Salivation on Sakhalin Restaurateur expands at
home, abroad (Feb. 2003, #32)
Resolution #1: Get a Job
At least Elves know what they're doing this time of the yearc (Dec.
Take a Chance: Free Money! (Oct. 2002, #30)
The Delights of Turkey, in Shiroishi (Aug.
The Japan Group: International Business Services
Cricketers Chirp into Hokkaido for a Different
Sort of Cup (Apr. 2002)
F&K International: An interview with Frank Young,
WeCan Homes: Canadian Homes in Japan An interview with
Paul Nikel (Dec., 2001)
HIBA Business/Friendship Mission Explores Sakhalin
Hilton Otaru: Something Different
Amidst "The Death of Beer," A Regional Brewery Profits
Kick-Starting the Economy (Part II of II) (Feb.,
Sapporo's Infotec Prophet Leaves with Mixed Feelings
(Part I of II) (Dec., 2000)
Local Businesses Looking for Opportunity in Sakhalin
Salivation on Sakhalin Restaurateur
expands at home, abroad (Feb. 2003, #32)
by Carey Patersons
To hear Daniel Mansukhani speak of it, the population of Sakhalin is
salivating. At the thought of liberating the mother lode of oil there?
Well yes, at that too, but more at the prospect of a decent restaurant
opening on this Russian island north of Hokkaido.
"There are almost no good restaurants in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk,"
says Mr. Mansukhani, recalling his trip last year to the administrative
center of Sakhalin Island. Although the city does have a sprinkling of
Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian eateries, the Sapporo-based restaurateur
remembers the dining opportunities as few, expensive and, wellcunmemorable.
Mr. Mansukhani hopes to change that by opening an Indian restaurant this
spring at the Natalya Hotel in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. He is targeting well-heeled
oil expats and locals enriched by the nascent petro-boom. "Every
expat who comes from overseas will be hiring seven to ten local people,"
The Indian-born Mr. Mansukhani came to Sapporo in 1972 for the Winter
Olympics. He was so impressed with the quality of life that he later moved
here permanently from Tokyo to raise his children. Although he has lived
in places as varied as India, Hong Kong and Germany, he feels a fondness
"If you say you have a problem in Sapporo, you get help," he
says. "Hokkaido people will do their best for you."
Opening in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk promises to be a greater challenge. The population
is one-tenth that of Sapporo, and the business environment is more insular.
But "where there is no difficulty, there's no money," Mr. Mansukhani
He also believes there's money to be made on Sakhalin in export-import.
"The department stores and supermarkets have empty shelves. I'm interested
in exporting from Hokkaido."
Mr. Mansukhani has ample experience in both restaurant management and
import-export, as the president of The Taj Mahal Group. The company runs
three restaurants, two different curry franchises and a trading concern,
all in Sapporo. The Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk opening will be the fourth Taj Mahal
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk today is not unlike Sapporo when he first visited in
1972, according to Mr. Mansukhani. Sapporo didn't have many foreign restaurants
then, and the city was much smaller. Over the years, Sapporo has grown
larger and more sophisticated, just as he expects will happen to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
The sophistication of Sapporo parallels the evolution of the Taj Mahal
menu. The first cooks, who were recruited from Delhi, were told to make
the food mild. The fieriest offerings were labeled "hot." As
customers became accustomed to Indian food, the menu escalated to "very
hot" and then "very very hot." Now, dishes like chili chicken
and chili prawn only come very hot. Although Indian food is known to be
spicy, at its best it balances heat with flavor. Mr. Mansukhani says the
curries at Taj Mahal are made with a blend of at least twenty spices and
In addition to expanding northward, the Taj Mahal Group is growing within
Sapporo. It has introduced a new curry franchise called Namasute, fighting
Japan's recession with an eat-in / takeout menu that starts from 380 yen
for curry and rice. Namasute shops will differ from the Taj Mahal restaurants.
Namasute will serve only curry and rice, rather than the full restaurant
menu of curries, pilafs, meat dishes and Indian bread. Entrepreneurs take
note: the Taj Mahal Group expects to open thirty shops in Hokkaido and
is looking for franchisees.
It is significant that Taj Mahal will be among the first Sapporo-based
ventures in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. After all, Mr. Mansukhani was the first
foreigner to gain admission to the Sapporo Junior Chamber of Commerce
and he is an Honorary Consul of Tourism from India to Hokkaido. What better
diplomat to wave the banner for Hokkaido on Sakhalin?
Resolution #1: Get a Job
At least Elves know what they're doing this time of the yearc
(Dec. 2002, #31)
By Bill Andrechek
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to those who are lucky enough to have
a few days off. Those of us who are broke can't afford to take any, and
as for you part-timers out there, holidays are just days when companies
are closed and you can't work even if you want to. Well, 'tis the season
to get off your asses and look for a new 9-to-5er.
In Japan, most businesses and schools do much of their hiring for the
spring, so that means now is the time to check out what's available for
Xene has put together a list of Web sites that offer information about
jobs in Hokkaido and throughout Japan. So forget what I said before, and
get ON your asses -- in front of your computers -- and see if there isn't
something that grabs you from one of the following sites.
< Hokkaido >
An e-mail service providing news about jobs, events, interesting Internet
< All Japan >
Work in Japan.com
The latest information on jobs and hints for living in Japan.
Job Seek Japan
Posting of job openings and resumes. Also, information on working and
living in Japan.
