It's a Japanese identity thing, a quirky legal drama, and a
generational standoff - with a touch of Wall Street-bashing.
The stars, or fallen stars, are two young Tokyo risk-takers once
lauded as icons of entrepreneurial brio - but whose flip attitudes
and behavior, not to mention alleged law breaking, are branding them
as examples of what's amiss with the national spirit.
The separate arrests and ongoing prosecutions of Takafumi Horie
and Yoshiaki Murakami took place with great speed. Less than a year
ago, both men were flying high - admired, quoted, and sought out by
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Last Friday, Mr. Murakami pleaded not guilty to charges that he
engaged in insider trading in a case that, last summer, nearly
toppled the respected governor of the Bank of Tokyo, Toshihiko
At a time when Japanese income gaps are steadily widening and
wages have remained flat for five years despite an improving
economy, the alleged white-collar criminals have captivated the
Japanese media as symbols of fast-money flirtation and profit-
mongering that breaks with the familiar old-boy network. Their
ignominious behavior has also come to epitomize a perceived loss of
traditional unity and public spirit in a society where even the
wealthiest are expected to keep their heads down.
Mr. Horie, a cheeky dot-com baron who's tried to acquire baseball
teams and TV channels, has been on trial for several months for
lying about his Internet firm's earnings. Murakami, a Carl Ichan-
like corporate raider, founded one of Japan's most successful
investment funds. If convicted, they could face fines and jail time.
Both plead innocence, though neither claims to be a choir boy of
The twin cases revive slaps at what is widely seen as Japan's
"Americanization" - translated as an attitude where making profits
trumps the public good. Murakami is often given negative marks for
his appreciation of the business style of New York financial house
Observers on both the political left and right find some
agreement on the public morality aspect: "Social cohesion is
collapsing due to the lack of a public mind, and Horie and Murakami
are symbolic of the entire approach of Japanese business society,
which is all about money, money, money," says former finance
minister Eisuke Sakakibara. "The prosecutors may have a priority ...
that this trend should stop."
On the right, Masahiko Fujiwara, whose best-selling book,
"Dignity of a Nation," focuses on restoring a samurai spirit in
Japan, argues that, "Horie ... became a role model for youth, even a
guru, despite the fact that he dropped out of Tokyo University....
He has no bushido spirit, no sense of values," he says, referring to
Japan's traditional warrior code of conduct. "He's like an American,
having the idea that everything can be bought with money. …