What with Pokemon, the biggest tech IPO of the year, the booming Nikkei, a visit by Ben Bernanke and even free Slurpee Day, this seems to be Japan’s week.
Now that’s a line you don’t hear very often — which is a bit of a pun. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
After its economy peaked in 1990, Japan has long been considered an economic backwater — which never actually has been the case. Even after its decline, Japan had the second-largest GDP in the world (after the US) from 1990 to 2010 until it was eclipsed by China. Japan is still number three ahead of Germany. Japanese companies like Toyota (TM), Hitachi (HTHIY) and Sony (SNE) are still among the biggest in the world, though they too have been overshadowed by new Chinese giants.
But it is true that Japan’s economy has been shrinking, from a total annual GDP of $5.3 trillion in 1995 to $4.1 trillion last year. And even more than that, Japan has lost it mojo. Korean cars (Kia and Hyundai) and electronics (Samsung and LG) have stolen all the thunder, never mind market share, while the global growth story flipped over years ago to its longtime rival, China.
I’m old enough to remember when the Japanese roiled the US economy, snapping up iconic American real estate like Rockefeller Center and Pebble Beach. What’s next, wags asked back then, the Grand Canyon? But years after peaking, the innovation, economic relentlessness and even fear factor that Japan reflected and induced seemed to have been lost.
Until perhaps this week.
The Pokemon Go craze — one of the biggest launches of a consumer product in the history of the planet — has blown up, boosting parent company Nintendo’s stock by 60% in just a few days.
The Nikkei is up over 4% over the past five days, in part because of Nintendo’s gains, but also because of positive reaction to Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s recent economic moves. (So maybe Abenomics actually does work?) A visit this week by former US Fed Chair Ben Bernanke also seems to have given global perceptions of Japan a boost.
And then there’s the IPO by Japanese messaging giant, Line (that’s the pun I referred to earlier), which is on track to go public this week at a $6 billion valuation. That’s big.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Slurpee! Monday was 7/11 and on that day the venerable convenience store gives out its signature frozen drinks for free. Real Americana right? Not exactly. The US parent company of 7-11 went into bankruptcy in 1990, and a controlling interest was sold to … you guessed it … a Japanese company.
I’m not saying Japan is returning to those halcyon days 25 years ago, but it is true that reports of Japan’s death are greatly exaggerated, as everything from Pokemon to free Slurpees to a mega IPO—all happening this week — shows.