Featuring the latest job information for non-Japanese and bilingual Japanese.
Information on careers, living and working in Japan.
Japan Employment Center
Job and resume postings.
Tips and links for living and working in Japan.
Jobs in Japan
Listings of ESL and other teaching, IT, bilingual, entertainment, modeling/acting
and other general jobs in Japan.
Links to Web sites that have information on working in Japan.
Listings for teaching, sales, IT, entertainment and others.
Teaching English in
Tips for teaching and living in Japan, and links to other sites in teaching
and the like.
Take a Chance: Free Money! (Oct. 2002, #30)
By Bill Andrechek
Scads of people have ideas for making money in Japan but don't really
know how to get started or feel they won't know how to wade through local
red tape on taxation and other procedures. Or - and this is a big one
- there just might be a problem of financing at the outset of an endeavor.
So they give up before they begin.
Well, good news!
Xene has put together a list of Web pages that are designed for those
who fall into any of the above problem areas. There is a lot of money
out there in the form of business grants for non-Japanese, grants for
various projects including saving the environment and promoting cross-cultural
relations, and many, many more.
Looking to organize an event? Check out the Japan Foundation Center's
Web site, for example, to get information on how to go about things and
maybe even get a subsidy.
So, before giving up on your ideas, why not see if there isn't just something
available to help you out on the Web? You never know.
Web information for setting up your own business
(E) = English Web site
₯₯₯ Grants, Subsidies and Support Information ₯₯₯
< Sapporo >
Grants, seminars, free advice and related information for small and medium-sized
Sangyo Shinko Center
Seminars and events on business startup.
< Hokkaido >
Grants, subsidies and information.
Promotion Division of Hokkaido Government
Grants and event information.
Hokkaido Small Business
Grants, links to resources and companies, and small-business data.
< All Japan >
provided by Telecommunications Advancement Organization of Japan
Information on establishing a company, grants, seminars and other resources
for the IT and telecommunications businesses.
Lots of hints and advice on setting up a company, networks for SOHOs and
business support network
Database of grants, loans, seminars, events, and consulting and networking
and Medium-Enterprise Corporation
Subsidies and advice for ventures, and for hosting events and seminars.
Federation of Small Business Associations
A variety of information on taxes, grants, insurance, research data and
News about NPO-related issues, information on grants, seminars and research,
and other support.
Japan Foundation Center
Database of about 900 grant programs and links to grant-making foundations
₯₯₯ Business Association ₯₯₯
(Hokkaido International Business Association) (E)
An active international business association organized by mostly non-Japanese
The Delights of Turkey, in Shiroishi (Aug.
By Vanessa Fortyn
Turkey's recent number-three placing in the FIFA World Cup pleased Yakup
Oktay Sumen no end. Reminders of the World Cup and Turkish flags proudly
adorn his Turkish restaurant, Aycha, in Shiroishi. Aycha means "crescent,"
the symbol that accompanies a white star to make up the foreground of
the country's flag. One wouldn't expect to find a Turkish restaurant in
Sapporo, where the Turk community boasts about seven members. However,
Yakup decided to open the restaurant after a Canadian friend, yearning
for a good doner kebab, urged him to do so. Nearly four years later, the
Canuck has moved on, but the Turkish restaurant still stands, and Yakup
displays his mate's parting gift on the wall: a Canadian flag, of course.
Aycha is a log cabin situated in a former car park, and it offers a selection
of traditional Turkish foods cooked by Yakup himself. The ingredients
are fresh, and he gets many of the more distinctive ones from Turkey or
from importers in Tokyo. The biggest difference between Turkish food and
Japanese food is the use of sauces. Turkish meat is not served with sauce.
Instead, it is marinated or seasoned, and the essential ingredients are
actually salt and pepper.
Highly recommended is atana, grilled, minced, seasoned lamb; chicken shish
kebab, large cubes of marinated chicken and vegetables grilled on a skewer
like an enormous yakitori; and of course doner kebab, layers of chicken,
beef and lamb wrapped around a huge skewer, and grilled on a vertical
rotisserie. When the outer layers are cooked and crispy, they are thinly
sliced and served on a rice pilaf or in pita bread with salad. Doner kebab
is as delicious as it sounds and is the most popular dish on the menu.
Aycha is a carnivore's heaven, but vegetarians needn't despair. Salads,
soups and dips such as hummus, made from ground chickpeas, are readily
Drinks-wise, try Efes beer (pilsner or dark), brewed in the famous town
of Ephesus. Follow with a glass of Raki, an anise-based liquor, drunk
with water, and known as "lion's milk" because it is strong
and looks like milk. And by the way, if you happen to bump into one of
the other six Turks out in Sapporo, you can impress them by raising your
glass and saying serefe ("cheers").
Yakup is from Denezli in southwestern Turkey, a short distance from Pumakkale,
a natural formation of ancient limestone-encrusted hot spring basins on
the side of a one-hundred-meter hillside. Their white appearance gave
the area its name, Pumakkale meaning "Cotton Castle." About
two thousand years ago, the Roman occupiers came to bathe in the therapeutic
waters, and nearby there are many Roman ruins. It was close to this World
Heritage site that Yakup used to run a pension. Working in the kitchen,
he honed his cooking skills, while outside of mealtimes he perfected his
English by chatting to the many international tourists. Nowadays he's
added Japanese to his list of languages.
