Last week the BC Wood Japan Office once again organized a Canadian Pavilion on behalf of our wood products industry at the Nikkei Architectural and Construction Materials Show in Tokyo with eight member companies participating. We were very much looking forward to this show as it is one of the main venues for our promotional activities in Japan. However, it was on the final afternoon of last year’s Nikkei Show that the 9.0 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc across northern Japan and for this reason there were many mixed emotions around the show this year.
Many of the participating BC Wood members also took part with us last year and thus experienced firsthand the violent shaking at Tokyo Big Sight and the resulting chaos in getting home. We all remember the horror we felt after reaching the relative safety of our hotel rooms and homes only to see on TV that the entire coastline north of Tokyo had been literally wiped out. Relief in the fact that Tokyo survived the earthquake and tsunami quickly turned to great fear as nuclear reactors began exploding and spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere. At the time it seemed like a never ending disaster. As we braced for aftershocks, we could only wonder what would happen next.
With TV crews from around the world flocking to Sendai, fear and despair was replaced by pride and respect as the people of Tohoku admirably worked together to survive the harsh conditions and begin the arduous process of rebuilding. There were no riots, only organized queues. People helped each other and the Japanese military moved in immediately to support them. The international community led by 35,000 American troops came rushing with shovels, heavy machinery, food, and blankets. Next, BC Wood with its members stood ready as the Japanese government turned its attention to building temporary housing for the thousands of homeless and emergency shipments of lumber and plywood began to flow.
Along with our Canada Wood partners, I made several trips to the worst hit areas. It was shocking to see the level of destruction first hand and to see the resolve of the local people in their desire to rebuild their towns. Mayors and other city officials who were lucky to survive the killer wave were working 16+ hour days to make sure that this would happen (most have not taken a single day off since last March). Despite the usual politicking in Tokyo, these towns were able to secure budgets to move their populations to higher ground and begin new communities.
This year as the country marked the sorrow of March 11th, 2011, many people wondered how these communities were fairing. The TV shows that I watched explained that the affected area has seen on average a 10% drop in population as young people left to find work in Tokyo and beyond. Many of those who have stayed so far are also looking to leave as the lack of substantial reconstruction so far has meant that there has been no revitalization of the local economies and thus very few jobs.
In fact, in the hard hit town of Minami-Sanrikucho only 10% of the neighbourhoods have been able to put together plans to move to higher ground and rebuild. However, as of this March 11th, not even one such project has been started. Hopes of moving the first groups of people into their new homes by early 2013 seem impossible. People with the financial means are deciding not to wait and are buying homes in neighbouring towns unaffected by the tsunami. The future of towns like Minami-Sanrikucho seems almost as bleak now as it did one year ago. However, the message that those towns wanted to give on this dark anniversary was that they are not giving up.
On the floor of the Nikkei Show, you could also feel the energy of a country trying to move forward. Attendance was good and people were discussing real projects along with new business opportunities. Maybe things have not moved as quickly or as smoothly as had been hoped, but progress is being made on both the reconstruction and nuclear fronts as well as the economy overall.
Let us not forget, but let us move forward.read more
As people around the world watch Japan suffer the after effects of one of the greatest natural disasters in history, I am sure many of you have questions about what is happening and what the future will bring. I am not an expert on any of this, but I will try to share with you what I am seeing and hearing here.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake literally shook the entire country with shaking being reported from Kyushu to Hokkaido. According to CNN it was even felt in Beijing. In any case, it was massive and of a level that no one, not even the experts, can truly comprehend. With an earthquake of this size an “aftershock” of magnitude 7 or even 8 is expected. It will likely occur in the same general vicinity in the Pacific, but it will be either further north towards Hokkaido or further south towards Tokyo. An aftershock of that size will probably also result in another large tsunami. The timing of the aftershock is unclear. Experts said there was a 70% chance it would occur by this Wednesday. After that, within the next month is most common prediction, but as we recently saw in Christchurch it could be a half year or more away. It may also never come.
