White people for rent – not as innocent-sounding as it seems

A little while ago a story swept the Internet that “white people are available for rent in China.” Apparently, sometimes companies hire Western actors to pretend they’re either visiting foreign businessmen or high-level employees to make a positive impression.

For the purposes of this post, I am assuming the posts and CNN report are basically accurate, though I couldn’t find any corresponding job listings on a cursory Google search.

What surprised me about this story was the cool reaction of much of the reporting and reaction (I’m looking at you, CNN). The dominant explanation seemed to be that white people lend “face” to a company, a characteristic aspect of Chinese culture. But when does getting “face” cross the line into fraud? Sending a fake company representative might sound like a funny sitcom premise, but misrepresenting your company’s operations can have some serious negative consequences. Not that any of this crossed the minds of the winners in the video. By the way, who wears a wifebeater to their CNN interview?

For a case in point, let me point to this Asahi story about securities fraud among startup companies in Japan:

FOI Corp., a maker of chip production devices in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, pretended to have sold products to overseas companies when the goods were actually gathering dust in a warehouse in Machida, Tokyo.

To sell the story of its overseas business, FOI took CPAs abroad where they met the company’s supposed business partners. The translator hired by FOI lied to the accountants about the sales, sources said.

FOI was listed on the Mothers market in November last year after apparently window-dressing accounts starting in fiscal 2003.

The company reported fiscal 2008 sales of about 11.8 billion yen, but investigators suspect that 98 percent of the amount was fictitious. The company is now undergoing bankruptcy procedures.

FOI’s tactics fooled not only the CPAs, but also Mizuho Investors Securities Co., which advised the company on the listing, and the TSE.


I wonder if these “out of work actors” ever checked to see whether they were fronting for a real company. The overseas trips could easily have been to China, maybe even to a phony shop floor with real live white people.

Cheap haircuts in Japan are real, still not enough

Today I will point out a minor error in a pundit’s description of Japan. This is sort of nitpicky, but hey that’s what we do here.

NPR’s Planet Money recently had an interesting interview with an author whose theory is that countries like Japan and Germany that grew rich after WW2 did so by selling exports to countries like the US who were willing to overspend (thanks to cheap credit provided to compensate for failing to provide good educations and hence good jobs to the people). This way, those emerging countries were able to achieve wealth and growth without subjecting their domestic industries to intense competition.

Japan, he says, has top-rate manufactured goods but a hopelessly inefficient domestic service sector. However, the example he gives is somewhat outdated. Basically, he says that haircuts in Japan are very expensive because the existing players banded together to keep out new competition by requiring that all haircuts require a shampoo afterward; to do otherwise would be unhygienic.

That might have been the case maybe a decade ago, but in today’s Japan Y1000 haircut places are everywhere. Just yesterday I got my haircut in Tokyo with no shampoo. I am not too clear on the history, but if memory serves the operator of QB House fought for more than a decade to liberalize the byzantine barber shop regulations.

Here’s the comment I left on their blog:

The interviewee’s example of Japanese barber shops is very outdated. Just today I got a haircut for about $12 with no shampoo. Until recently he would have been right, but there has been considerable deregulation since then. That isn’t to say there aren’t other occupations with ridiculous guild-based restrictions – Japan’s many dubious “qualifications” have recently come up as a subject of debate under the new government. It’s just that the particular case of haircuts doesn’t apply anymore.
Adam in Tokyo

That said, I think he’s got the right idea, even today. Even without special regulatory protection, many Japanese institutions have become massively inefficient thanks to successful attempts to keep out competition – think JAL, all those shuttered shotengai shopping districts, TV broadcasting, the music industry, you name it.

Ghost to be remade as Japanese film starring Nanako Matsushima

The title says it all. From Nikkei (sub reqd), we learn that Paramount is doing a co-production with Shochiku to remake Ghost, the 1990 the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore romance. It will star Japan’s tallest movie star Matsushima Nanako opposite Korean actor Song Seung-heon. NTV is apparently also involved. The US studios are apparently broadening their cultural horizons because their native, English-language content isn’t as popular with Japanese audiences as it used to be. Japan is no doubt a lucrative market for Hollywood since movie tickets cost significantly more here than they do in the US.

Ghost was a pretty sweet movie, so a remake might make for some good viewing. More to the point, I love the idea of remaking classic American films for Japan.

Personally, I want to see a Japanese version of Be Kind Rewind. “Sweded” versions of Seven Samurai, Godzilla, and Audition would be intense.

Or maybe Mr. Baseball, only in reverse? Given how times have changed, the story of an aging Japanese ballplayer getting sent to a small team in the US is probably more common now than the scenario in the original.

Akiyama Saneyuki to the Czar: “I want to play a game…”

I have recently enjoyed downloading episodes of Sono toki Rekishi ga Ugoita, the iconic NHK series on key moments of Japanese history. (Much to my surprise, these episodes are available due to a passionate following that the series has in Taiwan, and many episodes are available via bit torrent download, with Traditional Chinese subtitles.)

In watching these episodes, I was pretty horrified to see that, for an episode regarding the strategy behind the victory of the Battle of Tsushima, the theme music from the horror film SAW was used—just see these two key scenes that I clipped for the purposes of this blog post (the break between the two separate scenes is seamless, but there is a 20 minute gap between scenes at 1:22).

Why on earth does NHK pick this kind of music, and what’s the decision-making process behind the selection? For someone who knows where the music comes from, it really ruins the otherwise well-produced TV documentary.

This dude is totally awesome

RoflZoo

With fastly approaching deadlines I have been blogging very little recently, but I have been posting a lot of random links and very short thoughts to my Twitter account (as a former English major, I am, like the New York Times, too proud to use the word verb “tweet” in public). I’ve noticed though that the discussions here tend to be so good that long and in depth ones often develop out of little more than a link, so I am curious, do you – the readers and commenters – think that I (perhaps we) should shed my (our) bias against very short, content-lite blog posts, and put more short posts in this space rather than silly Twitter, on the off chance that it can get some valuable discussion threads going?