Yakup believes that Turks are characterized by their friendliness and
hospitality, and he welcomes his customers in a relaxed and warm manner.
Turks also like music, and every so often he organizes a soiree at Aycha
with a party plan and professional belly dancer. Anyone can join in the
festivities, so why not pick up a rhinestone for your navel and go along
to the next one?
Aycha (Tel: 011-865-6756) is at Hongodori 5, Minami 3-13, a five-to ten-minute
walk from Nango-nana-chome Subway Station (Tozai Line). It is open from
5PM on weekdays, and 2 PM on weekends. It is closed on Wednesdays.
The Japan Group: International Business Services
By Bill Andrechek
The Japan Group provides the international business services of technical
assistance and consulting. What does this mean exactly, you may be asking?
Well, I asked myself the same thing and couldn't come up with any intelligent
answers, so I met with Glenn Burns, a co-founder with Randal Irwin.
"We're the 7-11 of service companies," Mr. Burns says, "providing
all sorts of services for those looking to reduce costs and speed up the
process of doing business in Japan and the U.S."
Fast and inexpensive: I got it! I asked for examples.
"The readers of Xene might be interested in saving money, so I'll give
some examples of how we're now helping companies and individuals do this.
There are a lot of services available for businesses and hundreds of cost-cutting
technologies on the Net that might take people forever to hunt down. That's
where The Japan Group can help. We can find the technology to suit specific
needs and save our clients a lot of time and money.
"One example is saving money on phone bills. We can provide the technology
to give our customers virtually free telephoning! Of course for large companies
the savings can be enormous, but for individualscI mean, who doesn't want
to save money on phone bills?
"Another example of how we can assist individuals is in getting things
sent from home or from anywhere overseas to Japan. From magazines to muesli
to U.S. and Australian videos, we can get almost anything sent to the individual.
"Wine importers and growers, sportswear importers and sellers, software
manufacturers and English schools are among our clients. The Japan Group
is providing assistance in doing business in Japan and helps with the creation
and evaluation of Web sites, produces user manuals and marketing plans,
and provides support for importing and exporting, just to name a few areas
(of course all multilingual, if required). We even take people abroad to
introduce them to specific businesses and get them in touch with the know-how,
and the contacts, in order to start their own businesses over here. Right
now the economy in Japan is not the strongest, so we can also provide assistance
in overseas investment. Property values in many places have been increasing
tremendously over the past several years, so buying foreign property can
be rewarding for many investors. For those who wish to buy property for
retirement, we can offer assistance as well."
What difficulties are there in doing business in Japan?
"Well, as we all know, gaining access to business circles can take
forever as most are closed to foreigners. Japanese people have a lot of
fine qualities including humility and tolerance, and knowing their strengths
and that we have cultural differences is the best way to approach doing
Any business tips?
"Usually I'd say tips are for the races. But to anyone thinking of
going into business in Hokkaido, or anywhere else for that matter, aim high
and be prepared for the worst-case scenario. As I've said, there's real
opportunity in Japan at present because of the continuing sluggish economy.
There will be an awful lot of changes going on and therein lie the opportunities."
The Japan Group
In Sapporo: Contact Glenn Burns (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kita 16-jo, Higashi 16-chome, Higashi-ku
Tel.: 780-4907 Fax: 780-4908
In the U.S.: Contact Randal Irwin (email@example.com)
2922 SW 153rd Dr. Beaverton OR 97006 USA
Tel.: +1 503 803-1808 Fax: +1 503 644-8850
Cricketers Chirp into Hokkaido for a Different Sort of
Cup (Apr. 2002)
By Bill Andrechek
Nestled snugly between the recent Winter Olympics and the upcoming FIFA
World Cup is the Japan Cup. You may not have heard of it, since the other
two events have an unfair stranglehold on the media. But let it be known
that powerhouse Russia will come in May to play the inaugural match on
Japanese soil in that most international of sports, cricket.
Now I know the North Americans out there are saying, "What the hell's
a cricket?" But I have been assured that this sport has been around
for dozens of years and is played and followed vehemently in countries
that never win anything in the Olympics (except Australia, somehow).
If the truth be told, the Russian team is actually an international group
of mainly oil- and service-industry expats up in Sakhalin who have formed
the recreational Sakhalin Cricket Club (SCC).
I spoke with PJ Singh, the number-one ringer on the SCC, and asked him
what they were expecting in their visit to Sapporo.
"The SCC is looking forward to making history in this first ever
international cricket match in Hokkaido," he told me. "We feel
that we can field a strong enough team to take on the Hokkaido side, but
playing cricket is not the only reason for our visit. Very few of us have
been to Sapporo and so we will be exploring the city when not...scoring
There is a reason why such confidence about the match is being expressed
on the SCC side. In a chat with Simon Jackson, who chairs the Hokkaido
International Business Association (HIBA) and manages the Japan team,
I learned some of the history surrounding the event.
"This whole thing came about as a drunken wager when I was up in
Sakhalin on business," he says. "I learned that they had a team,
so I challenged them to a match...and was taken up on it! So we formed
a ragtag team and went up to Sakhalin last year not knowing what to expect."
I asked Simon how they had fared against the Sakhalin side.
"We came in second," he jested.
Well let's hope they do at least as well on their home turf in Hokkaido.
And who are the Japanese players? The team includes cricketers of twelve
nationalities (although a cricket team has only eleven players) associated
with HIBA from the Sapporo area.
