China is no longer making a secret of its ambition to gain dominance over the western Pacific as it sends its warships into Japanese territorial waters and contiguous zones. Behind these actions lies Beijing's cunning calculation of the international community's reactions.
When a Chinese naval vessel recently invaded Japanese territorial waters near Kuchinoerabu Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, Beijing insisted that the area constituted an "international strait" through which any ship can pass—thus resorting to a "legal warfare" for the first time.
With Japan unable to make a rebuttal, China's propaganda could very well impact global public opinion.
At the general shareholders meeting held at a luxurious Kyoto hotel on June 17, Nidec Corp. Chairman and President Shigenobu Nagamori was in a typically bullish mood.
"People who sell our shares now are crazy," he told the attendees. "Our business is on the up and up."
When asked by a shareholder about his dream for the Kyoto-based motor developer and manufacturer 100 years from now, Nagamori mentioned the explosive growth expected in the market for motors for robots. "The wind is at our backs," he bragged. "The market will be worth more than ¥10 trillion. It could be ¥100 trillion or even ¥1 quadrillion."
Under new president Satoshi Tsunakawa and amid efforts to bounce back from its recent accounting scandal, Toshiba Corp. is embroiled in courtroom mudslinging with five former executives.
Toshiba filed a damages suit last year against former presidents Atsutoshi Nishida, Norio Sasaki and Hisao Tanaka and two former chief financial officers over the accounting scandal. The company, which originally sought ¥300 million in damages, has since increased the compensation money to ¥3.2 billion as it claims responsibility for the illegal accounting practice lies with the old management team.
Toyota Motor Corp's new sales strategy for its Lexus models is provoking the ire of dealers.
The carmaker is currently in the process of introducing a new store design. Following the opening of a second Lexus dealership based on the new design in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, in March, Toyota has instructed existing dealerships across the nation to introduce the new, remodeled look.
In June, it became clear that over the past year or so, Denso Corp. has snapped about 10 million shares in Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd., boosting the former's total share count to 12.96 million, around 4.4 percent of Aisin's total issued stock, making it the firm's third-largest stockholder.
Denso has invested about ¥50 billion in a series of recent transactions. However, such moves, which seems to run counter to Japanese firms' efforts to end the practice of cross-share holding as a symbol of corporate governance reforms, are triggering rumors within the Toyota Group.
Central Japan Railway Co. has effectively scrapped its plan to single-handedly shoulder the projected ¥9.1 trillion construction cost for the Shinagawa-Osaka Linear Chuo Shinkansen, after the government last month green-lighted a ¥3 trillion payment to the company—also known as JR Tokai—under its Fiscal Investment and Loan Program (FILP).
The funding for the maglev train project is incorporated in the "big-boned policy" (guidelines used to draft fiscal-related policies), which the Cabinet endorsed on June 2.
"It's a complete about-face," said a reporter at a major national daily.
In an attempt to stride into the future, Mizuho Financial Group Inc. (MHFG)—a major Japanese megabank group—has undertaken a gigantic project to update its accounting computer system. However, the move is proving less of a walk in the park, and more of a death march.
In the software industry, the term "death march" is used to refer to harsh working conditions on such projects as software development, or desperate circumstances surrounding a project wherein engineers struggle with enormous workloads, with little chance of meeting deadlines.
It is said the system engineers presently developing MHFG's accounting computer system are literally working themselves to exhaustion.
Hitachi Ltd., a Japanese conglomerate with annual sales of about ¥10 trillion, was once considered a giant of the industrial world, but now it appears to be a timid mouse. Disconcerted employees from Hitachi's Nuclear Energy Business Unit are lamenting the company's inability to come up with a long-term plan for survival.
"The future of producing boiling water reactors has a limit," one employee said. "If we don't quickly enter the market manufacturing pressurized water reactors, we won't be able to compete with major global rivals."
Since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Japan's domestic nuclear power generation market has shrunk. A realignment of the nation's three main reactor makers has become an urgent priority. This consolidation will determine the survival (or otherwise) of Hitachi, which develops boiling water reactors; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which constructs pressurized water reactors; and Toshiba Corp., which deals with both types. Pressurized water reactors are the dominant reactor in the global nuclear energy market, so Hitachi has contented itself with being a minor player in the Far East. Hitachi presently has a golden opportunity to redress this situation, but has yet to act upon it.
The following is an interview with Professor Mitsuru Iwamura of Waseda Business School.
Sentaku: As the yen continues to strengthen, the government and mass media are saying things like "the rising yen causes problems." But is this really the case?
Iwamura: Absolutely not. The stronger the yen gets, the more benefits there are for the public. When the yen is weak, export industries benefit; when it's strong, import industries benefit. As for exports, many of the big industrial firms, such as carmaker Toyota, experience robust sales, while [Chinese and other foreign tourists] go "binge shopping" when the yen is weak, so policymakers get behind it, and the media reports favorably on it, too. On the other hand, when the yen is strong, the price of gasoline and electricity falls and it's much easier for people to get by financially. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said all along that it's better to have a weak yen, but the problem really isn't quite as straightforward as that. The prime minister's understanding of economic affairs is somewhat insufficient.
When the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) daily reported on June 8 that Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) is set to relinquish its status as a primary dealer of Japanese government bonds, speculation swirled among market players that Japan's largest bank is trying to get even with the Bank of Japan for unexpectedly introducing negative interest rates in February as part of its fight against deflation.
There was good reason to suspect BTMU's motives. At a lecture meeting in Tokyo in April, BTMU Chairman Nobuyuki Hirano (who also is president and group CEO of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group) publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the Japanese central bank: "Because banks will be unable to pass on negative interest to customers, [negative interest rates] will reduce their net interest margins and sap their financial strength. The short-term effects are clearly negative."