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Why the Media's Silence on Japanese Protectionism Gives Trump Another Priceless Opening
In few places has Donald Trump’s rise caused more unease than in Tokyo. Indeed it is probably safe to say that, underneath an ostensibly imperturbable exterior, top Japanese officials are running far more scared than even Trump realizes. They have a lot to be scared about. Much of what the Washington establishment thinks it knows... Read More
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A $10,000 Invitation to FT Editor-in-chief Lionel Barber
Dear Lionel: I refer to your public assurances that the Financial Times’s independence will not be compromised by the Nikkei takeover. You are misinformed. Frankly, I concur with the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston who has tweeted that this is a “desperately sad” moment. As you know, I have spent 27 years covering finance and... Read More
For years, anglophone media ignored the Japanese economy’s strengths. Now it’s time for a rethink
For decades the Financial Times has hardly had a good word to say about the Japanese economy. It is a special irony therefore that the paper’s longtime British owner, the Pearson group, has now agreed to sell it to the Tokyo-based Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) group. How come it is Nikkei that is buying the... Read More
The other day the New York Times highlighted anti-black discrimination in Japan. Focusing on the experiences of Ariana Miyamoto, a half-black/half-Japanese beauty queen who was born in Japan and enjoys full Japanese citizenship, the Timespresented a troubling and convincing account of a degree of explicit racial discrimination long unthinkable in respectable circles in the United... Read More
In this space last Sunday, I highlighted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address a joint session of Congress. As I pointed out, never before has a Japanese Prime Minister been accorded such an honor. Yet of all Japan’s post-1945 Prime Ministers, Abe would appear to be the least... Read More
Perhaps the highest honor the United States can confer on a foreign dignitary is to invite him or her to address both houses of Congress. Invitees join an exclusive club that has included such esteemed figures as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, and Corazon Aquino. Now the currency is... Read More
In the spring of 1995 – twenty years ago almost to the day – I published a book about Japan entitledBlindside. Endorsed by such long-time Japan watchers as James Fallows, Sir James Goldsmith, and John Kenneth Galbraith (Galbraith had clocked considerable on-the-spot experience as a senior official of the American occupation in the late 1940s),... Read More
How much silicon is there in Silicon Valley? Not much, if we are talking super-pure monocrystalline silicon, which is the high-end material driving the digital revolution. As with countless other advanced materials these days, most of the world’s semiconductor-grade silicon comes from Japan (yes, Japan Inc has kept on trucking even if this is rarely... Read More
Even judged by the usual indiscriminate scorn heaped on the Japanese economy these days, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge seem exceptionally dismissive. In their latest book The Fourth Revolution, they contend that illegitimate entities have acquired a “frightening” chokehold on the Japanese government, and add that for decades Japan has “failed to fix its sclerotic... Read More
This story appears in the December 2014 issue of Forbes Asia. Honda and Toyota stand out as the Japanese automobile industry’s strongest players. So when in 2008 Honda launched the FCX Clarity, the world’s first plausibly commercial fuel-cell car, people wondered why Toyota was nowhere in this exciting new technology. Now the shoe is on... Read More
The Double Whammy
Japanese stocks suffered their biggest one-day plunge in more than four months following an announcement that the world’s third biggest economy had slipped back into recession. The two consecutive quarters of negative growth were triggered by an increase in the sales tax that was implemented by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April. The VAT tax... Read More
According to press reports this morning, the Japanese economy is now yet again in recession. Poor, poor Japan, you might think! How unlucky it has been, plagued by a bizarre series of economic accidents and miscues for nearly 25 years! Is it time we reached for our checkbooks and made a Christmas donation to the... Read More
As most Americans, if not the financial media, are aware, Quantitative Easing (a euphemism for printing money) has failed to bring back the US economy. So why has Japan adopted the policy? Since the heavy duty money printing began in 2013, the Japanese yen has fallen 35% against the US dollar, a big cost for... Read More
At a welcoming banquet in Japan in the 1980s, Ford Motor chairman Philip Caldwell received a memorably double-edged compliment. “There is no secret about how we learned to do what we do, Mr. Caldwell,” said the head of Toyota Motor , Eiji Toyoda. “We learned it at the Rouge.” Toyoda was referring to Ford’s fabled... Read More
Class Warfare Saps the Economy
By every objective standard, Abenomics has been a complete flop. Household spending has plunged, wages have dropped for 23 months in a row, inflation is on the rise, the number of workers who can only find part-time jobs has ballooned to 38 percent, and most economists now expect 2nd quarter GDP to shrink to minus... Read More
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Retail Sales Apocalypse leaves Abenomics in Tatters
Plunging retail sales and rising inflation have rocked Japan’s anemic economy and cast doubt on the future of Abenomics. While the US Commerce Department announced that first-quarter growth in the United States had slipped into negative territory for the first time since 2011 (-0.1 percent), the news from Tokyo was even grimmer. Following a tax... Read More
