Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yen Strengthens 1.25% Overnight - Rough Day for Nikkei 225 Coming?

Now this is a real head-scratcher. The Japanese yen skyrocketed in price over night 1.25%.

The last time something like this happened, the Nikkei 225 had a 500 point drop later that day. But looking at the Nikkei Futures, it shows a 7-point increase.

I would have expected a futures price dropping 200 ~ 300 points for the day....

But, as my wife would say, "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?"

Can't believe that the Nikkei 225 won't drop at least 200 today. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

If you want to understand what a Japanese wants to say, listen to their hearts and not their words.

There's a very old Japanese saying that goes like this; "If you want to understand what a Japanese wants to say, listen to their hearts and not their words."

When I first came to live in Japan, I was told this by many of my close Japanese friends. I couldn't understand it at all. I mean, as a westerner, and a male, it made no sense to me... It didn't make any sense to me for the first 15 or 20 years of my living in Japan. 

My reasoning went like this: How was I to understand what someone is thinking when their words tell me one thing, but they really mean the exact opposite? I am not Houdini or some sort of clairvoyant mind reader! 

I think I got upset about this happening so much in Japan. I think all foreigners who live here do also.

In fact, I remember many years ago, a very close friend of mine in Japan having much troubles because he always took what Japanese people said at face-value and considered them "liars" because they would often say one thing, but mean another. They would rarely "speak their hearts." We had long discussions about this and he would often be angry and demand to me, 

"If they think that, why don't they just say so?!"

It is often said that Japanese people never say, "No!" Also they never say what they really mean. Their true meaning is not in words spoken from their mouths, but from their hearts. 

I used to think I needed a stethoscope to get around Japan and understand what the Japanese were saying!

My very close friend left Japan many years ago and never returned.

This doctor won't need that stethoscope to know what I'm thinking when she examines me

Now, after working in and with big companies as a lackey foreigner or gaijin advisor to high ranking executives; after seeing grown Japanese men crying at meetings; after dismissing several dozen Japanese staff from their duties when I was the only foreigner dumb enough to accept a general manager position at a Japanese company; after serving drinks (and inhaling them) at many corporate parties; after two divorces, and finally one happy marriage (today nearly 20 years); this saying makes perfect sense to me:

"If you want to understand what a Japanese wants to say, listen to their hearts and not their words."

Recently, I've had two dear friends visiting from overseas for work. I witnessed this saying in action yesterday twice within the span of a few hours.

The first example was when one of my friends (who doesn't speak Japanese) asked a nice Japanese gentleman to make a short speech in English for a promotional video. The Japanese man said something like,

"Oh, yes. I can do that."

But as soon as my foreign friend was out of earshot, the Japanese gentlemen leaned to me and said, "Mike! What should I do?"

Now, most people would think that the, "What should I do?" means, "Help me with my English." Or, "How shall I say this?" But that's not what he means. Those are his words, but by listening to his heart, I could tell what he was really saying was, "I do not have confidence in my English to make a speech. Isn't there anything you can do for me?"

I looked him right in the eye and said, "I understand. How about we do just a little comment in English and the rest in Japanese?"

His eyes grew bright and he smiled and shook my hand with a sigh or great relief, "Oh yes. That would be best. Thank you."

We held almost all the speech in Japanese. It went well. A success.

The second case was when we went to a different company to organize a project that had been ordered by the big boss. We met two sections chiefs and one of their marketing staff. We did the Japanese business card exchange ritual and sat down. The first thing out of the section chief's mouth was,

"Thank you for coming. We were ordered by our boss to make a video and told we don't have any time except today..."

Once again, any rationally thinking westerner would hear that and shake their heads in agreement.

But that isn't what the guy's heart was saying was, I knew exactly what his heart was saying, and it was this,

"Thank you for coming. We were ordered by our boss to make a video and told we don't have any time except today. This is worrisome as we just found out about it. We have absolutely no plan on what we want and how to do it. Do we have to do it today?"

They had no idea what was going on but couldn't defy the bosses orders... They were hinting to us that they wanted time to make a plan. It was plainly obvious to me. I said,

"Oh? Well, dear sirs, we are merely here to help you and it isn't necessary at all to make this video today. We are here to show you what we can do and when you folks are ready, we're here to help you. We can even attend your planning meetings, if you like."

It was like a huge balloon filled with the hot air of tension deflated right there on the spot. Our Japanese hosts suddenly allowed their backs to relax and they slightly sank back into their seats knowing the "Sword of Damocles" wasn't hanging over their heads at that very moment.

I felt good that I could understand what these two cases really wanted to say when they spoke. It was very satisfying. 

From understanding their hearts, I immediately built a bond of great trust and a sort of acceptance and intimate understanding with these good folks just like the Japanese have with each other. (Or so thinks foolish foreigner? - Me)

It was wonderful that my two foreign friends could witness this first hand when they were here.

If all of us foreigners living and working in Japan remember this, it makes working and living with the Japanese all that much easier.

"If you want to understand what a Japanese wants to say, listen to their hearts and not their words."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bad and Incompetent Management? It's Everywhere!

You've got to wonder how people, who are so clueless to even their own industry, get into management positions. 


But, come to think of it, actually, you and I don't have to wonder; someone wondered about it long ago and wrote a book on it in the 1970s. It was all explained in the seminal book, The Peter PrincipleThat book explained the phenomenon of how, in a hierarchy, everyone rises to their top level of incompetence. Then because they are incompetent, they remain in that position, unable to advance or, because of politics, be demoted.

Wikipedia says:

The Peter Principle is a belief that, in an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, that organization's members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence." In more formal parlance, the effect could be stated as: employees tend to be given more authority until they cannot continue to work competently.

