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2008: Roppongi Hills at Five

Roppongi Hills

2008 marked five years since the opening of Roppongi Hills — a massive office/residential/retail complex in downtown Tokyo, completed after 17 years of planning by heavyweight developer Mori Building. Roppongi Hills became the most powerful architectural symbol of early 21st century Koizumi-era economic promises, but after a combination of scandals, bankruptcies, and high rents, its reputation has been scorched — to the point where some wonder if the entire development is cursed.

When Hills opened in 2003, the Koizumi era was in full swing. “Structural reform” and “deregulation” were buzzwords. The economy was in recovery from the IT bubble recession. And the lineup of initial tenants — including many big names in IT and finance: Lehman Brothers, Son Masayoshi’s Yahoo! Japan, Mikitani Hiroshi’s Rakuten, and Horie Takafumi’s Livedoor — promised to lead Japan in a new economic direction. Today, Lehman Brothers has experienced one of the most damaging bankruptcies in world history, and almost all the former headline tenants have left the building. What happened?

Back in the Hills heyday, no one embodied the possibilities of the new economy more than Horie Takafumi — an abrasive, unapologetically casual… okay, “slob” visionary, Tokyo University dropout, and tech entrepreneur. But he was just one of the so-called Hills-zoku (“Hills tribe”) — nouveau riche businesspeople known as risk-takers, aggressively capitalist, technology driven, casual, and lavishly rich. Horie took Livedoor, a web portal that came into being just as high-speed Internet was becoming the norm in Japan, and transformed it into a market player through a series of rapid-fire acquisitions funded by stock-split schemes and backed by pure bravado and aggressive public relations. He was quite successful at inserting himself into the public zeitgeist through his blog, books, and TV appearances, earning himself enough begrudging respect to get Livedoor accepted into business association Kedianren and run an ultimately doomed campaign for a parliamentary seat (backed by Koizumi).

He undertook brazen attempts to leverage his way into a media empire, bold moves that made many powerful enemies in Japan’s business community — notably Yomiuri Shimbun president Watanabe Tsuneo. After an unsuccessful attempt at purchasing a pro baseball team, he tried a backdoor method of entering the broadcasting industry by exploiting loopholes in after-hours stock trading regulations, although ultimately thwarted by a court decision. His critics claimed that while many of Horie’s tactics followed the letter of the law, they trampled all over the Japanese “business culture” of unstated rules and careful, back-channel negotiation. Prosecutors placed on his scent eventually arrested him under a flurry of charges, including spreading false rumors, submitting false reports, and accounting manipulation.

The January 16, 2006 raid on Horie’s residences, a symbolic message to the investment community of what would not be tolerated in modern Japan, sent the stock market into a free-fall that earned its place in history as the “Livedoor Shock.”

Horie’s fall from grace marked the beginning of a long slide for Roppongi Hills’ image. Fellow tenant Murakami Yoshiaki — head of an aggressive buyout fund that exploited the president’s contacts as a former METI bureaucrat — was arrested in 2006 for insider trading allegations stemming from a conversation held with Horie. Almost three years later, Murakami and Horie continue to live in Roppongi Hills as they fight their respective legal battles, but the perceived glamor of their locale has all but evaporated.

As Prime Minister Koizumi’s term headed to a close in late 2006, worries that Japan faced growing income disparity — fanned both by reality and the many opponents of Koizumi’s neo-liberal agenda — changed the prism in which Roppongi Hills was viewed. The office complex came to be known as a symbol of the amorality and unfairness of global capitalism and became synonymous with the negative aspects of the structural reform movement.

Heading into 2008, many of the complex’s big tenants’ five-year leases came up for renewal, and some, such as Rakuten and Livedoor, decided that the now-moot image boost from locating in Roppongi Hills no longer justified the high rent. Rakuten is now in Shinagawa, while Livedoor, forced to fundamentally rework its business after the Horie scandal, has since relocated to Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku. Another former tenant, employment agency Goodwill, suffered its own spectacular fall from glory as it became clear that it was exploiting day laborers and the boss was cavorting with lots of young idols. And with the worsening of our newest financial crisis, Lehman Brothers has become the latest casualty. The last time this author checked, tourists could be seen taking photos next to the big Lehman Brothers sign just outside Hills’ main building.

