TT-466 -- Buying favor from the Gods, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, April 20, 2008 Issue No. 466


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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One of the great things about Japan is its religious
festivals, and there is no time better for enjoying the
culture than in the New Year. Although only an estimated
20%-30% of Japanese are actively religious, there is
something compelling about dressing up warmly and making a
trip down to one's local temple on New Year's Day
("Hatsumode" -- the first temple/shrine visit of the year)
to make an offering and pray for a good year to come. So
compelling in fact, that an estimated 70m people do just
this between December 31st midnight and January 3rd each
year. Of this number, about 3.6m people go to Meiji Jingu
in Harajuku, Tokyo -- the most visited shrine in the land.

If you've never participated in a Hatsumode visit, you're
missing a core experience. Of course it's crowded and
noisy, but the smell of yatai food at the temple gates,
the pungent aroma of incense, the warmth of the bodies next
to you slowly stepping forward, then eventually up, the steps
of the temple (Buddhist) or shrine (Shinto), then the
throwing of coins or larger denominations of cash over the
heads of worshippers 10-deep... well, that is something
rather unique to Japan.

The coin-throwing in particular is fun to watch -- and one
wonders how many worshippers at the front of the lines get
"beaned" by those at the back who can't be bothered waiting
their turn but nonetheless want to get their prayer in. If
you're patient and do get to the front, an amazing sight
awaits you. Instead of the usual musty little wooden
offering boxes, temples that are popular destinations for
Hatsumode worshippers will typically spread a massive
tarpaulin out to catch thrown cash offerings. If you go
towards the end of the day on December 1st, then you are
likely to see a small mountain of cash forming on the tarp,
awaiting collection the temple/shrine priests.

Perhaps like us, you've wondered just how much money these
temples and shrines make out of New Year?

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Well the fact is that no one is impolite enough to say, but
it's a continuing source of speculation by Japan's press.
The closest the mainstream press comes to finding out is
when one of Kyoto's most revered shrines, Fushimi Inari,
allows the media to take photos of the piles of cash being
taken in prior to counting. Fushimi Inari Taisha attracts
around 2.75m people in the first 3 days of the year, not far
short of Meiji Jingu.

Although the actual amount received isn't made public,
apparently the Fushimi Inari's Hatsumode takings from its
50 or so collection boxes take 15 bank employees five solid
days to count. Here at Terrie's Take, we thought it would
be fun to try and guess just how much this and other
similar shrines around the country are actually making.

>From our experience, typically about half the worshippers
are younger people, who throw in about 100-500 yen each
for fun, while the other half are serious punters looking for
a big favor from the local gods -- and they put in at least
1,000 to 10,000 yen each. Actually, a common amount for the
serious types is JPY2,951, since these numbers can be read
as "fukukoi" -- meaning "let some good luck come to me".
Thus, if you average out the amounts per person to, say,
between 500 and 1,000 yen, this would mean that Fushimi
Inari takes in somewhere between JPY1.375bn and JPY2.75bn
(US$13.75m - US$27.5m) in just 3 days! And this doesn't
include the various good luck charms that it sells by the
hundreds every other day of the year.

If you take this amount of money, and multiply it by the
roughly 700 major temples and shrines around the country
that are popular for New Year's Day, you get some idea of
just how big the "Hatsumode economy" is in Japan. Our guess
is that based on the Fushimi Inari take, somewhere around
JPY35bn (US$350m) finds its way into houses of worship at
the beginning of each year.

Because religious organizations are tax-exempt, they are
always having run-ins with the Tax Office, and this
momentarily lifts the veil of secrecy enough to see what
goes on behind the incense smoke. Last year, a
Hakone-based religious group were caught selling
commemorative altars to followers seeking to enshrine
their ancestors' ashes, and not declaring the income. Had
they just taken donations without delivering a physical
product -- a big tax no-no -- the income would have been
tax-free. But supplying a product (other than amulets,
omikuji fortunes, etc.) or a service (other than prayers,
celebratory and funerary services) is considered selling
for profit and is taxable.

In another interesting case, the Metropolitan Tax Office
was sued by a Buddhist temple that claimed there should be
no taxes levied on the funerals it was conducting for dogs,
cats, and other pets. The temple's creative reasoning was
that under Mahayana Buddhist teachings, humans and animals
are equal beings, and therefore since human funeral
services are not taxable, the animal rites should equally
not be taxed either. No indication of whether they got that
claim approved or not.