"From a business perspective there are really two main reasons for
the matches," Simon explained. "Cricket is a very social game
with a lot of time between the action to chat with the other team members.
Who knows what business might be discussed at such times? And, of course,
when the Sakhalin side comes to Hokkaido for the match and a bit of R&R
in and around Sapporo, we feel certain that they will return with a good
impression. The Japanese experience that the SCC will relate to their
friends and families back in Sakhalin will create a positive curiosity
for the area. This could mean that many of the fourteen- to eighteen-thousand
expats and their spouses in Sakhalin will want to come to Sapporo again
and again to shop, stay at hotels, take onsens, go to restaurants, ski,
etc., etc. It's only a two-hour trip from Sakhalin."
The Sakhalin team will be here from May 10 to 12, with the Japan Cup cricket
match being played on May 11 in Ishikari.
Says Simon, "This will be a continuing annual event, with home and
away matches between Hokkaido and Sakhalin for dozens of years to come."
An interview with Frank Young, co-founder
By Bill Andrechek
"Give a little more than what's expected."
This business philosophy might seem unheard of in the current business
climate, where most companies are trying to cut corners wherever they
can, but for Frank Young, co-founder of F&K International, this idea
goes hand-in-hand with being competitive. I talked with Mr. Young and
learned how his company is able to be successful and at the same time
help the international community in many fields here in Hokkaido.
Q. You seem quite diversified. You're involved in language services,
real estate and database development.
Young: F&K International started out doing language services,
our bread and butter, about seven years ago, so let me start there. We
offer interpretation, translation, proofreading, and narration. Of these,
translation represents most of our revenue. Working in English, Japanese,
Chinese, Korean and Russian, we deal with a lot of general business materials
- newsletters, trade show materials, annual reports and so forth - as
well as specialty subjects that tie closely to Hokkaido, such as shipping,
concrete, and tourism.
Q: You mentioned narration. Where does that come in?
Young: Well narration is often done in conjunction with translation.
For example, when a client has a specific need for something multilingual,
as was the case recently with a promotional video for Hokkaido Prefecture,
we provide script translations into multiple languages and arrange for
narrators that can do voiceovers on the video.
Q: That sounds like a lot of work.
Young: Well, these larger projects are rewarding. They allow us to
use all of our language-related faculties.
Q: So how are you involved in real estate?
Young: As landlords. This came about when my wife, Kumiko, and I were
looking for suitable and reasonable property to build on. In the interests
of our budget, we began researching the foreclosure market and as we were
doing so we gradually came to realize there was a niche in Sapporo's real
estate market that was not being met. Foreign residents were having trouble
finding suitable apartments to rent. So, basically we started looking
for convenient, good quality properties in the downtown area that would
be attractive to the foreign community.
Q: What do you mean by trouble?
Young: Firstly, I mean language problems. Some people are not comfortable
speaking or reading Japanese, so we provide English contracts if needed.
Beyond that, we try to help with anything else that may cause anxiety.
Finding parking, and getting utilities started are typical examples. Being
approachable is what a good landlord should be, so that's what we try
to do. We act upon any reasonable request that our tenants might have
in the hopes of quickly solving problems and at the same time providing
an agreeable place to live. We are, in fact, proud of having tenants from
Korea, Australia and Japan staying with us currently.
Q: I've asked about language services and real estate, so now the third:
Young: Ah yes, this is something that I am excited about and hope
to do more of in the future. It all came from tracking properties, as
I described earlier, that were being sold through the court. A colleague
of mine in the IT industry saw what I was doing and suggested a collaboration
with a client he had that required sales management, too. From there it
has continued to grow. Companies need to track inventory, sales, accounts
and a lot of other information to run a company smoothly these days, and
all of that comes down to databases. We've helped a beer company improve
its operations recently and would love to talk to any company that needs
to become more efficient.
Frank Young's enthusiasm for his business and his philosophy of "giving
more than what's required" feel like a breath of fresh air and may
just be something that we could all benefit from.
WeCan Homes: Canadian Homes in Japan
An interview with Paul Nikel (Dec., 2001)
By Bill Andrechek
Why are so many houses in Hokkaido cubical? Why don't the builders or architects
try to put a little character into their designs up here? Why don't houses,
even expensive houses, have central heating? Are the heated toilet seat
companies conspiring to keep us cold?
These are just a few of the questions I discussed recently with Paul Nikel,
owner of WeCan Homes.
BA: First, about you: Why Japan and why construction?
PN: Like a lot of people, I came over to teach English and to experience
something different. And you know, in Japan it is possible to earn a good
living while pursuing other interests as well. And about construction, well
I come from a family with a history in building back in Canada. One of my
brothers is an engineer and my father is in audio systems installation,
and by that I mean systems built into the designs of homes. So, of course,
I worked a lot with them and that's where I got my first taste for this
type of work. A lot of what I learned back home has helped me with my business
here in Japan. And actually, my father runs the Canadian side of the business
BA: WeCan is a positive name. What does it mean?
PN: The building industry in Japan ironically offers little choice in a
country where "the customer is god," as the expression goes. Large,
national builders tend to offer their customers a choice of A, B, C, or
D to choose from, for possible home styles. If the customer wishes something
other than what the company offers, for example, a different colour for
the exterior of the house, a different style of kitchen or a different room
height, they are usually met with a lot of teeth sucking and are told it
will be exorbitantly expensive or that it can't be done at all.
BA: So, WeCan can?