Last year, Mitsui Fudosan opened Tokyo Midtown, a similar complex just down the street from Roppongi Hills. In essence, the complex seems determined to recapture the magic of Roppongi Hills but without the troublesome controversy that comes with snuggling up to start-up companies. Along with design, media, finance, and law firms (with a good dose of foreign capital), landmark tenants at the new complex include well-respected companies that actually “make things” — such as video game/fitness equipment maker Konami and film/copier juggernaut FujiFilm-Xerox. Goodwill ended its run as a Midtown tenant, but so far the complex has not garnered a reputation for corruption. Recent additions to the Tokyo skyline include Akasaka Sacas, home to TV station TBS and Hakuhodo, while other developments planned include reworked historical landmarks such as the Tokyo Central Post Office and Kabukiza in Ginza.

But these more conservative projects are unlikely to define their age as Roppongi Hills did. Despite the supposed curse and all the invective directed toward it, Roppongi Hills exuded not just lavish wealth and self-indulgence, but ultimately, economic growth, inspiration, and hope for the future. Whether or not Horie was a fraud, the zeitgeist bubbled with the sense that a new economy was brewing and entrepreneurship could be a new path for young graduates. Even women seemed to have opportunity in this new world, as underscored by the once-stellar reputation of Horie’s PR representative Otobe Ayako. While a series of regulatory incentives aimed at spurring the long-stagnant economy have instigated a massive glut of both residential and commercial construction in this city, the endless construction of new buildings without much regard for where the tenants will come from makes me worry that the decline of Roppongi Hills may just mark the slow death of Tokyo’s last good idea.

December 5, 2008

Adam Richards lives in Tokyo and is a founding member of the blog Mutantfrog Travelogue.

52 Responses

  1. DB Says:

    Remember that poor kid who got killed in the revolving doors here? I had to go through the ‘Hillz for work for a while and they had them eerily roped off for like two years or something, it just felt really odd. Like if you’re so ‘hot,’ why not fix the fucking things already?

  2. Mutantfrog Travelogue » Blog Archive » 2008 year in review at Neojaponisme Says:

    […] wherein I post the question “Was Roppongi Hills Tokyo’s last good idea?” is up right now for your entertainment. Go check it […]

  3. Adamu Says:

    Full disclosure — I work in Tokyo Midtown, so I may have a bias, though I am not sure whether it would be for or against.

  4. M-Bone Says:

    Good stuff.

    I don’t think that you want to take this too far, however –

    “Even women seemed to have opportunity in this new world, as underscored by the once-stellar reputation of Horie’s PR representative Otobe Ayako.”

    Horie was always talking about women as though he could have any one he wanted, bought and paid for. Pure “asshole faction”.

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    If you are wondering who the clients are for “buying idols,” it seems to be the CEOs of companies like of the Hills variety. Goodwill proved that and Horie seemed to be in a similar boat.

  6. Adamu Says:

    Is this site about nothing but prostitutes now?

    That’s a nice zing, but I don’t really think the two are related. It would be like saying the New York District Attorney’s office didn’t offer women opportunity because Eliot Spitzer slept with hookers.

    At any rate, the imagery of a high-class career lifestyle for women was very much in vogue in the Koizumi years and Otobe was one of its visible poster children. I remember visiting here during the new year in 2007 and reading a frontpage Asahi feature tracking Otobe’s post-Livedoor career, part of a series on the “Lost Generation”… she is currently on the PR staff of a K-Dash subsidiary and runs a cafe.

  7. M-Bone Says:

    “Is this site about nothing but prostitutes now?”

    Strippers too.

    The (little) problem that I have with this is not that Horie slep with hookers. I don’t know that he did (although I suspect that he did). Eliot Spitzer may have slept with hookers but he didn’t go around talking about ALL women as cash and carry.

    I’m also not sure that the “power career woman” thing is a relic of the Koizumi daze either – the whole “Host” thing on TV seems to be rooted in the idea that there are powerful big earning women out there.

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    she is currently on the PR staff of a K-Dash subsidiary

    Ha. Wow, K-Dash. Those guys are totally non-criminal!

    the whole “Host” thing on TV seems to be rooted in the idea that there are powerful big earning women out there.

    We keep covering this over and over. The tatemae of host clubs is that they are for powerful big earning women, but the reality is that they have always been and remain for women in the mizu shobai trade. And right now, mizu shobai girls have a lot of cultural sway.

  9. M-Bone Says:

    “We keep covering this over and over.”

