Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

An industry in the pink

May 25, 2009

One evening recently, about a dozen stock traders and a couple of reporters including myself met for dinner and drinks at a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district.

It was the second this group had come together, and everyone seemed in a good mood initially, chatting away, drinking beer and sake, as well as enjoying the delicately prepared sashimi.

But things soon turned to the harsh realities outside. It’s no surprise that the world’s second-largest economy and those trading in its financial markets have had a rough ride in the turmoil since the collapse of Lehman Brothers last autumn.

The jobless rate hit a four-year high of 4.8 percent in March and the availability of work sank to a seven-year low. In the securities industry, people have even held pink-slip parties at their former watering holes.

 

“Am I the only person here who’s not wearing a suit and tie?” one man at the party wondered, and he was right — nearly every guy there appeared to be dressed formally.

He then told me about leaving his foreign brokerage recently and switching to online trading to keep up his market skills.

After more food and drink, party-goers started mingling and exchanging business cards as networking has become a matter of career self-preservation.

“I came here not for entirely innocent reasons,” a younger man working for a foreign broker told me jokingly. “You never know what will happen with our jobs in this day and age.”

Even we reporters did our share of commiserating with each other, comparing notes on things like the staffing of our newsrooms, also hit by tough economic times.

As dinner wound down, one man said, “It’s sure nice meeting like this to let off steam in such times,” while another added: ”It’ll be easy to get a cab home as no one takes taxis these days.”

Thinking back to a soaring market almost two decades ago, he said with a faint smile: “It used to be impossible to catch one around here during the bubble economy days.”

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