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News In Japan Time Warp. Each day, providing headlines and snippets from old newspaper articles about Japan.

In The News 19 Years Ago
April 15, 1999


Toyota Picks Aide to Founding Family as President. The Toyota Motor Corporation ended months of speculation today about who would succeed Hiroshi Okuda as its president, appointing a close aide of the Japanese auto maker's founding family to replace him. Mr. Okuda's successor, Fujio Cho, is known for his ties to the company's founding Toyoda family, whose corporate influence is far out of proportion to the tiny percentage of shares it still owns. Mr. Okuda, a darling of the media and investment communities, will become chairman, which in Japan is considered a less responsible position than president. He will replace Shoichiro Toyoda, a third-generation scion of the family that created the company, who will become honorary chairman. Perhaps most important, Mr. Cho, who is 62, enjoys widespread popularity at the company and among its vast network of suppliers, and is thus well positioned to smooth ruffled feathers Mr. Okuda is leaving behind. The changes will take effect after the annual shareholders meeting in late June.

INTERNATIONAL BRIEFS; Gadfly Weighs Selling Japan Airlines Stake. The biggest shareholder in Japan Airlines, Eitaro Itoyama, said yesterday that he was considering selling his 4 percent stake in the carrier, Asia's largest airline, to a unit of the Evergreen Marine Corporation of Taiwan for at least 31.5 billion yen ($259 million). Mr. Itoyama, who said the airline ''hasn't treated me decently as the largest shareholder,'' hopes to conclude talks with Evergreen by the end of next week. J.A.L. declined to make Mr. Itoyama a board member, instead offering him an adviser's post on condition he give up his right to object to J.A.L. management decisions at the airline's shareholders' meeting in June, he said. Mr. Itoyama has been a thorn in the side of J.A.L. management since he became the top shareholder in February 1998, making a string of demands that the airline has largely complied with, such as the sale of Essex House, a luxury hotel overlooking Central Park in New York.

Manager Commits Hara-Kiri to Fight Corporate Restructuring. TOKYO, March 23-- Moments before he slashed his stomach with a 14-inch fish-slicing knife today, a 58-year-old manager in a business suit was in heated talks over corporate restructuring with the president of one of the world's largest tire makers and said he would commit ritual suicide. Masaharu Nonaka, who was a manager at Bridgestone Corporation until 1992, was working at an affiliate and had been asked to step down as manager in charge of purchasing golf equipment, according to Japanese news reports. Bridgestone, based in Japan, has been in the process of corporate restructuring, and since 1993 it has nudged more than 2,000 employees off the payrolls, leaving 13,000. Mr. Nonaka's case strikes a strong chord in Japan, which is suffering from record unemployment and recession. Few workers have vented their frustrations by taking their own lives, and Mr. Nonaka, who leaves a wife and two grown daughters, is certainly an extreme case. But his suicide underscores the psychological distress that workers, managers and their families are undergoing as the country struggles to revive and restructure its economy. In modern Japan, hara-kiri, or seppuku, is almost entirely the stuff of Kabuki drama, and Mr. Nonaka's violent suicide is not seen as a sign of a grisly trend. But ritual disembowelment was part of a rigid code in which samurai warriors killed themselves by sinking their swords diagonally across their stomachs to avoid disgrace, dishonor and the indignity of defeat.

A Revolution By Degrees For Japan. TOKYO, April 5-- Since March, a number of Japanese companies have announced extensive overhauls, job cutbacks and internal realignments previously considered taboo in corporate Japan. On April 1 alone, four major Japanese companies -- Marubeni, Sogo, Taisei and Hitachi -- pledged to change their business practices, after similar announcements earlier this year by Sony, NEC and Toshiba. In the past, investors would have regarded the string of announcements as a bad April Fool's joke. Everyone regarded Japanese promises to restructure balance sheets and streamline operations as little more than lip service to gain a few more months of good will until the economy picked up and sales growth erased obvious problems. Restructuring implied job cuts, whether outright, through attrition or by eliminating excess capacity, and job cuts were socially and politically unpalatable. Therefore, Japanese companies did not "risutora," or restructure. Last week alone, however, more than 25,000 jobs were set for elimination at big corporations, and companies promised to reconsider their investments in money-losing businesses and pare their notoriously bloated management hierarchies.

TRAVEL ADVISORY; Meiji Treasures Displayed in Delaware. Fifteen years after Commodore Matthew Perry led an American fleet into Tokyo Bay in 1853 and began to open Japan to the West, the Shogun warlords there put down their swords and the Emperor was restored to power. The years that followed, until 1912, are known as the Meiji era. "Splendors of Meiji: Treasures of Imperial Japan," which opens at the First USA Riverfront Arts Center in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday, will showcase the art of that period. Nearly 450 works of art in metal, lacquer, bronze, ceramic, enamel and porcelain, made as Japan was emerging from centuries of isolation, will be on view. Among the highlights are a bejeweled silver koro, or incense burner, shaped like an elephant; a gold lacquer cabinet; a lacquered elephant-tusk vase, and a highly enameled and gilded ceramic bowl. Many of these objects were made by the "artists to the Imperial household," about a dozen men singled out by the Emperor for their craftsmanship. Before entering the seven Japanese-style display galleries, visitors may stop for an eight-minute film that presents a historical overview of Japan at the time. The works are now part of the Khalili Collection, assembled by Nasser D. Khalili, an Iranian-born collector who lives in London and also owns troves of Islamic art, Middle Eastern antiquities, and Indian and Swedish textiles.


1. April 6, 1999. "INTERNATIONAL BRIEFS; Gadfly Weighs Selling Japan Airlines Stake". The New York Times.
2. Dobrzynski, Judith H. (April 4, 1999). "TRAVEL ADVISORY; Meiji Treasures Displayed in Delaware". The New York Times.
3. Strom, Stephanie (April 6, 1999). "A Revolution By Degrees For Japan". The New York Times.
4. WuDunn, Sheryl (March 24, 1999). "Manager Commits Hara-Kiri to Fight Corporate Restructuring". The New York Times.
5. Strom, Stephanie (April 14, 1999). "Toyota Picks Aide to Founding Family as President". The New York Times.


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