Terrie’s Take: Oji Homes and asbestos–and treating NJ customers badly


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Hi Blog.  Yet another fantastic article from Terrie Lloyd.  I doff my hat in respect with the depth, breadth, and context provided every week in his “Terrie’s Take”s.

This one talks about the rot within Oji Seishi (Oji Paper), which is, incidentally, one of Hokkaido’s biggest employers (with factories in Tomakomai and Kushiro, not to mention seven other cities, and offices in Beijing, Melbourne, Vancouver, and Shanghai).  Its nine other “specialty paper plants” include my city of employment, Ebetsu, Hokkaido, and their works and subsidiary investments are the backbone of many a community.  Which is why the rot is supremely bad news.

Why is this a Debito.org issue?  Because their expat housing is treating NJ badly–toxically, in fact.  Terrie doesn’t make too big of a deal of that in his writing (you have to read almost to the end and blink when you realize the clientele include expats).  But I will.  (What did you expect?).  

In whatever fairness is warranted these people, Terrie asserts that the lies and poisons the NJ clients are enduring would not happen to the same degree to Japanese.  I’m not so sure of that, but it’s nevertheless a landlord that anyone would want to avoid.  Especially when they are lying about the degree of toxins they are releasing into the land and air, and asbestos in their housing.  Be advised.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *

A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.


General Edition Sunday, July 13, 2008 Issue No. 477 (excerpt)

When one thinks of Oji Paper, Japan’s largest paper manufacturing company (in terms of consolidated sales), the image is of vast green forests in Hokkaido, excellent paper-making technology, and the guiding hand of Eichi Shibusawa. Shibusawa was the father of Japan’s capitalist economy, initially helping to modernize the Ministry of Finance, then going out on his own to found the nation’s first modern bank, one of its first joint stock companies, and helping around 500 other now major companies (such as Tokyo Gas, Mizuho, the Imperial Hotel, Sapporo Breweries, and Taiheiyo Cement) to get started.

One of Shibusawa’s key philosophies was the promotion of business ethics and that helping others was an intrinsic part of making a business successful. Perhaps this is where the Japanese view that the purpose of companies is to provide for society first and shareholders second, came from. On the philanthropic and education side of his life, Shibusawa engaged in a purported 600+ projects to improve the living standards of those around him.

What a shame, then, that Oji Paper has lost the positive spirit and moral fiber of this great pioneer of modern Japan.

The reason we make this statement is that despite its pedigree, Oji and its group companies have shown that corporate pride and covering one’s back is more important than ethics. The “ethics” we’re talking about here concern Oji’s record on environmental pollution and resulting business decision-making.

As an example, on July 8th of this last week, the Tokyo District Court ordered Oji Paper to pay JPY590m in damages to Seiko Epson for selling Seiko Epson a 30,000 sq. m. plot of land in Nagano which turned out to be highly polluted with PCBs and Dioxin. Seiko Epson had to have 8,300 tons of soil removed to remediate the problem. Of course there was no mention by Oji prior to the sale of the fact that the plot was damaged.

For some reason almost no foreign media picked up on this law suit, but it shows that Oji has a pattern of lying and covering up pollution and general business problems. You may recall that in January this year, Oji among other paper producers was found to have been a leading culprit in lying about the level of recycled fiber/paper content in their “green” paper products. In many cases the recycled content was only 10% – 20% of that claimed, and in some cases there was NO recycled material present at all. While the CEO of competitor Nippon Paper stepped down over the industry-wide scandal, the CEO of Oji Paper, true to form, decided to say “sorry” but to otherwise chose to dodge the bullet.

Going back a bit further, to July, 2007, Oji Paper was forced to admit that its Fuji paper plant in Shizuoka had emitted more nitrogen oxide (NOx) than allowed under a local agreement with Shizuoka prefectural authorities. What’s worse, they falsified their emissions data to cover up the problem and were only found out after the Hokkaido Prefectural government challenged the company up north and did its own inspection of the company’s Kushiro plant. They found that the Kushiro emissions were in some cases twice Japan’s allowable limit. Ironically, NOx is a leading cause of acid rain, which destroys forests…!

