TOKYO — Recently working on an assignment to research mailing lists in Japan, a colleague and I were eager to meet an infamous list brokerage here known as the List Library.
Infamous for being in the paper almost weekly for obtaining lists by questionable means, the List Library's recent acquisition was the client list of Yamaichi Securities, Japan's fourth-largest brokerage house that, after 100 years in business, announced in December it would close its doors.
I was simply intrigued to see this operation, on the fringe of the mysterious realm of list brokering in Japan. I was too late. The List Library's president, Takeo Tamura, 74, was arrested on charges of attempting to extort money from Sakura Bank as a result of an illegally obtained list.
Apparently, Mr. Tamura obtained Sakura Bank's client list from an unknown person. He told two Sakura Bank employees that he would disclose the incident on the Internet unless they paid him a sum of money. Instead, he ended up in jail.
Ironically, detectives from the Tokyo metropolitan police agency are said to have used Tamura's list library to research perpetrators of intellectual property crimes.
Tamura has said in the past that his business reflects society's woes, as when troubled company's lists like Yamaichi's ends up in his hands.
With Japanese bankruptcies in 1997 at an 11-year record high of 16,365, according to Teikoku Databank, the List Library may be in for more action. That is, if their president is released from jail.
In a different list-related incident, it was reported in the Yomiuri Shimbun recently that an Osaka art dealer filed a complaint against a former employee it says sold their list of 530,000 customers to a list compiler. The complaint accuses a 35-year-old woman of a breach of trust.
The complaint alleges that she copied the client list while employed to manage the art dealer's customer database. The company discovered the leaked data when customers complained that they had received mail from art dealers unfamiliar to them.
Slow Economy Waking up Japan's DM Industry
It could very well be that Japan's prolonged economic downturn is actually good for its DM industry, and for foreign companies wanting to expand here. Visits with several Japanese mail order firms reveal a new eagerness to cooperate with foreign companies, as an example.
Companies that never would have considered list rental or cooperative marketing with any other company, much less foreign, are now considering such activity or pursuing relationships with foreign firms.
Some Japanese companies are eager to identify new direct marketing concepts that could succeed here in an effort to bolster their own sluggish sales. What both Japanese and foreign direct marketers are discovering is that slow economies are less forgiving of weak strategies and weak operations.
Other companies seem unphased by the economic situation, and are moving full steam ahead on plans to enter or expand in Japan.
American insurance company AIG has launched one of Japan's first campaigns to sell auto insurance by mail. According to industry watchers here, the effort looks very successful.
Some companies find recessions actually work to their benefit. Viking Office Products, a US catalog of office supplies, says the Japanese economic downturn has not affected their plans to launch in Japan in 1999.
Mark Muir, vice president of marketing for Viking, said, “We entered the UK market during one of their worst recessions and did just fine.” Office Max announced they will launch a stationery catalog in Japan this Spring.
Chris Powell, president of Royal Mail US Inc., part of the British Post Office, said his organization is making plans involving Japan, but would not elaborate.
Resistance to Japan's New Postal Codes
The mayor of Musashino, a city on the Chuo train line in Tokyo, put himself and his town on the map recently by officially refusing to comply with Japan's new seven-digit postal code system, slated to begin this month.
`Mayor Masatada Tsuchiya said his city renounces the codes and will not use them, citing several reasons:
1. There is no benefit to Musashino at all. It only makes less work for the post office.
2. It will cost Musashino several million yen to adapt a new computer system to use the codes.
3. The townspeople of Musashino find the thick postal directory packed with postal code conversions printed in tiny type too complicated to use.
4. A private company would offer some benefit to using the new system, but thus far, the postal administration has not made any offer. (Virtually all of Japan's mail is delivered nationwide the next day, or at worst, two days after being posted with the old postal code system).
5. The new postal code system was planned during Japan's “Bubble Economy” years, when a manpower shortage threatened to reduce the quality of mail delivery. Today, excess manpower exists to deliver the mail, so there is no need for further automation.
Where East is East and West is West…
Beware when the twain shall meet. A director of a large Japanese distribution company told me about first moving to America as a college student. Speaking only Japanese, he discovered a McDonald's near the school's library where he could at least order a hamburger.
This became his daily lunch routine. He would eat his lunch, and throw the garbage in the nearby chute. He noticed that passers-by would give him strange looks as he did so. He finally discovered why: he had been throwing his garbage into the book return chute at the library!
The manager of a Japanese direct marketing agency told me about his first trip to America, to the DMA held in Chicago last Fall. He had forgotten his toothbrush, and after dressing hurriedly the next morning, wandered into what he thought was a large department store.
He went to the information desk and asked where he could buy a toothbrush, in his halting English. It turns out that he had wandered into a Chicago hospital, and was nearly admitted for being mentally unstable.
In Japanese, the word for “bread” comes from the Portuguese word, “pan.” Another Japanese direct marketing manager told me when he visited Washington a few years ago, he assumed that “pan” was an English word for bread.
So when he went into a restaurant, he ordered “coffee and pan.” You can just imagine the perplexed waitress bringing a pan from the kitchen, and the equally confused Japanese wondering where his toast was.
It's a wonder we do any business at all with each other, isn't it?