JIN-196 -- Dealing with Car Authorities Isn't That Simple

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business and Technology News
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Issue No. 196
Thursday, September 12, 2002
Tokyo

CONTENTS

++ Viewpoint: Dealing with Car Authorities Isn't That Simple
++ Noteworthy News
- eBank to Start Money Transfer Services via Email
- Mitsubishi Corp. to Launch a Buyout Fund in the US
- Tokyo Offers Cheaper/Faster ADSL Services than Other Cities

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++ Viewpoint: Dealing with Car Authorities Isn't That Simple

My old 4WD Mazda is a little out of shape, but still runs beautifully.
The only problem is that I'm not allowed to drive it or get rid of it;
all I can do is to pretend as if it didn't exist. I'm simply stuck
with it.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) claims that
the system of mandatory car inspections, or 'shaken', "sets forth a
vehicle control basis in a modern, highly motorized society" and its
role will grow as more and more automobiles are used. According to the
ministry, Japan is one of the world's largest car producers as well as
one of the largest users; in March 2001, the Japanese had 75 million
cars, about 10 percent of the world's total. While I do agree that
there must be some sort of regulation in order to ensure what the
ministry calls "a harmony between automobile and the society," how do
they expect me to follow regulations if all the options available for
me break their rules?

I bought the used car five years ago from a French couple who left
Japan shortly afterwards. The couple didn't know the original owner,
a Brit named Hugo, and neither did I. But, they left me with Hugo's
certified signature authorized by the British Embassy.

That document was supposed to get me ownership of the car, but it
didn't. When I presented the paper to a local Land and Transport
Office (LTO) under the MLIT to change the license plate, they told me
that the document was outdated by a few months. I argued that his
signature, unlike a seal, will always stay the same, so why bother to
update it, but they simply shook their collective head, saying that
they only accept a paper issued within the last three months. I
explained that I had no way of knowing Hugo's whereabouts, but they
simply told me "sorry." So, unbeknownst to him, Hugo still owns a
car in Japan.

The funny thing, though, was that the authorities had allowed me to
pay taxes and go through biannual 'shakens' on behalf of Hugo. The
Tokyo government, being in charge of collecting car taxes, simply let
me pay his share, and the local LTO, responsible for the inspections,
gave me the green light. I'd gone through two 'shakens' this way. Each
time I expressed my wish to change the ownership into my name, but
nobody at the LTO seemed to know how that could be possible. The
authorities didn't seem to care who owns the car as long as the taxes
were paid and inspections were done. Until this year.

For my third shaken, the Tokyo government wouldn't let me pay the tax
as the government had deleted Hugo from the taxpayers' list. Without
the tax payment, the car wasn't qualified for the inspection. To make
matters worse, the LTO doesn't allowed me to scrap and de-register a
car that didn't belong to me.

What was I supposed to do if I wasn't allowed to drive the car or get
rid of it? I asked my agent when he brought the car back to me. He
suggested that I could perhaps get it dismantled but do nothing about
the registration: in this way the car would simply go 'missing' just
as its owner Hugo did.

I made a bunch of calls to point out the contradiction. After a few
unsuccessful calls, I was connected to a person who sounded
reasonable. He suggested that perhaps the Tokyo government and I could
come up with what he called a "gentlemen's agreement." The Tokyo
Government cannot change the ownership (as it is MLIT's business), but
it could re-activate Hugo's name as a taxpayer and let me pay 'his'
taxes on the condition that I would agree to meet annual deadlines for
the payment and that I wouldn't claim an adjustment even if it should
occur, he said.

Now I'm back to square one. It looks likely that I will be able to
drive the car as long as I pay taxes and get the inspections done.
Whether I feel "in harmony with" the car authorities is quite a
different matter, though.

-- Sumie Kawakami

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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS
(Long URLs may break across two lines, so copy to your browser.)

** eBank to Start Money Transfer via Email

In Brief: Internet bank eBank will start a new service allowing
customers to transfer money via email accounts in October. The sender
will be able to send money to the receiver by simply punching in his
email account. Both the sender and the receiver need to register their
email accounts in advance. Initially, the service will be limited to
those who have an account with eBank, but the company will expand the
service to money transfers to other banks' accounts.

Commentary: The system of money transfer via email account has been
developed by a US venture firm, PayPal. The system has been used in
the US and has already 17 million users.

The bank was founded by an ex LTCB banker Taiichi Matsuo last year,
and within a year it has acquired 500,000 accounts. The growth has
been slow: eBank suffered a net loss of 3.7 billion yen in the year
through March 31. But president Matsuo boasts that the bank will
become profitable in fiscal 2002 as targeted.

Source:
eBank
http://www.ebank.co.jp/p_layer/lev2/2002_07_15.html

** Mitsubishi Corp. to Launch a Buyout Fund in the US

In Brief: Major trading house Mitsubishi will launch a buyout business
in the US, according to the Nikkei Shimbun newspaper. The report said
that the company will establish a $150 million fund to buy "old
economy" related businesses such as machinery and food makers.

Commentary: There was a time when foreign buyout funds were called
vultures, buying up what was left of ailing "Japan Inc." Over the past
few years, the buyout business has become more common in Japan and
there are now many Japanese buyout funds buying up Japanese firms.
With Mitsubishi planning to buy ailing US firms, Japanese firms may
become more active in the corporate revitalization business in the US.

Source:
Nikkei Shimbun Newspaper (September 7, 2002)
http://www3.nikkei.co.jp/kensaku/kekka.cfm?id=2002090700789

Link:
"Doctor in the House" from the June 2002 issue
http://www.japaninc.net/article.php?articleID=821

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**Tokyo Offers Cheaper/Faster ADSL Services than Other Cities

In Brief: According to a survey by the Ministry of Public Management,
Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications, Tokyo's ADSL prices were
cheaper than major Western cities in fiscal 2001. According to the
report, while an ADSL subscriber in Tokyo pays 2,453 to 5,050 yen per
month, a NY subscriber pays 5,979 to 7,176 yen for similar services.
In London and Paris, the price is somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000
yen.

Tokyo ADSL carriers also offer faster services: In Tokyo, most ADSL
services are 1.5Mbps or 8Mbps, while they are 512kbps or 768kbps in
most other cities, the report says.

Commentary: OK, Tokyo's broadband services are cheap. But
international or long distance calls are still expensive.
International calls originating in Tokyo are still the second most
expensive in the world, trailing only London, the report says.

Source:
Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications
http://www.soumu.go.jp/s-news/2002/020911_1.html

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