The Chukosha of Lebanon

I just got back from a trip around Lebanon.

One characteristic of the country is utter chaos on the roads. I’ve seen some bad driving in my day — rural China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia being some of the worst — but I would venture to say that driving in Lebanon tops all of them, with the added factor that the roads in the country are absolute rubish (as one colleague told me, roads in Lebanon aren’t built to last longer than a few years, as that’s about how often the Israelis bomb the country). Most of the cars on the road are ancient Mercedes and Renaults, which, while having a certain retro cool, are rickety and unreliable rides on the road. According to people I spoke with, most cars in Lebanon come from France.

But clearly not all of them. I saw a number of trucks and vans with Chinese, Korean and Japanese writing on the side. I snapped a shot of one such truck and thought it worth sharing with MF readers:

Interestingly enough, 森力製作所 is a Nagoya company, and one other truck I saw (out of perhaps half a dozen trucks with Japanese letters) was a Nagoya city municipal vehicle. I wonder if Nagoya and Beirut have sort of special relationship when it comes to exporting second-hand trucks?

34 thoughts on “The Chukosha of Lebanon”

  1. I wonder if Nagoya and Beirut have sort of special relationship when it comes to exporting second-hand trucks?

    Yes me too. what a fascinating idea

  2. I find the idea of a special relationship per se unlikely- used vehicles from Japan are common throughout the third world, and there are any number of small companies doing export. It does seem possible though, considering the relative small size of the market in Beirut, that the main exporter to there could be based on Nagoya – most likely with a relative or close friend acting as business partner on the other end.

    Amusingly, on my first trip to the Philippines, I stepped out of the international airport in Manila, went across the street, and got on the first bus heading towards the city proper, and it was a used Kyoto City bus, still with signs in Japanese on the inside! One said something like “reconditioned by the Hankyu Bus Company, 1980.”

  3. Your offhand remark blaming the bad roads on Israel could lead people to believe that Israel is indiscriminately bombing Lebanon. The truth is quite the reverse. Hezbollah, a Syrian-backed terrorist organization, controls much of Lebanon and has repeatedly fired rockets into Northern Israel. Israel has been forced to retaliate in order to protect itself.

    Generally the roads have not been good in most of the last 35 years. During Lebanon’s terrible civil war (1975- 1990), large parts of the country were destroyed, especially Beirut. Israel was drawn into this battle to maintain a security zone within Lebanon on the border of Lebanon and Israel. After the “civil war” officially ended (there is still internal war), Hezbollah continued to attack Israel. Israel unilaterally pulled its troops out of southern Lebanon in May 2000 in the hopes that this would end rocket raids from Hezbollah. This did not stop Hezbollah. On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah militants crossed into northern Israel, kidnapped two soldiers and killed three others. This launched a month long war with Israel during which Hezbollah sent thousands of rockets into northern Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians had to evacuate to southern portions of Israel or hide in bomb shelters. . Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire (and eventually a ground invasion) that damaged civilian infrastructure in Lebanon which Hezbollah was using to import weapons and supplies.

    Hezbollah receives most of its funding from Syria and Iran. It is really horrific how they have ruined Lebanon, once a beautiful, multi-cultural, country. (During the Civil War, nearly a million Christians had to flee to other countries.) Before 1975, Lebanon was the “Switzerland of the East” and Beirut the “Paris of the Middle East”. Those days are long gone.

  4. Ace, there are at least a dozen companies operating second-hand cars being sold between Dubai and Japan. That’s a major trade route that makes sense. But Beirut is on the other side of the Middle East and a lot further from Japan. Basically, places like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan are logically connected by trade to Europe; the UAE, Oman and eastward are more logically connected to East Asia.

  5. Yeah,But Dubai is the main concentration of Pakistani dealers and buyers in the middle East of second hand cars.Could be possible to ship them from Dubai to Beirut.
    There are other route from Nagoya is to Russia being shipped out from Toyama port on the side of Sea of Japan,again the chain is run by the Pakistanis.

    Recently I got a photo from one of my South African colleague in Uganda telling me about the exact same topic.A truck with Nagoya address on.And I was told from one of my colleague in Nagoya that the used cars to Africa and Middle East first go to Dubai.

