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Paths to pay dirt are many and varied

by Michael Hoffman

You should see this guy. He’s 30 years old, earns ¥1.2 billion a year, drives (or rather is driven in) a Rolls-Royce for which he plonked down ¥70 million in cash (the interior roof, at an additional cost of ¥4 million, is star-studded like a planetarium); he rents five Tokyo residences with monthly rents in the ¥3 million range …

I could go on, but the point is made: This is pretty good for a former juvenile delinquent who dropped out of high school at 17 and had little enough, so it seemed, to look forward to.

His name, Tsubasa Yozawa, will be familiar to some — to many, if Spa magazine’s profile of him doesn’t exaggerate — as a symbol of the nouveau-nouveau-riche- riche, of what we can all aspire to — or could, if we possessed whatever mysterious quality it is that sets a Yozawa apart from the rest of us, languishing in financial mediocrity and all the collateral mediocrity that entails.

What quality is it? Yozawa offers 15 concise “keys to success,” 13 of which are conventional, the remaining two revealing: “Pride is something you don’t need” and “Believe you’re a genius!” For most of us, of course, that last would involve belief in the face of clear evidence to the contrary — the capacity for which, come to think of it, may itself be a symptom of genius.

With no pride and with a belief in your own genius, it really should be possible to do just about anything. After leaving school Yozawa hung out for a time with the gangster-in-embryo bōsōzoku hot-rodder set; in his spare time he passed a high-school makeup test that got him into Waseda University. In his third year he started his own clothing business.

He made a quick fortune, then just as quickly lost it — he went bankrupt. It’s the sort of experience that either destroys you or strengthens you. Rebounding quickly, Yozawa launched a Net business, then founded his Free Agent Style Holding Co. Spa is sparse on detail but we can infer all we need to know from the title of one of Yozawa’s two best-selling books: “Byosoku de Ichi-oku En Kasegu Joken” (“How to Make ¥100 Million in Seconds”). Know your markets, keep your eyes open, seize your chances. What sounds simple never is, but pays big when it works.

OK, then there’s the rest of us. Spa has always prided itself on catering to young, primarily male readers. “Young” used to mean the 20s but lately, as demographic developments erode that segment, it has incorporated the 30s. This is the generation that the long-deflated economy failed. Good secure jobs are scarce, earnings are stagnant, and discouragement — not to mention clinical depression sometimes edging toward suicidal — has taken its toll. The Yozawa profile is phase one of Spa’s encouragement campaign. Phase two is a package of articles titled, most encouragingly, “Even stupid people can make money.”

The funny thing is, it seems to be true. “Why didn’t I think of that?” is the thought that keeps running through your mind as you read. Or maybe you did think of it but decided, “No — impossible!” This, for example: A 26-year-old man, a standard-issue company employee to all outward appearances, lives in a rather nifty-looking rented house, nothing terribly special about it except its retro 1970s look: tatami flooring, sliding doors — even a functioning VTR, if you remember what that is.

So what? Well, his brainwave was to register with an outfit called Rokesuta, which specializes in finding settings for films and TV dramas. Producers and directors find the house appealing, and a lot of filming goes on there. They pay him for it. All he has to do is make himself scarce for a few hours.

Once the crew stayed overnight — and paid him ¥100,000. That’s unusually high. On average he makes ¥150,000 a month — not a living wage, unless very modest living suits you, but as an income supplement, effortlessly earned, it’s not bad.

Isn’t it inconvenient? he’s asked. Doesn’t he worry about, or isn’t he haunted by, what may be going on in his absence, especially when the filming in question is of the porno variety?

“Oh no,” he says. “On the contrary, they not only pay me, they keep my house clean, so I kill two birds with one stone! If they move the furniture, they’re always very careful to put it back.” Then, of course, there’s the thrill of seeing your own home on TV.

This is one of the “best 20″ ideas along these lines, ranking fourth in terms of income. It’s basically hobby stuff; most of Spa’s featured entrepreneurs have full-time jobs. Ranking first is a certain “Mr. Oga,” who’s 31 and pulls in ¥1.55 million a month renting out “share houses,” capitalizing on a trend that caught fire in Tokyo four or so years ago and involves strangers moving in together for economy and companionship. Oga buys up old houses, renovates them for shared living, and has no trouble filling his rooms with tenants pleased to pay much less rent than they would if living alone or making rental arrangements through real-estate agents.

Second place goes to a trafficker in, of all things, contact lenses. He (or she) buys them online from suppliers in South Korea, where they’re comparatively cheap, and sells them at a profit in Japan, earning on average ¥500,000 a month.

There’s a specialist in cursing. This seems pregnant with commercial possibilities. We all have someone — boss, ex-lover — we’d lay a curse on if we only knew how. This person does know how. He (she?) won’t disclose his (her?) earnings, but claims 30 to 50 orders a month and ranks 14th.

It gets hairy sometimes. Ranking ninth in terms of income is a man who does nothing except receive mail — packages — on behalf of others. These others have good reason not to use their own addresses. The packages come from China. They contain illegal stimulant drugs. The pay is good: up to ¥2.4 million per package.

There’s a catch, it goes without saying: Getting caught — unlikely but not impossible — could mean prison.

Would you take the chance?