Japan is all abuzz about the arrest of entrepreneur Takafumi Horie and his staff on investor fraud charges. A highly visible public figure, Horie (pronounced ho-ree-EH) is the Michael Dell-esque Japanese businessman who dropped out of the prestigious Tokyo University to start a website-creation company that would grow into Livedoor, a sprawling Yahoo clone with more than 50 businesses. In open emulation of American business practices, Horie grew his empire by acquiring other companies, and even launched an almost unheard-of hostile takeover bid for control of Fuji TV. Clearly a member of Donald Trump’s “brand yourself and toot your horn” business philosophy, he was a regular fixture on television, and wrote books that were very influential with the younger generation.
A core concept that any pop Japanologist needs to know is the often-quoted- by-gaijin-who-are-experts-on-Japan phrase deru kui wa utareru (DE-ru KOO-ee wa oo-TAH-reh-ru), which translates as “the standing nail is driven.” This describes the tendency of Japanese society to react unfavorably to those who don’t conform as they should, and force them back in line — individuals who stick out too far are “hammered down” and put in their place. The term certainly applies to Horie, who would meet high-ranking Sony executives while wearing jeans and T-shirt and who openly showed his lack of respect for established “old Japan” media companies. Horie-shacho was arrested under suspicion of various degrees of book-cooking, including announcing the purchase of companies whose shares he’d already bought secretly, to profit when the stocks then rose in value. While certainly no Enron-grade scandal, it’s enough for Japan’s Big Media to give him the smack-down they’ve been saving for him for some time. Unfortunately the scandal has caused a big drop in the market here (which has been termed “Livedoor Shock”).
You may be familiar with the fact that, in Japan, family names are used before first names — therefore the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is known as Kurosawa Akira here. It can get confusing when you’re switching from English to Japanese and back again, and once you get used to names being said one way, it feels very odd to go and reverse the order. The whole name order thing is all made even more confusing because of the fact that Westerners don’t usually get their names reversed, so that I am Peter Payne even in Japanese (not Payne Peter). Even some Japanese use the English order for names, if they want to go out of their way to emulate stars in the West and sound kakko ii (cool): there’s an action star in Japan who grew up in the U.S., and he goes by the name of Kane Kosugi just to sound like a gaijin.
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