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Back to Contents of Issue: April 2004

Shinsei Soars, Microsoft Under the Scope ...

by Roland Kelts/Leo Lewis

Unfair Trade
Microsoft's Japanese headquarters were raided in a Fair Trade Commission (FTC) probe into coercive practices. The FTC swooped down on nearly a dozen large electronics makers in its search for evidence. The US software giant is under scrutiny for the deals it makes with Japanese computer makers. The FTC believes that Microsoft has been using its monopoly status to force companies such as NEC, Sony, Sharp and Fujitsu into signing contracts that strip them of key legal rights. One insider at the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry told us that the makers being questioned likely welcomed the probe: One of them may have provided the tip-off.

Shinsei Sensation
A sensational debut for the stock of Shinsei Bank created quite a stir on the Tokyo stock market. Huge demand for the shares in Japan's "newest" bank pushed the issue up by more than 60 percent in the course of just a few hours' trading. US investment firm Ripplewood Holdings LLC stands to reap huge gains; Shinsei is the first nationalized bank to return to publicly traded status. Plus, there is enormous interest from little investors -- people like you and me who have decided that the stock markets represent a worthwhile stab once again. But other companies are going to get the listing bug fairly soon, and with retail investor appetites so ravenous, we could be in for a bumpy ride.

Still the One
Feted by the Tokyo American Club (TAC), Fuji Xerox chairman Yotaro Kobayashi says that "thinking and acting for ourselves" are critical for Japanese corporations. Kobayashi received the club's "Distinguished Achie-vement Award," bestowed annually since 1995 on those who expand cultural awareness between the US and other countries, especially Japan. After celebrating its 75th Anniversary, the TAC is facing fresh competition from the Roppongi Hills Club down the road -- or not. "Not direct competition. TAC continues to be the only international club with business and leisure facilities for singles and families," members services director Rupa Graham reminds us.

Fearful Cheer
After 257 hearings, three changes of defense team, 160 witnesses and nearly nine years in court, Shoko Asahara was found guilty of several counts of murder, including the gassing deaths on the Tokyo subway in 1995. As everyone fully expected, the bearded guru was sentenced to death. But he will be appealing. He has at least two higher levels of appeal, which means that this lengthy case could easily drag on for at least another six years.

It may have been years ago, but Japanese feeling on the matter remains strong, albeit stoked by the media. More than 4,000 people lined up to get into the courtroom to hear the words of judgment (many of them being paid to do so by the Japanese TV networks), 13 helicopters buzzed above the courtroom and the weekly magazines were full of little else in the weeks leading up to the date of doom. We stood in the middle of Ginza as the news flashed on the dot-matrix screen -- and were not totally surprised to hear a cheer from the crowd as it learned Asahara would probably hang.

Compassionate Pugilist
Ex-boxer Eiji Yoshikawa has been getting a lot of press lately, though not for his exploits in the ring. Three years ago, the compassionate pugilist put together the "Peace Makers," Japan's first-ever neighborhood watchdog group to take a bite out of rising crime. Shortly after 9/11, Yoshikawa flew to New York City via Amsterdam to make sandwiches for rescue teams. A year later he began lecturing at primary schools and universities across Japan -- a golden-gloved Gandhi preaching the virtues of nonviolence, social justice and free-thinking.

Eh? A nonviolent boxer?

"Actually I encourage the fighting sports," Eiji tells us from a Shikoku primary school. "I want kids to expend all their energy in the dojo. Once you have fighting skills, you have the strength not to use them. I title my lectures: 'Ex-fighter on Nonviolence.' I learned from boxing -- 3 minutes, one round, that's it. You have to do your best. Life is the same. Three minutes or 80 years, you must always do your best." Suffice to say, during his years in the ring Yoshikawa never once tried to masticate an opponent's ear.

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