Go further back still, and there are other instances of similar cover-ups and subsequent court cases. However, the point of today’s Take is that a related Oji company, Oji Real Estate, has now been found to have been engaging in its own form of cover-up that is much closer to home.

It is common knowledge in the expat community that the three Oji Real Estate condominium complexes in Minami-Aoyama: Oji Palace, Oji Homes, and Oji Green Hills are extremely popular with out-of-town CEOs and their young families. Oji Homes in particular draws a long waiting list of young families thanks to its 20m outdoor swimming pool and it’s convenient location right in the middle of fashionable Omote Sando. There are approximately 20 apartments in that complex, and over the last 25 years, we imagine that more than 200 families have lived there.

That’s 500+ tenants who rented their luxury apartments in the knowledge that they had a rock-solid landlord and the building was safe — or so they thought.

About two years ago. Oji started refusing to renew leases with tenants at Oji Homes, on the basis that they wanted to do renovations to improve earthquake standards for the building. This sounded credible, and most of the families have subsequently moved out despite being offered inadequate compensation to find a similar replacement apartment (standard practice in Japan for high-class apartments being renovated or torn down is to offer tenants 1-2 years supplementary rent to move to digs of a comparable level).

However, two families who’ve been long-term residents decided to dig their heels in and demand from Oji fair and reasonable compensation to move out. Oji decided to ignore them by starting renovation work around the families, arranging for their utilities to stay connected until a resolution was reached, or until the living conditions became so difficult that the families would eventually move out.

By “difficult” we mean that the building is being jacked up, so as to strengthen the building foundations, and the passage ways are soon to be full of dust, wheel barrows, and workers lugging in and out building materials.

As work has progressed, the families became suspicious that Oji may have had another reason for doing the construction work and decided to hire a professional architect to come in and assess the work. To their shock, he pointed out a number of areas fitted with asbestos and worse still, PCBs — perhaps from the same source as those found in the Nagano soil by Seiko Espon.

When confronted by the families, Oji initially denied any presence of either substance and continued their work as if everything was OK. However, the two families persisted and in June (last month), in front of lawyers and staff representing the families AND the Minato-ku Ward Office, Oji Real Estate and Takenaka Construction company representatives admitted that the building does in fact have both substances, with the asbestos being present in significant amounts, and that they’d known for some time about the presence of these substances.

Now, let’s think about this. A luxury apartment full of young kids, top-level international executives, and their guests, and yet Oji had known for possibly up to two years about the presence of asbestos and PCBs! What does this tell you about the company and its ethics?

As far as we know, we’re the first to break this story to the public, but the families are obviously hoping that the media will pick up on the situation and give Oji the coverage that the company obviously still needs in order to get the message: “a quick admission of the problem and proper settlement of tenant claims is the only reasonable outcome”.

In the meantime, if you are living in or have lived in any of the Oji apartment complexes, you may be wondering what the presence of asbestos means. Providing it is inert, probably the buildings have been/are reasonably safe, but the problem with asbestos is that one never knows when it or the binders it is applied with will age and start to flake off. Oji Palace is even older than the Oji Homes facility and there has been no indication at this stage that Oji plans any investigation or remediation of substances possibly present there. We think this is extremely irresponsible.

We also think it is very irresponsible that there is a public school right next to the building site, with kids running around in the playground every week day. Perhaps the parents of those children are not aware that even a wisp of the stuff inhaled into your lungs can cause mesothelioma and asbestosis later in life. Oji can and should be taking a lot more precautions and needs to come clean to the public about the work being done. Elsewhere in Japan, when asbestos is removed from schools, the entire school is closed (so it’s normally done during the summer holidays), to prevent danger to the kids.

The following link gives you some idea of what level of work precautions are necessary to safely remove asbestos from a work site. From what we’ve heard from the residents, so far the Takenaka workers are taking only the very most basic of precautions, and sophisticated respirators don’t appear to be part of them.


