If the Nikkei’s spring rally from multi-decade lows whet appetites for a “Japan is back” soaring benchmark, it’s time to check that excessive exuberance, says Deutsche Securities’ Naoki Kamiyama, who sees a top of 10,500 yen for the Nikkei 225 and 1,000 for the Topix over the next year.
No one was expecting a return to 30,000 or even 20,000 for the Nikkei, which has found upside tough after a recent crack above the 10,000 line. But the veteran of many years of Japan asset-watching says market optimism is now meeting reality, with gains of less than 10 percent from current levels likely.
Daisuke Matsuzaka’s second trip to the disabled list this season is making some forget the Japanese pitcher’s heroics and wonder if he has been worth the investment of his Boston Red Sox team.The “Dice-K” sweepstakes dominated Japanese baseball in late 2006, as the Boston Red Sox pursued the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka — who’s now sitting — by commiting over $51 million to his then team, the Seibu Lions, and another $52 million to the pitcher and agent Scott Boras to sign.After winning the inaugural World Baseball Classic tournament MVP in 2006 with an arm that had dropped jaws since high school, Matsuzaka was more than just the best pitcher available in the country or arguably the world at that time.He was Boston’s marketing passport to baseball-mad Japan and its talent pool, as well as a poke in the eye for the rival New York Yankees who were outbid and had to settle for pitcher Kei Igawa, who’s spent most of his career in the minors at a total cost of about $46 million in contract and posting fee.Dice-K’s first year was rather underwhelming, but the Sox won their second World Series in three years and he pitched well in the post-season. Not surprisingly, Boston raised its hand to begin the 2008 MLB season in Japan, with Matsuzaka and teammate Hideki Okajima helping “Red Sox Nation” literally to try to annex the archipelago.I asked General Manager Theo Epstein in Tokyo then about the money paid to Seibu and whether the total investment in Matsuzaka had been worth it. Clearly indicating that the bar would be higher in 2008, Epstein said he was happy with Dice-K’s big game efforts, adding that the signing was far better than Barry Zito’s $126 million deal with the San Francisco Giants, the largest pitcher’s contract ever and now widely seen as a disaster. But griping by media and Red Sox faithful started with gusto in Dice-K’s second year, despite an 18-3 record. After a second WBC tournament MVP in 2009 — or because of it as he basically skipped Boston spring training and ended with a tired arm, fan and team concern has reached fever pitch with a dismal effort so far this season and now a second trip to the disabled list.Is Dice-K done? Almost certainly not, as too much money and player pride are at stake, but some reports on Japanese pitchers statistics show the third year for exports to MLB as usually when the wheels start to come off the cart, or at least the shoulder problems begin.The brutal training and playing regimen in high school, followed by overuse in Japanese pro baseball, lead to breakdown and shorter careers, the numbers seem to say.Have the returns for the Red Sox and MLB on and off the field matched the outlay?In the regular season, Matsuzaka produced on average 16 wins yearly until this season, while sparking a Japanese following for Boston that arguably exceeds the Yankees or Ichiro Suzuki’s Seattle Mariners. Unscientific sampling of MLB broadcasts in Japan seems to show more Boston content than other teams, with the Beantown club now home to three local players.Jim Small, head of MLB International in Japan, told me on Monday it’s hard to ascribe a specific number for Matsuzaka’s financial impact, or for any player, but Dice-K certainly had made the Red Sox more popular among his countrymen, while helping to secure three advertising deals for MLB, and indirectly Boston, because of his prominence and success.At home, major Japanese sports dailies reported Matsuzaka’s DL trip rather deep in the newspapers, not indicative that the hero’s travails were a blow to national status or even career-threatening. But based on manager Terry Francona’s comments, it may be mid-July at the earliest before fans on either side of the Pacific see Dice-K play again.Photo credit: REUTERS/Adam Hunger
What are the odds, but on the morning after a few Seibu shareholders asked the transport firm to offer male-only rail cars to avoid the stress of possible train groping allegations, I mistakenly walked into the women-only car in Shibuya during the crowded rush hour.Whoops, I suddenly realized – no blue suits and ties, discarded racing newspapers and pornographic manga, or slumped-over passengers letting neighbours support their weight, and it smelled decidedly better. Something was dreadfully wrong.In that millisecond it takes to sense your toe in boiling bath water, I implemented immediate retreat operations, trying to moonwalk out of the carriage without creating an international incident.I had seen Masayuki Suo’s movie “I Just Didn’t Do It” and interviewed the director, who researched cases of false groping accusations, and I knew Japan’s legal system wasn’t where I wanted to take my chances with “innocent until proven guilty”, particularly in a car where I was already persona non grata.While Yojiro Takita, the Japanese director who won the Academy Award for best foreign film earlier this year, may have made a pre-Oscar franchise of adult movies involving molesters on trains, public opinion on this serious issue is loud and clear: Rail travel in Japan is horrific enough without roaming hands. But do men really need a safety zone from these potential streetcars of framed desire, as the concerned Seibu parties contend?I’ll let the court of public opinion decide, but in that brief embarrassing moment not a single female passenger said a word, pointed a stern finger or even launched a kick, allowing me to exit with a modicum of grace and minimum of opprobrium. The conductor also appeared to grant an uncustomary few extra seconds to enable me to pack myself into the overflowing car next door, bound for glory with a full load of humanity.Photo credit: REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota
North Korea hasn’t yet rejoined the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but weekend comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the nation was mulling the possibility were replayed by Japanese media with the same gusto they gave reports on Japan qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.Pyongyang, an initial member of President George Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, was removed from the U.S. blacklist last October, after agreeing to a series of nuclear site verification measures.”Obviously, they were taken off the list for a purpose, and that purpose is being thwarted by their actions,” Clinton said.Those actions include a nuclear test on May 25 and a raft of missile launches, all of which is expected to produce a new U.N. Security Council resolution as early as this week.Japan’s Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone met with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi over the weekend in Tokyo and called for strong U.N. action to broaden measures imposed after the first nuclear test in 2006.But just how strong is an issue for Beijing, Pyongyang’s traditional ally and biggest trading partner, which is worried that instability — financial or otherwise — in the North may spill over if measures are too stringent.Greater distance both diplomatically and geographically is prompting a harder line from some Japanese groups like the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, which urged the U.S. last year not to take North Korea off its list and is calling for more Japanese action now, while politicians from both major parties and media are also joining the verbal fray.Editorials since the nuclear test have ranged from the Yomiuri Shimbun saying North Korea should suffer consequences to the more liberal Asahi Shimbun this week calling a push for first strike capability on North Korean missile sites or a decoupling from the U.S. security umbrella “overheated rhetoric” and “narrow-sighted, frivolous” defense arguments.Stil, if the U.N. passes sanctions and Pyongyang retaliates with “extreme” measures as threatened Monday, words and lists may take a backseat to actions with red cards certain to fly.