Last month I recounted how a top U.S. law firm had agreed to help shadowy Japanese interests try to portray the so-called Comfort Women – the sex slaves grotesquely abused by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II – as no more than common prostitutes. As I pointed out, the case is totally toxic... Read More
For anyone who follows East Asia, here’s a question: what is Japan’s guiltiest secret? The “comfort women” scandal? The Nanking massacre? Official homage to war criminals at the Yasukuni shrine? No, no, and no. If by a guilty secret we mean something that Japan really, really wants to sweep under the rug, none of the... Read More
Enough Already
It looks like QE is going to end with a whimper instead of a bang. The bigwigs in the G-20 have put the kibosh on Japan’s money printing extravaganza. While most analysts expect the Bank of Japan (BoJ) to announce more “easing” in the days ahead to counter weakening economic data and droopy stock prices;... Read More
Would any self-respecting U.S. law firm represent a client who suggested the Jews deserved the Holocaust? Probably not. As a matter of honor, most law firms would run a mile, and even the least honorable would conclude that the damage to their reputation wasn’t worth it. Where imperial Japan’s atrocities are concerned, however, at least... Read More
Abe's Kamikazenomics Slashes GDP to 0.7 Percent
Abenomics has been great for stock speculators and corporate bigwigs, but for everyone else, not so much. The fact is–despite all the media hype and monetary fireworks–Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s three-pronged strategy to end 20 years of deflation has been a total bust. But don’t take my word for it, check out this clip from... Read More
In this space last week, I mentioned the strange story of Takeo Tamiya, who, in becoming president of the Japan Medical Association, rose to the highest pinnacle of the Japanese medical profession in the immediate aftermath of World War II. To say the least this was an undeserved triumph. With the possible exception of Nazi... Read More
The New York Times the other day suggested that Japan may revoke its apology to the so-called comfort women, the sex slaves used by the Japanese imperial army during World War II. The Times was vague about the details – probably because it has next to nothing to go on. For anyone who knows Tokyo,... Read More
Aerospace execs sell their industry to Japan­—one part at a time.
At a welcoming banquet in Japan in the 1980s, Ford Motor chairman Philip Caldwell received a memorably double-edged compliment. “There is no secret about how we learned to do what we do, Mr. Caldwell,” said the head of Toyota Motor, Eiji Toyoda. “We learned it at the Rouge.” Toyoda was referring to Ford’s fabled River... Read More
After some scarifying teething problems, the Boeing Dreamliner now seems to be becoming belatedly accepted as the wonder plane it was always cracked up to be. Though that is excellent news, it says far less about the health of the U.S. aerospace industry than Boeing executives would have you to believe. The fact is that... Read More
Shifty Shinzo's Corporate Welfare Program
Abenomics is based on the idea that if you give rich people a lot of money, they’ll spend it and the economy will get better. There are a few minor flaws to the theory, however, like the fact that it doesn’t work. While trickle down has greatly impacted the sales of Gucci handbags, Farragamo scarves,... Read More
Corporate Plantations to Bolster Growth
“Japan appears to be turning an economic corner.” US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew Japan hasn’t turned the corner. Japan is merely doing what it’s been doing for the better part of the last 15 years, fumbling around with interest rates, fiscal stimulus, and goofy monetary policies in order to siphon more wealth from the working... Read More
American newspapers have long been notorious for the credulousness of their foreign correspondents. But even by the American press’s normal standards, the Washington Post excelled itself the other day. Its Tokyo correspondent, Max Fisher, reported in all seriousness that the Japanese are not getting enough sex. He added: “This is more than a story about... Read More
Ferraris for the Rich and Bupkis for Everyone Else
Ferrari sales are going gangbusters in Japan, but beer sales have started to fizzle. That’s all you really need to know about Abenomics. According to Bloomberg: “Ferrari said sales in Japan will rise by 30 percent this year….(Sales have already) increased 28 percent in the first six months. Lamborghini sales are also soaring. According to... Read More
The Abenomics Flimflam
Abenomics is largely a bunko-scam wrapped in public relations gibberish. It has no chance of producing a strong, sustainable economic recovery. The real aim of the policy is to temporarily juice GDP with a sizable blast of fiscal stimulus ($100 billion) so the Bank of Japan can stealthily transfer more money to its chiseling investor... Read More
The International Olympic Committee has made a safe choice in naming Tokyo the venue for the 2020 summer games. For a start no city in the world boasts a hotel industry better equipped to accommodate a sudden influx of foreigners. Indeed, contrary to Tokyo’s image as an impossibly expensive place, hotel rates are actually quite... Read More
I have been accused of being Irish. I plead guilty. Though I have spent most of my career abroad, I could hardly have had a more Irish childhood: born in remote Donegal in 1948, I was brought up in the sort of traditional Irish countryside immortalized in the John Ford movie, The Quiet Man. My... Read More
Few “facts” of modern history have become so firmly established as the idea that the Japanese economy flamed out in the early 1990s. This story has greatly discombobulated other nations’ policymaking, not least, as we will see in a moment, policymaking in the United States. Yet the “lost decades” story is not just a hoax... Read More
When New York-based corporate restructuring artist Daniel Loeb first went after the Tokyo-based electronics giant Sony some weeks ago, he looked like a butcher with a meat cleaver. Now he is behaving more like a surgeon with a scalpel. In the meantime he evidently read Japan for Dummies. At the outset his intent seemed to... Read More
