Tokyo has struggled for years to pitch itself again as a major financial hub, but its ambitions might be saved by what Homer Simpson once called the two sweetest words in the English language: "De fault.”

The city’s been trying to recover from a reputation that’s taken a battering. Having once been a capital of the financial world, last month it tumbled out of the top 20 in one ranking of banking centers, behind the likes of Asian rivals Seoul and Beijing. Shenzhen, barely a dot on the financial map when Tokyo’s markets were at their peak three decades ago, now ranks nine places higher.

Various attempts to woo foreign traders have come up against some inalienable truths that even the likes of Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike have struggled to fix: A large taxation burden compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, the fact that Japanese and not English is the language of both day-to-day life and bureaucracy, as well as a maze of red tape.