Hans Greimel
Hans Greimel
Asia Editor, Tokyo
But sushi, turnips, used cars from tainted region are still suspect

Despite leaky nuke plant, Japan Inc. snags Olympics

But sushi, turnips, used cars from tainted region are still suspect

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TOKYO -- Japan subdued international anxiety about the perpetually leaking Fukushima nuclear plant -- just 150 miles northeast of Tokyo -- to snag the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The coup already is being hailed as a big win for Japan Inc. and, by extension, the country's automakers -- chief among them Toyota Motor Corp., a major sponsor of Tokyo's bid for the games.

Honda Motor Co. thinks it will be a boon for the industry.

The impending building bubble is expected to fuel domestic demand for vehicles. But crucially, the increased economic pulse will put more spending money in everyone's pockets.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe already has claimed the Olympics as the "fourth arrow" in his quiver of "Abenomics" policies that aim to jump-start the country's anemic economy. The other arrows are massive monetary easing, a surge in public spending and new policies aimed at encouraging private investment.

The games may boost GDP by 0.5 percent, according to an SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. study cited in Japan's Nikkei newspaper.

Japanese stocks surged on news of Japan's selection, underscoring the economic outlook. And the yen dropped further against the dollar, a shift that will help auto exporters.

But what about the radioactive no-man's land north of the capital? Abe has assured that "the situation is under control."

And life in Tokyo, after all, is back to normal.

With some minor adjustments.

People still watch what they eat. Sushi bars are more diligent in saying where their fish come from. Grocery stores label the source of their produce.

A sizeable flock of consumers shuns anything tagged "Fukushima." Ditto to things that can be traced to its neighboring prefectures. That's even though all food from those regions is screened and supposedly safe.

Japan's auto exports also get a clean bill of health.

At least the new cars. But there is anecdotal evidence that radioactive used cars are being unceremoniously dumped overseas.

That's particularly the case in places such as Russia and Africa, traditionally top destinations for Japanese used cars.

Just last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Russian customs agents in Vladivostok alone had intercepted 697 radioactive used cars or car-part shipping containers from Japan since the March 11, 2011, earthquake that triggered the triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi's nuclear reactors.

Last year Russia sent 300 contaminated cars back to Japan. And all told, Russia still bans nearly 600 different kinds of equipment from Japan because of fears of radiation, the report said.

To be sure, the number of affected vehicles is tiny in the grand scheme of the trade. But, as with the Olympics, image is half the battle, regardless of the science and statistics.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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