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Sunday, July 11, 2010

BIG IN JAPAN

Media fixated with China's new wealth

With the World Cup, sumo's baseball betting scandal and Sunday's Upper House election dominating the media's attention, some readers may have not noticed the extensive coverage also being devoted to China. And we're not just talking about crowds at the Shanghai Expo, but the crowds of visitors to Ginza, whose numbers are certain to increase exponentially over the next decade.

Emblazoned on the June 21 cover of Nikkei Business was a composite image of an elaborately ornamented gate bearing a sign reading "Chuka-gai" (Chinatown) straddling the Ginza 4-chome intersection between the Wako Building and Mitsukoshi department store. The title of the 15-page cover story was "Your new boss is Chinese."

While the article cited a survey by the Teikoku Data Bank last April, in which 78.1 percent of the firms surveyed said they felt "threatened" by the possibility of being bought out by newly developed economies, the message was essentially upbeat, suggesting such partnerships would provide a mutual economic stimulus over the long run.

On June 18, meanwhile, the Mitsubishi-UFG Financial Group released an eight-page report titled "The expected expansion of tourists from China and the favorable effects on Japan's economy."

Noting that from July 1, visa requirements for individual visitors from China would be considerably relaxed, the report also remarked that at ¥128,000 per person, the average visitor from China leaves behind more than those from either South Korea or Taiwan, which up to last year had been the two main sources of tourism.

Everybody wants to know which way China's yuan is headed. Japan has been obsessed with exchange rates since the "Nixon Shock" of 1971, when then U.S. President Richard Nixon unilaterally took the U.S. dollar off the gold standard and ended the system of fixing currency exchange rates vis-a-vis the dollar.

A source at the research arm of Daiwa Securities told Shukan Gendai (July 10) that efforts by China to deregulate its securities market, expected by late 2011 or early 2012, wouldn't work without changes in monetary policy, adding that he foresees the yuan rising to around 5 to the U.S. dollar. (It was trading at about 6.77 on June 9.)

The extent of the yuan's upward revaluation and its long-term implications are anybody's guess, but at least we already know where some Chinese investments in Japan have been going. Shukan Bunshun (July 15), ran a four-page article by nonfiction writer Keiko Kawazoe titled "Hokkaido is being sold off to the Chinese!" The article focuses mainly on the Niseko resort area in southern Hokkaido close to Lake Toya, site of the G8 Summit in July 2008. The article alleges funds used to purchase the properties came from tax havens in Central America or Lichtenstein, and Kawazoe suggests the buyers' intentions may be to launder money or shift assets out of China.

Shukan Shincho (July 15) ran an unmistakably negative three-page article titled "Don't allow Chinese to trample Japan underfoot," voicing concerns over the relaxing of tourist visa requirements for individuals with lower incomes. It griped at minor annoyances like an alleged propensity to discard litter on the street and potential for spreading infectious diseases like tuberculosis or sexually transmitted diseases. Finally a short item in Weekly Playboy (July 12) warned that a rise in the Chinese currency is likely to affect things near and dear to the average person. A large proportion of items sold in ¥100 shops, for instance, are manufactured in China, as are trendy items like Apple's new iPad.

Sex industry workers are another import that could be affected by exchange rates. Li Xiaomu, an author and guide who now operates a restaurant in Shinjuku's Kabukicho entertainment zone, was quoted as saying if the value of the Japanese yen declines, it's likely that women from China would no longer have the incentive to work in the area's night clubs and massage parlors. And while it may seem a bit far-fetched, Li wouldn't rule out the possibility that Japanese women might eventually be motivated to move to China to harvest the upwardly valued yuan, which might seriously deplete the workforce in Japan's pink industry.

A lso in this week's magazine headlines:

Shukan Jitsuwa (July 15) frets over the impending completion of the 634-meter-high Tokyo Sky Tree next year, fearing that the Japanese economy might fall under a century-old jinx known as the "Skyscraper Curse."

Shukan Post (July 16) grumbles over the "election business" that is set up to channel money into the pockets of the mass media, ultimately costing taxpayers ¥20 billion a year.

Aera! (July 12) looks at how cultivation of bacteria for producing such foods as natto (fermented soybeans) may rescue humankind.

Friday (July 16) introduces the ten highest paid business executives in Japan, including Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Howard Stringer of Sony, both of whom received over ¥800 million in annual remuneration.

Shukan Economist (July 13) lists up the 10 most popular goods from Japan sold on China's popular Taobaowang online shopping mall.

Sunday Mainichi (July 18) looks at changing Japanese facial features.



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