The Financial Fiction Genre

Japanese Business Novels

In Japan business novels have been a popular genre since the 1950s, typically depicting the trials and tribulations of white collar employees who have enough to cope with in their everyday work but frequently find that the businesses they work for are enmeshed in corruption. What is true of literature is also true of the cinema. So-called salaryman films are to Japanese cinema what cowboy movies are to Hollywood. Many business novels deal with financial institutions, but only a few have been translated into English. Nevertheless some of the untranslated novels have also attracted interest in the West because of what they, and the public response to them of the Japanese people, tell us about business in that country. This section also includes details of the work of a few western novelists who have written about Japanese financial institutions.

Main Kohda

Main Kohda was originally a bond seller at Continental Illinois National Bank and Bankers Trust in Tokyo until she left in 1988 to start a consulting firm. Subsequently she became a writer. In 1995, Toshihide Iguchi, a bond trader at the New York branch of Daiwa Bank, was arrested for concealing $1.1 billion in losses. With impeccable timing, just two weeks earlier, Main Kohda published Intangible Game, (the paperback was given a different title - Money Hacking) about a Japanese trio who break into the computer system of a large American bank with the aim of stealing millions of dollars but in the process, they uncover a fraud by a major Japanese bank seeking to hide huge trading losses.

There are also parallels between her later novels and real events. The heroine of Kizu, or Scar is an international bond saleswoman (like Main Kohda was in her earlier career), who uses a combination of her financial expertise acumen and sexual allure to avenge the suicide of her lover by bringing down a century-old Japanese bank. It was published in 1998 but Ms Kohda actually completed it a few weeks before the collapse of Hokkaido Takushoku Bank in 1997, the first big bank failure in Japan since the Second World War.

Nihon Kokusai or Japanese Government Bonds, became an instant success when it was first published in hardback in 2001. It tells the story of a group of bond traders who deliberately create a financial crisis by crisis by boycotting an auction of 1.4 trillion yen worth of 10-year government bonds. However, their motive is not to make a killing in the market. Instead, by provoking a crisis they hope to force the Japanese government to make much needed reforms. Main Kohda's novel is particularly topical as the world's second largest economy has long been stuck in a recession and some of the banks have been kept solvent by the sale of government bonds. Among the more than two hundred people she interviewed when writing her book were some from the Ministry of Finance, who Ms Kohda said, were willing to cooperate with her because they want to see reforms take place.

Main Koda followed up Nihon Kokusai with Rinretsu No Sora (Bitter Skies) in 2002 which is about a foreign-owned securities firm that sells massive quantities of fraudulent derivatives and then destroys the evidence. There are parallels between the plot and the case of the Princeton notes sold to Japanese firms by the Tokyo branch of Cresvale International Lts., a French-owned securities firm. The people involved were accused of fraud after the Princeton companies defaulted.

Ryo Takasugi

One of his novels, Shosetsu Nihon Kogyo Ginko (Industrial Bank of Japan). was listed in a World Bank bibliography on Insider Control and the Role of Banks - an illustration of the educational value of some fiction. However it was a film called Jubaku (or Spellbound in the English version), based on another of his novels, that attracted international recognition. The arrest of a sokaiya gangster exposes links between the Asahi Central Bank and the Yakuza (the Japanese equivalent of the Mafia). Four middle-level salarymen decide to investigate the illegal payments but are obstructed by those who have something to hide. It has been claimed that the film is based on a real scandal in 1997 involving banks that made illegal loans to racketeers but in an interview with the Japan Times in July 1997, Ryo Takasugi said that it was just a coincidence that the novel Kinyu Fushoku Retto (An Archipelago of Financial Corruption) came out just as a major sokaiya scandal hit the headlines with the arrest of the former president of Nomura Securities Co. and the former chairman of Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, as well as many other senior executives. However, although the timing may have been coincidental the novelist said he had had a premonition that something of that sort could happen and his work was based on interviews with people who had dealt with the racketeers and other shady aspects of the banking business.

In 2002 Ryo published Za Gaishi (Foreign Capital) which has the intertwined themes of the struggle against corruption and on the threat to Japanese banks of American takeovers. It has been said that the takeover of the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan by Ripplewood Holdings provided some of the inspiration for the plot.

