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Japanese Firms Take Steps to Head Off Backlash in U.S.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Japanese businesses in the United States are postponing parties, canceling sporting events and donating money and blood to support the Gulf War effort and thwart potential anti-Japanese sentiment over what had been criticized as the nation’s limited contribution.

In the past several weeks, criticism has grown in Washington and elsewhere that Japan’s pledge of $4 billion in aid was insufficient to secure an area that provides nearly 70% of its oil. The Japanese government pledged an additional $9 billion Thursday, one of the largest contributions of a U.S. ally, but it is not clear what impact the contribution will have on U.S. attitudes.

The Japanese Embassy in Washington and consular offices around the nation have begun receiving some angry letters and phone calls calling for boycotts of Japanese products and “Japanese blood for Japanese oil.” Although no boycotts appear to have materialized, and a threatened demonstration in Los Angeles produced only two or three participants, consular officials are busily correcting what they say is widespread misinformation about Japan’s role in the war effort.

In Los Angeles, consul Naoharu Fujii said he has fielded about 10 phone calls erroneously asserting that Japan is aiding Iraq and that Japan’s contribution is the smallest in the U.S.-led multinational coalition.

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Even as he tries to explain that Japan’s constitution bars combat troops overseas, a restriction imposed by the Allied Occupation authorities after World War II, Fujii said some of the callers have demanded that Japan send soldiers to help fight. “People are dying over there, and you’re not doing anything,” Fujii quoted one caller as saying.

The Japanese American Citizens League in Los Angeles has also received hate letters and phone calls. “Tojo USA is fighting for Jap oil in the gulf. We need your big mouth to extract more funds from your buddies in Tokyo. You have promised but not delivered,” said one letter this week, according to regional director Jimmy Tokeshi.

Ron Wakabayashi, executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, said he fears that the situation will get even worse if the war begins extracting major casualties.

“When we start seeing body bags come back of Americans, no matter how large the amount of money (from Japan), there will still be the perception that the Japanese buy their way in . . . that they buy buildings, they buy friends and now they buy American mercenaries to protect their oil,” Wakabayashi said.

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He also expressed the fear that blacks could suffer a disproportionate number of casualties, further fueling that community’s tension with Japan over racism.

Japan appears to be a larger lightning rod for American complaints than Germany, which has donated less money. Germany is similarly barred from offensive combat by its constitution, but the German consul general in Los Angeles has received only one negative phone call, said Martina Christopherson, vice consul for press affairs. The German American Chamber of Commerce has not heard of problems from the 140 German firms in Southern California, managing director Peter Moser said.

Moser said the chamber had decided to postpone a dinner-dance with the other European American chambers of commerce in February because of the war. He knew of no other postponements or cancellations of events in the German business community.

Georgiana Francisco, spokeswoman for the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, said she did not sense a “pall on the party scene” generally. Other groups, ranging from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America to the Fund for Animals, have decided to proceed with their dinners and dances, she said.

But among many Japanese businesses, which number more than 1,000 in Southern California, sensitivities appear to be particularly heightened.

On Jan. 17, Honda Motor Co. in Tokyo issued a directive to its U.S. employees advising them to refrain temporarily from showy parties and events. The reason, according to reports in the Japanese press, was not to fan the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment caused by the specter of “only Japanese having parties while the United States is at war.”

Since then, other businesses have adopted a similar stance. On Wednesday, Kyodo Oil Co. President Kazushige Nagashima announced through the firm’s Los Angeles office that it would postpone its grand opening party scheduled for Jan. 31 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire and would donate $40,000 to the International Red Cross.

Japan Travel Bureau International delivered a $10,000 check to the Red Cross on Wednesday after deciding to postpone a party scheduled for this week for 400 guests at the Biltmore Hotel.

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DC Card Co. also postponed its grand opening celebration at the Regent Beverly Wilshire and Dentsu Inc. (Los Angeles) plans to reschedule what it had been billing as the “Party of the Year” at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica. Tokai Bank has gone so far as to cancel its company golf tournament scheduled for Saturday in Camarillo Springs.

Several companies in New York have taken similar actions and the Japan Chamber of Commerce in Washington may cancel its monthly meeting, a spokesman said. Also in Washington, Japanese residents have begun organizing an effort to donate blood.

Firms such as Matsushita Electric Corp. of America are providing full salaries to U.S. employees who have been called to the gulf.

The code of restraint has even hit Japanese baseball. The Yakult Swallows has decided to forgo spring training in Yuma, Ariz., for the first time in 14 years because it would be “improper” during war.

Japanese executives give several reasons for their actions.

Takashi Nakamura, president of Dentsu Inc. (Los Angeles), stressed that he was not reacting to fear of Japan-bashing in postponing the firm’s New Year’s party. (Japanese companies hold New Year’s parties throughout January.) Rather he wanted to demonstrate the same spirit of concern that led National Football League officials to cancel the Super Bowl party and show that Dentsu is a “member of the community” here.

But for the Japan Travel Bureau, avoiding ill will among Americans was one consideration among many in its decision to postpone its New Year’s party and donate the money to the Red Cross instead, said assistant general manager Ikuo Katayama. “Tourism itself is a peace industry, so we thought it was better to donate,” he said.

For DC Card Co., fears of terrorism were the chief reason to postpone its grand opening of a Los Angeles office. The firm had invited guests from all over the United States, as well as from Japan, and didn’t “want our guests to face the fear of flying,” said Kazuya Takami, chief representative of the New York office.

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The Japanese Embassy issued warnings about terrorism to Japanese nationals in the United States on Jan. 14 but so far has not received any actual threats.

Despite the fears, U.S. consumers don’t appear to be protesting Japan’s actions with their pocketbooks. Auto dealers, computer vendors and consumer electronics firms report no particular drop in purchases of Japanese products compared to U.S. or other foreign items.

“They only care about quality, the reputation of the company and price,” said Navid Slouk, assistant manager of Computer Palace in Los Angeles. “They don’t care if it’s American, Japanese or Taiwanese.”

ROLE IN THE WAR EFFORT How Japanese companies are supporting the Gulf War effort.

Kyodo Oil Co. postponed the grand opening of its L.A. office and pledged $40,000 to the International Red Cross.

Japan Travel Bureau International postponed its New Year’s party and donated $10,000 to the International Red Cross.

Dentsu Inc. (Los Angeles) postponed its New Year’s “party of the year.”

DC Card Co. postponed the grand opening of its L.A. office.

Tokai Bank canceled its company golf tournament.

Matsushita Electric Corp. of America is paying full salaries to employees called to serve in the Gulf War.

Sony Corp. donated 5,000 radios to U.S. forces.

Japanese residents in Washington have begun a drive to donate blood.

MIDEAST UPDATE Air France said its passenger traffic was down 16% in the first week of the Persian Gulf War compared to the same period in 1990. The number of no-shows for flights has doubled since the war began. Travel to the Mideast has dropped 86%, with most flights canceled. Travel to North Africa has fallen 44%, while passenger traffic to Europe has declined 23%.

Profiteers are using the Persian Gulf crisis to swindle consumers, using such schemes as urging veterans to buy cemetery plots before war casualties fill local graveyards, local officials in New York said.

Two days after Iraqis began torching Kuwaiti oil wells near the Saudi Arabia border, the extent of the damage remained unclear, according to officials of Texaco, which shared operation of the fields with the Kuwaiti national oil company.

A Glendale firm that markets personalized greeting cards introduced a line of Valentines designed for mailing to soldiers in the gulf. One says: “I was going to mail you a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, but I was afraid they would melt under that desert sun.”


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