    I was responding to this point –

    “imagery of a high-class career lifestyle for women was very much in vogue in the Koizumi years”

    So yes, it is the tatemae or “imagery” of power women that was in vogue (as the Koizumi years actually saw far more women pused into part and haken jobs than anything), and may indeed still be in vogue if we are reading the host mythology correctly.

  10. M-Bone Says:

    I didn’t ever argue that “hosts” show that there are lots (there are some) of rich and powerful women in Japan, did I?

    If I did, I must have been drunk.

  11. Matt Says:

    I like the summary here, but I have to take issue with the claim that Roppongi Hills was a “good idea”. It was and is a terrible idea–centralization and glitz for its own sake, glorification of the non-functional. It was a peacock-style extravagant mating display for a mate that died sometime in the early 1990s. The message it sent wasn’t pro-entrepreneurship in the good sense, i.e. the model of folks getting together to start a small-to-medium company and earning a decent living providing useful services–it was pro-bubble-riding. It glorified folks who were lucky or canny enough to get rich riding market trends. Physically and conceptually it was not designed for everyday humans, and that’s why it’s dying. The successor projects may fail to define their age, but that’s because they’re doing their job better, i.e. (more) humbly and unobtrusively housing the humans who are supposed to be doing all this age-defining anyway.

  12. M-Bone Says:

    I agree with Matt here. Horie often bragged that his companies didn’t really do anything special – he was just a pro at inflating stock prices and using his growing assets to buy more stock to inflate.

  13. Mulboyne Says:

    I don’t care for Roppongi Hills but you can’t really say it was designed to celebrate Japanese entrepeneurs because the planning for the complex was well advanced before companies like Rakuten and Livedoor even existed. Minoru Mori’s target client base has always been overseas businesses.

    Its true, however, that his development became inextricably linked with domestic entrepreneurs and it looks like Mori has some sympathy with them. In a Mainichi interview a few months ago, Mori blamed the bad press Roppongi Hills received on what he described as Japan’s distrust of anyone who tries to make money. He insisted that Japan would only thrive through entrepreneurship and that Tokyo could only be a global business capital if it provided an adequate infrastructure for foreign businessmen. He maintained that he would continue to work to create a setting for both to succeed.

    Mori sounds like he understands many of the problems Japan faces but he keeps on coming up with the wrong answers.

  14. W. David MARX Says:

    I think Horie is hard to defend, but I do feel like he inspired a lot of people that the “system” could be broken if you tried hard enough. Turns out that the system breaks you when you try what he did. Horie was not the ideal guy to be the hero of the new economy, but there weren’t a lot of other options.

  15. Aceface Says:

    Considering Mori got all of his power and fortune from the very politico-economic environment that made Japan sink,I don’t surprise with your analysis,Mulboyne.

  16. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    But that’s the thing — he didn’t break the system. He just exploited some loopholes and then took his place among the rest of the oligarchs. Insert Who quote, etc.

    Roppongi Hills is a monument to Capital in the abstract, divorced from the actual value-adding required for capitalism to function. That’s why it doesn’t matter whether it was specifically intended for the Hills-zoku or not. Whoever was on top of the wheel of fortune when it was finished– that’s who it was for.

    Still, at least it isn’t Nakameguro. Now there’s a hellhole.

  17. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Put another way, Mori’s like a hungry lion saying “damn, we need more large herbivores around here.” Maybe he’s right, but building a fabulous zoo and bussing a bunch of them in is not a sustainable strategy in the long term.

  18. Aceface Says:

    Problem is since Tokyo doesn’t have any city planning to speak of,developer like Mori always opened new dimention of the city.Look how Tsusumi of Seibu and Goshima of Tokyu had transformed places like Shibuya,Denen Chofu and Futako Tamagawa.Some says the reason why Asakusa and Shinjyuku had declined was they couldn’t bring in large scale developper like Mori.So things are on both sides of coin.

  19. W. David MARX Says:

    Development that coincides with national economic expansion — like Shibuya ‘s Tokyu, Seibu, and Parco or Mori’s Harajuku Laforet — were great because they provided the services that consumers ultimately grew to want. Roppongi Hills came at a time that was nominally “good economy” but with no rising wages and everyone hired as non-permanent employees. It was not a shopping dreamland for “everyone.” It was clearly a playground for an imaginary New Rich who were supposed to worship. Maybe PARCO and Laforet also catered towards more wealthy kids, but they made it seem like the dream was open to you.

