February 8th, 2011
03:06 PM GMT
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What recession? There wasn't one at the top end of the art market.

"The price levels of these works of art have not only held, they've risen," Jussi Pylkkanen, President of Christie's Europe told me a week before the auction house put works by some of the famed impressionists under the hammer in London.

Works by Degas, Gaugin and Chagall lined the walls at Christie's as Pylkkanen explained to me that 80% of the works up for auction are being sold these days, showing great confidence that the big Impressionist and modern art sale this week in London by his house (and presumably also for the one at rival Sotheby's Tuesday featuring a painting by Picasso) will show huge demand. "This is one of the strongest sales I have seen here in the 25 years," he said.

That's what the sellers are counting on of course.


September 2nd, 2010
10:25 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan – Akihisa Shirota has piles of manga in his office. He likes to take math drills with the students. And he dismisses the “ivory tower” types as living too “in the box.”

Not your average junior high school principal in any country, but especially in Japan, a country renowned for its rigorous and rudimentary educational system.

Look at Shirota’s resume and you notice what’s not there: the words "teacher" or "educator." It’s instead dotted with high tech and publishing companies he’s headed as the president or manager.

Shirota’s lack of experience in education is exactly what made him attractive to Wada Junior High School.

Watch how Japan is seeking to revamp its education system

“Principals are people who became teachers right after graduating from college,” said Shirota. As a former Japan Inc. man, Shirota treats his students more like his employees. He knows the name and test score of every single student in the school, all 400 of them.

The day at Wada Junior High begins with a math drill known here as “brain training.” Stealing from the theory that puzzles may prevent dementia among the elderly, Shirota believes drilling with puzzles and problems everyday under time pressure will sharpen young minds.

Later in the day, the students head to a seminar headed by a company. The class teaches business manners, like how to politely greet clients and behave at a board meeting.

Then at 7pm, night school begins. Cram schools, as these evening classes are called, are common in private schools, but not in public ones. Shirota says the purpose is the same: to boost test scores for school entrance exams.

Critics have varied from calling Wada Jr. High too rigorous or too lax.

Koya Nakamura, 15, says he enjoys the school, even if his school day ends at 9pm. Other students call their principal “different” but “cool.”

Call him what you like, says Shirota, both good and bad. But his philosophy has paid off in higher test scores, he says. At the core of this principal’s beliefs is this: Japan’s companies must adapt to the times to compete in an ever-changing global environment. Schools should be no exception.

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Filed under: AsiaJapan

August 12th, 2009
10:42 AM GMT
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It seems one of the biggest challenges in covering the Stern Hu/Rio Tinto case is trying to explain how the Chinese legal system works, or doesn’t work. For a start everything is in Chinese, which may seem pretty obvious, but it makes it pretty tricky; there are translation issues, which starts to get really tough when you include legal terms, as well.

China says the Rio Tinto case will not affect the development of ties with Australia.
China says the Rio Tinto case will not affect the development of ties with Australia.

On Wednesday came word that the “Rio Four” - as they’ve being called by some in Australia - had been “arrested.” This was the cause for a great deal of confusion in our newsroom – hadn’t they already been arrested? Didn’t that already happen when police swooped in last month? How can someone be arrested by police without being arrested?

And this is perhaps why the Stern Hu case is causing such nervousness among so many of my highly-paid, still-employed, executive friends in Beijing. A number of lawyers who have nothing to do with the Rio case explained to me how it works. Unlike other countries such as the U.S., Britain and Australia, in China police have the power to detain those suspected of being up to no good. They can do that for 37 days. No arrest, no charges, nothing.

So you sit in a jail for 37 days, 888 hours, wondering what it is you’ve done (or if you know, wondering how they found out and what evidence they have). By day 38, police must decide to either formally arrest you or let you go. In the Rio case, they went ahead with the arrests. The police have another two months to gather evidence, can apply for an extension of a month, and then if they need to, another two months and another two months. That’s a total of seven months. All the time you are in a jail, wondering what is going on.

If there is good news here for Mr. Hu and the three others it is that they’ve been arrested on charges of illegally obtaining commercial secrets, not state secrets. Lawyers told me those are likely to be the charges they’ll face in court if it goes that far.

There’s always a slim chance that illegally obtaining state secrets could get back into the mix (legally it’s possible and politically anything is possible, as well.) But there does seem to be a sniff of maybe a deal in the works. China is backing away from the most serious allegations, the heat is coming out of the relationship a little. China’s Deputy Commerce Minister, Fu Ziying, said Wednesday he believed “this case should not, and will not, affect the stable development of the economic and trade bilateral ties between China and Australia."

And a source of mine in Canberra tells me a Chinese embassy car has been parked in front of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for most of the early afternoon.

Coincidence? Maybe, but four Rio employees sitting in a Shanghai prison will no doubt be hoping it’s not.

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Filed under: AsiaBusinessChina

October 20th, 2008
11:32 AM GMT
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OPPAMA, Japan – The town of Oppama is about as far away from Main Street, USA as you can get. Virtually nothing here resembles anything American, except for a lone McDonald's on the corner. But stop and talk to 78-year-old fish-shop owner Kohei Ishiwata and he'll wax poetic about the U.S. credit crunch.

Kohei Ishiwata waxes poetic about the U.S. credit crunch.
Kohei Ishiwata waxes poetic about the U.S. credit crunch.

"They made fake money out of thin air!" Ishiwata exclaims, inbetween slicing up thick chunks of fresh sushi.

Step next door to Yuji Fujita's vegetable shop and he'll teach you a thing or two about trickle down economics, Japan-style. "I hope the U.S. economy improves. They're a big influence for us," he says, his 20-month-old son sleeping in the corner of the grocery store that's been in the family for three generations.

The influence is everywhere on Oppama's main street, which relies on the robust appetite of Main Street, USA. Oppama is home to a major Nissan plant. It's the area's primary employer and every part of life here is connected to the automaker.

But automakers are taking a huge hit from the U.S. credit crunch and the global economic slowdown. U.S. consumers, the primary customers for Japan's auto industry, are buying fewer Japanese vehicles. Already inside the Nissan plant, workers tell us they're worried the ax could fall on their jobs at any moment.

But the Oppama businesses that live off the Nissan paychecks also worry about the secondary impact. Oppama fears it could pay in a general slowdown to its community's economy

The financial meltdown is undoubtedly a banking crisis and a market rollercoaster. But it's more than just tickers at the bottom of TV screens and money being moved around in central banks. It's a global problem being felt in neighborhoods around the world.

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