PN: Sure! We sit down with potential clients and discuss what needs they
have and go from there. By the way, we're not trying to push Canadian homes
on anyone. We're just filling a niche for those who are looking for something
BA: Who are your main customers?
PN: People from abroad or Japanese who have been abroad and have seen North
American homes. Many people want comfortable things like central heating
or a more aesthetically pleasing design for their homes. You know, central
heating is absolutely possible in Japan and it's not that expensive. It's
all to do with ventilation systems and moisture control which we can supply
BA: Any Japanese design aspects that appeal to you?
PN: Of course Japanese baths and genkan entranceways are great and can by
all means be incorporated into our designs, so the best of both worlds can
be put into each home.
WeCan Homes has shown a 12-fold increase in business over last year and
is one business that isn't showing any ill affects from the economy. WeCan
HIBA Business/Friendship Mission Explores Sakhalin
by Simon Jackson, HIBA Chairman
The Russian writer Anton Chekhov said "I've been to Ceylon and
I've seen heaven and I've been to Sakhalin and I've seen hell". Mention
Sakhalin in Japan and the locals are likely to report a similar impression.
Overlooking these views, members of Hokkaido International Business Association
(HIBA) recently went on a business/friendship and international cricket
mission to Sakhalin from August 31st to September 6th, and found out the
reality. Our group all came back with very different but positive impressions.
After arriving in Yuzhno-Sahkalinsk we went for a pleasant summer evening
walk around the city. Sakhalin is directly north of Hokkaido, but due
to the Russians' fiendishly clever ability to adjust to time zones, summer
time is 2 hours ahead of us, and it doesn't get dark until 8:30 or 9 p.m.
Pre-dinner drinks were imbibed at the Pacific Caf (an expat hangout) and
among the hubbub we could pick out a variety of English accents, from
Public School English to Texan drawls. Dinner was a choice of Korean,
Russian, Japanese or Western style. We chose Korean and ate such deliciously
named dishes as "the taste you can't imagine" and "heaver's
delight". It seems that English translators in Russia also have a
warped sense of humour.
Saturday was the day of the cricket match. For those of you who don't
know much about cricket, it is a sporting divide that separates civilised
countries from the others who just play baseball. The match was played
at the Zima highlands, a sort of club/resort occupied by Sakhalin Energy
- 100 apartments, bar, restaurant, sports gym, tennis courts and sports
fields all built for the bargain basement price of US$100 million.
After clearing security, our ragtag team met the opposition. Ragtag is
an overestimation. Only 6 of the 11 players needed made the trip. Three
of these hadn't touched a cricket ball until the previous weekend. Our
gear consisted of a bat and ball kindly donated by the Hilton Otaru and
wickets made from a broom handle. Irrespective of experience, our team
did well with newcomers Wayne Rutherford, Shawn Clankie and Jerry Halvorsen
all taking wickets against some very good players, Xene's Sonoyo Ishikawa
excelling at fielding and being one of the few batters not to go out,
and Daniel Mansukhani looking very much the part in his cricket whites
Our opposition were an entirely different kettle of fish. The Indian sub-continent
was well represented - with one Mr. PJ Singh reputed to have played for
Delhi (akin to being on Moses's Red Sea Powerwalking team). The game was
sponsored by all the major players in the oil industry on Sakhalin: Exxon
Neftegas Ltd., Sakhalin Energy (Shell), CIS Technology, Schlumberger,
Deutag UK Ltd. Sakhalin, Panalpina, BP, Dalsatcom, ST Mobile (Cable &
Wireless) and Universal Sodexho. Players and officials were from England,
Scotland, South Africa, the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, Australia,
Ireland, New Zealand, Japan and Russia. The weekend's play and socialising
(the hosts arranged transport, lunches, BBQ, drinks, band, afternoon tea
and the Wallabies vs. All Blacks to be shown live) was extremely successful
from a sporting, social and business point of view. Several members of
the mission have come back with ongoing business and others are in the
process (stay tuned for the Yuzno branch of the Taj Mahal restaurant.)
Everyone made new friends and we were able to advertise Hokkaido as a
place for business, education and R&R.
The score. What happens on Sakhalin stays on Sakhalin!
All I can say is that cricket is about losing with dignity, and the HIBA
team showed we were very very very dignified. We did however make cricket
history for taking part in the first Japan-Russia cricket match.
The rest of the week was spent in meeting government and business representatives,
studying the correct method of drinking vodka, more socialising, investigating
restaurants, bars, casinos, nightlife (and early morning life), banyas
(Russian sauna's complete with wet birch leaves whippings), Russian massage
(masseur: "No cry -- big man, no little baby da"), and fishing
Π the salmon were running and were in unbelievable numbers.
All in all, the HIBA mission to Sakhalin was a great success. Things must
have changed since Chekov's days.
Hilton Otaru: Something Different
by Carey Paterson
In July 2001, Otaru City entered the world record books for the longest
sushi ever rolled. The effort snatched the title from Aichi and clinched
Otaru's reputation as the sushi capital of Japan.
Michael Marlay, Director of Operations for the Hilton Otaru, masterminded
the endeavor to celebrate the hotel's second anniversary and to highlight
the uniqueness of the city and the hotel.
With the Hilton Otaru now in its second year, Mr. Marlay believes that being
different has been the key to success.