  20. Ken Says:

    If you are wondering who the clients are for “buying idols,” it seems to be the CEOs of companies like of the Hills variety. Goodwill proved that and Horie seemed to be in a similar boat.

    I thought Origuchi proved that back in the Juliana Tokyo days. I can’t imagine letting that guy run a franchise of a convenience store.

  21. Connor Says:

    Disclaimer: I loves the shit out of some Roppongi Hills.

    Horie often bragged that his companies didn’t really do anything special

    Yes and no. Number one, nothing Horie ever says should ever be taken at face value, especially when he’s talking about himself. Number two, Livedoor was/is a one hundred percent “Real” company with actual business plans and products. The financial manipulations which funded its expansion basically amount to a big sham, but let’s not forget that the actual core of the business does carry real-world value.

    Roppongi Hills is a monument to Capital in the abstract, divorced from the actual value-adding required for capitalism to function.

    I don’t agree with that at all. To me Roppongi Hills is an inescapable reminder that capitalism is purely based around monetary value, which is a tremendously important statement to make in a country where the entire “market economy” was structured from the fundaments on up to buttress and propagate a pre-existing social system. In Japan there are two sets of rules; according to one set, the essential purpose of the firm is to to generate employment, limit class mobility, and generally reduce social unrest. According to the other set, the purpose of the firm is to make as much money as it can without breaking the law. Roppongi Hills is a statement that the first set can be made subordinate to the second.

    I believe that in the United States, late capitalism is primarily an engine of bloat and waste. In Japan, I believe it could be a cleansing fire. Roppongi Hills stands in my mind as a testament to that idea, and even as I concede that all the points made against it on this thread are true, I can’t imagine them diminishing its Romantic power.

    Turns out that the system breaks you when you try what he did.

    I mean, he’s still got a couple of hundred million dollars. Can the system break me, too? Where do I sign up?

  22. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    I understand your argument, Connor, and I even agree with the general principle that more entrepreneurship is/will be good for Japan, but what kind of cleansing fire leaves a cyclopean ghost town uglifying the skyline? Who will cleanse Roppongi Hills?

  23. Connor Says:

    See, this is where my personal prejudices come in to play- I love looking at the Goddamn thing. I love Maman the bizarre French spider. I love the big Vas Deferens on the front that the blue lights cascade up down like a huge turgid EQ. Further, the Mori museum is the truth, and the City View is gorgeous.

    I really don’t want to cleanse the city of Roppongi Hills. I’m not one of those assholes who wants to build the big road over Shimokitazawa, but I wouldn’t mind a couple more giant steel ding-dongs* popping up here and there either. Not that there’s any money to build any more, or even knock down the ones there already are.

    I like Tokyo Midtown, too, so consider the source. The food in that thing cannot be fronted on.

    *I don’t think we need to talk around the fact that it looks like a big wing-wang. That’s part of the appeal. I am pretty sure that’s what you were getting at with “cyclopean,” though.

  24. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Who do you think I am, Robert Anton Wilson? I’m using it in the Lovecraftian sense. (Wait, maybe that ultimately means ding-dongs as well.)

    Maman I do like, and in general I’m pro-museum. But I guess aesthetically speaking we’ll have to agree to disagree on the rest.

  25. Aceface Says:

    I agree with Connor in a way.Tokyo was never known for the beautiful cityscape and that’s especially true of Roppongi,a city that lies underneath the overhead highway.Ropponigi was also known for the playground for New Riches both real and imaginary.And Roppongi Hills had opened it’s doors for everyone.Those who are interested to know what’s it like but afraid to come and see all the way from Kawagoe.

    I also agree the “cleansing fire” argument regarding Horie.Horie showed that Japan isn’t realy a capitalistic society in a way that stock holders own the company.He sure could have made Fuji TV for the better had be suceed in the M&A.

  26. M-Bone Says:

    Connor – I don’t dispute the fact that Livedoor was a real company. By “special”, I mean “very innovative”. Horie was, in my understanding, really only an innovator when it came to doing… exactly what he got arrested for. There have been some companies (Softbank come to mind) that did lots of things far better than Livedoor and didn’t have to be criminal.

    “I love Maman the bizarre French spider.”

    They have one of those in front of the Canadian National Art Gallery as well. Really polarizing. I like it myself.

