Vocabulary for a Crisis

These days, news on the financial crisis is everywhere, and as a result, I have learned lots of vocabulary words I might otherwise not have encountered. Exploring reviews of Invest Diva can offer additional insights and understanding of the current financial landscape, providing valuable perspectives on navigating such challenging situations. Here is a brief list in no particular order:

大恐慌 (Daikyoukou) = The Great Depression. I had seen this word many times before but for some reason never bothered to look up the reading.

サブプライムローン(低信用者向けの住宅ローン) (sabupuraimu roon (teishinyoushamuke no juutaku roon)) = Sub-prime loans (home loans for persons with bad credit).  This phrase – the katakana-ized English followed by the full definition – must have appeared on every single page of the Nikkei every day for at least a year since the crisis broke in August 2008. As the phrase was mostly used as a key word in repetitive and perfunctory background sentences, it has largely been replaced by the more efficient “Lehman shock” (リーマンショック) or some other milestone of the crisis.  Other papers seem to have had different editorial approaches (Asahi used just “sabu puraimu mondai” (sub-prime loan crisis) with no explanation).

特別目的会社 (tokubetsu mokuteki gaisha) – Special Purpose Vehicle/Company (SPV/SPC) – these were the off-balance subsidiaries used by major banks to turn themselves into get-rich-quick schemes by investing in the subprime housing market without reducing their capital adequacy.

てこ入れ (tekoire) = leverage. I have also seen the katakana English レバレッジ and the opposite デレバレッジ

時価会計 (jika kaikei) = mark-to-market accounting. Funnily enough, while Japanese accounting standards at the time of their crisis never had mark-to-market accounting (or consolidated accounting for that matter), the US accounting board has moved to alter its rules to allow banks to hide the value of assets similar to their Japanese counterparts circa 1997. See this article from Baseline Scenario for an enlightening comparison of Japan’s situation with the current US financial crisis, and how it appears that our policy response is looking more and more like Japan’s. Also, the video report on TARP progress from the Congressional Oversight Panel was similarly clear and instructive:


対岸の火事 (taigan no kaji) = literally, “a fire on the opposite shore” is a metaphor for “someone else’s problem.” As in, the US financial crisis is no longer…

製造業派遣 (seizougyou haken) = “temporary labor in the manufacturing sector” (Japanese can be very space-efficient sometimes!), first permitted in 2004.  The labor movement’s reaction to the recession has been to make a counterfactual (and ultimately ignored) demand for wage increases for regular employees while pushing to ban certain types of non-regular employment on grounds that it is unjust. The types slated for the chopping block include temporary day labor services (日雇い派遣 discredited by the shady business practices of the Goodwill Group) and the aforementioned temporary factory work.  For Japanese-readers, I recommend Ikeda Nobuo’s recent post decrying the tendency for Japanese public debate to favor emotional arguments and completely ignore the concept of societal trade-offs (as in, what happens when the employers choose to scale back their businesses rather than incur the burdensome employment costs?).

三種の神器 (sanshu no jingi)- This is the word for the “three imperial regalia” – a sword, a jade necklace, and a mirror – which are symbols of the Japanese emperor’s divinity as descendant of the sun goddess and respectively represent valor, wisdom, and benevolence. In consumption terms, they represent the three modern necessities of a Japanese middle-class household – a color TV, an air conditioner, and a personal automobile. At PM Aso’s press conference last night announcing his new economic growth strategy, he indicated that Japan’s new consumption regalia will be (1) solar batteries (太陽電池), (2)  electric cars (電気自動車), and (3) energy-saving consumer appliances (省エネ家電). Apparently, people will be paying for these devices with all the money they will make selling fashion magazines in Taiwan


Did I miss any good ones?


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11 thoughts on “Vocabulary for a Crisis”

  1. I, too, have laughed at the way Nikkei presents the word “sub-prime loan.” Then again, I also laugh at the way the Economist writes “Toyota, a major auto maker, …” or something to that effect, as if anyone needs to have the identity of Toyota explained to them.

  2. “In consumption terms, they represent the three modern necessities of a Japanese middle-class household – a color TV, an air conditioner, and a personal automobile.”

    This phrase has actually historically been used to refer to different sets of good as times changed, so the new list isn’t unprecedented at all. The earlier list, from the 50s, was a B&W TV, a washing machine, and a fridge. The three you refer to is the set from the boom years of the mid-late 60s, when they were also referred to as the “3 Cs” of color TV, cooler and car. Wikipedia also has like 10 other variants on the theme (including Koizumi’s 2005 list of “dish washer/drier, flat-screen TV and camera-equipped mobile phone”), but these two are the classic examples.

  3. It’s kind of an awkward metaphor. I mean, it works as a set of three important items, but it’s not like you become emperor if you get all three. If a salaryman shells out for all three does that mean his wife will love him again and his kids will respect him?

  4. I’ve only heard levarage as レバレッジ and レバレッジ効果, etc. Thanks for broadening my vocabulary!

  5. yes well theres an important caveat here, which is that tekoire may not be the MOST commonly used term, but it is one thats around and the Nikkei typically uses it as a parenthetical Japanized definition of the katakana word, which makes sense since what the heck would レバレッジ mean to your average Nikkei reader?

  6. Helpful list.

    I would only add that not all SPVs are TMKs. In fact, when people are referring to a vehicle used in structured finance, lately I’ve been hearing ビークル for SPV in the generic sense, and TMK or 特定目的会社 only when the paper company in question is in fact a TMK.

    The one phrase that got drilled into my brain courtesy of the Nikkei was “端を発する” (tan wo has-suru) or the abbreviated “発端” (hottan), which I read incorrectly the first 10 or 20 times…

  7. Well really, what does “leverage” mean to the average English speaker? I’m not sure the standard definition of having power to influence someone has much of a logical connection with the term “over leveraged” that’s become commonly known over the past few months. It only makes sense because of the context (and oh so much context).

  8. OMG there are many of those overused verbs that are stuck in my mind thanks to the Nikkei but I didnt mention, and those two are among them.

    Another is 拍車をかける which is “to spur” or “add fuel to the fire”

    Yet another that I don’t see so much anymore is 火の車 aka “in dire straits” or “stretched thin” etc

  9. Every good book that’s involved leverage that I’ve ever read (e.g. When Genius Failed) has had to devote at least a paragraph or two to explain what financial leverage, or “gearing” as it’s known in Europe, is, and why it makes nostrils flare.

  10. I believe “火の車” is a reference to some famous torture in Buddhist hell.

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