April 2017

The grand fiction called missile defense

Updated : 28.04.2017 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

There has been much talk lately in Japan about beefing up its missile defense system as North Korea, after conducting five nuclear weapons tests, keeps up its ballistic missile program, including firing four missiles simultaneously into the Sea of Japan in March. Yet given that the missile defense system was introduced in the first place as a deterrent against North Korea, it is doubtful whether the system will be effective now that Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs appear to have made such great strides and the rogue behavior of Kim Jong Un seems as unchecked as ever.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system to strike down incoming missiles. Attempts to pursue that by beefing up the missile defense system will push up defense spending endlessly. The only alternative may be to make the Self-Defense Forces capable of carrying out pre-emptive attacks on North Korean missile bases. But the government is hesitant to take such action, and relies on the offensive capability of the U.S. military. The increased tensions between Washington and Pyongyang since President Donald Trump took office in the United States sheds light on inherent shortcomings of the missile defense system.

Troubling times for South Korean manufacturing

Updated : 24.04.2017 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

The economic plight of South Korea has been exacerbated further by the political turmoil that led to the ouster of President Park Geun-hye from power. However, the key culprit that pushed the South Korean industry into hopeless gloom has been the downfall of Samsung Electronics Co. and the arrest and indictment of Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman and de facto chieftain of the Samsung group, in the corruption scandal involving Park and a confidante.

Samsung expanded by imitating and catching up with the management methods and technologies of its rivals in other industrialized economies while its founding family exerted strong leadership and made timely and bold investments. Today, its sources of strength are being emulated by Chinese manufacturers, which are rapidly catching up. The end of the Samsung era may herald the downfall of a wide range of South Korean manufacturing sectors from shipbuilding to steel and automobiles.

Friction reported between Panasonic, Tesla employees over cell battery plant

Updated : 21.04.2017 / Category Economy

The Gigafactory that Panasonic Corporation and Tesla, Inc. will build for battery cell production in Nevada is causing a few headaches for the Japanese firm, according to well-informed sources.

"Tesla CEO Elon Musk has absolute power over his company and his subordinates must obey what he says," said an insider. "Because of this, some Panasonic employees have grown frustrated in dealing with Tesla employees, who they regard as inflexible."


Nikon's bleak future

Updated : 17.04.2017 / Category Economy

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Nikon Corporation is acutely feeling the pinch following a steady stream of business setbacks over the past 10 years.

The low-cost digital camera market has virtually vanished due to the advent of smartphones, and sales of single-lens reflex cameras--Nikon's primary profit-earner--have declined as shopping sprees by Chinese tourists visiting Japan have cooled in the past few years. In addition, the Tokyo-based company lagged rivals in the development of new semiconductor lithography systems. Nikon's survival now depends on exports to liquid crystal-related plants in China, where capital investment on such facilities is ramping up.

Marubeni's chairman not awarded Russia decoration

Updated : 13.04.2017 / Category Capsule

Russia recently conferred the order of friendship to Masami Iijima, chairman of Mitsui & Co., and Yoshihiro Shigehisa, honorary advisor of JGC Corporation, for their contributions to economic exchanges between Japan and Russia. But Teruo Asada, chairman of Marubeni Corporation, which prides itself as Japan's trading house that contributes the most to economic cooperation between the two nations, was not selected to receive a decoration.

This omission has raised eyebrows because Marubeni has been more committed than Mitsui to forging cooperative economic ties with Russia. Marubeni has worked in tandem with Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on this issue, and Asada reportedly spearheaded a business strategy to jointly develop energy resources with Russian firms, culminating in the signing of memorandums of understanding over liquefied natural gas development in the Arctic region with Novatek and oil development off Sakhalin Island with Rosneft.

Japan's Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance deceived client to seal major contract

Updated : 10.04.2017 / Category Economy

In March 2015, an Osaka-based section of Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co., Ltd., was struggling to attain the sales target for the business year that would end that month. The section, which sells cargo insurance to major companies including Daikin Industries, Ltd., Teijin Ltd. and Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd., was trying to surpass about ¥1.8 billion in sales it attained the previous business year.

To reach this goal, the section resorted to "unacceptable wrongdoing," alleges a Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance insider. The company is the core member of MS & AD Insurance Group Holdings, Inc., Japan's second-largest non-life insurance company.


Yamato Transport's price hikes to sting consumers, not Amazon?

Updated : 07.04.2017 / Category Capsule

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Yamato Transport Co., Ltd., is set to start price hike negotiations with its major clients, but Amazon Japan G.K., which is believed to be Yamato's largest customer, reportedly has no intention to enter such talks.

Yamato persistently prodded Amazon, which had contracted Sagawa Express Co., Ltd., to deliver goods sold online until the spring of 2013, to switch to Japan's largest door-to-door delivery company, according to an Amazon insider. "It is very arrogant" for Yamato to suddenly demand price hikes or threaten to stop doing business with Amazon, he said.


How Trump's plans might deal a blow to Japanese firms

Updated : 04.04.2017 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

A key focus of U.S. President Donald Trump's inaugural address in January was on bringing manufacturing back to the United States and restoring employment opportunities. A number of American companies, including Ford Motor, have canceled plans to build new plants in Mexico to shift investments back to their homeland. If this constituted the first wave, the second may be transferring production back from China to the U.S., and the third might be a similar changeover from Southeast Asia. These moves could deal a serious unexpected blow to Japanese manufacturers that have been building a tight production network in Asia as a key source of their global competitiveness.

The Abes caught in political quagmire

Updated : 01.04.2017 / Category Politics

There is a passage in Great Learning, a Chinese classic describing the core values of Confucianism, that says the ancients who wanted to manifest their bright virtue to all in the world first governed well their own states. Wanting to govern well their states, they first harmonized their own clans. Wanting to harmonize their own clan, they first cultivated themselves.

If this teaching is applied to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he appears to have failed to "harmonize" his own clan. Abe's wife, Akie, has found herself at the center of a swirling scandal over a controversial land sale by the state to Moritomo Gakuen, a private educational institution in Osaka.