  6. Geography doesn’t seem to be the major factor in trade as Lebanon imports about equally from Italy and China. In 2009, Lebanon’s top eight import partners were: France 10.84%, US 9.44%, Syria 9.42%, Italy 7.01%, China 6.91%, Germany 5.43%, Ukraine 4.55%, and Turkey 4.5%. (Source: )
    According to the same source, in 2009, Lebanon’s top export partners were Syria 26.04%, UAE 14.46%, Saudi Arabia 6.87%, and Switzerland 5.97%.

    The statistics change in 2010 if a recent news article is correct, neither of the top two being Europe: “The US was the main source of imports with $1 billion or 10 percent of the total, followed by China with $935 million (9 percent) ….”

    Japan also trades with Lebanon, exporting cars and electrical machinery valued at $668 million. At that dollar level, Japan is probably one of the top ten exporters to Lebanon.

    Thanks for the interesting post with the pictures of the trucks.

  7. “Hezbollah receives most of its funding from Syria and Iran.”

    And the zionist regime occupying Israel receives most of its funding and weapons from the United States.

    But that’s perfectly acceptable, right Barbara ?

  8. Barbara, my impression of the second-hand anecdote regarding Israeli bombings was that it was more of a bit of black humor regarding the situation than an invective against Israel, although I would be interested in hearing Curzon’s interpretation based on the guy’s delivery. And anyway, even if one considers the attacks on Lebanon to be 100% justified in response to Hezbollah attacks, it’s still undeniable that the proximate physical cause of the destruction is still Israeli bombs, so you can’t say the joke is lacking in a factual basis.

    @Girth If you’re going to take such a trollish tone I don’t even care what your political opinions are. Go flame the message boards at Haaretz or something, and don’t post any more on this thread unless you have something to say about the original topic. Everyone, including Barbara, ignore the flame-bait.

    “Geography doesn’t seem to be the major factor in trade as Lebanon imports about equally from Italy and China.”

    To the contrary, I would say that with the exception of China, almost all of Lebanon’s trade numbers correlate very highly with a combination of proximity and industrial clout, and with China being the world’s main producer of so many goods, it makes sense that their massive industrial output would compensate enough for their great distance to move up several places on the list.

  9. “@Girth If you’re going to take such a trollish tone I don’t even care what
    your political opinions”

    Well excuse me I wasn’t the one who started the politics.

    And what does a trollish tone mean exactly ? Something that happens not to agree with your line of thought ?

    I meant what I said initially – this is a fascinating topic, talking about whether or not trucks in Lebanon came from Nagoya or not.

    have a nice day : )

  10. Geography is clearly a major factor in trade, if not THE major factor in trade, if a basket case like Syria is number 3, Italy is in the top 5, and places like Ukraine and Turkey in the top 8.

  11. Roy: Black humor.

    As to what I think, well, let the facts speak for themselves — notwithstanding Israel’s legitimate beef with Hezbollah, the violent externalities of that conflict have resulted in Hebollah having an approximate 80+% approval rating when it comes to the conflict with Israel, an approval rating that is unchanging across the demographics, including Christians.

  12. @Girth, like I said, it wasn’t the politics but the tone. It felt to me like you were trying to provoke an annoyed reaction rather than a reasoned discussion, which is basically the definition of trolling. Perhaps my interpretation was influenced was influenced by Fat Tony’s “Yay! Flame War!” comment, but based on the cesspools that so many blogs and fora degrade into, I still want to insist on a high level of collegial civility-particularly for unfamiliar names.

    In light of this discussion, I find it rather fascinating that a village which was originally taken from Syria by Israel is now being amicably split between Israel and Lebanon, even though it is apparently occupied by people who are none to fond of either country (despite having mostly taken Israeli citizenship for, presumably, practical reasons.)

  13. – Roy – perhaps direct your vitriol towards Fat Tony then next time.

    I was of course trying to add value to the discussion.

    You can’t mention Hezbollah in the U.S. media without putting in the context of “Iranian-supported Hezbollah.” That’s its name. Its name is Iranian-supported Hezbollah. It gets Iranian support. But you can mention Israel without saying US-supported Israel. So this is more tacit propaganda.

