Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Ten-Four There Good Buddy...We Got Ourselves a Convoy..."

The Seventies were bizarre. I knew it at the time, and with the benefit of hindsight have been proved right by the passage of the years. Captain & Tennille juxtaposed to Johnny Rotten yet still spawning the like of CW McCall's Convoy. OMG.

Fortunately MOST things change (at least in America). And some things change elsewhere too - even Japan. But amusingly, in Japan, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, evidenced most recently by the Food Mislabeling Scandal better known as "Whatever They Tell You It IS, It Certainly AIN'T" Scandal.

Japan has a long history of nationalistic paranoia about its food and all manner of charlatans willing to capitalize upon the population's predilections. This is perhaps to be expected by cynics and skeptics alike. The UK food industry remarkably plays up domestic provenance as well and the people perhaps less remarkably lap it up (despite being Ground Zero for MadCow/CJD). In Japan however, where reverence is greater in most culinary areas, provenance is of paramount importance. 

So the shock at the initial admissions by the Hankyu group that what their establishments had been  serving up, was NOT what was billed, was indeed great, particularly in one of last places on earth where honesty survives, honor is important and shame remains an important deterrent to anti-social behavior. And the Hankyu hotel brands are not downmarket (think Ritz-Carlton!!), but elevated and venerated. They played it initially as clerical error, outdated menus blah blah, but in fact it was willful  deceit and fraud on a rather large and systematic scale. And in Japan, practices and policies like these are (like SAC for example) rarely rogue, but are likely promulgated by or from The Top. No surprises here.

For me, who has worked for a Japanese company and been involved in Japanese markets for more than twenty years, what would have been a surprise is if Hankyu was alone in its deceptions or that government ministries themselves weren't complicit. And though the latter is awaiting revelation, rather amusingly, as if one was Plane-Spotting, or watching the daily rhythm of the day unfold in clock-work fashion, everyone else soon followed Hankyu Group with similar if not identical revelations. Okura, Matsuzakaya, Isetan, Mitsukoshi, Daimaru, Takashimaya, Sogo, Seibu, Kintetsu and Odakyu groups. Whew. Apart from Jiro Ono and his sons, indeed one might wonder  if anyplace anywhere in Japan has been honest in labeling veritably what comprises their offerings.  This is the Convoy system. This is  the Japan I know and maintain my love/hate relationship with. And evidenced by the affair, little to nothing has  changed.

And so as I look upon the ongoing travails of the Mizuho Group senior management - self-perceived as  the blue-blood of  Japanese banking -  wrestling with what are [presently] singular revelations of their banking ties with the underworld and services provided to Yakuza groups, and I must smile that knowing smile...the one that was well-aware that Nui Onoue and her Magical Buddhist Toad has many powerful clients (not just the directly implicated IBJ execs)...the one that is quite sure that in Japanese corporate affairs, there is rarely a single roach...and that there must be much hand-wringing, document scrubbing and shredding, hush-money paying, and praying at the other banks, along with the groaning and straining of whatever machine keeps eyes narrowly focused upon The Few who've been found out. But my guess: other shoes will drop.... 

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