate that deflation is ending,” offering a much brighter perspective than the previous month’s report, in which it was revealed that whilst consumer prices had also risen, this was due to higher electricity bills, rather than increased consumer demand. The August report’s positivity continued, stating that Japan’s economy was “picking up steadily and showing some moves toward a sustained recovery.” However, the report was keen to stress that such news did not mean that Japan could dispense with the notion of deflation entirely, emphasising that the nation would need to demonstrate more lasting rises in consumer prices in order to secure its status as a country which had made a successful exit from deflation.

The report was also optimistic in its review of Japan’s job market, revealing unemployment rates of just 3.9%, the lowest recorded in Japan since October 2008.

A potential end to deflation, coupled with impressive unemployment rates, will no doubt play heavily in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s favour, who made economic improvement his key policy throughout his election campaign and in the following year. The Bank of Japan will also benefit from such positive reports, having heavily funded the country in April in order to achieve its two per cent inflation target in two years.

Sources include Japan Daily Press, Reuters

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TJC offers an extensive global network of professional & experienced multilingual translators, proof-readers and interpreters. We also have academic researchers, specialists and speakers, who are all native speakers of over 180 languages.

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