  14. Aceface..the internet belongs to everyone. If Roy wants to write it in his diary that’s fine but once he puts stuff online, it becomes fair game for everyone.

  15. Tell you what Girth,I actually agree about Hezbollah which is no more than a 21st century Lebanese version of Irgun.However,you are wrong about one thing.

    Internet belongs to everyone,but not the comment section of the blog you have the account.Roy can always delete the comment or ban anybody he wants.Something I would do by now if I were him.So let’s not take advantage of his generosity and take the freedom for granted.

  16. OK I take your point.
    Pretty sad though to have a blog and only allow the comments that you like.

  17. Girth: Let me be clear: I believe strongly in Internet freedom, and I have no desire to police the POLITICS of discussion. However, I have no qualms about moderating the comments of stranger who appear to be trolling. I don’t know what’s in your mind, I don’t know who you are, but if you can’t tell the difference between civility and brattiness then that is your problem not mine or any other reader’s. If your second comment about Hezbollah and Israel had been your first one we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

    Feel free to continue talking about anything on-topic, but any more “meta” comments about commenting itself will be deleted.

  18. Point taken.

    Don’t bring Tone into this, he made an off-hand comment and it got misinterpreted.

  19. It may be Roy’s blog but it’s my post. Barbara and Girth are welcome to comment. While I’d rather the comments stick to the general topic of the post, my last post on the Yamba dam was utterly hijacked by complete nonsense (for which Roy was partially guilty when he let the discussion into falafel).

    I do think Barbara was being hyper-sensitive with regard to my throwaway comment about Israel, as noted above. But it’s a sensitive topic, and I appreciate that while there are only one set of facts, there are multiple truths.

  20. Actually,I’m the one who introduced into the discussion on Yamba dam.Thought it was appropriate.

    Going back to the topic,Nagoya and Toyohashi port being the largest and second most used port to export used cars may somehow to do with Nagoya-Lebanon link.

  21. Back on topic again, I know it’s often said that one of the main reasons Japan exports to many used vehicles is because of the unusually strict “shaken” inspection system, which often makes it cheaper – or at least less wasteful than otherwise – to replace a used vehicle with a new one, rather than just repairing it up to code. But I wonder a: how true this still is, since I’ve also heard that the growth of discount shaken has really shaken up the industry, and b: how different the rules are regarding private and commercial vehicles?

  22. Does anyone know why it was Fuji Heavy alone which ignored the threat of an Arab boycott and started selling cars in Israel in the late sixties?

  23. This doesn’t even have a Google Books preview, but if you can track down a print copy, it has a case study about Fuji / Subaru –

    Sarna, Aaron. “Boycott and Blacklist,” Roman & Little eld Publishers, New Jersey,

    The thesis is that while Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc. all had developed export markets in 1968, Fuij did not. As a result, they had nothing to lose and decided to use Israel as an export test market, one in which they could assess the reception of their vehicles without competition from other Japanese makers.

    This seems to have paid off to some extent as even after Daihatsu entered the Israeli market in the 1980s, Subaru had a nearly 1/3 market share in Israel, until 1990 anyway.

    Arabs apparently don’t have much memory of this as the Impreza seems to have a strong cult following across the Arab diaspora.

  24. I was in South Africa this summer and saw massive amount of Isuzu running around elsewhere.(Isuzu has factory in Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape)The fact reminded me of Subaru being welcomed in Israel presumably for the same reasons.

  25. I remember the Fuji Heavy shacho saying in the late eighties that going to Israel was like going to heaven because he would see so many of his company’s cars on the road.

    The “nothing to lose” thesis sounds perfectly plausible. I suppose I expected there might have been some private deal between the Japanese automakers to let one have the politically sensitive markets.

    On a related note, here’s a recent Newsweek piece which describes the Toyota Hilux as “the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47”

  26. “private deal between the Japanese automakers to let one have the politically sensitive markets”

    This sounds perfectly plausible as well. These were the days when the heads of the five families would sit around a big table with the ministry heads to figure out the best way to double the GDP.

    On that related note of central planning of exports – I just heard that Chalmers Johnson passed away this morning.

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