Aside from the aftershocks, “unrelated” earthquakes are taking place over a broad area. Just over 12 hours after the 9.0 quake, several magnitude 6 and 7 earthquakes hit the Nagano/Niigata area. Tuesday morning Tokyo Bay experienced a 4.1 quake and late that night the area around Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka experienced a 6.4 trembler. As you probably saw in the news, the entire main Japanese island of Honshu shifted 2.4 meters toward the Pacific Ocean and experts are saying that it is likely that all of the plates under Honshu are now trying to realign. This is what is causing the earthquakes along fault lines other than on the one on which the 9.0 quake occurred and means that more earthquakes across the region should be expected. Some people are worried that this may suddenly trigger the magnitude 8 earthquake in Shizuoka that is predicted to happen during the next 30 years.
In the foreign media such as CNN and the BBC, the nuclear situation is the main story now. It is a great concern here as well, but the government has been successful in dampening citizens’ fears of health issues resulting in the Tokyo area. The latest reports state that radiation levels in Tokyo are up to 100 times normal, but this is still well within safe levels. However, the reality is that there are four reactors in some state of meltdown with another two showing signs of potential trouble. Some people also wonder how much more punishment these reactors can take if large aftershocks continue to rattle that area. No one is predicting a Chernobyl type disaster yet, but everyone is on edge and hoping that the situation comes under control quickly. The loss of six nuclear reactors supplying the power grid has also led to rolling blackouts in greater Tokyo. Citizens are being asked to reduce electricity usage and it seems they are responding.
Foreigners are fleeing Tokyo (including me; I am now in Nagoya with much of the Canada Wood team) and many people around the world are wondering if Japan will ever be able to recover from this catastrophe. I believe that this country will recover even though it will take some time. The one thing that is questionable though is whether or not young people will return to the hardest hit areas. The area has for years already been suffering a population drain to larger urban centers such as Tokyo as the young go to look for better job opportunities. With the region’s main industries in tatters, this trend will only accelerate and it is likely that once gone these people will not return.
Japan is in a terrible situation now, but as the country rose from the ashes of WWII it will rise to meet this challenge too. I urge all Canadians to contribute to this effort in whatever form they can.read more
The cherry blossoms are about to burst in Tokyo so spring must be here. And that means lot’s of sake parties in the parks! There is no better way to appreciate Mother Nature.read more
Dan Mclean and Tanya Foster are second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College.
In the Kootenays, we live in a very lush, forested valley. Most don’t think too much about what makes up that forest, the many different types of trees. Some are quite common like the trembling aspen and Douglas fir and others quite rare like the yellow cedar. Although rare locally, it’s actually quite common on the West Coast and is an ecologically, economically, and culturally important tree. The yellow cedar has great significance for NW native peoples, dating back at least 3,000 years. They made canoes, paddles, masks out of the wood, clothing, hats, blankets, from the inner bark, and roofing material from the outer bark. Even roots were used to make baskets and cradles. It seems like nothing went to waste. They identified this tree as ‘the tree of life.’
Yellow cedar has experience a dramatic decline in Alaska and British Columbia but not due to insect or disease. The yellow cedar decline has coincided with the beginning of the current climatic warming after the 1850’s. It would appear that this tree is particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is a species that evolved when snow cover was more consistent and early snow provided an insulating blanket for their roots before winter temperatures plummeted. Global warming seems to have produced winters in some areas with less snow and therefore little to no blanket for the roots.
To learn more about Yellow Cedar, click hereread more
This morning I woke up to see snow falling here in Tokyo. Walking to the station in the snow almost made me feel like I was at the Winter Olympics. Then I remembered that you guys in Vancouver are having a tropical winter. Snow in Tokyo and none at the Winter Games?!?! Too strange.
For about a year now the elevated train tracks near where I live have been receiving seismic upgrades. Before this work began there were many little shops under the tracks which is very common in Japan. They had to go of course due to this work, but there was a plan to replace the shops once the structural work had been completed.
