Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

JAL’s zen pilot


JAL/CEO The next boss of beleagured Japan Airlines is a 77-year-old ordained zen monk who founded multi-billion dollar tech and telecoms companies, and – unlike most Japanese corporate peers – actually backed the current ruling party.

Kazuo Inamori, honorary chairman of electronics parts maker Kyocera and critic of many modern CEOs as well as capitalism’s excesses (think an older Michael Moore at Kyoto’s Ginkakuji), says he will take the job for no salary, working only three to four days a week.

Long hours and zen resolve may be needed, though, as JAL shares slipped to 7 yen in value Wednesday, making its market capitalisation at about $200 million less than a single Boeing 747-8 aircraft.

Analysts say Inamori, who has launched a leadership school as well as his own foundation, may be the new government’s attempt to win a public buy-in that a principled outsider and his “Kyocera philosophy” of “doing good and doing well” can succeed where a slew of JAL managers have failed.

from Left field:

Japan: key to a truly global World Series?

The story goes that shortly after baseball great Babe Ruth had settled into the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo while touring Japan in 1934, there was a knock on the door. He opened it to see a Japanese man in a kimono. ''Sign baseball,'' the man said.

As soon as the Babe autographed that baseball, the man pulled another out of his kimono. Then another. And another. And another.

Going for broke?


Another love so true
That once turned all my gray skies blue
But you disappeared
Now my eyes are filled with tears
K. Sakamoto

Japan Airlines appears set to enter the hangar of court protection with $16 billion in debt, equal to a one-way Tokyo-Sapporo ticket for every citizen. The move would not be the most momentous  for Japan or for a global carrier in the age of deregulation, but it would be one of the most well-telegraphed.

from MacroScope:

What can Kan do?

Mixed reaction from major European banks to appointment of Naoto Kan as new Japanese finance minister. ING is pretty scathing, saying the appointment sidesteps a process of change Japan must undertake to avoid further stagnation or a fate far worse.

"PM Hatoyama has appointed someone with no experience in economic management... Mr. Kan takes on the finance minister role without a well documented, deeply considered policy agenda. Here we rely on reports of positions he has taken in the Cabinet, and from public statements on economic management. These suggest his instincts are to pursue a stimulus strategy involving higher government spending; a weaker yen and ultra-loose monetary policy. Mr. Kan appears tone deaf to microeconomic reform or to the threats to financial stability posed by high public debt."

SMFG banking on Asia?


The bulk of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group’s  up to $9.7 billion share issue will go to meet stricter capital requirements, but sources say the bank will use some money to hunt for more opportunities in Asia.

Asian expansion is increasingly important for Japanese lenders, saddled with low profit margins and few opportunities for growth at home. Sumitomo Mitsui already has stakes in Vietnam’s Eximbank, South Korea’s KB Financial and Hong Kong’s Bank of East Asia, and wants to benefit more from the region’s growing economies.

Boyle-san’s got tarento


USA/Struggling musicians have long made dubious claims about being “big in Japan” in a bid to compensate for weak record sales at home.

But Susan Boyle, the 48-year-old who swept to fame in Britain and the U.S. after an appearance on reality TV, looks to be genuinely on the cusp of becoming a household name in the suburbs of Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.

from Global News Journal:

Interview with North Korea border crosser Robert Park


 (Photographs by Lee Jae-won)

North Korea said on Tuesday it had  detained a U.S. citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the
state to raise awareness about Pyongyang's human rights abuses.   Robert Park, 28, walked over the frozen Tumen river from
China and into the North last Friday, other activists said. The Korean-American told Reuters ahead of the crossing that it was his duty as a
Christian to make the journey and that he was carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to step down.

Park had an exclusive interview with Reuters last week before starting on his journey. The following are excerpts from the conversation. He requested that the comments be held until he was in North Korea.  

Newly old


The character “shin”, or “new”, is on display at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu temple, selected by Japan’s kanji association as the word of 2009, with the chief priest’s calligraphy perched above the former capital, known more for its history than the au courant.


The word’s stock rose with phrases like “new Cabinet”, “new influenza”, new model Prius and new jury system. But looking at its dry, black ink on a recent trip, I wondered if the choice was also a comment on its ubiquity, or non-newness, in a marketing-saturated nation where the adjective is often pasted without any real commitment to the fresh or innovative. Two years ago the kanji for “fake” had been selected as word of the year.

Mind your train manners


Taking the train in Japan and want to avoid irking fellow passengers? Keep conversation to a whisper, turn down your iPod and put your cellphone on vibration mode.


When it comes to ridership manners on Japan’s vast network of subways and commuter trains, many foreign visitors have complained to me about the pushing and shoving and reluctance to give up seats for senior citizens and pregnant women.

I really don’t want much for Christmas


JAPAN-POLITICS/“I want to give dreams and hopes to the Japanese people,” Hatoyama told reporters on Christmas Eve when asked what “Hatoyama Santa Claus” wants to give the public this year, Japanese media said.

Hours later, Hatoyama apologised for the indictment of his former aides, who were charged over falsifying political funding records to make cash funneled from Hatoyama’s own family fortune look like donations from individuals.