Then of course, there is the matter of the two families and their kids left in the building… We find it incredible that Oji Real Estate is able to engage in such dangerous construction work with tenants still present. This represents a level of bloody mindedness on the part of Oji managers that wouldn’t be tolerated if those families were Japanese. The proper venue for a showdown of this nature is the courts, and if Oji wants the resisting tenants to move, it should take them to court, reveal the levels of compensation being offered, and wait for the courts to decide before continuing their work.


20 comments on “Terrie’s Take: Oji Homes and asbestos–and treating NJ customers badly

  • Mr. Lloyd and Debito

    One of the best (and most disturbing) articles I have seen on the site. I am an engineer and I have worked in several facilities where asbestos is/was used as an insulating material (against heat). Asbestosis and mesothelioma are two very brutal conditions that are virtually incurable.

    This site is dedicated to issues involving discrimination, etc., however this issue has nothing to do with discrimination (as asbestosis and mesothelioma do not discriminate by national origin or race). The best thing we can do is distribute this information to all foreigners we know so that at least the foreign community will do their best to avoid anything to do with this company.

    This would be a great article for the English version of the Japan Times and any other paper in Japan that would take it on

  • Actually, getting a place to stay here is probally the first obstacle any foriegner will face unless your provided with a dormitory. All the places that I have resided at until now required help from the wife otherwise it would of never happened. Even once we got the place, the landlord never came around to fix the numerous problems at our dump (walls falling down, rat problem, etc.) It was amazing however, when it came time to leave, he shows up talking some craziness about how I owed him 5 ju mon for renovation. I found out I wasnt required to pay him anything, so of course he didnt recieve squat and I left the place like I found it. Unbelivable! You pay them 100000 yen a month then they want more once you leave. I recently visited a relator in Shibuya just for the hell of it and he told me that in order for me to secure an apartment in Tokyo, it would require the oyasans approval, and the approval was done on a case by case basis. There isnt a law, or it least it isnt enforced, that requires fair and equal housing for everyone. When I was in the military, I lived in an apartment building outside the base that was entirely foriegner. It was the most atrocious place you could imagine, the tatami hadnt been changed in years. The oyasan thought of the occupants as garbage, but I do remember him coming and banging on the door demanding his rent because I hadnt paid it before 12 noon. You know Im glad people are starting to speak up about this stuff because before, even within the foriegner community, you couldnt speak about it without somebody giving you the “well” routine, like well you was an acception, it isnt that bad here or whatever. Ive learned in Japan there is no exception when it comes to foriegners getting the shaft, it has been done at least once to everyone I know, its just recently people are starting to speak up about it.

  • in osaka where I live, the gaijin have the choice between the banana house or the orange house. these are the gaijin firetrap rooms with no fire exits. and whatever that is listed in the http://www.kansaifleamarket and the http://www.gaijinpot, and http://www.kansaiscene are all the apartments that have already been rejected my the japanese, so the gaijin get all the leftovers..its called housing disrimination in america, but in japan its called SHOUGANAI!!!

  • It seems like Carl and Jim have had problems but Jim`s assertion that `the gaijin` in Osaka only have two choices of places to live is silly.

    Debito, why are you letting Jim post obvious nonsense like this idea that all gaijin in Osaka are herded into two buildings? He`s trolled just about every post for the last week.

    I walked into a real estate agency, they took me around to a few apartments, I picked the nicest one, my employer signed for security (not discrimination as younger Japanese co-workers had the same thing). When I left, I got all but 1000 yen of my shikikin (damage deposit) back (damaged part of the shoji). The manager took care of my gas range when it was damaged one time.

    For anyone who is thinking about living in Japan, take posts like Jim`s with a grain of salt or talk to some people who have lived in Japan to get a few more points of view.

    –I agree. And I’d assume that people are innately smart enough to do that anyway. There are many Japans for many people out there, and nobody has a monopoly on “the Japan experience”, whatever that means.