Eiji Oshita

In 1998 Oshita, a writer for a weekly magazine who became a novelist, published Shosetsu Nippon Baishu (the Buy-out of Japan) about the threat from foreign-owned financial institutions, a theme subsequently tackled by Ryo Takasugi and Main Koda.

Ikko Shimizu

Ikko Shimizu was formerly a financial journalist. Three of his short stories were translated into English by Tamae K. Prindle and published in 1996 under the title The Dark Side of Japanese Business: Three Industry Novels. The first two stories Keiretsu and The Ibis Cage are about an automobile parts manufacturer and geishas, respectively but Silver Sanctuary is about bank employees and in particular an upstart banker whose choice of marriage partner is dictated by his need to maintain an ideal self-image. It has been described as a romantic melodrama but Silver Sanctuary is also notable for its portrayal of the intense competition that companies face in the Japanese domestic market.

Saburo Shiroyama

Saburo Shiroyama is the pen name used by Eiichi Sugiura, a former professor of economics. He wrote a biographical novel, Brave and Fearless, about the life of Shibusawa Eiichi, a leading businessman during the Meiji period who played a role in founding the Daiichi National Bank to provide assistance to Japanese industry. For much of the post-war period Japanese business has been bedevilled by the Sokaiya or corporate racketeers but was not until the late 1950s that the name Sokaiya came into general use following the publication of Shiroyama's novel Sokaiya Kinjo (or Kinjo the Corporate Bouncer) depicting the power plays that mar shareholders' meetings. One of his few books to be translated into English is The Takeover which concerns the fate of a family run department store, in a fashionable area of Tokyo, which has difficulty in raising capital.

Akimitsu Takagi

One of the most popular of all Japanese mystery authors, Akimitsu Takagi was born in 1920 and after studing metallurgy at Kyoto University he worked for an aircraft company but became a writer at the age of 28. He was a self-taught legal expert and the heroes in most of his books were usually prosecutors or police investigators. The Informer, originally published in 1965 and subsequently translated into English, is the story of a former Tokyo stock exchange worker who is fired because of illegal trades. A subsequent stock market crash means that he has no hope of returning to his old career and therefore he accepts a job from an old friend even though he eventually discovers that the new firm he works for is really an agency for industrial espionage. The plot is based on actual events.

Peter Tasker

Peter Tasker is a British financial analyst working in Japan. He has written a factual book about the country, Inside Japan : wealth, work and power in the new Japanese empire, the American edition of which had the title The Japanese : portrait of a nation. Another work of non-fiction by Tasker is Nihon no jidai wa owatta ka, (The end of Japanese golden age?) published in Japanese in 1992. In that year his first work of fiction, Silent Thunder, was also published. It is about a plot to disrupt the world's economic system, thereby establishing Japanese domination over Asia. In Buddha Kiss, his second thriller, a British financial analyst and a Japanese private detective are the main characters in a plot involving a huge financial fraud, designer drugs, and a fanatical religious cult. Samurai Boogie published in 1999, is another story involving the private detective, Kazuo Mori . The death of a senior bureaucrat at the Ministry of Health leads to Mori being caught up in a plot involving the Yakuza and two computer-game manufacturers. Although not about financial institutions the novel depicts life in Tokyo in the aftermath of the financial bubble.

Julia Notaro

In the late 1980s Julia Notaro, a corporate trader in London, decided to learn Japanese in order to enhance her career prospects and therefore she  moved to the island of Shikoku in western Japan where she got a job teaching English to businessmen. One evening she met Masaru Ishikawa, a local carpenter who later became her husband and so her career plans changed for good. Julia Notaro (or Marisa Ishikawa as she is known in Japan) started writing and in May 2000 her first novel, Short Change, was published in Britain. It tells the story of of Lisa Soames, a young British woman graduate who is beginning her career in a Japanese bank in the City of London. The novel does treat some serious subjects such as sexual harassment but is basically a comedy.

Tom Clancy

The Debt of Honor deals with a Japanese plot to destroy American and European financial markets. See the section on spy thrillers.  



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Last updated 17 May 2010.