Back and Forward

A slightly irreverent look at some of Japan’s biggest business stories.

BinocularsLooking for new customers...
With sales hurting due to the recent economic downturn, Japanese firms are making serious efforts to diversify their customer bases. While Kirin has a team of seven women dedicated to developing new products aimed at the ladies, Suntory has begun advertising its “Diet Nama” (diet beer) in women’s fashion magazines. In the cinema industry, a new Shinjuku movie theatre offers luxury seats at ¥5,000 each and a “Platinum Room” for couples that clocks in at ¥30,000 per film. Another movie theater in Toyosu has a cafe with a bar, which might come in useful for romantic comedies.

Dice...and new gamblers
Another industry hoping to attract more female patrons is pachinko. In 1995, the industry brought in nearly US$300 billion, a figure which shrank to US$257 billion in 2006. Over 4,000 pachinko parlors have closed over the past decade. Newer pachinko parlors are even stepping up their customer service in an effort to get more people to try pachinko for the first time. What could be next in the effort to make pachinko more mainstream and less seedy? One operator has already applied for an initial public offering on JASDAQ, with the rest of the industry anxiously awaiting the application result.

iPhone displaying a trainTrains for iPhones...
Train operators are also stepping up the comfort level of their services. The Odakyu Corporation has introduced a new train for its Romance Car line, and now runs its route directly on the Chiyoda subway line. The interior is intended to feel more luxurious, and the new model offers increased legroom. Meanwhile, the new N700 series Shinkansen will run along the Tokaido and Sanyo lines from this summer. The new trains boast electrical outlets, wider tray tables, and from March 2009, wireless Internet access— a service bound to impress iPhone users.

Currency...and greater sales for foreign firms in Japan
While domestic firms struggled in fiscal 2007 and the value of household assets fell by an estimated 3.6%, foreign firms operating in Japan posted record sales for the second consecutive year, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The 1.3% rise in sales was lead by firms tied to the petroleum products and automotive industries. 106 foreign firms entered the Japanese market in 2007, down from 132 in 2006. At the same time, some 128 foreign firms left Japan in 2007, up from 106 in 2006.

GuitarePrivatization meets musicians...
A loan application with a false name, date of birth, phone number and hanko passed through screening at the Japan Post Bank. The victim in the case had reported his post office cash card stolen from his home in February. Nonetheless, money was withdrawn from his account in March, April and May. The post office apparently did not shut off his card until June 27. The criminal used the card information in February to get a loan for about ¥380,000 in order to buy an acoustic guitar.

Oil Barrel...and oil money meets China
As the Japanese government continues to stall in its discussions on whether or not to set up a sovereign wealth fund, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) has announced that it will triple the level of its investments in Japan to about US$48 billion. The KIA is believed to be seeking value in firms that are expanding their operations in the Chinese market, and it has been speculated that the fund may be interested in taking up holdings in automotive firms.

Ken Worsley runs
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