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"That looks like an interesting game. Let me play, too." Takumi leaned over his brother Shota's shoulder and looked at the monitor. "You're staring so hard at the PC, I got curious about what you're looking at. If you were looking at a naughty site, I was going to chew you out." Takumi pointed at the monitor and said, "What's this?" On the screen, a button was flashing:

<<Moving people and materials using a value chain>>

"Hmmm." Takumi muttered. "I don't know what a value chain is, but moving people and materials is about travelling and transport. First choice would be automobiles, I guess. But this town doesn't have an automobile manufacturer" "We can create or invite an automobile manufacturer," Shota said and looked at his brother's face knowingly.

"You are so smart, Shota!" Takumi's words made Shota feel good. Shota had learned the knack of thinking like a businessman from the Bussan-jin he'd met. He clicked the flashing button. Large letters appeared in the top section of the screen.

<<What is necessary to create automobiles?>>

"I knew it." The question, which Shota had imagined, appeared. "Maybe an automobile factory appears as an option." However, nothing appeared on the illustration of the town. "Shota, look at this." Takumi pointed to a massive cone-shaped pit. At the base of the mine, a man was calling out, "Hey!" "Hello, Bussan-jin!" Shota moved the cursor and clicked on the man.

"I am the iron ore Bussan-jin! I can teach you about iron ore from many different angles."

Shota was confused. "What? I want to build an automobile factory. Why iron ore?" Bussan-jin opened his eyes widely and said, "Think carefully, Shota, what are automobiles made of? Glass, rubber and plastic are used, too, but they are mostly made of steel!"

Overwhelmed by Bussan -jin's enthusiasm, Shota held back momentarily. He forced his words out. "You, you are right. But you are talking about the raw material of steel. That is way too far back from cars!"

Bussan-jin's eyes brightened. "That's right. When you want to make automobiles, go back to the beginning of the process. That will give you clues about 'value chains', which you want to learn about."

"You already know that I want to learn about 'value chains'?"

"Mitsui & Co. is a sogo-shosha. It has a comprehensive power to meet different needs of users," Bussan-jin said proudly.

Takumi, quietly listening to their conversation, joined in. "You can get automobiles and you get to learn about value chains. That's killing two birds with one stone, isn't it?" The iron ore Bussan-jin showed a graph on the monitor. "First, let's learn about the current overall production of iron ore."

Shota was surprised. "The amount of production has increased rapidly since 2004 and 2005."

"Why has the amount of iron ore production increased? It is because the demand for steel has increased," Bussan-jin said. "Is it because countries like China and India are developing?" Takumi wondered.

"That's right! Steel is used for automobiles and home electric appliances, but cheap and strong steel is always used for basic infrastructure such as building materials, bridges and railway tracks."

Looking at the graph, Shota commented, "There wasn't much change until 2000. I understand that steel is a necessary material, but there was no explosive demand for steel until China started to grow rapidly."

"You're right. The demand for steel increased slowly between the '80s and 2003, as the rate of growth of developed countries slowed down. The price of iron ore hovered around 20 dollars per ton. However, some countries, including China, started to develop rapidly, dramatically increasing the demand for steel and raising both iron ore production and price."

"Wow! China was the catalyst." Shota's eyes widened.

"As you can see in the graph, iron ore is produced in China as well. However, not enough is produced. Currently, the seaborne trade volume is approximately one billion tons, and more than half of it is transported to China," Bussan-jin said.

"The iron ore Bussan-jin is involved in iron ore related business, right? China is your important customer, then." Bussan-jin nodded.

"Of course. We used to supply iron ore mainly to customers in Japan, but China has become our important supply destination."

"But not all sogo-shosha are involved in iron ore business, right? Is there any special reason Mitsui & Co. is?" Takumi persisted. Shota was stunned.

Bussan-jin's eyes brightened further. "That's a good point. In order to talk about it, we need to understand the work called 'business investment'."

A new key word had been introduced by Bussan-jin. Shota and Takumi looked at each other. The next moment, a button appeared next to the iron ore Bussan-jin and started flashing. The text said, "Bussan-jin's Responsibility: Iron Ore Mine and Business Investment."

"I want to see the next part." Takumi took the mouse from Shota and clicked the button. A report appeared.

*Job titles and organization names as of January 2012

©2011-2012 Nikkei Business Publications, Inc. Nikkei Business Online Special, Translated by Mitsui & Co., Ltd.

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