"Most hotels in Hokkaido have some basic ways they do things, from
the types of rooms, to the way they package themselves, to the restaurant
offers. Anything that we do here tends to be a little different. For example,
we push a lot of buffet food, where a lot of other hotels have portions
served on the table which you share. They have a basket of silverware on
the table when you sit down. We try to do something a bit more modern and
This includes changing the menu monthly or even twice-monthly.
"You can go to other hotels in Sapporo and find a menu that they've
had for ten years."
There was some resistance to change, however.
"Hilton has a very traditional name in Japan. When people walked into
this hotel, they were saying 'Oh, it's not a Hilton!' But as they've seen
what we've done, they've come to appreciate it. We have a very strong local
This is particularly true for the restaurant and banquet business. More
than half of the diners are from Sapporo. For the 296 guests rooms, the
main market is leisure travelers from Honshu, with occupancy peaking in
August and September. Although reluctant to discuss occupancy rates, Mr.
Marlay says the hotel is doing very well.
"In the first three months, all we could do was just keep up with the
With the exception of ski resort hotels, the Hokkaido hospitality industry
dreads the winter. Mr. Marlay says their location within MyCal Otaru, a
retail/entertainment complex with direct access to JR Otaru Chikko Station,
has insulated the Hilton Otaru. And package tours with Kokusai and Kiroro
ski resorts combine Hokkaido's superb natural environment with Hilton luxury
and Otaru's fine dining and shopping.
Mr. Marlay, who is thirty-one, came to Japan almost three years ago. He
studied hotel management in his native Australia before joining Hyatt Hotels,
Radisson Hotels and finally British-based Hilton Hotels. He specializes
in launches and has opened eleven hotels in seven countries during his twelve-year
The Otaru location is run for the owner, MyCal Otaru, under a management
contract. It is one of 226 Hiltons in 67 countries. An additional 150 hotels
recently were gained with the acquisition of Scandic Hotels, part of the
heavy M&A action Mr. Marlay predicts for the industry.
He sees a global winnowing that will leave Hilton and four other multinationals
as the main players. Fiercely individualistic "boutique hotels"
will keep making gains, but hotels outside these two groups will suffer.
Unfortunately, these include most of the hotels in Hokkaido. Not only are
most unaligned with multinationals, but the prefecture is still choking
on the hospitality over-development of the "bubble" economy.
"There are a lot of hotels in Sapporo that are in trouble. You'll see,
particularly in the next two or three years, a lot more of these who just
can't survive anymore."
The good news is that international tourism will grow, if only Hokkaido
can take advantage of it. Taiwan and Korea are the strongest potential markets,
according to Mr. Marlay, but he feels that Otaru lacks effective promotion
associations and international access.
"You don't want to have to add another 30 to 40 thousand yen to come
in through Narita or Kansai, because at the end of the day these are tourists.
They're paying themselves."
Amidst "The Death of Beer," A Regional Brewery Profits
By Carey Paterson
These are trying times for beer in Japan. Microbreweries are struggling
to maintain quality control and gain a market. Consumers are moving to
cheaper products. The big breweries' offerings all taste alike. Beer is
dead, declares Brian Dishman.
Dishman is the brewmaster at Otaru Beer, a division of Aleph Inc., which
also operates the Bikkuri Donkey restaurant chain. His company is hoping
to breath new life into Japanese beer by fighting these three trends.
Otaru Beer is keen to distinguish itself from jibiiru (microbrews) by
positioning itself instead as a "regional brewery."
"Jibiiru has a fairly bad image in most people's minds here,"
says Dishman. The quality is uneven, and the beer is associated with the
tourist industry, he explains. "You go to a certain city, you drink
the jibiiru, and that's it. What we want to be is a product that people
drink on a daily basis."
Unlike brewers who are dumbing down their product lines by offering cut-rate
additive-laden happoshu (low-malt liquor), Otaru Beer is producing premium
beers according to the Reinheitsgebot, a 500-year-old German law that
specifies strict natural brewing practices.
"We're not required by law to produce beer according to the Reinheitsgebot,
but we do," Dishman says. To ensure freshness, the beer is distributed
only within a 100-kilometer radius of their brewery in the Zenibako district
of Otaru City.
The countertrend most obvious to drinkers is the battle against bland
uniformity. The company makes three quite distinct beers: a pilsner that
showcases hop aromas and bitterness, a heavier dunkel that highlights
malt and natural caramel, and a weiss (wheat) beer that delivers a yeasty
Dishman confesses that he knew little about beer when his company dispatched
him to Germany. He learned.
"To become a brewmaster, you have to study biochemistry, chemical
Engineering and microbiology," he says.
Given the mature nature of the market in Japan, the next step was gaining
"We decided to look at the market and think, 'Where's the hole?'
" he says. "There are still lots of areas of town where you're
not close to a convenience store. So I thought of transporting the beer
to the customer and, better yet, trying to get it there within an hour
of their phone call."
Otaru Beer's delivery service has helped put the company in the black
when many breweries are teetering on the vurge of bankruptcy.
For companies wishing to succeed in Hokkaido, Dishman quotes Apple Computers'
"Think different. That's what we do. When we produced our first beerscevery
microbrewery in Japan was filtering their beer. People drink filtered
beer? We produced unfiltered beer. People drink mostly very light pale
lagers? We produced dark lagers - and the pilsner, but it's totally different
from the big makers'. The home delivery is the same thing. How do all
the big makers sell beer? We do it as home delivery.
