Monday, May 28, 2007


One of my students works in the accounting section of a company that decided that it was a good idea to build an office building of their own in Kabuki-cho. For those who don't want to go to the Wikipedia link and read up on that area's history, Kabuki-cho is known as Tokyo's "red light district" where there are various gangsters (particularly the Yakuza) running clubs which cater to prurient interests. There are also movie theaters, restaurants and more wholesome pursuits but it's mainly known for offering unique "entertainment".

One of the reasons my student's company decided to build an office in that area was that it was relatively cheap for central Tokyo and they smelled a bargain. Of course, like all areas (in all cities around the world) with a reputation for crime, there is a corresponding reduction in land value. The vice-president of her company had a rather cavalier attitude about the possible safety-related consequences of choosing to build an office building in Kabuki-cho. In recent meetings, she has been admonishing her employees for being concerned about the move (which is coming in late summer). She's also been perplexed with the fact that several people who have interviewed have declined to work at the company after discovering they'll soon move to Kabuki-cho. Clearly, the vice-president isn't the brightest bulb in the box.

It turns out that the cost of setting up shop in an area surrounded by buildings inhabited by gangsters isn't as cheap as it seems. The vice-president has to visit the "president" of the local chapter, pay respects and pay them off so they won't go to the company's customers and scare them away from doing future business with my student's company . This sort of extortion is a more subtle manner of getting businesses to pony up some protection dough than threatening to break legs or cut off thumbs. In fact, it's a tried and true method of intimidation for gangsters in Japan. You'd think that the vice-president would have seen it coming since it's the type of thing that has been going on for a very long time.

My student feels that the president and vice-president are relatively indifferent on the whole about the safety concerns because they are commuting by car and by taxi and don't have to walk from the office to the station (or to the bank to do accounting work). That means they will be relatively unexposed to any night-time dangers en route while their employees will have no choice. The solution, in addition to paying off the Yakuza, is to hire a retired police officer to "guard" the building. You can imagine how unimpressed the employees are with this.

My student continues to be decidedly uncomfortable about the move and she's searching rather aggressively for a different job right now. This situation allowed me to teach my student a new phrase... "like rats deserting a sinking ship."

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