  27. M-Bone Says:

    On the aesthetic value of Roppongi Hills – Isn’t Tokyo an eclectic mix of different culture spots anyway? On that level, I liked the idea of Hills, it could carry the cross for a certain type of cultural expression. And its not like the skyline could get much worse….

  28. W. David MARX Says:

    I would guess that a lot of companies do things as marginally illegal as Horie did, but they didn’t work so hard to piss off guys with friends in the ministries.

    Whether Horie is guilty or innocent, he was very clearly targeted by the authorities for his behavior.

  29. M-Bone Says:

    I think that the main dif is that Horie was basically bragging about what he was doing on TV every night….

    Let’s also not forget that Koizumi wanted to let Horie into “the club”. It was voters who kept him out.

    While “what if”s are not really my style, I would really like to know what would have happened if Horie had been elected and continued with his dodgy dealings.

    On the level of broader narratives of 2000s Japan – do we really need a “rebel” figure so badly that we have to lionize Horie?

  30. W. David MARX Says:

    Let’s also not forget that Koizumi wanted to let Horie into “the club”. It was voters who kept him out.

    Koizumi was not really the authorities. I think Koizumi also had a lot of enemies amongst high-powered bureaucrats, no? Postal privitization was nominally an attack on the Ministries being able to use those savings to finance their own projects.

    On the level of broader narratives of 2000s Japan – do we really need a “rebel” figure so badly that we have to lionize Horie?

    I don’t know if it’s “we,” but I think young people did like Horie because he said you could succeed by your own rules and own pace.

  31. M-Bone Says:

    I mean the “everyone” we.

    There is a lot of room for good work to be done on Horie – who liked him and who hated him, for example. My impression of his TV presence was that he was sold differently in different contexts – I think that he even had some pull with disaffected housewives who were wondering why their husbands could not be more like Horie and bring home the bacon. He was a very interesting “hybrid” figure. That I will give him.

    Okay, Koizumi was not really “the authorities”, but he was “an authority”, right? I’m not into severing “the government” and “the ministries” to that degree. This goes back to the horse and cart “bureaucrats” vs. “politicians” argument of generations of Japan-heads past. I feel that lots of the money clearly went into LDP pork channels and some into those dreaded ministries and of course, the LDP leaned on the ministries to see that money go into pet projects in the boondocks where local construction was overpaid for everything and kicked that money back into getting local LDP elected.

    I also think that if you are correct about more established companies playing Horie-style games (and I suspect that you are, although maybe not to the degree that he did) then it is ties directly to the conservative political elite (of which Koizumi was and may still be one) that see them through, right? More than amakudari or todai cliques, I think.

  32. Connor Says:

    I also think that if you are correct about more established companies playing Horie-style games (and I suspect that you are

    While I was still in Japan I did this project about Horie where I had to interview a bunch of people about him. One such individual was this grizzled, old-school banker, way high up in a trad. bank, 60+ years of age, Toudai, the whole bit. I had to ask the question of how much this kind of stuff happens a few times to get any response out of him at all, and when he finally decided to answer the question, this is basically what I got:

    You know, highways in Japan have a speed limit of 60 kmh. There are a lot of people who are doing over 60. Some days it seems like everybody is doing at least 65. But the police can pull over whomever they want, at any time, and if you get pulled over, you can’t just say that you were trying to keep up. Even though sometimes you really do have to go over 60 just to keep up.

    Frustratingly, he wouldn’t really go into more specifics. I don’t know how revelatory that is for anybody who reads this site, but for me, at the time, it felt like a pretty ballsy admission to make; I was expecting something like, “here in Japan we have X sets of rules regarding financial engineering for Y reasons and when you break them you incur Z consequences.” I was surprised to see somebody so clearly a member of the “old guard” come down pretty solidly on the side of the arrest basically being bullshit.

    I think there’s an argument to be made that Horie needed to engage in at least a bit of financial engineering just to stay competitive. Yeah, he took it overboard, and yeah, he pissed off the wrong people, and yeah, he acted like a dick about it on national television. But if he had gotten away with it, whom exactly would he have been victimizing? His oh-so-innocent shareholders, who would of course NEVER have invested if they had been aware of his use of such tactics? The otherwise completely rationalized Japanese financial system? Otobe Ayako-sama?