  • Ok, for my rant:

    Posts like Jim’s are getting really old. I’ve been looking through the last 10 threads or so and in almost every post there is some lame 3 line comment by Jim expressing the same “shougnai” and “because it’s Japan” crap that is totally unnecessary on a board like this.

    A few days ago Ralph mentioned something about a unified front of gaijin, but seriously, it’s the people like Jim that make that impossible. Not all of us are here to rag on Japan because of a few problems that need addressing. The problems you are so concerned about don’t exist everywhere. There are some of us who live in Japan and specifically want to address these problems. We’re here to make Japan a better place for everyone – believe it or not, changed legislation helps Japanese people also – not just whine about problems.

    And yes Jim, thank you for linking 3 web sites that CAN be used as sources for information in the Kansai area. No one said you had to. If you don’t like what you find, CHOOSE to go another web site. Be proactive about your life in Japan. I seriously have no idea how your perspective became so warped.

    –I have an idea why. See his 2006 article in the Hiragana Times up on Debito.org. Not meant as a defense, but an experience like this would probably sour most people on a political/social system.

    I agree, however, that Jim’s constant bickering and “oops I forgot this is Japan” rhetoric is getting tiresome and hyperbolic. And when it’s gotten really bad (there have been times it crossed a line), I have not let his posts through.

  • `There are many Japans for many people out there, and nobody has a monopoly on “the Japan experience”, whatever that means.`

    But some Japan images are based on pure misinformation. If you read Jim`s post, you would swear that there are only a few apartments where foreigners can live in a city as big as Osaka and that everyone from the illegals to eikaiwa teachers, university profs, and finance lawyers are stuck in them because they are `left over` when the Japanese take all of the good ones. That`s pure BS.

    Big ups to Icarus for calling for good ol` honest engagement. Some would be amazed what kinds of doors a smile, good attitude, and good Japanese can open up.

    –Then point out the BS and call the authors to task. As you are doing.

    I’m not every poster’s keeper. And I definitely do not agree with or vouch for everything in everyone’s commentary to this blog.

  • i see that when one person is enjoying bashing jim then another one gets on the bandwagon and bashes jim. my comments maybe tiresome to some people but to others they are a good dose of a reality check. and the reality is that many NJ in japan face housing discrimination so it should not be casually looked over and suger coated because if we act like that things are not so bad over here then we are really only fooling ourself…and i will continue my honest and frank comments because its called freedom of speech, and my comments are not meant to bash japan or look down on this country that i call my home, they are meant as a wake-up call for all the others that dont want to admit or talk about the failures of japan..

  • I didnt see anything about Jims post that was disturbing, actually Ive experienced much worse. For me, I want to leave, and eventually will. It becomes harder, because the longer you stay, the more you get trapped in a circle. The circle is people who tell you that “Aw, it aint that bad I didnt experince that” and all that. Then you go to work and get told because your “karada oki” you get to do all the manual work while the others watch and laugh. When you complain about it to the wife or inlaws, you get the “this is Japan!” line or Ganbaru! horsepoop. So you work harder but its never good enough and then one day you realize your getting older. Its up to me and only me to break the circle. There is nothing in this game for me anymore, but thats just me. To each his own.

  • Jim, I’m sure that your comments are well-intentioned, but unfortunately, the reality for a lot of us is a good one. You’re more than welcome to give your opinion – I’m not trying to stop you from doing so. However, I’d just like to express to you that these so-called failures of Japan, are almost 99% on a government level and have very little connection to daily life for most people.
    And as one of those people living in the sugar-coated version of Japan, the constant negative comments are only seen as anti-Japan. How else could one take them? That’s why I felt it necessary to speak out. If you feel the need to post generalizations about the country, it would be much more effective to provide facts, articles, etc. to back up your opinion.

  • There is a big difference between calling someone on an outright lie and sugarcoating. In your first post, you say that foreigners are forced to go into either the orange house or the banana house! What nonsense is this!? This is different than referencing housing discrimination, which is a problem that should be taken care of. You are not, however, talking about discrimination – you are putting forward some nutzo idea that gaijin are being herded into some kind of huge refugee camp or something.

