Don’t forget Tokyo’s less-polluted air

July 1, 2008

Takafumi Sato, commisioner of Japan’s financial regulator, makes no bones about the government’s desire for Tokyo to be the No. 1 financial centre in Asia, and he rattled off a variety of reasons why foreign investors and professionals ought to set up shop here. Among them: the world’s second largest economy, democracy and the rule of law, great restaurants, abundant household assets needing management, low crime, great public transportation, four beautiful seasons.

“Now is an excellent time for Japan to close the gap with other global markets,” Sato told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit in touting the Financial Service Agency’s “Better Market Initiative.”

But in what could be seen as a dig at rival Hong Kong, one of Sato’s reasons stuck out — “less-polluted air.”

According to Mercer’s 2008 survey on quality of living worldwide, Tokyo did top Hong Kong with a ranking of 35 compared to 70. In “health and sanitiation,” Tokyo was far ahead of Hong Kong. But another Asian rival, Singapore, is just ahead in the overall rankings at 32. And even for Japan’s renowned safety (imagine your forgotten iPod being returned to the front desk at the gym), Singapore also bested Tokyo.

Then again, there are all those Michelin-starred restaurants.

Sato’s listing of Tokyo’s attributes was in reponse partly to another issue that has cropped up when it comes to attracting talent to Japan’s megalopolis: nannies. To some critics, Japan’s strict immigration laws that make it difficult for foreign workers to bring nannies with them highlight Tokyo’s detractions.

Allan Smith, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, told the summit Japan has made strides to help foreign companies and financial firms operating here but could do more, such as better clarity in regulation.

“I wouldn’t want to say that if Japan built a Canary Wharf and offered nanny visas, everyone would come flocking. There are other things as well,” Smith said.

But one of Smith’s suggestion would likely make the FSA happy: “If Japan is going to be a financial services centre, it is going to have to increase the resources of the FSA.”

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