Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective


SokaiyaExternal appearances are crucial in Japan, especially in business. Private issues are kept private, but Japanese companies must present a public image of harmony and control. Public embarrassment must be avoided, at all costs…

The sokaiya are racketeer groups who blackmail large companies. By threatening to disrupt shareholders’ meetings, and cause the company a great loss of face, they are able to earn large pay-offs. Often, sokaiya are hired by the companies to ensure these meetings run smoothly, and protect them from other pressure groups.

One famous group is the “banzai” sokaiya, who raid business places, screaming “Banzai!” until they are paid to leave. More discreet groups threaten to reveal company secrets at an embarrassing time. They thrive in Japan, because Japanese companies are more likely to conceal negative information from their shareholders than companies in the US or Europe.

Unable to reprimand the sokaiya themselves, the government punishes the companies who make the payoffs. Tough fines have been imposed on many corporations, including Mitsubishi Motors and Nomura Securities, who were also temporarily banned from trading. Managing directors have faced imprisonment for giving “loans” to sokaiya.

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