Japan's History

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The Lost Decade - Japan's Economic Crisis
 

The economic miracle ended abruptly at the very start of the 1990s. In the late 1980s, abnormalities within the Japanese economic system had fuelled a massive wave of speculation by Japanese companies, banks and securities companies. Briefly, a combination of incredibly high land values and incredibly low interest rates led to a position in which credit was both easily available and extremely cheap. This led to massive borrowing, the proceeds of which were invested mostly in domestic and foreign stocks and securities.

Recognizing that this bubble was unsustainable (resting, as it did, on unrealizable land values - the loans were ultimately secured on land holdings), the Finance Ministry sharply raised interest rates. This popped the bubble in spectacular fashion, leading to a massive crash in the stock market. It also led to a debt crisis; a large proportion of the huge debts that had been run up turned bad, which in turn led to a crisis in the banking sector, with many banks having to be bailed out by the government.

Eventually, many become unsustainable, and a wave of consolidation took place (there are now only four national banks in Japan). Critically for the long-term economic situation, it meant many Japanese firms were lumbered with massive debts, affecting their ability for capital investment. It also meant credit became very difficult to obtain, due to the beleaguered situation of the banks; even now the official interest rate is at 0% and have been for several years, and despite this credit is still difficult to obtain.

Overall, this has led to the phenomenon known as the "lost decade"; economic expansion came to a total halt in Japan during the 1990s. The impact on everyday life has been rather muted, however. Unemployment runs reasonably high, but not at crisis levels (the official figure is a little under 5%, but this is a considerable underestimate - the real level is probably around twice that). This has combined with the traditional Japanese emphasis on frugality and saving (saving money is a cultural habit in Japan) to produce a quite limited impact on the average Japanese family, which continues much as it did in the period of the miracle.

Article text is from Wikipedia and licensed under terms of GFDL. The original article can be found here.
 
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