Friday, August 26, 2011

Two more lucky bastards



Hello from Tokyo on a rainy evening. I arrived on the early morning JAL flight that left Manila at 9 am and arrived at Narita Airport just after 2 PM. I've been taking this flight for so long and for so many times each year that I practically know everyone in JAL at the airport by now. It's like flying with friends, as they've seen almost every milestone in my life in the process. Some of the JAL people, I've known for more than 20 years by now!

Tokyo was uncharacteristically rainy today -- it seemed almost like Manila in a minor typhoon as I drove into the city and the electronic signs on the highway were all indicating major traffic jams everywhere and telling me it would take 100 minutes to Shibuya. Fortunately we decided to get off the highway at some point and by using the regular roads we made it to our part of town in less than an hour.

CATCHING UP WITH FRIENDS

Over a delicious Italian dinner at one of Tokyo's best Italian restaurants that was incidentally empty on a Friday night -- yes, Japan is still in the middle of a recession -- I caught up with news of friends and acquaintances who were actually still in town.

After the big recession in 2008, there was a mass exodus of foreigners out of Japan as large and small companies began firing people, and so many friends took this opportunity to leave Tokyo and set up homes and businesses in cheaper and more hospitable climates. Japan has one of the most extensive welfare systems in the world, and therefore also one of the highest rates of income taxes and corporate taxes in the world; so if you value where your money is going and mind very much having to work hard and pay for two or three other people's welfare benefits via your taxes, this isn't the place for you.

PLUSES AND MINUSES
But, like everywhere else, Japan and Tokyo in particular has its share of good and bad. So it has a punishing tax system for high fliers but the welfare state almost ensures that crime is still very low, streets are safe, and public infrastructure is efficient. We used to all leave our front doors unlocked for the longest time because there was a time when there was almost zero crime in Japan; and now that's not the case at all anymore, but it's still much safer than most big cities.
The culture is also a big plus, of course. Everyone I know falls in love with Japanese culture and Japanese food; and that's a big reason why lots of people want to live here as well.

But in the last two years, Tokyo became a ghost town of sorts as so many expatriates left. However, I still had quite a number of friends to ask after, and today I got news of two high-fliers who not only survived but thrived through 2008 and 2009 as well.

TWO LUCKY BASTARDS

One of them has been in all the tabloids lately, photographed driving a really famous and quite pretty actress around town in his brand new Ferrari. He'd led a most charmed life ever since I met him, and frankly I always thought it was way more than he deserved; but he'd left his wife and she'd left her husband and so far they've apparently been very happy together.

Another friend made a really big success in the finance world out of what was literally a crashing year for most everyone else. When I heard tonight how much he'd made every year for the past five years or so, I literally put my wine glass down and gasped. But perhaps having all that money isn't very good after all. He'd gone to dinner with some other friends recently and they'd all gotten drunk, and at the end of the evening he'd almost sobbed into his glass of Sauterne, lamenting: "I have too much money. I don't know what to do with it anymore."


Of course this story made the rounds in Tokyo. Apparently he'd bought six golf courses and so many houses around the world that he could've created his own private Monopoly board; and now he was running out of things to spend his fortune on. And no, I haven't had a chance to talk to him myself as I've been away from Japan for the longest time; in fact the last time I saw him was when I'd traveled with him and a whole bunch of other people to Delhi and Mumbai sometime back and we'd all stayed in suites in the old wing of the beautiful Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai before terrorists had run it over.

So I haven't had a chance to suggest donating his fortune to charity, if that's what you're thinking. Charity, by the way, is not big in Japan. I guess this is because the wealthy are so heavily taxed already vis-a-vis everyone else, that it's almost like their perpetually on charity already.

So these are the two lucky bastards I thought I'd tell you about this evening. This is part 2 of my blog entries on lucky bastards so far. And perhaps because I know so many lucky bastards, maybe I'll make this a series. Good night from the land of sushi and wagyu.


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