On the weekend I was walking past the train station and I noticed that the curtains hiding the construction had come down and that the work had almost been completed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the drab concrete looking commercial space that had been there has been replaced with a stylish new look encompassing wood. This is probably a reflection of the current drive in Japan to shift from concrete urban spaces to "eco" inspired wood ones. Let's see if we can get more WRC into such projects!
On this same walk I also saw posters covered in Canadian flags in a bento (lunch box) shop's window. They were promoting the fact that their bentos use Canadian beef. This is quite a turnaround from a few years ago when Canadian beef was shunned here due to mad cow fears. Do you think that the Olympics have anything to do with this Canadian promotion? Hopefully we can also tap into such "Yeah Canada" feelings at the upcoming Nikkei Show.read more
I recently read a Fortune magazine interview with "superstar investor" Mohamed El-Erian. While he was offering advice on how to plan overseas investments since the US market no longer offers growth potential, what he said also struck me as very relevant to Canadian exporters.
During the interview he offers several intriguing analogies including one that refers to flying a plane, or the world economy, where the giant engine is the US consumer and the fuel is debt. He believes that we are now in the stage where the fuel to this giant engine has been cut-off and that the pilot now has to switch to several smaller engines that represent multiple offshore markets. No body wants to be on a plane where the captain says he has to switch engines, but once the switch is made everyone will feel safer as they no longer have to rely on just one engine.
"It's a good thing in the sense that it's a more balanced world. I think most of us would rather be on a plane with multiple engines. So as long as we can get out of our comfort zones, this is actually a better world if we know how to invest. But it means doing things differently."
Substitute investing with exporting and this analogy suits the current situation our industry faces. The crucial point is that we need to do more and expect to do it differently in order to successfully switch from depending on the single, giant engine. For BC Wood members, the Japanese market should be one of these key engines.
You can read the entire interview at the URL below.read more
Ski resorts across Japan jealously look at Niseko and wonder how they can turn their fortunes around with the help of an influx of foreign tourists. Unfortunately this is not as easy as just making an English website.
I have known about the ski area around Yuzawa Onsen (hot spring) for a long time, but never had the chance to visit (despite being a skier before coming to Japan, I have only skied here once but that’s another story). I got my chance this weekend as I wanted to take my kids somewhere to experience snow for the first time.
One of Yuzawa’s best features, and the reason I chose it this time, is the fact that it takes under an hour and a half from Tokyo Station by bullet train and the station is in the centre of town. You can actually hop off the train and walk to ski lifts. Very convenient!
Snow seems to be in abundance too. The base was 200cm despite a recent drought of snow. Our activities were limited to tubing and making snowmen so I can’t comment on the quality of the skiing personally, but I have heard it is good.
The other thing that this area has going for it is the hot springs. This is of course the main point of most resort areas in Japan so having hot springs isn’t particularly unique. However, they are one of the main attractions for Asian travellers to Japan so having hot springs, winter recreation, and a clean/ natural setting with good facilities is a key combination. Unfortunately it is in this last component where Yuzawa seems to fail in completing the package.
The area around the station is typical of the hot spring resorts built during the time Japan was rapidly developing. There are a lot of drab concrete buildings that were bunched together without any thought of resort planning.
Moving away from the station area toward the Naspa ski area improves the scenery dramatically, but it is due more to the lack of development than to good planning. In fact, aside from the New Otani Hotel at the base of the hill and a few related condos nearby there doesn’t seem to be much else. Even the “condos” for sale in the New Otani project seem incomplete as they do not include kitchens (480sq feet from $60,000 & 980sq feet from $175,000). I guess they want everyone to eat in the hotel restaurants!
As a Tokyoite looking to play in some snow, Yuzawa offered a great weekend. However, for those travelling to Japan from overseas, I can’t see why they would chose Yuzawa over Niseko since they could just as easily fly into Sapporo as Tokyo. This is a shame as places like Yuzawa and Nagano should be able to use their proximity to Tokyo as a lure.