    *PS. The same dude also gave me a copy of Otobe Ayako’s book and challenged me to justify the fact of its publication to him next time I saw him. I couldn’t do it, and he wouldn’t take the book back, so I still have it. It’s terrible.

  33. Daniel Says:

    I like the driving metaphor. There is definitely an unspoken rule that you can go up to 30km/h faster than the posted limit both on regular highways and the expressway – any faster than that and you’re toast. And as the guy mentions, they could really pull you over even inside that leeway window.

  34. M-Bone Says:

    Connor – thanks for the sharing that story. I like the 65 speed limit comparison. I feel, however, that Horie was going 80 in a red Ferrari and those are always the guys who get pulled over.

    Who was Horie hurting? I feel that he was pushing for the type of asset inflation that creates bubbles and bursts. What he was doing was akin to(but not identical to) the type of irresponsibility that we saw in the late 1980s. When these bubbles go down, it is not just fatcat shareholders that get hurt, consumer confidence gets undermined and “real people” lose their jobs.

    Matt had a good point – people used to think about making things or providing a needed service as their main reason for being. Lots of innovation came out of this, employees were taken care of (because they would be good customers), etc. Horie, I think (and I may be taking too much of his talk at face value) was more interested in playing the stock game. This same type of mindset is behind America’s current woes (and poor Iceland) and I think all of this demands that we (the universal we) take another look at what constitutes responsible growth.

  35. Adamu Says:

    Lots of great comments and I have lots to say, but for now just a quick reality check:

    If Horie is ultimately found guilty after all his appeals, he will probably have to do some very real jail time. Plus he was recently suspected of tax evasion. He’s persona non grata in his own country and no one will ever trust him to run a business again. Even millions of dollars probably can’t erase the utter despair of knowing you’ll be remembered as a colossal failure.

  36. Aceface Says:

    “He’s persona non grata in his own country and no one will ever trust him to run a business again.”

    That I doubt.He still has tons of money plus there will always someone lending money to Horie.There will never be any Keidanren membership for Horie,but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the game.

    “Even millions of dollars probably can’t erase the utter despair of knowing you’ll be remembered as a colossal failure.”

    Ever read a book called “Nobility of Failure”,Adamu? He can still be a talento on TV(except Fuji,perhaps).

  37. Andy Says:

    Not sure how relevant this is to the discussion, but Konami used to be resident in Roppongi Hills, and only moved after the Livedoor scandal broke.

  38. M-Bone Says:

    “Even millions of dollars probably can’t erase the utter despair of knowing you’ll be remembered as a colossal failure.”

    They put you to work for 300 yen an hour in jail in Japan doing woodworking and things like that. I can’t help wonder what is going to go through Horie’s mind when he is making bowls for a 100 yen shop somewhere. Now that’s epic. I’m sure that some Japanese author is thinking the same thing and we’ll see a good novel or short story before long.

    Maybe the Horie-Martha Stewart comparison is relevant here – I’m sure that Horie can claw his way back somewhere. He’s make a fine “heel” on TV.

  39. Connor Says:

    Even millions of dollars probably can’t erase the utter despair of knowing you’ll be remembered as a colossal failure.

    I’m with Aceface- as long as he’s still got the cash, he’ll probably be okay. Psychologically speaking (from my armchair), I personally don’t see any indication that he feels any shame or remorse for his behavior, so expecting him to despair because of it seems like a tough sell.

    They put you to work for 300 yen an hour in jail in Japan doing woodworking and things like that.

    Knowing him, he’ll make them identifiable in some way and then, upon his release, make this fact public, making them all instant Rakuten collectibles. Days later he will file a lawsuit against Rakuten and demand damages in the form of investment in his new Rakuten-pakuri venture.

  40. Connor Says:

    He’s make a fine “heel” on TV.

    Two words

  41. Adamu Says:

    In the recent coverage of the arrest of Komuro Tetsuya, some TV station interviewed the head of one of the pro wrestling associations. He said that at one point Komuro’s people approached him about Komuro getting involved. The wrestling promoter was excited and started thinking up some creative ways Komuro could use his synthesizer as a weapon. But it turned out Komuro wasn’t interested in actually wrestling, he just wanted to charge exorbitant rates to use AVEX songs.

    Maybe Horie could throw wads of money at people.

  42. Adamu Says:

    I saw that Martha Stewart is selling fancy pepper on Amazon for $12 a bottle. So lame.

