Japan

The Japanese Are Dumping Their Gold

In Japan, people who are old enough to have lived it as adults still reminisce about the bubble that blew up in 1989 when the Nikkei almost hit 40,000 (now 9,045) and when the sky-high prices of real estate could only go up further. The slide from top to reality has been brutal, and a lot of people lost their shirts. But there has been one investment that has worked out phenomenally well for the otherwise hapless Japanese investor: Gold.

Japan’s Sanctimonious Finance Minister

There are certainly some topics that Japan can lecture France on, for example standing in line. In Japan, a line is a display of communal discipline. In France, a line is something to be worked actively. Japan can also lecture France on designing and making cars and electronics. But the topic that Japan—fiscally the most undisciplined country in the developed world—can’t include in its sermon to France is fiscal discipline. And yet….

The Real Reason For Deflation in Japan

Japan was a shockingly expensive country twenty years ago. Back then, the US government pushed Japan to open up its markets, and it is still pushing, in some sectors with little success. But over the years, Japan has become less restrictive to imports. The result: more competition and lower prices—but surprising barriers remain, and some prices are still astoundingly high.

An IMF Absurdity

On April 20, finance chiefs and central bankers of the G-20 hold a shindig in Washington DC. At issue is money. Bailout money for the Eurozone. The IMF wants to dig deeper into its pocket, but the amounts are skyrocketing, and … “We certainly need more resources,” explained IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Bankrupt countries try to bail out bankrupt countries. And taxpayers everywhere get to foot the bill.

A New Beginning in Japan: Glimmers of False Hope?

April 1 marks a new beginning in Japan and coincides roughly with the arrival of cherry blossoms. The first ethereal pink was sighted last week in Kochi. Now blossoms have appeared in Tokyo. Full bloom is expected by Friday. Last year, after the horrific earthquake and tsunami that took over 18,000 lives, cherry-blossom events had been canceled. But this year, it’s different. And there is even an uptick in the numbers.

A Revolt, the Quiet Japanese Way

New revelations seeped out about the control Japan’s nuclear industry had over regulators. In 2006, the Nuclear Safety Commission studied the enlargement of disaster-mitigation zones. But the Economics Ministry put an end to it, worried that it ”could cause social unrest and increase popular anxiety.” Five years later, after the preventable meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant, the people paid the price.

March 11 Earthquake and Tsunami: A Personal Perspective

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 a year ago and the nuclear catastrophe that followed are personal to me: my wife is from Tokyo, and my in-laws live there. To our immense relief, no one we know was hurt. But others weren’t that lucky: 15,854 died and 3,155 are still missing. This missive, written by my wife four days after the quake, depicts the chaos in Tokyo, the emotions, and the unique Japanese ways of coping with it.

Evaporating Japanese Pension Fund Assets

Japanese pension funds face a tricky situation. On one side is an investment environment of near-zero yields, declining real estate values, and a stock market that is down 75% from its peak in 1989. On the other side is a ballooning retirement-age population who enjoys the longest life expectancy in the world. So the one thing they don’t need is pension fund assets evaporating from an asset management firm.

Nuclear Contamination As Seen By Japanese Humor

After an endless stream of horrid reports on the tragedy of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, we’re ready for something … lighter. This has been circulating in the Japanese internet community for months, has garnered countless comments, and a lot of nodding, agreement, and knowing smiles because it represents, in the eyes of many Japanese, a larger tongue-in-cheek truth.

Unpopularity Contest at the Edge of the Japanese Abyss

While all eyes are on the Greek farce, a much bigger fiasco on the other side of the globe is advancing at an inexorable pace. All Japanese prime ministers since Koizumi slither down a steep slope that lasts between 8 and 15 months. When approval ratings drop into the low twenties, they’re replaced by a new sacrificial lamb. And Prime Minister Noda is on a straight line down to replacement hell—while economic fundamentals are falling apart.