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  Political Theater at World Stage, Media Play in Nissan Case

Good news this week for all FCCJ members. First, Business Finland has secured the decision for the Finland Pavilion planned for Tokyo Olympics 2020. It will be erected at Embassy premises for all participating companies to use for their sales promotion and customer hospitality during the games, even after. It should help our business here and promote Finland image in general. Some of us have good memories of the similar facility that we had in Hakuba for Nagano Olympics 20 years ago. It was very useful and appreciated by customers.

Secondly, hearing that the new Moomin Park has started off well. There's been more visitors than expected and sales have been so good that some shops have run out stocks. As well, new shops and cafes are opening up there. The Team Lab digital light show across the lake has started, too. With early darkness in December it's good time visiting now.

Third, our long time Executive Director Clas Bystedt has been decorated today with Knight First Class of Lion of Finland by Finland President for his long time work to promote business and relations between Finland and Japan. He was the man behind organizing the aforementioned Nagano Olympic project and has created countless other Finnish initiatives here over the years. Cheers to our old friend! That's well deserved.


Fears for end of the world – or at least for further downturn in global economy – were avoided in Trump-Xi meeting on the sidelines of G-20 meeting in in Buenos Aires - at least for 90 days. Or was it just one day judging by market reaction yesterday. It only took a few words from the US President before dinner – about same as checking the menu, but according himself it was "tremendously important meeting" and "great achievement". The rest of the world had nightmares waiting for the event as Trump kept saying "I don't know which way I will go" before travelling out. Maybe he flipped a coin in the plane on the way or got good news on his "witch hunt" for his decision? That kind of things seem to be basis for US leadership's decisions these days. Certainly there seem to be no strategy in sight.

Next on Trump's to-do-list: to finalize the world peace with North Korea's Kim, a nuclear renegade and terrorist last year, now another global leader equal to US prez and "a great guy". As we have seen, the peace process did not quite come to conclusion in Singapore. In fact, next to no progress followed from the lavish signatures in the hazy memo and reality-TV show - despite excellent camera setting for the buddy-buddy garden walk. And there was no Nobel Peace prize for The Donald – so unfair! The Great Leader must be now thinking another TV-spectacle should get him the coveted prize that his nemesis Obama got. Otherwise he might ban Norway off the map. And any country who dare buy their salmon.

Like Singapore, what China committed to do in Buenos Aires was "lost in translation" to Trump's team. Eagerly they immediately tweeted that China had committed to lower tariffs on US cars and renew buying big amounts of US soy beans. Yet, following day China Daily reported both sides had just agreed to engage into new "tough talks" how they could change their relation from confrontation to collaboration. So unfair.


The G20 meeting itself was praised a small success: others managed this time to get USA to sign the mutual protocol – unlike G7 and APEC meetings earlier this year – but only after watering down the text from its usual brave claims. Abe-san must be highly worried how he can turn next year's G20 meeting in Osaka to more constructive and meaningful. Other than that he was highly active shuttling from meeting to another with other leaders for his own TV spectacle. We could see him pumping hands not only with Trump and Xi, but Putin, Macron, May, Modi, Erdogan and the EU Commission's Dynamic Duo – all with same confident smile. What a contrast to always murky Trump! Hats off to Gaimusho officials for managing such complex schedule in just a few days. Once "Down Under", Abe even managed to visit Uruguay and Paraguay for new trade deals.

He also invited Trump to visit Japan next May to meet the new Emperor as the first foreign country leader, something that seemed to please the Great Man tremendously. I'm sure a ride in golden horse carriage, something Trump is smarting for missing out in London, will be arranged here, too. It will look great on Fox TV!

Abe-san clearly loves his role as international diplomat and Japan Salesman No.1. It must be so much more enjoyable than listening to continuous harassment from opposition in the Diet. It's clear now that his pet project Constitution change does not go through this autumn session as Komeito, LDP's own ruling partner, wants to postpone the sensitive subject. It looks difficult enough for government to pull through its new immigration law to allow blue-collar workers into the country to help out in labor crunch that is getting out of hand for many industries from construction to child care. It's not that opposition is against half a million new immigrants to Japan – thatfs what they are however Abe claims theyfre not - but against how haphazard the proposed law is in determining where and how the new workers will work, how their social care is arranged and their human rights will be protected. There's been plenty enough bad news of how those here now as "interns" – over 200,000 – are being treated by their employers: poor living conditions, unpaid or illegally low wages, work assignments totally different from what they came here to learn etc.

News this week confirm the problems: 60 illegal Chinese were found working on a building site in Hokkaido and Sharp's new management fired 3000 Brazilian contract workers just like that at its Mie factory after shifting production to China. Harsh treatment by "black" employers and strict requirements imposed for mastering Japanese casts doubts whether people really want to come working here. It's not just about politicians making laws and debating details in the Parliament.


The arrest and subsequent dismissal of the most famous foreign businessman here – once elected even Best Father, now exposed for domestic violence – goes on in the news and speculations. Based on daily tips from the prosecutors, the domestic media has spared no effort to tell all Japanese what an immoral creep Ghosn was and what a lavish life style he had wrongfully arranged for himself. On the other side, some gaijin commentators, especially Americans, have neither spared words telling us how foreigners are always treated wrong here and how Japan looks like North Korea arresting such a prominent businessman and keeping him locked away from media contacts in a prison that looks like Abu Grabi in Iraq – seems they forget the latter one was their own! Add to that the old stories how corporate governance in Japan is poor and judicial system, which allows for long detainment, is so unfair. The different elements of the case – legal, moral and pure propaganda – have been mixed up in one thick soup - and speculation as very little information has been made available.

