The Japanese government is moving closer to getting out of the tobacco business. The government owns 50 percent of Japan Tobacco, the world’s third largest tobacco firm. But JT has announced that, for the first time in nearly three decades, its senior management team will not include a former bureaucrat.
The government sold off part of JT in 1985, and the firm is now seeking full privatization. It hopes to increase its share of overseas markets and compete with global rivals like Philip Morris.
Initally, the government is looking to sell 16 percent of JT shares to finance reconstruction efforts in Tohoku. Reports say such a sale would bring in about $9 billion. JT itself could be a potential buyer. The company is projecting a profitable year this year.
Japan has among the world’s lowest cigarette taxes and mildest anti-smoking restrictions. Anti-smoking activists believe the sale of JT would be the first step towards a serious crackdown on tobacco products in smoker-friendly Japan.
Stung by overseas competition and losses in its television business, Sony has announced plans for massive job cuts. The electronics giant will shed about 10,000 jobs worldwide, mainly in its chemical unit, according to the Nikkei business daily. Most of the job cuts will be connected to Sony’s small and medium-sized liquid crystal display panels. Seven Sony executives will also forego annual bonuses.
The company replaced its US Chief Executive Howard Stringer and stands to lose about ¥220 billion this year, its fourth consecutive year in the red. Sony blames tough competition and the high yen in part for its financial problems. The company was downgraded by two credit rating agencies earlier this year.
Jetstar Japan made some high-flying headlines with its first Japanese promotional offering this spring. The discount airline offered one-way tickets on six domestic routes for one yen apiece. About 10,000 people snapped up the tickets even though many of the flights left Narita Airport at 6 a.m. and did not include fees for meals, baggage and airport taxes.
Jetstar Japan is a joint venture between Qantas, Japan Airlines (JAL) and Mitsubishi and the spring promotional blitz was part of the airline’s opening strategy for its domestic service. Starting July 3, Jetstar will fly regular routes out of Tokyo and Osaka to destinations such as Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Naha, Okinawa.
Those who missed out on the initial offering can still enjoy cheap flights with the airline – for example, Jetstar’s regular route from Narita to Sapporo will go for ¥4,590.
Jetstar has already announced an extra 36 international flights weekly to-and-from Japan.Sunny Outlook
Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto is going solar. The city’s municipal government awarded a contract to build and operate a solar power plant to SB Energy Corp., a unit of Softbank.
SB Energy and two partners will construct two photovoltaic power generators that will have a total yearly generation capacity of about 4.2 megawatt-hours. That is enough to meet the annual demands of about 1,000 households.
The first of the two plants is scheduled to begin operating July 1 as Japan starts its feed-in tariff system. That’s where electric utilities will purchase electricity generated by other firms and households from solar and other renewable energy sources.
The Kyoto solar plant project is the first commercial deal for SB Energy, which also plans to build solar plants at ten other locations in Japan.
According to Kyodo News, Softbank has chosen the northern location as the site for Japan’s largest solar power plant. The proposed facility in Tomakomai, Hokkaido in would have a maximum output capacity of 340,000 kilowatts, which could cover about 100,000 homes. Softbank also plans to install solar panels in the industrial area of the Tomakomai waterfront.
Softbank and Hokkaido Electric will finalize construction plans once the government sets the price for electricity generated by renewable resources. Reports suggest that if the government sets too low a price, Softbank might have to consider reducing the size of the plant.
Low Cost Sale
Mitsubishi appears desperate to sell its operations in the Netherlands. So much so, in fact, that the company says it would do the transaction for one Euro, if the buyer was prepared to keep employing all 1,500 workers.
“If the payroll of about 1,500 factory workers can be maintained, we may as well sell the assets for one euro,” said company president Osamu Masuko.
Mitsubishi has already announced it will stop making cars at the plant in Born by the end of 2012, bringing an end to its only European manufacturing operation. The company blamed a difficult operating environment in Europe for the move.
Mitsubishi produces the Colt subcompact and the Outlander sports utility models at the factory, which used to be a joint venture with Sweden’s Volvo.
More than 1,000 Dutch auto workers demonstrated outside the plant earlier in the year.
All bets could soon be off in the eating of fugu in the Tokyo area. The city’s metropolitan government wants to relax the strict controls on the sale of the poisonous puffer fish.
Current rules require restaurants to have the potentially deadly delicacy prepared on-site, by specially-trained and licensed chefs. But the new rules would allow restaurants to serve ‘out-sourced’ fugu – prepared by chefs off-site.
Tokyo supermarkets sell fugu meat from other regions and residents have long bought fugu from other areas of the country. Now, the metropolitan government says it wants to address this reality.
Fugu is an expensive, seasonal delicacy that contains poisons that can kill – particularly in the liver and skin of the fish. However, some fugu lovers actually order the poisonous parts for the thrill of eating them.
Last year, a fugu chef at a Michelin two-star restaurant in Ginza lost his license for serving the fish’s liver to a diner who asked for it.Gambling Addiction
Gambling is generally considered a male addiction. However, more women are also falling prey to the problem according to the Japanese government. Statistics show 1.6 percent of all Japanese women are compulsive gamblers, according to the Health Ministry (2009 statistics). That’s about 750,000 people.
Pachinko is the most common addiction according to the weekly magazine Shukan Josei (Feb 14), which has investigated the issue extensively. The magazine suggests that some women give up everything – family, career, financial stability – to pursue pachinko.
Masayuki Oishi, who runs an out-patient clinic for gambling addicts, tells the magazine, “There is no one definitive cause. Some say it’s hereditary, others that it’s due to an excess of dopamine in the brain, others still that it’s the influence of the environment. Most likely it’s some combination of all of these.”
Counseling is one option to help people fight gambling addiction. But with mental health issues still not taken as seriously in Japan as in other countries, there may be thousands of women who cannot escape.
[Filter is compiled from reports by the New York Times, Japan Today, Kyodo News, the Daily Yomiuri, the Mainichi Daily News, the Japan Times, TBS, Fuji TV, the Nikkei Business Daily and the Wall Street Journal.