Yep. That's it. 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have railed on incompetent management at broadcasting stations for years. Just to prove that even a broken clock is right twice a day, almost 4 years ago, I wrote (on July 24, 2010) in One More Phase in the Shattering of Mainstream Media:

I rode the Tokyo subway today and saw a sign inside the car that notified the passengers that as of July 24, 2011, terrestrial television stations will no longer broadcast analogue signals in Japan and will finally make the switch to digital.   

This signals the final nail in the coffin of many of the FM radio stations in this country and the collapse of TV Tokyo and TBS.    

I predict that *****FM will either be bankrupt or sold to a new owner by 2014 and TV Tokyo will be in the same situation: insolvent or absorbed by another company by 2016. 

I picked the first one correctly (polite applause here). The FM station was sold to another company in the summer of 2012. My prediction came true two years ahead of schedule. 

I've got a few more years left on my TV Tokyo prediction and I'm feeling very good about that. Especially since TV Tokyo is unable to payback a $5 billion dollar loan from Mizuho bank they made in Feb. of 2010 and keeps rolling that loan over every year... I wonder how long the rollover will be allowed by Mizuho bank especially since the new Japanese government has publicly stated a policy of 2% inflation which will lead to much higher interest rates.

(TV Tokyo share price was around ¥4,400 at that time. Today, TV Tokyo Holdings shares run at ¥1768 - a rise of over ¥800 from the 2011 lows - due to Abenomics?)

I haven't been writing about these stations recently, but a while ago I had a meeting with management at a broadcasting station that just made my head spin. The boss of the station said to me in an incredulous manner,

"Mike! We have to do something to get people back to listening to the car radio... Did you know that Toyota stopped putting radios in cars? Did you know that??"

Simply astounding! Doesn't this manager read business publications at all? 

It was in 2007 that Toyota had publicly announced that they were phasing out analogue radio in the automobiles within three years and that they would no longer be standard equipment in 2011 (that was two years ago!) Taking that obvious clue, I even blogged three years ago that the future of radio lay in the hands of, not the stations, but Toyota. How could a station manager, almost seven years later, just be finding this out? 

Please refer once again to July 24, 2010One More Phase in the Shattering of Mainstream Media

The future of FM radio doesn't lay in what they broadcast or how they up the ante of quality of content (but, of course, it will always be a competition between stations for dwindling audience and sponsorship dollars)...

The future of FM radio depends on what Toyota does.

That's right. Toyota is the one who decides what is going to happen. In my opinion, it is obvious that FM  is is serious trouble and that we are now witnessing the end of an era; and it's happening, in slow motion, right in front of our eyes.

But, don't take my word for it, decide for yourself. Let me explain further...

Think about this: Where do most people listen to FM radio? In cars, right?

The Japanese government and all the big manufacturers in this country, Sony, Panasonic, etc. (who, by the way, all have an incestuous relationship with each other and Toyota in stock holdings) are pushing for the digital conversion big time. These manufacturers need their flagging fortunes to get an injection of sales and profits that new broadcasting and new equipment will generate. Digital equipment costs anywhere from $500 - $2,000 (USD) a set. The Japanese manufacturers want and need for the Japanese public to go whole-hog into digital broadcasting. They need the public to dispose of their analogue equipment and buy the new digital equipment... (By the way, a cursory check of analogue equipment at Bic Camera the other day - what little I could find - showed that all the analogue products were all manufactured outside of Japan).

If digital broadcasting is a failure in this country, then it's going to hurt Japanese manufacturing for a very long time... The analogue equipment I saw was all manufactured in Malaysia, Indonesia, and I found some from Taiwan (which was surprising).

Now, how does Toyota fit into this equation?

Imagine your car dashboard. It has a GPS, CD player, and television/radio set all built together. Most people have an analogue device (with terrible TV reception!) From July 2011 there will be no cars that come with that device. They will all be digital.

After July 2011, on your dashboard, you will have a digital GPS, Internet, digital TV and digital radio. Want to do Social Media, YouTube, Twitter, U-Stream, blog? Got you covered. Need to Google or Yahoo search? Sure. When you need traffic conditions, just a click on your GPS will give you up to the minute details on traffic and road conditions. All the TV channels? No problem. Throw on top of that 6 digital radio channels and, of course, a CD player and probably an iPod connection, and you have the next generation of car entertainment system. 

Now where does that leave radio in the equation? Especially when you consider the fact that radio, unlike TV and the Internet, cannot give data on exactly how many users it has and cannot give ratings... 

Why does it matter that radio cannot give ratings? Well, because any advertising campaign expenditures from sponsors must be justified at accounting at the sponsor company. How can one justify a radio campaign in Japan when clients cannot be told how many people listen and who is listening? They can, though, get data on viewers for TV and Internet and numbers for print media.

That upper management at a station can be serious and tell me in an incredulous tone, a full seven years after Toyota's announcement, that they just found out that the world's largest car maker stopped making radios for their cars shows just how completely out of touch with reality some people are with what's going on with people's lives and the world and society they live in.

But, gee, far be it from me to tell people what to do, but I think it is the duty of management to keep apace with the market and conditions. Anything less is gross negligence. The shareholders should be, and will be, furious. It's a simple matter of time.

You be the judge! Do you think people like that, who are so unaware of the market - and even their own business merits and demerits - who seem to not read business publications on market trends - can run a successful business? They should be fired! There are employees working under them who have families to support; management has a responsibility! 

Of course, if the guilty parties ever read this, they would probably be angry at me for stating the obvious... I don't know why. I am doing them a favor.... 

But, as you know, when the tyrant king doesn't like the message, they will not consider where they went wrong, they will just kill the messenger boy... 

What was I saying about the Peter Principle?

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