Getting all the news on two fronts: the latest from Tokyo & Glastonbury

Opinions - June 4th, 2004
Henry Scott Stokes

by Henry Scott Stokes

I work in an odd or at least very unusual way. I gather information in two places. One is Tokyo, the other is Glastonbury, Somerset, a small town in the UK where my wife lives in our family home.

Akiko knows my needs as a writer, and she culls stuff from the British press that I would otherwise miss and sends the stories to me by airmail or some­times by fax.

This way I receive a steady flow of news and commentary from outside Japan, and I am not stuck in this frog’s well of a place. I don’t know about you, but I still find it hard — with or without the Internet — to get a feeling for what is going on in the rest of the world while living in Tokyo. This is still not an international city — not a New York, not a Paris, not a London.

I always believe that Tokyo is changing, I am very sure of it. We are seeing fantastic develop­ments right now in terms of new towers, notably in Roppongi Hills. All I have to do to feel half a century younger is walk into an Italian leisure-wear store there where our son Harry, 19, works on weekends, and listen to the music.

The store in question — it is Diesel — fairly sizzles. So check it out. It’s a new dimension in fash­ion retailing. And it’s up-market; the jeans are priced at ¥15,000, but you can spend twice that, if you insist.

So flux is all around, but how fundamental is it? I still need that flow of pieces coming in from Akiko, holding the fort at home in England, just to keep up with the news from home, and to give me the feel.

The last care package from the UK included a couple of newspaper items I would have completely missed without our home-office in Glastonbury, UK. One article was a Times of London piece written by Ann Clwyd describing a recent visit to Baghdad.

This lady is Tony Blair’s “human rights envoy to Iraq,” and she is an M.P. I guess her role is to keep Tony in contact with the Iraq the UK press (notably) fails to report, where (allegedly) all the Iraqis want is for us to hang in there and not go home.

This is not what the best newspapers say. The Financial Times reports that 90 percent of Iraqis regard the Brits and the Yanks as occupiers of their land and would like us to beat it. But Ms. Clwyd is adamant, and she knows a lot about Iraq.

She says that freedom of expression flourishes at “91 TV and radio stations and 106 newspapers” and that volunteer organizations such as the Free Prisoners’ Association are hard at work getting together a dossier on the 120,000 people killed in Saddam’s time. That dossier is growing all the time.

The FPA, she adds, declines requests for interviews from Al-Jazeera, “the TV channel hated by so many Iraqis” on the grounds it is “the voice of Saddam.” That’s her view, I gather.

What else? Let me see, now. Where is that piece? Ah, yes, here I have it. Here’s a story from The Times relating how Sir Martin Sorrell, Britain’s most famous adman, has personally secured HSBC as a client for his ad agency after a battle with other titans of the trade, notably the giant Publicis.

“The whole world in his hands,” trumpets this article by Nic Hopkins, illustrated by a photo mock-up (?) of Sorrell naked to the waist, sportin’ his pecs.

This creative man has “grabbed” the global advertising account of HSBC, according to The Times, and his agency “gets to spend” $600 million a year to promote Britain’s largest bank.

How that bank has pro­gressed. When you land at London Heathrow these days the first thing you see, scattered everywhere, is the infamous HSBC logo. It is an object lesson in “branding” and how to build up a “global brand,” I am told by those who specialize in these matters.

Meanwhile, I am indebted to Akiko for picking up on this adman’s story and underlining for me a mention in the article of Samsung, that great Korean con­sumer electronics group. Like HSBC, apparently, they want to “consolidate all marketing and advertising roles under one roof,” and Samsung is putting up its $700 million account for ten­der.

Hm, duly noted. Of late, Samsung has planted its blue oval logo on a big new building at Roppongi 1-chome. It’s practi­cally the first thing I see when I step out of my flat in the morning — a big glass building with that logo on it, just across the street from ARK Hills.

Samsung is building up its world brand, I note. I expect to see more of them here in the future.

Henryss@gol.com