  43. M-Bone Says:

    Horie Vs. Razor Ramon HG?

    A bit 2005, but I’d still pay to see it.

    Something tells me that Horie won’t have much luck with fancy pepper.

  44. Adamu Says:

    Far as I can tell, the Horie candidacy was a fluke and a farce. Horie ran a turkey of a campaign (for some reaosn he thought running to represent Hiroshima was the perfect opportunity to call for an end to the Imperial family) that was only just barely tacitly supported by the LDP. I am not sure whether to hold it against him that he couldn’t beat Shizuka Kamei, who enjoyed strong support in his district and was well-liked for delivering pork and comparing Koizumi to Hitler.

    Though they tend to be mentioned in the same breath these days, and much to the consternation of former DPJ President Seiji Maehara, Horie and Koizumi were not close buddies. In the broadest sense, Horie simply took advantage of the national mood, and later on Koizumi sort of tried to take advantage of Horie’s name. And that is the end of it.

    I am definitely interested to see what Horie will try once his legal troubles are completely settled, and whether he won’t be treated like a hot potato by those he approaches. I think it’s an open question, so contact me if you want to bet on it!

  45. M-Bone Says:

    Adamu – you read the Horie-Koizumi situation very much as I do. I’m sure that Koizumi thought that he was a wildcard, but that was a wildcard election. What is really interesting is that some LDP elites were thinking that it was USEFUL to bring a guy like Horie on board – maybe not into the inner circle, but certainly in the club if he could get elected. In a way, this fits with the type of chaos that has characterized the LDP for a while now.

    Was it you who suggested a while back that the LDP should pick a female PM (Koike)and roll the dice? I was thinking the same thing – the potential for “non-traditional” figures to work for the LDP is still there. Too bad (wait a minute, I don’t like the LDP… I mean, great) that they decided to flush the party down a toilet named Aso Taro.

    Don’t really want to bet, but I think that there is a chance (my gut says 20-30%) that Horie shows up semi-regular on TV and writes a book or two. I can’t see him back as a high profile CEO.

    If I were Horie, come to think of it, I would consider seriously coming out and condemning all that he stood for before and becoming a champion of old school manners and modesty. Dumping on young people is a growth industry in Japan.

  46. Adamu Says:

    By the way, backing up the “Tokyo’s last good idea” concept is this article from Shukan Diamond.

    To summarize:

    – As of April 2008 Tokyo’s office bldg. market was strong, with vacancy rates in the main business districts at just 2.77% in February, far about the 5% line that determines the health of the market (though it fell to 4.3% in Oct. and there have been several real estate firm bankruptcies over the past few months).

    – However, 2012 will see the completion of several major projects, including some Otemachi developments and the Tokyo Post Office. The last time the city saw this sort of large-scale addition to the supply of office space was in 2003 (the opening of Roppongi Hills, the massive Shiodome development, and a group of buildings around Shinagawa Station), when it effectively doubled.

    – However, back then Tokyo could absorb that additional supply with growing office tenants backed by the economic recovery. In 2012, the baby boom generation will have largely retired from the workforce and the prospects of new venture capital or foreign investment are kind of low.

  47. Mulboyne Says:

    2003 may look like a wash from the perspective of 2008 but the developers were by no means certain of tenants for their new buildings as the dotcom bubble burst and foreign financial companies began to leave Tokyo in 2002/2.

    A factor which did help the 2003 offerings was the average age of the existing building stock. New development had effectively been on hold for ten years but most buildings hadn’t been designed with extensive computer networks in mind. Ceilings came down and floors were raised to accommodate the cables which led to some fairly poor working conditions. The heat meant existing air conditioning was often inadequate and even the wiring in some buildings was not up to the sharply increased power demands. By and large, then, firms wanted to move into newer buildings but they still demanded substantial incentives to do so.

    When 2012 comes around, no-one can predict with any certainty what supply and demand will look like but, if oversupply is an acute problem, developers will strike deals to populate their new buildings and the strain will be felt on older stock. However, there won’t be such a big gap in building specifications.

    One link I can recommend is on which you can see a timeline of major developments in Tokyo:

    For anyone who has only known Tokyo as a city with a fair number of tall buildings, you can work out how low the skyline used to be until quite recently, with the notable exception of Shinjuku.