    One of two possibilities with Jim –

    A – He is delusional. So every gaijin in Osaka – about 300,000 to 400,000 lives in the orange house or the banana house? World record?

    B – He is a liar. If you live in Japan, you know how foolish that statement about gaijin housing is. Never met or heard tell of a financial company employee living in a 700,000 a month penthouse? Seriously Jim, with the amount of honesty and realism that you are posting here, why should anyone belive anything that you have to say?

    `I didnt see anything about Jims post that was disturbing, actually Ive experienced much worse.`

    You`ve experienced much worse than being forced to chose between one of two scummy firetraps in a city of 5,000,000 while `The Japanese` get their pick of all of the good apartments? Liar, plain and simple. Okay, we get it, you hate Japan and want to turn a housing debate into a rant about your in-laws.

  • i think randy needs a good anger management course because from his comments he is the person that is having problems with his in-Laws, not me..and he has completely distorted my comments and twisted my comments for his benefit..all he needs to do is go to my previous posted comments and refer to my link about whats offered in the http://www.gaijinpot,www.kansaiscene.com, and http://www.kansaifleamarket, and that should be enough evidence to convince any foreignor that lives in japan that we are being offered the leftovers and rejects that typical japanese would never accept, see these are the double standards that im trying to bring to everyones attention.,how can he relate that to hateing on japan?, DAH!!

    –Jim, I’ve warned you before, but you don’t represent yourself well in your writing tone. It only affects your credibility adversely. And it’s becoming more trouble than it’s worth to approve your comments.

    Meanwhile, give us some more examples (don’t just throw us a link or three, cite examples). And please describe this “orange” vs. “banana” house. I’ve never heard of them either.

  • Jim, I`m not angry, I`m laughing. Apparently you missed the point – that part of my post about the in-laws was in reference to something that Carl said.

    Wow, Jim, why don`t you go to a real estate agent or look at the rental ads on Yahoo Japan or something. Don`t even need Japanese knowledge – I pointed and grunted my way through my first apartment rental in Japan.

    I`m not distoriting anything. You wrote –

    `in osaka where I live, the gaijin have the choice between the banana house or the orange house.`

    Yes, you suggest that there are two choices.

    `that have already been rejected my the japanese, so the gaijin get all the leftovers..`

    Honestly, your posts are only semi-coherent so I`m having trouble understanding exactly what you are talking about, but it seems like you are suggesting that, say, a brokeass unemployed Japanese kid gets `first pick!` on apartments whereas someone like me, making 12,000,000 yen a year has to live in… you guessed it, the orange or banana house! Not, for example, the 150,000 a month brand new 4LDK that I`m living in (I`m not in Osaka, but….) and had no trouble getting.

    We all know that some foreigners get turned down for apartments for no reason – Debito has written about this – but we don`t know how widespread this is and we DO know that plenty of foreigners are living in plenty of nice apartments. But, damn, where are you getting this orange house banana house stuff?

    I understand that Jim had some kind of bad run-in with the Japanese cops or something but from what I`ve seen here he`s combative, intent on insulting Japan every change he gets, no Japanese skills, and clearly telling lies about this `gaijin ghetto` stuff. Is he like this because he had a bad run-in with the cops or did he have a bad run-in with the cops because he is like this?

  • the banana house and orange house, are so called gaijin guesthouses, but the reality is they are run down slums. this are just two of the places in osaka. a few more are called green house,lemon house, and melon house. the tey to give them a nice sounding name when in fact they sound be condemened buildings. in tokyo you have the so-called sakura house which is another example, and im even sure that you have these types of cockroach city flophouses way up in hokkaido so i dont know why randy seems to be so surprised or i guess that he is still living at his In-Laws house or in a bubble..

  • Wow, Jim has proven that there are slums that cater to down on their luck foreigners. Great. We knew this to begin with.

