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TOMEN SUISAN


Tomen Suisan Co., Ltd. was a fish trading company which
had it's specialities in brokership. The company didn't have
much of it's own stock of fish, but acted as an agent selling
and buying the fish of other companies. Similar to most other
fish companies. Tomen Suisan's office was also close to the
Tukiji Wholesale Market.
The stock of Tomen Suisan, although few, were mainly
crabs. The crabs were from countries like China, Canada and
the United States. They were repacked at the small plant they
had in Tokyo and were sold under the brand of Tomen Suisan.
Reputations were good among the market. The small plant
did some other jobs like cutting fish to supply for school meals
and box lunches sold at the National Railroads. The whole
volume of production of the plant was not big at all, but they
were doing a steady job. I introduced a female worker who
used to work at Nissho Iwai Seafoods to this plant and she is
still working there.
Tomen Suisan was the oldest among subsidiaries of
Japanese general trading corporations, dealing in the fish
business. It was established in the year 1952.
Contrary to Nissho Iwai Seafoods, Tomen Suisan didn't
deal with supermarkets at all. They had no large scale delivery
systems and seldom invested in facilities. They mostly tried
hard to lessen risks, and spent their effort to secure small but
certain margins.
Yes, it was the best way to survive the depressed Japanese
fish business.
But on the other hand, small margins were not always
enough.
The company could never have been managed without good
salesmen. Just before I was hired by Tomen Suisan, a bunch
of salesmen had just quit. Clearly, I was hired in place of
them.
Now the question was, "Was I able to become a good
salesman?" The answer was, "No."
The network of fish brokers around the Tukiji Wholesale
Market was a rather small world, which was connected firmly
by a chain of "person to person." For people like me, who had
been away from the forefront of hard negotiations of the fish
broking world, the network was a closed and unfriendly one.
Anyway, the wheels had to keep on turning, so I started to
make phone calls to people whom I had known before and to
people I hadn't. I noticed that the situation of the Tukiji
Wholesale Market had entirely changed, compared to when I
had been working there before.
The change was in two ways. First, the crowd of the Market
had become small. The days when I got stuck in the crowd
with boxes of herring roe on my shoulder were gone. The
Market was easy and free to walk around. There was no need
to watch out not to bump into people. This surely symbolized
the depression of the Market.
Second]y, there were prices that were useful only among
the wholesale market distribution. No such price existed
before. The people who participated at the auction of the Tukiji
Wholesale Market always believed that the prices they had
bid would become the standard of the nation wide wholesale
price, which was actually the way it had been. There were no
such price valid only in the markets. These things happened
since wholesale markets had fenced in their own territory and
made up market prices to sell among their followers exclu-
sively, just as the supermarkets had turned their backs to
wholesale markets.
Although I started to work for Tomen Suisan, I wasn't
successful in doing much business. The little business that
worked out right was concerning red fish and mackerel. I sold
red fish to a supermarket that I traded quite often with while in
Nissho Iwai Seafoods. I tried to be an agent to sell Norwegian
herring again to wholesale markets, but it failed. There was
no space to earn profit in the smaller world of fish business
that information had made.
Norwegian mackerel were fish that had become popular
those days since the domestic catch of mackerel had declined
at a quite fast rate. Mackerel were very popular with Japanese
consumers, and therefore had a large demand among secondary
processors. There were many of these kind of processors in
the Chiba Prefecture, so I tried to sell them Norwegian
mackerel Tomen Suisan would import.
I walked around the Chiba Prefecture, visiting and talking
to mackerel processors, and when I went back to Tokyo, kept
them in touch with the latest information of the Norwegian
mackerel catch, so that they could buy the raw material at the
best time in terms of fat content, quality (too big a catch is bad
for quality, usually) and price. The processors had existing
connections to buy imported mackerel, so the business wasn't
easy but I made a success of selling to two of them. This kind
of business had a market price risk, since there was a time lag
for delivery, but in this case, the risks were owned by the
processors. What I was to earn was only an agent fee, which
was rather small and it didn't allow the business to be such a
good one.
Black cod was also one thing I tried to sell.
From the autumn of 1991, a certain fish processor in the
Miyagi Prefecture started to buy up all the black cod in the
market. Speculation like in herring roe I mentioned before
was at large again. The actual black cod sales weren't good at
all but the prices began to rise. Compared to the early days,
black cod had swept away the problem of jerry meat. This
made it easy to manipulate in black cod since quality risks had
lessened. The small amount of the total black cod catch was
also an advantage for the stockjobbers.
The sales manager of this company in the Miyagi Prefecture
graduated from the same university as I did. He played karate
and was a senpai. Sometimes I called him on the phone and
his predictions of the market prices of black cod never missed.
It never could have missed since it was he who was manipu-
lating the prices.
Although, the information he gave me didn't bring me any
profit.
There were two reasons. One was that there was no black
cod available in the market at all. The other reason was,
because the sales manager announced to everyone how the
market prices were going to move, everyone knew when and
at what price they should buy black cod. The price of black
cod became a open and fixed one, and nobody bought except
from the sales manager himself, who had all of the actual stock
in hand.

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