The Economics of a Fanatical, Rightwing, Militarist Crackpot
Liberal economists in the US are absolutely ga-ga about Abenomics, and for good reason. Under Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's leadership the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has flooded financial markets with money pushing stocks up nearly 80 percent in a matter of months, while $116 billion in fiscal stimulus has turbo-charged the real economy lifting... Read More
PM Abe Prepares to Hammer Working People
Japanese markets were whipsawed for a second time in three days while the yields on Japan Government Bonds (JGB) inched higher. The benchmark Nikkei Index shed 469 points in Monday's session lopping another 3 percent off Thursday's 7.3 percent plunge. Skittish investors are exiting stocks fearing that Abenomics and the Bank of Japan's (BoJ) efforts... Read More
Media Wants it Under the Wraps
"Almost the entire rich world is stuck in a zero interest rate liquidity trap situation, and I think everybody is haunted by the possibility that there's no way out of it. If Japan shows a way out of that, it will be very encouraging." - Greg Ip, U.S. editor of the Economist This is big,... Read More
Big news! The Bank ofJapan is set to double Japan’s money supply. At least that is what Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda is currently saying. I have to enter the caveat, “currently saying,” because as a veteran of 27 years of Japan-watching from a base in Tokyo, I know that the officially stated positions... Read More
A recurring theme in theWall Street Journal’s editorial pages since the 1970s has been that Japanese markets are “among the world’s most open,” and that in failing to sell in Japan theDetroit auto companies have only themselves to blame. Baloney, of course – albeit baloney that virtually no one inWashington, let alone in Tokyo, has... Read More
Is the United States finally — after fifty years of constant disappointment — on the verge of blasting open the Japanese market? The Washington Post seems to think so. Under the headline, “Japan’s economic turmoil may provide an opening for the U.S.,” the Post’s international economics commentator Howard Schneider recently suggested that Japan was being... Read More
Suppose you have a friend who is a notorious hypochondriac. Suppose too that you have just discovered you may have a life-threatening illness. Would you selflessly waste time ministering to your demanding friend’s latest sniffle – or would you first get your own health checked out? It seems like a no-brainer but if it is... Read More
Paul Krugman has taken another look at the Japanese economy and pronounces it no basket case. I am happy to second that motion. Having lived in Tokyo solidly for 27 years, I know that during the decades ofJapan’s alleged stagnation, living standards have actually improved faster in Japan than they have in the United States.... Read More
Suddenly the press is full of fears of a Chinese crash, and some of the more daring commentators are even predicting that China will follow Japan in suffering endless “lost decades.” All this is said to bode ill for such U.S. stocks with serious China exposure as Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, and Yum! Brands.... Read More
For more than two decades now I have been an outspoken Cassandra on America’s prospects. But why? It is a question that is often asked and my reply routinely draws blank stares: America’s basic problem is excessive individualism. For many Americans the idea of too much individualism is, of course, an oxymoron. But you can... Read More
The Problem is Deflation with a Capital "D".
“If possible, I’d like to see the Bank of Japan purchase all of the construction bonds that we need to issue to cover the cost.” Shinzo Abe, President of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Japan's next prime minister has a plan for ending deflation, increasing exports and boosting growth. Unfortunately, entrenched elites in big business... Read More
Is the Washington Postracist? I ask the question in all seriousness. Yes, I know that, at a conscious level, the paper strives to do its best. And, to its credit, it has certainly been in the vanguard of efforts to make up for the terrible disabilities once visited on American minorities. But what about the... Read More
Why won’t anyone talk about Tokyo’s auto protectionism?
Mitt Romney was in his element a few years ago as the Obama administration struggled to rescue the Detroit auto industry. In an eat-your-spinach tone, he ticked off his recommendations for reform. Top management should go, executive dining rooms should be shut, and factory wages slashed. Then there were the industry’s “legacy costs”: given how... Read More
Well traveled Americans know that cellphones inJapan have long led the world in innovation. Yet Japanese handset makers have never enjoyed much success in selling their spectacular products abroad. What gives? The conventional wisdom is that the Japanese have been stymied by something called the Galapagos Syndrome: like the strange animals and plants that Darwin... Read More
Try this thought experiment: Suppose that ExxonMobil Corporation needed a new group chief executive. Rolling the dice a little, it reached into its Saudi Arabian subsidiary and tapped a tried and tested Saudi national there. No matter that he did not speak or read English. ExxonMobil’s board assured him that enough people in New York... Read More
If you think you are well informed on high technology, here’s a question: Which Japanese corporation, formerly a manufacturer of humble commodity textiles, now ranks among the top ten players in the global aerospace industry? Give up? The answer is Toray Industries. I tried this question at a gathering of U.S. executives in Tokyo recently.... Read More
Category Classics
Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?
The sources of America’s immigration problems—and a possible solution