This book began by introducing Japan's 'summers of living dangerously' in 2000 and 2001. Belated recalls of Snow Brand milk, which poisoned over 13,000 people, were followed by revelations of product quality problems afflicting televisions and automobiles-consumer goods on which Japan has built a world-wide reputation-and then an outbreak of 'mad cow disease'. Chapter 1 suggested that a key issue is how to appraise such events, and the responses by firms, regulators and others. Has nothing changed in Japan since 1969, when millions of automobiles were recalled as well, as described in Chapter 2? Or since 1955, when thousands of infants were poisoned from unknown causes by milk supplied by Snow Brand, and then over 12,000 (including hundreds of deaths) by Morinaga milk found to contain arsenic? Or, from that same era, when the interests of big business and powerful government actors also prevented prompt and effective reactions to mercury poisoning of fisheries and villagers in Minamata?
In 2000, at least, the poisoning does not appear to have resulted in any deaths, and the cause was confirmed much more quickly. Government authorities did respond, although not as quickly or effectively as most would have liked, highlighting problems with the Food Sanitation Law-poor implementation of mandated inspections, and the need for new duties on firms to report accidents to the public as well as regulators (Hiraizumi 2002). Compensation was quickly paid to those injured, yet some quite high-profile litigation has been brought too (Tanaka 2001). The financial implications, and loss of trust in Snow Brand's products, almost brought about the demise of one Japan's most famous brand names. Even more significantly, concerns spread to products supplied by other food companies, resulting in a spate of recalls. They came under further pressure after mad cow disease was discovered in Japan's dairy herd in 2001, and some firms were found to have mislabelled beef to benefit from a government bailout-including a Snow Brand subsidiary, which was pressured into liquidation. An amendment to the Japanese Agricultural Standards Law resulted in MAFF publicizing the names of 30 companies found to have deliberately faked labels. So sensitive have companies become about consumer concerns about labelling, and recalls, that in February 2003 one firm recalled 4,000 cans of oranges with an expiry date misprinted as 'September 20005'. 1 MAFF's poor handling of measures to prevent mad cow disease from 1996, and to deal with it after its