It has been difficult to find facts and level-headed analysis, but there's been some. One good analysis of the legal side was written by Colin Jones, law professor in Doshisha University, who explained how Japan's system works, how powerful the prosecutors are and how helpless the accused is in it. 99% of cases end up with conviction, usually based on "voluntary" confession – right or wrong but same to all. Often the original reason for arrest is not the one that will be used at the end: murder suspects are usually arrested first for "willful abandon of body". It's positive if this Big Name case brings international attention to the system: some "gaiatsu" could help to make lawmakers consider reforms.

Some corporate analysts have also exposed the "Ghosn Bubble" built around "genius business leader" and the spectacular turnaround 18 years ago. Ever since this early achievement to save Nissan from bankruptcy and re-arrange its production efficient - and help Renault up from gutter on the side – Nissan's ROI has been clearly inferior to Toyota and Honda. Despite its Western management, Nissan ranks at Japan bottom in corporate governance: for instance the outsider directors required by new corporate law have been complete amateurs - today one celebrity, one retired bureaucrat and one Renault pensioner - hardly independent experts as intended. Meanwhile decision making authority was concentrated to Ghosn and his lieutenant Kelly. Inside stories tell that the company was a pure one-man-band ruled by fear rather than respect. The usual claim that fault lies with docile shareholders, who allow bad management, points this time inconveniently to French state.

It is clear the arrest was coup d'etat by Nissan's Japanese managers, who were afraid that company will be fully merged into Renault at current terms that give all power to French government, something they now seek to change to more balanced. As well, that they have made a "plea bargain" arrangement with the prosecutors that should absolve them from being accused for collaboration. Whether this will hold at court and whether the final accusations that prosecutors will end up with will hold there, remains to be seen. With rumors that prosecutors will ask court for second extension to the detainment, it looks like it will be New Year before we hear anything clear in this strange case.


After the warmest December day in Tokyo in 100 years on Monday, we are heading for colder period this weekend. It should be appropriate to finish this column with sport news from ski jump World Cup Tour.

After 5 competitions so far, young Ryoyu Kobayashi, 22, from Hokkaido leads the world ranking after winning 3 of the events and finishing in Top 3 in other two. While we Finns have missed out from top for years now, we can take consolation that Ryoyu-kun is coached by our Janne Vaatainen, ex-Finland national team coach and Olympic jumper himself. Janne has been doing good work in Hokkaido already for 6 years, sponsored by local house maker Tsuchiya Home. Another successful member of his team is female jumper Yuki Ito, who ended last season as World No.4.

Always nice to hear of such good Finland-Japan co-operation even if I wouldn't mind getting a few medals to Finland as well again.

Timo Varhama  
Tokyo, December 6, 2018  

Previous Columns

21 November 2018
"Different inroads into Japan: Finnish forest knowhow vs French corporate genius"

7 November 2018
"Moomin, Muji, Movies and Mobile Phone Fees"

29 October 2018
"Towards better world? Circular economy, collaboration with China"

15 October 2018
"Circular economy, fish market and construction boom"

2 October 2018
"Abe's "third reich": challenges abound"

17 September 2018
"From Osaka typhoon to Osaka fever - dark side and bright side of Japan"

6 September 2018
"Emperor: love, peace and reverence"

23 August 2018
"Summer heat, new scandals and export worries - but Tokyo is best"

8 August 2018
"Petty politicians, bungling bureaucrats and profitable business"

30 July 2018
"While we were on holiday"

17 June 2018
"From Singapore to soccer - wrapp up for summer"

11 June 2018
"Showdown in Singapore, commotion in Canada and cover-ups in Tokyo"

28 May 2018
"Morals and responsibility, blind loyalty and power harassment"

17 May 2018
"Big Business in record results again, but consumer are not convinced - North Korea spectacle continues under Kim direction"

26 April 2018
"Political spectacle approaches grand finale
- people's trust sinking ever lower"

17 April 2018
"Cruise missiles and cronyism, business boom, old people and sumo"

6 April 2018
"Mystery train and other unpredictable moves in geopolitics around Japan"

26 March 2018
"Trump Unchained and Abelympics – Can PM Make the Party?"

16 March 2018
"Anniversaries, updates, fallacies and deception"

5 March 2018

26 February 2018
"Korean Olympics: sports shine, politics stink"

14 February 2018
"Korea: Murky Politics and Big Business Behind the Sport Spectacle"

4 February 2018
"It's "smile time" in politics, Olympics, economics and business"

23 January 2018
"Moomin crisis, panda frenzy and Olympics turned into political farce"

12 January 2018
"Heisei 30 looks good: share prices soar, PM rides high "

About the Columnist

The columnist is a Japan veteran among Finnish business, our Chamber ex-president and today Member of the Board of Trustees.
After running a major Finnish industry company's Japan business for over 20 years, he is now Senior Associate in a strategic consulting company.

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