Buzz: The China Challenge ...

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2004

The latest talk.

Yet Another Ad
Think everything's an advertisement these days? Starting in early June, Tokyo Metro's Ginza subway tunnel lit up for 15 seconds with the sights of a Suntory soft drink commercial. Appearing as a mini-movie glimpsed through the train windows, the Suntory ad featured two students performing cartwheels--apparently energized by the soda.

The technique is known by the rather klunky name, "motion picture advertising technology," and is licensed by US-based Submedia. Modelled on the zoetrope, a cylindrical 19th century toy that creates the illusion of moving images when spun, the concept debuted in the US three years ago. We actually caught our first glimpse of it in New York a while back and were mildly bemused. In Tokyo, where commutes are significantly longer and more mind-numbing, and the tunnels themselves sometimes dauntingly far below the streets, the colorful moving adverts might provide some relief from the boredom and cheek-by-jowl crowds. 200,000 riders per day are expected to see the ad in action, and Submedia, already installed in Hong Kong, plans imminent expansion throughout Japan, Asia and Europe.

Still, we can't help but bemoan losing one of the few remaining bastions for reading a book, a newspaper--or a magazine like this one.

Mining the Middle Kingdom
Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business hosted its sixth annual World Business Forum at Keidanren Hall in downtown Tokyo last month, and the topic on the table was--what else?--the China challenge. The daylong event featured five Dartmouth professors with expertise in China/Japan/US trade relations moderating four panels, with topics ranging from risk management to sustaining a supply chain in the world's most populous market.

A number of leading executives from Japan and overseas gathered to listen and learn, asking sometimes pointed questions in the Q&A sessions following each panel. Difficulties with domestic shipping practices, untrained labor pools, hoary government regulations and counterfeiting were among the major headaches cited. "Eight out of 10 Disney products [in China] are counterfeit," noted Lu-Yen Wang, a Hong Kong-based Taiwanese who once headed the entertainment giant's Chinese operations. "But the company making the fakes could be traced back to the government. Its chairman was the mayor!" Adding that the Chinese government had begun "cracking down" on Taiwanese nationals in response to recent political events, Wang said that he advises his Taiwanese employees to avoid joining any organizations outside of the company.

Exasperated by the obstacles, one foreign businessman earnestly asked for success stories, eliciting some grins and sighs from the audience. After an uncomfortable pause, Patrick Powers of the US China Business Council cited two, providing a brief lesson in how to mine the Middle Kingdom without getting maimed in the process.

Baker Redux
We strolled down to the Tokyo high court last month to watch the opening day of the appeal by Nick Baker (JI, November 2003). The Briton was sentenced last year to a long stretch in jail for a drugs smuggling charge he strenuously denied. Baker's contention has consistently been that he was tricked into carrying the drugs through Narita customs, while the prosecutors have maintained that he was a knowing link in a vast global narcotics ring.

The last time we saw Baker was almost exactly a year ago, when he was led away from the district court in Chiba a weeping, broken man. He spent most of that trial shaking uncontrollably and pulling at his hair. This time, however, he seemed far more collected and thoughtful-looking.

Baker's lawyer has spent the past 12 months carefully working up a comprehensive rebuttal of the evidence and methodology of the original trial. It took a long time to read out his opening statement, and its contents were extremely detailed. When it came to the response from the prosecutor, the equivalent statement felt like it had been written on the bus en route to the court: a couple of minutes of weakly-argued generalities. Afterwards lawyers said that this imbalance was absolutely normal, and we are increasingly left with the impression that Japanese trials are decided long before the defendant walks into the room.

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