The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
Japan’s cellular rates in question

When Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga remarked that Japan’s mobile phone rates are too high—and that there is room for a 40-percent reduction in cost—it set off debate.

A number of expert advisory panels operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications are expected to issue comprehensive guide­lines for competition in the mobile communications sector, in accord with the govern­ment’s view that there is ample room for a reduction in mobile phone rates.

However, the figure of 40 percent raised by Suga is based on a comparison issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of rates in other counties, in which mobile phone service in Japan was shown to be roughly double the OECD average. The ministry raised objections to this because, as one official put it, “Each country has its own user environment and contract conditions, and no data is available to enable objective comparisons.” This led to the strong counterreaction by the ministry over what it perceived to be hastily compiled data from the Cabinet Office.

Following Suga’s remarks, stock prices took a major dive across the board. NTT DoCoMo, Inc.’s Tsutomu Taguchi, who heads the G5 Promotion section, showed his apprehension. “We shall accept [Suga’s] suggestion sincerely, but doing so will have great impact on profits,” he told reporters.

SoftBank Group Corp. Vice President Jun Shimba also voiced doubts, remarking: “Any comparisons should be based on the same conditions. There is also the matter of the quality of communications, and Japan has the highest-quality 4G network.”

In support of his remarks about a 40-perent rate cut, Suga cited the expected rates from Rakuten, who will begin offering telephone service next year. However, experienced officials at the ministry regard a simple comparison as reckless, since initial invest­ment in equipment by the three major providers was much greater. That is in addition to new investments in equipment as Japan prepares for 5G service, to be introduced in 2020, and does not take into account large outlays made for anti-disaster expenditures in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011.

While it is desirable to reduce phone rates, industry players do not want to be coerced by the government. Before undertaking the major task of revamping its policies toward competition, the ministry must grapple with this problem.

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Fixed office seating to be eliminated

The Land Economy and Construction Industries Bureau, recognizing trends in office environments and workplace reform, will be adopting a system in which staff no longer have fixed seating. The system, sometimes referred to as “free address,” has become popular with major developers in the construction industry, which the bureau oversees.

The decision was made on the heels of a reorganization in July after it was determined that the existing office layout was no longer meeting space requirements. Because the bureau had no budget to obtain additional space, management decided to allow staff to work while standing or sitting rather than procure more desks.

In the work area, materials are tightly packed onto document holders and filing cabinets behind the chairs, making each desk resemble a personal fortress. But with the introduction of a free address system, these materials will be placed in staff members’ personal lockers. This is also expected to reduce unnecessary paperwork and the number of photocopies made. The new office design will provide cubicles as well as seating areas for meetings and discussions.

Some 50 workers and a department head will be utilizing the free address system. It has been suggested that this may improve com­munications by lowering the barriers between staff and supervisor, enlivening conversations, and expediting decision-making.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is the only other govern­mental office currently using a free address system and does so only on a limited scale.

keizaikai magazine