Clearly, if you're at the top of the heap of Japan's
roughly 225,501 religious organizations, running a sect
can be a good business. The largest Buddhist group is
the Jodo Shinshu Honganji sect, which has about 6.9m
adherents. Several years ago, the Japan Times reported that
the sect had a 10-year project, due to finish this year, to
restore its main temple in Nishi Honganji, Kyoto. The
project was expected to cost around JPY8.5bn, 2/3 of which
would be paid for by temple income such as Hatsumode
trinkets and donations, and the remaining JPY3.3bn to come
from individual member donations.

Not just a religion's buildings, but also its works of art can
be worth a fortune. Just last month, a 12-century wooden
Buddha originally owned by a temple in Tochigi, and
subsequently purchased by a foreign collector, was sold by
Christie's auction house. It fetched the princely sum of
JPY1.3bn (US$12.8m), bid by Mitsukoshi department store on
the behalf of Shinnyo-en, a Buddhist organization based in

Of course, one might ask what Mitsukoshi was doing paying
out such a large sum for a religious organization. But then
you'd be delving into the world of politics. Not
surprising really... given that money and politics (and in
Japan, religion) are such good bedfellows.

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+++ NEWS

- New moldable fluorescent lighting
- Internet TVs meeting new standards by 2009
- Foreign muso's refused entry
- Japanese lining up to buy Dairy Farmers
- Money-laundering proceeds split between Swiss and Japan

-> New moldable fluorescent lighting

Details are still sketchy, but it appears that Nikki
Chemical and Nagoya Institute of Technology have developed
a new non-toxic material that fluoresces brightly enough to
replace regular LEDs and fluorescent lights. Importantly,
the new material contains no expensive, toxic, or rare
elements (such as yttrium and mercury in fluro's, and
cerium in LEDs). The new material should appear in products
by 2010 and is mooted for a broad range of applications,
including signboards and automobile head lights. ***Ed:
This is an exciting breakthrough, in that the new material
withstands high temperatures and thus lasts longer than
white LEDs, yet is cheaper to make and power than
fluorescents.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Apr 16, 2008)

-> Internet TVs meeting new standards by 2009

A new Internet TV standard will be introduced in June,
backed by some major players, and which should result in
much better interoperability of products for consumers.
Currently, individuals buying Internet TVs have to buy a
full package of hardware, software, and programming, in
order to make it all work properly. The new standard will
mean that the hardware, software, and programming will
work with all models meeting the standard. (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 19, 2008)

-> Foreign muso's refused entry

Local concert promoters are saying that the Immigration
Bureau is cracking down on international rock acts wanting
to tour Japan. The comments have come following the
incident in November last year, where Velvet Revolver were
refused visas to enter and tour, despite a successful and
uneventful tour in 2005. reckons that drug
backgrounds and simple visa logistics are the main issues
for Immigration refusals. ***Ed: Immigration started its
crackdown on entertainers from the Philippines several years
ago. Maybe this is nothing more than a continuation of
"equal treatment" for other nationals as well -- certainly
the campaign has served to reduce the shady side of the
business.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Apr 18, 2008)

-> Japanese lining up to buy Dairy Farmers

National Foods Co., a subsidiary of Kirin, is reported to
be considering a takeover bid of rival Dairy Farmers, in
Australia. National Foods has apparently asked the
authorities whether there would be any objections if a
takeover bid was launched. Media reports say the the Kirin
company is considering a figure of around AUD900m
(JPY83.7bn). ***Ed: One wonders if this has anything to do
with the butter shortage back here in Japan, along with the
dairy foods shortage in Asia generally.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 19, 2008)

-> Money-laundering proceeds split between Swiss and Japan

Money seized from Yakuza-related "sarakin" (loan-shark)
boss Susumu Kajiyama, which was skimmed and laundered from
his extensive loan-sharking operation in Japan, has been
split between the Japanese and Swiss governments. The
amount was CHF58.4m (approx. JPY5.8bn). Kajiyama was part of
the largest Yakuza group, Yamaguchi-gumi. He was sentenced
to seven years in prison back in 2005. (Source: TT
commentary from, Apr 18, 2008)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

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