This Week In Japan #14 (July 10th, 2020)

This Week in Japan, Kyushu faces destruction during record flooding. Robots could join Family Mart staff in the near future, and more.

July 11, 2020
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At Least 60 Dead as a result of Record Flooding in Kyushu

The enormous amount of water damage can be seen from above.

Japan is no stranger to flooding and landslides during the annual rainy season, which typically lasts from June to July. However, this year is seeing record-breaking amounts of rain. In particular, the island of Kyushu has faced massive flooding from the many rivers that run through it. This Thursday the death toll surpassed 60 as the Chikugo River overflowed in Oita Prefecture. 

Videos online have surfaced, showing entire buildings, cars, and even bridges being swept away under torrents of water. With many citizens still missing or unaccounted for, emergency workers are in a race against time to find possible survivors. Many mountain residents in Kyushu were stranded after losing access to phone lines, electricity, and running water, and had to be rescued by local authorities.

Fukuoka Prefecture requested that the Japan Self Defense Force be dispatched to assist, after over 200 citizens were left stranded in evacuation centers when floodwaters closed in around them. To make matters worse, local tourism businesses who were already suffering from the impact of Corona have been devastated by the rains. Dozens of local resorts and warehouses have received massive amounts of damage or have simply been completely swept away.

Former Japanese Idol Gains Over 1 Million Followers in Record Time

Yuya Tegoshi strikes a pose for the camera during his press conference.

Johnny & Associates Agency, also known as just ‘Johnny’s,’ is the biggest idol agency in Japan. One of their most popular and controversial idols, Yuya Tegoshi, of the 4-man idol group NEWS, recently announced that he would be leaving the idol group and ending his contract with Johnny’s. The 32-year-old singer and rumored playboy had been accused of going out drinking with groups of women during the state of emergency from various news outlets. There are claims that the continued pressure from media and online critics is what influenced him to leave. 

However, in a recently held public press conference, Tegoshi came forward to address the rumors surrounding him, his alleged drinking with women, and many details about his time at Johnny’s. Tegoshi came forward, saying that many of the allegations being spread by the media are being falsely reported. What was said to be a drinking party with many women was a business meeting to discuss future events, according to Tegoshi. He also stated that his leaving of the idol group NEWS was pre-planned and that he had considered leaving the group around four years prior to further challenge himself. 

After the press conference, his openness and honesty regarding his situation were positively received. Negative press towards celebrities in Japan typically results in avoiding public attention and issuing many apologies. Thanks to his turn-around from the press conference, Tegoshi’s recently created YouTube and Twitter accounts both surpassed 1 million followers, making it one of the quickest gains on YouTube and Twitter in Japan’s history.

Fujitsu to Half its Office Space

One of Fujitsu’s largest office buildings.

The Japanese tech company Fujitsu Ltd. has unveiled plans to cut its office space in half by March of 2023. The company already set an impressive example by reducing around 80% of office commutes from February when Corona began to break out. The company is now adding further incentives that continue to push their over 80,000 domestic employees to work from home. One of which includes paying out 5000 yen a month to help employees set up a remote office space to work from home. 

Fujitsu employees will also no longer be required to come in during specific core hours and will be able to work a flexible schedule from the comfort of their homes. Less office space will also equal less rent money for the company to pay.  In a statement by Fujitsu Corporate Executive Officer Hiroki Hiramatsu, “We want to realize a smart working style that is not constrained by time and location.” This trend of pushing for telework follows suit with Fujitsu rivals such as Sony, Hitachi, and Toshiba. 

While Corona continues to negatively affect many industries, the work-from-home response of the corporate world could lead to permanent changes in how people work.

Robotic Employees Are Coming to Japanese Conbini

One potential look at how robot workers could be used.

Many movies in the 20th century depicted the early 2000s as a futuristic paradise, with flying cars, holograms, and robots. While this vision of the future may be a bit off, one aspect is on the verge of becoming a reality. The convenience store chain Family Mart has announced a partnership with Telexistence, a robotics firm based out of Tokyo, to implement robotic workers into their stores. The goal of this partnership is to have these robots stock shelves with merchandise. 

Instead of being fully automated, the robots are planned to be remotely controlled by workers using VR headsets and gloves at a different location. This would allow smaller, more remote stores to remain in operation even with few employees. This could also give more job opportunities to those with disabilities that prevent them from working on site. 

Test trials are set to begin in select Family Mart stores in Tokyo this summer and end with having robotic shelf-stockers in 20 branches by 2022. Depending on the success of the experiment, more robots could be in store for the future of convenience stores.

App Used to Pinpoint Corona Victims Faces Problems

The COVID-19 Contact App as shown on the app store.

With Corona infections on the rise again in Japan, many people are turning to tracking apps to ease their fears about becoming infected. One tracking app is called sesshoku kakunin apuri, or the contact confirmation app. If you have registered yourself as having the virus, then any other users of the app that you have crossed paths with will be notified. In theory, this would make users aware of those who are infected around them and allow them to take the proper precautions.

However, several problems are affecting the functionality of the application. The major problem it faces is that in order to register the data of other app users, you must be within 1 meter of their vicinity for at least 15 minutes or more. This would make the likelihood of registering with a stranger while walking on the street virtually zero. However, long train rides in close quarters could provide opportunities for registration. The other issue is a lack of Corona registries. 

Even with current cases of Corona surpassing 1100 people throughout the country, the number of users who are actually reporting themselves infected on the app is extremely low. As of this Wednesday, only 3 users have registered as having Corona out of the over 6.1 million people that have downloaded the app.

To prevent further spread of Corona, the Ministry of Health has asked for everyone’s cooperation in downloading and using the contact confirmation app. Still, the stigma that could come from admitting infection may be influencing many to stay silent. 

Hosts of This Week In Japan

Julian Domanski

Born in England, Julian is a writer, videographer & musician living in Tokyo. When he’s not drinking copious amounts of English Tea, he can be found studying Japanese or trying to master the surprisingly complex basics of the Jiuta Shamisen.

Yasuharu Matsuno

Founder of Japan Insider (Former Ryu Tokyo). Japanese-born entrepreneur. Yasu spent his life around the globe – Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and the U.S. He hopes he had more time to play Japanese RPGs. MBA from Columbia University in the City of New York.

Christian Dakin

Christian Dakin is an editor, designer, and video game director currently based out of Tokyo, Japan. Originally from a small town in Georgia, he studied in Japan for a year in college before returning again for work. Christian enjoys studying Japanese and the outdoors. In his off time, he is most likely to be found adventuring to a castle, belting it out in karaoke with friends, or in a gym somewhere.

More articles by Christian Dakin

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