Tokyo Damage Report



. . . .where businesses in the same field all cooperate with each other. . . to screw the customers! A very Japanese phenomenon. Capitalist Communism ~ All the greed of the former, with the stifling, uncompetitve, lack-of-incentive of the latter! None of Communism’s workers’ rights, and none of Capitalism’s unpredictable, dynamic hustle! FUCKIN’ NOT RAD AT ALL, PEOPLE.

In the West we have to deal with that bullshit too, but only with huge monopolies (big oil, big 3 car companies, Hollywood, etc.) However, in Japan, even collections of small mom-and-pop operations (lithograph printer in the garage) (rice paddy by the driveway) work like monopolies. Here’s 3 reasons why:


Our Japanese homeboys come from a very long tradition “artisans and guilds:” Back before capitalism, Japanese dudes wouldn’t just make a barrel~they’d be serving as an apprentice/slave for 10 years to learn how to make barrels, and they'd be learning from the Kung-Fu Master of barrel making. By the time they graduated, they’d be like the top barrel-maker and be on the cover of “Barrel-Maker’s Monthly Parchment Scroll” or whatever. So they’re about making money, but not in a Henry Ford “unskilled immigrant on an assembly line” way! More like in an “Oh! I see your arc-welding technique is of the Fukuda style! Did you train with him personally?” way. If you can dig what I’m saying.


And all these skilled artisans weren’t organized in unions, they’d be organized in Trade Guilds ~ where all the business-owners in the same field cooperated to promote their product, maintain standards of quality, and, most important – shut down independent non-guild motherfuckers (as well as protect the slavelike Apprentice System from uppity apprentices!). So when Japanese absorbed the whole Adam Smith/stocks-and-bonds game from the West, they took corporations as a giant version of trade guilds, rather than seeing corporations as rival armies.


2- The traditional belief that big business should work hand-in-hand with government to make Japan as a whole a richer, stronger country – because both of them are SUPPOSED to be Japan’s leaders.

I think this idea comes from 2 sources:

2a) the MEIJI RESTORATION (the revolution that established Modern Japan): That civil war was not waged by one dictator, but by a coalition of merchant/warlord clans (most famously, the SATSUMA and CHOSHU clans) who shared power collectively behind the scenes. Sound familiar??.

2b) the Feudal-Japan idea of SOCIAL RANK: (the idea that society had layers of people, from good to lame, who all had some role to play in the greater good . . . like the Alphas and Betas of Brave New World!) the original caste system went like: ROYALTY -> SAMURAI -> FARMERS -> ARTISANS -> MERCHANTS. But since the merchants won the civil war, they sort of reversed the ranking a little.


3- general cultural norms of “don’t compete, it’s bad for harmony,” and “stability and order is better than risk and bigger profits.” And can’t forget, “Cooperation is the ultimate virtue. . . within our little group! Fuck all the shmucks outside of our group” ( this case consumers! (who are supposed to shut up and buy to keep Japan strong, because it’s their natural place in society a la Point #2 above))

And you put those 3 trends together and you get Capitalist Communism.


Near the train station, it’s not unusual to see 3 different real-estate agencies with stores right next to each other. If this was USA or China, they’d be leaving flaming bags of dog-doo on each others’ steps, passing out flyers saying “Bob’s Real Estate is run by an ex-nazi!”, and if that didn’t work. . . they might actually try providing a better service at a lesser price).

But in Japan, not only do they play nice, but they even list each others’ properties! (for a substantial markup, hidden from the consumer, of course!). At first you’re like, “Awww cute, they’re good friends! Harmony!” but then you’re like, “Wait, it’s only harmony for the real-estate bosses. It’s more expensive for the average Japanese! Where’s the competition? Where’s the incentive to provide newer, more innovative methods and better, streamlined shit?”

(But of course, the deliberate confusion of “Good For Japan” and “Good For The Ruling Class Of Businessmen And Beuracrats” is a Japanese tradition as old as flower-arranging) (OK, same in any country). (Hmm. Maybe it would be more accurate ~ and more specifically Japanese ~ to say it’s a deliberate confusion between “Social Harmony” and “Good For The Average Citizen.” i.e. A fundamental message of “Look how orderly shit is around here! We are taking good care of you : you don’t have to think about anything! ” rather than a message of “Look how much quality of life you have!”)


Other examples of Japanese Capitalist-communism: You won’t find a travel agency who takes credit cards. Not because of a law, but because they all agreed. Try finding a music club without a phoney 500 yen “drink charge”, followed by a 500 yen “day of event” charge that – taken together – almost doubles your ticket price. They just all agreed. Or record labels : if you’re on a label big enough to rent its own office, no one is allowed to take your picture. Even if you only have 15 fans and badly need the publicity! The labels would rather lose money than lose their vicelike grip on the artist. Of course, record labels make it a point to be dicks worldwide. But if you look at all 3 examples together, you see how nobody wants to say, “Hey, if I drop this ‘guild rule’, and provide better service for cheaper, I can snatch some of my competitor’s customers!”


Or, more famously, after the Bubble Economy burst, the banks were basically bankrupt. The government bailed out the banks . . . a little. . .but it ALSO said, “OK Japan consumer-people! Don’t lose confidence in the banks. There is no problem. No you can’t see the books. Just trust us. Banks OK. Japan OK. Don’t have a huge depression about it.” and the people ~ unlike America, China, or anywhere else~ were like, “OK, cool, we got this.” It was like they’d been rehearsing for this moment ever since they made Rules 1,2, and 3. They just psyched themselves out of a depression that would have wrecked a regular country ~That shit was wild.


Also, the “kisha club” press system is a CLASSIC capitalist-communist entity: there’s 20 different newspapers in the Press club, but only reporters In The Club get to talk to politicians, and only reporters who ask softball questions are let in the club in the first place! So even though there’s hella “competing” newspapers, the whole system acts the same as one big monopoly.


Or in the construction business ~ don’t get me started ~ there’s a bid-rigging practice known as DANGO: The local construction firms are in a Guild, and every time a municipal construction project comes up, they have a secret meeting where they decide, “OK, Tanaka hasn’t had a contract in a while. This time it’s Tanaka’s turn.” All the other construction companies make ridiculously high bids, so Tanaka “fairly” gets the project (regardless of if his firm is any good, or too expensive, etc.).

My final example: hella districts! Most cities have one or two little hoods that specialize in a certain type of business ~ NYC’s garment district, or the Diamond Row on 25 th st. But in Tokyo, specialized districts are the norm, not the exception. Like around my house, the first floor of most of the apartment buildings is . . .soccer uniform wholesalers. That’s right, I live in the SOCCER UNIFORM WHOLESALE DISTRICT.

You can go other places and see the Printing District, the Geodes and Pearls district, the Used Book District. . .hell, they even got a Guitar Shop District on Kinka-Dori! I think that’s the part of Capitalist Communism that I like the most: when you get lost in Tokyo, you don’t just stumble into one odd little shop, you stumble into a WHOLE HOOD full of odd little shops!

But as for the rest of it, it's nuts on the chin.

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1 Comment so far

  1. orestria April 2nd, 2009 4:08 am

    I wonder if this is why all the stores of the same type hang out together in Korea too?
    or if they’ve come up with some completely different reason that having your sock store in the sock store hood is better than being a lone sock store.

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