"I've watched lots of companies when they bring a foreign product
from America or Europe and they say that they have to 'Japanize' it. Then
they never sell it. If they 'Japanize' it, it means they're trying to
make it like all the other things. If that's the case, then why sell it?"
To see how it's done, beer connoisseurs can take a brewery tour that was
launched in May.
Brian Dishman came to Japan from Oklahoma, U.S.A., as an exchange student
in high school and university. After graduating from the Japanese program
at Oklahoma University, he took a job at Alefe Inc., which is headquartered
in Sapporo. In 1994, the company decided to open a brewery and dispatched
Dishman to Germany and, later, Scotland where he earned his brewmaster's
license at the prestigious Herriot Watt. He lives in Sapporo with his
wife and daughter.
Kick-Starting the Economy (Part II of II) (Feb., 2001)
Although infotec companies "can succeed anywhere - or, from anywhere,"
says Randal Irwin, success takes more than good ideas. The former Executive
Managing Director of Voicenet International Corporation, a Sapporo-based
Internet consulting firm, recently returned to the U.S. after nine years
in Hokkaido and reflected on his time here.
According to Irwin, "The key to success is going to be an environment
that promotes and encourages ideas - and their implementation, that's
the most important part." For all of the great ideas he has heard, he
has found lack of will to put them into practice.
"In any country it's easy to throw up ideas. It's another thing to do
research and find ideas that make sense. People doing things 'for Hokkaido'
or 'for our town'? That vague emotionalism" is not productive. "And accountability
is a critical issue." This means accountability within companies and government
administrations. "The longer I stay here the more I find that accountability
is lacking to a shocking degree.
"There's a ton of [public financing] money out there and it's almost no
strings attached. There should be some level of accountability." He adds
that the measures to ensure accountability make no sense, citing the example
of red tape from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) regarding a
Geographic Information System (G.I.S.), a sophisticated computer mapping
and database system.
"MITI wanted 40 centimeters of documentation on a G.I.S. venture," he
says. The 40 centimeters refers not to the page length of the document,
but the stack of paper required. This was not an average amount, it was
their stated requirement: For each $10,000 of financing, Irwin says, they
needed one centimeter of documentation.
"The U.S. partner said 'We're outta here.' To avoid losing face, the Japanese
side hired part-timers to make up the 40 centimeters of paper. A Russian
graduate of the Russian Academy of Sciences said he thought he'd escaped
this," he says.
Another obstacle is the telecommunications system in Japan.
"NTT is the most arrogant bunch of swine and bandits," he says. "I tell
every NTT person I come into contact with this same thing. It's that and
only that" which is keeping Japan from getting wired up. "There are other
excuses like the difficulty of integrating kanji and the Internet. But
China and Korea seen to have no problem."
A positive change is how foreign entrepreneurs have moved from being token
outsiders to more respected contributors to the business community. Irwin
cites the case of a Japanese businessman who approached Hokkaido International
Business Association (HIBA) about how to bypass the byzantine Japanese
distribution network and import a waiting shipload of fish. A HIBA member
managed to bring in the cargo by circumventing the usual costly and inefficient
channels, benefiting both the Japanese company and the foreign intermediary.
Irwin tries not to give the impression that Hokkaido has been a disappointment.
He says he has found Japanese businesspeople more open to learning than
their arrogant Western counterparts. For all this receptiveness, however,
it is tough to change the system.
"The future of Hokkaido - of anyplace - depends on the success of the
citizens and private enterprise," he says. "People in small to medium-sized
companies are the hope of Hokkaido. Bureaucracies should clear the way
"I came here nine years ago. I realized soon that some things wouldn't
be possible. This situation has caused me to grow in ways I wouldn't have
in a more comfortable environment. It has made me think about what a company
is, what a client is. I'm actively looking for a reason to come back after
I leave. But after nine years I can't find one. There's a helplessness
to the salaryman's situation. You see people and they aren't happy. It
makes me sad. Here, a company is not about pleasing the employees, its
about pleasing the company."
He still believes his experience here will serve him well back in the
U.S. "I'm ready to put to practice what I've learned, in a more Darwinian
Sapporo's Infotec Prophet Leaves with Mixed Feelings (Part I
by Carey Paterson
Randal Irwin was a raw recruit at a computer company in Sapporo when
he had his first brush with the future.
"They told me about this thing called a modem, how computers could talk
to each other over the telephone," says Irwin of his early '90s awakening.
"After one day of using it, I knew this was it." His enthusiasm was anything
but contagious, however. The company, Hokkaido Institute of Technology,
asked Irwin why he was logging so much modem time.
"They chose not to pursue the technology," he says, and the rest was a
history of lost opportunities - until he co-founded Voice International
Corporation in 1996 as its Executive Managing Director.
Irwin says he did not want to be just another Internet access provider.
According to the charismatic 39-year-old, Voice International provides
Internet consulting services that address the real competitive needs of
"There's nothing more boring and stupid on the planet than having a roomful
of machines offering Internet access. We want the Net to have value. When
I go to a client's office, I don't use the word 'Internet'. I say, 'What
do you do? What keeps you up at night? What would shore up your bottom
line?' From there we begin talking about whether Internet services or
databases, for example, would help."
Irwin came to Sapporo in his third year at Portland State University,
on an internship program sponsored by a Sapporo business group. His six-month
internship was split between Akiyama Aiseikan Co., Ltd., a pharmaceuticals
concern, and its subsidiary, Hokkaido Institute of Technology Co. Ltd.
