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2005年7月14日 (木)

Bid-rigging lexicon speaks loudly about Japan


Bid-rigging lexicon speaks loudly about Japan


A feature of the second edition of the Random House English-Japanese Dictionary, published by Shogakukan, is that it offers a list of words of Japanese origin that are used by English speakers. It puts together about 900 Japanese words that have appeared in authoritative American and British dictionaries of the English language or dictionaries of new words used in English.



The alphabetically arranged list ranges from words like tsunami, kimono and hara-kiri (committing suicide by cutting open the abdomen), which entered the English lexicon in the 19th century, continuing up to 1990s words.

Going over the list, one feels as if reading a history of shifts in interest about Japan. The list may also be taken as mirroring the way Japan has presented itself to the outside world.


Among the words from the 1990s, my eyes were arrested by keiretsu (interlocking business ties) and dango (bid-rigging), because of their close and time-honored association with the way business is done in Japan.

These are words that make one understand why the Japanese economy is robust, why Japanese corporations often shut out outsiders, and why shady business practices persist.


In a bid-rigging scandal over steel bridge projects, a retired director of Japan Highway Public Corp. was arrested Tuesday along with four other men for allegedly playing key roles in fixing bids for orders placed by the state-run company.

A former adviser to one of the companies involved, the suspect is said to have had the cooperation of other former Japan Highway officials who landed cushy post-retirement jobs in the industry.

Operating from an "amity society" of retired Japan Highway officials, members allegedly gathered unannounced information on scheduled orders from Japan Highway branch offices across the country.


The scandal shows how deeply bid-rigging is entrenched in this country. But Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), was unexpectedly tolerant about the dango problem at a news conference. "It's something like a custom you find everywhere in Japan," he said.

Perhaps he was not specifically talking about the bid-rigging scandal over steel bridge projects. Even so, when I heard it, I could not help shaking my head in disbelief.


I fear that a statement by Japan's top business leader, dismissing bid-rigging as if it were something irrelevant, just when a major bid-rigging case is about to be unraveled, could spawn misunderstandings at home and abroad.

My hope is that Okuda will watch his words if only to keep tsutsu uraura (everywhere in Japan) from being added to the list of Japanese words used by English speakers.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 13(IHT/Asahi: July 14,2005)


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