Bribe Desserts Are Just Sour

Since the Lockheed scandal brought Kakuei Tanaka down in the late 1970’s, Japan has seen many and varied incidents, their occurrence only escalating in recent years. Even the Tanaka protege Ichiro Ozawa, who has been stressing a (rather two-faced) populist agenda of late, is now tainted by a bribe scandal via a top aide accused of taking corporate donations. Ozawa san, so much for that “for the people” agenda eh? Who’s going to replace Aso?!

I like talking to just about anyone, and it’s frequently the case that I find myself talking to a random taxi driver about something or other happening in Japan. The other day, during a conversation variously about Ozawa, bribes, the US Sarbanes Oxley legislation and ”settai” (client entertainment) in Japan, my “over 60” year old driver told me he worked at Mizkan, the vinegar maker, for 40 years. I assume was his whole career, and he said he was in sales, in charge of large corporate accounts.

He said he invited the big supermarket chain buyers out nightly, for expensive dinners and visits to “caberet clubs” (kyaba-kura) in the Ginza or Kabukicho in Shinjuku. He mentioned, bragging a little, that it was common to spend “a few thousand dollars each night”, wining and dining these buyers to ensure getting their business. He made the point though, that most of the companies that were allowing sales reps to entertain them were now bankrupt - Daiei, Seiyu and others. He said they tried wooing the Ito-Yokado buyers, but they were adamant, and never went out. Since 7-and-holding’s Ito-Yokado stores are very strong performers today, I think perhaps that company policy of not accepting any sort of bribe was a good one.

My retired ex-Vinegar Maker sales rep and taxi driver must have a sour aftertaste in his mouth, despite all that expensive settai. Just desserts?