(H.I.T.). After graduating from Portland State in Asian Studies, he returned
to the planning department of H.I.T., where his work included software
and systems development. But his job description was intentionally undefined,
and Irwin took the opportunity to canvass Sapporo companies about their
He says he benefited from the gaijin kouka (foreigner effect), whereby
his foreignness gave him entre to high-ranking company officers and the
license to ask frank questions. His excellent Japanese didn't hurt, either.
"I would ask, 'What does your company do here? What are the necks - the
bottlenecks - to success? What would you do differently? The kind of things
a foreigner could get away with. When I reported back, [my managers] couldn't
believe what I was asking."
But his biggest surprise was the backwardness of his workplace.
"As an intern, it was a shock," he says. "I was coming from college, where
I had my own office, computer, desk. I had this image of Japan as the
high-tech capital of the planet. It wasn't. People were working at small
dented desks, carrying floppy discs everywhere. I saw people negotiating
for slots at the computer. And this was at a computer company! The president
didn't want to update because the clients didn't want to update. The company
suffered because of that."
Rather than seeing this as a business opportunity to pull its clients
ahead, the company joined them in lagging behind. "It has probably cost
the owner his business," Irwin says. "When the shakeout comes, the companies
who didn't branch out beyond this artificial environment will suffer."
"Artificial environment" is a term Irwin returns to again and again. He
is concerned about what will happen to local companies when they start
to see more competition from within Japan and overseas. Akiyama Aiseikan
no longer exists, he notes: It has been taken over by a Honshu-based company.
After nine years in Sapporo, Irwin is returning to the U.S. in January
2001 with mixed feelings about the opportunities missed by companies here.
In the Feburary issue of Xene, he talks more about Sapporo's "artificial
environment" and gives advice for kick-starting the economy.
Local Businesses Looking for Opportunity in Sakhalin
by William Kennedy
There may seem to be little connection between South Pacific seafood
and North Pacific oil, but the two are points on a winding path that local
businessman Simon Jackson hopes will lead to Hokkaido's economic resurrection.
Jackson, who is also the chairman of the Hokkaido International Business
Association (HIBA), is involved in Northpoint Network, a new local consortium
whose plans include expanding into the North Pacific region and capitalizing.
With Hokkaido serving as a service and infrastructure base for Sakhalin,
he feels the region's vast potential offers opportunities for local companies.
"What comes out of there (Sakhalin) will be just incredible," he says.
Jackson, who was born in Tasmania and educated in New Zealand, arrived
in Hokkaido some eight years ago. His first entrepreneurial effort in
Japan was as a seafood importer. Though known for seafood, Japan imports
about 70 percent of the seafood it consumes. He moved on to such esoteric
products as crocodile and kangaroo. Jackson says with a smile that he
was once Japan's leading importer of crocodile meat.
He was also exposed to the trials of being a small businessman in Japan,
where the system functions to meet the needs of larger interests. The
greatest difficulties came in dealing with banks and getting financing,
the lifeblood of a small business.
"That's where you strike 'Japan, Inc.'," he says.
Japanese banks, says Jackson, are reluctant to support smaller businesses
because they don't want to run the risk of bankrollling a potential failure.
This goes double for a company that does business overseas. Instead, a
bank will withhold its support until a given company demonstrates that
it really doesn't need help. "They wait until a company is successful
and they throw money at them," he says.
His particular problem involved the Japanese payment system of tegata,
which are promissory notes companies use to pay one another for goods
and services. These can take up to 90 days to appear in a company's coffers.
In Australia, however, Jackson was expected to pay cash for the seafood
he purchased, leaving him short until the tegata from his Japanese customers
came through. He attempted to get around this by getting a letter of credit,
a common business practice in which a bank issues a guarantee of payment
on behalf of a client. The head of the bank's international division did
not even know how such a letter worked.
The weakening of the yen in the late '90s forced him to change, and Jackson
shifted to exporting cars, tires and machinery parts. He also became more
active in HIBA, and it was as the association's chairman that he was invited
to join a trade delegation to Sakhalin sponsored by Japan's Ministry of
International Trade and Industry.
Jackson was struck by the wealth of opportunities in Sakhalin, which he
calls an economy in transition. The region's offshore oil reserves, he
says, could eventually yield as much as 200,000 barrels a day. Already,
some US$30 to 40 billion has been slated for in the project, but that
amount pales next to the potential dividends.
Larger interests such as Marui and Marubeni are already involved, but
Jackson says there are niches for companies of all sizes. Hokkaido, with
its stable infrastructure and warehousing facilities can play a key role.
He cites the example of a bolt that could take a month to arrive from
Seattle but could be supplied locally in two days.
Whatever success he and other local businesspeople may enjoy in Sakhalin,
Jackson is quick to point out that a great deal of credit must go to HIBA.
The benefits of membership range from the support a small businessperson
needs in Japan to simple experience and expertise. He also thinks you
don't need to own your own company to profit from HIBA. "I think they
should call it the Hokkaido International Business and Professional Association,"
Jackson says HIBA offers something for everyone. A recent presentation
offered tips on how to save money on Japan's rigorous shaken (car inspection)
system. "You don't have to be a businessman to want to save money on your
car," he says.
Those interested in learning more about HIBA can contact the association's
vice-chairman, Graeme Glen, at 090-3777-8012 or 011-615-3707.