The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Jesper Koll

Jesper Koll

Walking into the Tokyo American Club’s Manhattan room on Tuesday, June 2, one might have been forgiven for mistaking the occasion for a Las Vegas show such as David Copperfield or Cirque du Soleil. The word on more than a few attendees’ lips that day was “showman.” It was clear that some 180 members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and their guests had come prepared to be wowed.

But to reduce the enthusiastic pronouncements of longtime Japan enthusiast and expert Jesper Koll to simple showmanship is to sell short his deep, thoughtful, and creative analysis. Behind Koll’s sustained enthusiasm for Japan is a wealth of facts, figures and insights into not only its economy but also its politics and culture, as well as the motivations of everyday folk—he has lived here for some 30 years, after all, as a leading economist and analyst.

Describing himself as Japan’s Last Optimist, Koll is an astute student of the Japanese people and an expert who knows his way around the country’s—and several organization’s—balance sheets.

His observation, at the event, that part-time workers in Japan can find a date, but can’t get married, harkened back to a statistic he shared with attendees during his address to the ACCJ in 2014: 43 percent of Japanese women reported that they wanted to marry someone with an income of at least ¥6 million ($49,000) a year, Koll had said, while only 10 percent of Japanese men earn that much.

Koll’s focus was not the marriage or birth rate themselves, but what makes people get married; how that can be quantified; and how marriage and birth can be expressed in a way relevant to public policy.

Turning to politics, Koll joked that Abenomics had generated a number of midnight calls to him personally from enthusiastic and hungry investors wanting a piece of the new Japan. His comments on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-business, anti-dogmatic pragmatism revealed admiration for the current administration.

Koll, moreover, said it was remarkable that Abe had remained in office for more than two successive years, thereby joining former prime ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone and Junichiro Koizumi as one of the most longstanding leaders in recent Japanese history.

Koll’s political acumen and fine sense of the personal and cultural aspects of political economy did not take away from his insights into how economies work. He began his presentation—“Towards a New Japanese Golden Age”—with an eye-opening way of conceptualizing a national economy: as a metabolic system.

The Japanese economy’s “metabolism,” he said, was up in all three classic business levers: land, labor, and capital. Real estate transactions are up, non-farm jobs are on the rise, and Japanese stock exchanges are seeing record-high trading volumes, Koll said. All this supported Koll’s prediction that Japan’s GDP could grow at a rate of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent a year for the next two years.

Now in its 15th year, Koll’s annual address to the ACCJ retained the optimism and engaging delivery for which he has become famous. Over the past few months, members of the chamber have been fortunate to hear from him on a number of occasions besides his signature talk.

In April, Koll sat on a star-studded panel at “Know Your DEFs,” [a follow-up of “Know Your ABCs”] which was held at the Roppongi Hills Club, Tokyo. Then he gave an insightful interview together with ACCJ President Emeritus Debbie Howard. To view either event, please go to the ACCJ website (www.accj.or.jp) or visit the chamber’s channel on YouTube.

For over a decade, Koll has spread his jovial enthusiasm for Japan far and wide. With the economy in Japan showing signs of new life, his audience may well continue to benefit and enjoy his showmanship as well as his insights for years to come. And Japan’s Last Optimist may well feel, at last, like its first cheerleader.

Now in its 15th year, Koll’s annual address to the ACCJ retained the optimism and engaging delivery for which he has become famous.