Tokyo considers foreign bankers’ enclave

Part of central Tokyo would become a select enclave for investment bankers, full of spacious apartments, language schools and restaurants that stay open after midnight, under a move to make the city a more attractive global financial centre.

Yuji Yamamoto, financial services minister, on Monday told an audience at the American Chamber of Commerce that he wanted to turn the elite Marunouchi and Nihonbashi districts into special zones to attract more foreign companies.

The areas are already home to the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Stock Exchange, but Mr Yamamoto would like to see building and zoning rules relaxed to make it easier for developers to build office buildings, apartment blocks, schools and hospitals catering specifically to foreigners.

Mr Yamamoto cited the recently opened New Marunouchi Building, which is accessible 24 hours a day, unlike most Japanese office buildings, and has restaurants that operate after midnight. Seventy per cent of its tenants are foreign companies.

“I am sure that we will see more efforts to enhance the environment of people who have to work in different time zones and with jet lag,” said Mr Yamamoto.

His comments come amid concern that Tokyo is losing foreign investment to other financial centres, mostly because of higher taxes and regulatory uncertainty.

Robert Feldman, a Morgan Stanley economist based in Tokyo, wrote in a recent report that the loss of business to London, Hong Kong and Singapore had “created a sense of crisis” in Tokyo.

Mr Yamamoto’s proposal may help attract more foreign companies but it also underlines other problems such as the high cost of translation and the lack of high-speed trains into Tokyo from Narita international airport.

Another sticking point is taxes. Foreign bankers have long claimed that high personal tax rates keep them from settling in Tokyo. Acknowledging this, Mr Yamamoto suggested the rise in per capita gross domestic product for a country like Ireland stemmed in part from its slashing income taxes.

In his February report on Japanese financial market competitiveness, Mr Feldman of Morgan Stanley suggested other ideas Mr Yamamoto’s group might consider, including “a quantum expansion of immigration quotas for foreign childcare workers”.

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