The key to winning over inbound travellers is providing a “complete” high quality experience. That is why developers in Niseko have been working so hard to turn a hodge-podge of run-down bed & breakfasts into a village of attractive accomodations, restaurants, and other ammenities to complement the natural wonders the area has to offer. Rather than just enviously looking at Niseko, Yuzawa and the many other resorts in similar situations should be learning from what the Niseko developers are doing and use that knowlege to raise the level of their own resorts.
A blog called Japan Probe uploaded a video clip from a TV Asashi about a house that is only 1.7m wide and 14m long. How would you like to live in a house like this? Take a look!read more
The other day I had the pleasure of visiting Daito Kentaku as a part of my pre-Japan Home Show activities. It is reported that Daito is the largest single customer of SPF and as a result many people fret over any rumours of Daito switching to domestic wood or steel construction. While rumours are just rumours, the potential loss of this SPF business needs to be taken seriously.
This point was reinforced to me when I arrived at the office and saw the company slogan reading "Pursuing the Effective Use of Land." Their business is managing investment real estate, not building 2×4 apartments. Therefore, if steel were to offer them better returns, why wouldn't they move away from 2×4 construction. For that matter, how would that be any different for Mitsui Home with respect to switching to domestic lumber?
The point is that our industry has to maintain its competetive position in Japan. This means meeting the unique needs of this marketplace. Many Japanese buyers worry that Canadians are forgetting this as they chase big dreams in China. With Minister of Forests, Pat Bell, coming for the Japan Home Show next month, we can hopefully reinforce the fact that Japan is still Canada's most important offshore market and as such we take Japan's needs seriously. If we don't make serious efforts in this area, the domestic wood guys will happily take our place.read more
On July 12th the Tokyo gubernatorial election will be held so large vehicles with large speakers are now patrolling neighbourhoods looking for voters to annoy.
Over the past year or so there has been a lot of interest expressed in Canadian style kitchens by building products importers. In the mid-90s, such kitchens enjoyed great popularity along with "imported housing." Unfortunately, since then European styles set the trends. That is why I have been curious about why the sudden resurgence in interest.
I was sorting through some photos that I had taken recently and found a couple that I thought were worth sharing.
Golden Week in Japan is comprised of several different national holidays all lumped together. It has the dual purpose of giving workers a long holiday while also increasing factory productivity as it is more efficient to shutdown for a week rather than on many individual days. This was Golden Week for 2009 so I took the opportunity to get out of Tokyo and take the kids to see their grandparents in Aichi prefecture.
A recent BC Business magazine article listed the top 10 game changing commercials of all time. I enjoyed this trip down memory lane and thinking about how these ads impacted the way we talked with friends and thought about products. To see the list, click on the link below.
The Japanese government recently started handing out cash payments of Y12,000 (C$150) per person across the country with the hopes that people would take this money and spend it and thus stimulate the economy. Most observers saw this as a blatant attempt to buy votes that was also doomed to failure as this country of savers would just run to the bank with the money.
The meaning of being "environmentally friendly" or "eco" as it is referred to in Japan is quite different than in North America. In Japan the focus of the eco movement is primarily just reducing energy consumption and thus both saving money and lowering CO2 emissions. However, maybe just maybe, things are changing.
Every year I make a trip to BC in April to visit members. It is the best time of the year to do such a trip since this is the time we are planning our activities for the year and it is essential to get members' input for this.
With all of the dismal talk about the economy and population decline, it is nice to know that some things are still growing in Japan. To be precise, Japan's land area is still growing.
Thanks to projects that fill-in bay areas to create new usable land, Japan's land area grew by 13 km2 in 2008. Such projects have been carried out since the 1800s and central parts of many cities such as Nagasaki, Yokohama, and even Tokyo are a result of them. Unfortunately the current landfill projects are to create more farmland for rice cultivation. Too bad no one is building houses on this new real estate!read more