    Horie is too long a subject to go into but any discussion of the Livedoor case ought to put his prosecution in the context of other executive prosecutions. As an arbitrary starting point, you could take the 1987 collapse of Tateho Chemical and go all the way to the Supreme Court decision in summer to overturn the convictions of senior executives of LTCB. There’s a lengthy list of executives who broke the same laws as Horie but didn’t receive anything like the severity of his punishment. Not to mention a longer list of people who have not yet been called to account but are commonly known to have broken laws.

    It would be refreshing if Horie’s example showed the authorities have developed a greater willingness to pursue punishments for executive crime but they failed to go after Nikko Cordial when that accounting scandal came to light so his case remains something of an anomaly. Unless, of course, he wins his appeal.

  48. Adamu Says:

    One day I will write an opus laying out once and for all the arbitrary nature of Japan’s justice system, and you will all hail me as your hero.

  49. Grzeg Says:

    Whether it is “Roppongi Hills” or “Tokyo Midtown,” redevelopments all over Tokyo (and the world, for that matter) are similar regardless of scale inasmuch as the programs constitute of offices, houses, hotels, commercial spaces, and leftover space to cultural facilities. These development programs are not unlike a maku-no-uchi bento box, just a variety of discrete small programs put together to make up a quick profit, designed to distribute the risk of recovering investments, which are becoming more and more common no matter where in the world or how big in size.

  50. Adamu Says:

    Yes Grzeg, you are right. I am struck by how much Roppongi looks like the new developments in Bangkok.

    But that’s not the point. Hills has earned a place in the national vocabulary as symbolic of the Koizumi era economics. It could have been a chain of bowling alleys and my article would have read the same if it had had the same effect.

  51. Grzeg Says:

    “But that’s not the point. Hills has earned a place in the national vocabulary as symbolic of the Koizumi era economics. It could have been a chain of bowling alleys and my article would have read the same if it had had the same effect.”

    You are right. I do not want to undercut the importance of the political and economic weight behind the Hills; it was a product of its times. It could have happened anywhere, and if all of those things happened there and not at the Hills, the article would have read the same if it had the same effect. But Roppingi Hills come to symbolize something else, something much more sinister.

    Since this is a kind of 5 year post-mortem, it is ironic that we are still fighting off the resurrection of this type of architectural zombie, and others arising like it: “We thought we killed them!! They’re still ALIVE!!” It is also horrifying, that at the dawn of 21st century Japan, that the most powerful architectural symbol of early 21st century Koizumi-era economic promises, also epitomizes everything bad about 20th century architecture.

    It is tall and fat, with at its top, its anticlimax: a generic museum that doesn’t even pretend to be a house of culture, just a cynical entrapment of capitalism, the apex of the void. The process of getting there is a type of lobotomization: past the bright lights and colors, the fine luxury and top-yen, on immaculate elevators to the acoustically-secluded void, we get a panorama of the city, we are in awe to look out at what used to be an megapolis full of character, of the arrant chaos and beautiful ugliness that was Tokyo, to now, a bleak, scripted configuration of glass extrusions, a developers’ wünderland of unmitigated nihilism, or as Koolhaas says: “a city on its way to the slaughterhouse”.

    But the ground level is the greatest culprit. The Jerde Partnership (their wikipage sounds like a bio straight from their PR), like some international conspiracy, is responsible for this and the ever-growing plague of junk mall-space on the earth. Who can resist? Look at Omotesando Hills (another Mori Frankenstein!); even Ando went corporate.

    The Koizumi-powered politico-economics allowed this monstrosity to be conjured. Is this the zenith of globalization, of the west, of the best that Japan, that Tokyo can do, of the best that architects can do?

    Japan, as it has then and as it is now, trying to spend itself out of its listless coma, has permanently succeeded in exemplifying luxury and greed, not through the temporary figures of Takafumi Horie and Yoshiaki Murakami, but of through enduring projects like Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, and in the process, turned the impermanence and madness that makes (made?) Tokyo interesting into crystalline forms of lasting repulsiveness.

  52. Grzeg Says:

    Somewhere after “the article would have read the same if it had the same effect” was supposed to be “let me elaborate on my previous comment”, to try to bridge the gap in that train of thought.

    And to make sure that this comment isn’t entirely content-empty, let me add that I can’t believe that the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Isa Genzken, and Tatsuo Miyajima are complicit in decorating that otherwise cultural wasteland. But upon reflecting on our current financial climate and artists’ fiscal condition at any time, maybe I can…