    What this does NOT prove is that they are the only option. People are NOT being forced to live in them. They are the only option for people without money to pay the deposits and stuff needed for a REAL Japanese apartment. Broke Japanese live in $hitholes too. If being broke in Japan is not your style, you can always go home and be broke there.

    Jim is lying or shockingly ignorant when he suggests that someone like me – in Japan with a high paying job and long term visa – can`t get a decent apartment. I can get whatever I pay for and in my case, it`s a nice, expensive place quite far away from my in-laws.

    There are some foreigners living in bad places in Japan. There are some foreigners living in some of the most expensive places in Japan. Jim is trying to fool everyone with BS when he suggests otherwise.

    –Randy and Jim, both of you tone down the ad hominem or I will stop approving your posts to this thread.

  • I think the responses in this thread bring up a very interesting point that probably warrants looking into. It seems to me that the foreign community living in Japan is split right down the middle in terms of outlook on Japan. I wonder what the factors are for this divide. Is it related to work? Is it related to the location where each person is living? Is it related to political beliefs in the country of origin? Is it based simply on personality, or maybe on language skills? Does the period of residence in Japan have anything to do with it?
    There are seemingly infinite numbers of possibilities, but I find it strange that there is no middle ground – i.e. the people that are sort of ambivalent to the whole experience of living here.

    –Yes, quite. And worthy of its own blog entry. Shall I, tomorrow?

  • I don`t think that calling a liar a liar is ad hominem and above you told me to take Jim to task. Debito, you and I know perfectly well that foreigners in Japan are living in all sorts of places from the hosh to the posh. For him to suggest that everyone is forced into slum housing is a disservice to your readers that could very well convince some to give up coming to Japan in the first place.

    I say go for Icarus` idea as its own blog entry.

  • randy needs to wake up and smell the coffee because his donald trump penhouse lifestyle makes him among the minority to understand the situations of the typical foreignor that is searching for a decent place to live. it is easy for someone that makes 12 million a year to not worry or care about the rest of the 99.9 percent that have to worry about the housing promblems everytime we relocate due to jobs, etc…

  • It’s not black or white. But still, it is harder for foreigners to find housing in Japan. Ever heard of the “chotto gaikokujin ha…” thing? I wonder if there are any laws against discrimination (I heard that Kawasaki has one)? Ever seen the “gaikokujin-OK symbol” on adds posted in the “fudoyasan”? If you come to Japan without a job (i.e.looking for one while here), no one will let you rent a 100000yen/month apartment even if you can pay the deposit and key money plus commission. Chances are that you’ll have to stay in a gaijin-house or your friend’s place. If you have a “stable” (couple of months, a year…) but low-income job you might get rejected. If you don’t speak “good Japanese” you’ll end up in a “gaijin friendly agency” and probably pay a little bit more than it is worth. You know, if you’re an engineer, programmer, vvanker or a yuppie working for a good company (and the company backs you up), obviously it won’t be hard to find an apartment (not only in Japan, but anywhere else in the world…). I heard horror stories in countries where there are anti-discrimination laws, imagine in a country where there are none!

  • Martin – yeah, obviously people with good jobs get good apartments. Is anyone suggesting that people with no money or prospects should be given good housing just because it is `fair`? Jim, however, is arguing the opposite – that foreigners get the slums and the leftovers with no chance. Not true. The no visa, low income points that you suggest are, of course, the norm everywhere for term leases.

    Does Jim really think that only .1% of foreigners in Japan are making good money? 1200 man a year is around the middle for expats with advanced degrees. Hell, JETS make something like 400 man a year with subsidized housing, next to no taxes, and most of them are kids fresh out of college with zero work experience.

  • Does anyone know the rules about removing asbestos in Japan? Presumably the people removing the stuff ought to be wearing respirators, and the stuff should be moved out of the buildings in sealed bags? I do worry when I pass demolition sites – got a faceful of dust from one the other day…

    I’d have hoped the Oji residents were in a position to sue the company responsible.


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