Saturday, August 25, 2007

Japan's Rebound

Rowan Callick on business changes that produced Japan's comeback. An excerpt:

By 2001, the Bank of Japan had lowered interest rates to zero and people were paying banks to keep their money. Japanese commercial property had tumbled to two-thirds of its value from its 1980s peak, when the wooded imperial estate at the center of Tokyo was worth more than the entire state of California.

When Japan’s bubble burst, it took a painfully long time for reality to set in. During the baburu (or bubble), demands on workers had soared; the sarariiman (salaryman) was expected to be available 24 hours a day, enabling him to evolve into one of the highly admired kigyo senshi (corporate warriors). In exchange for this servitude, he was supposed to have a secure job for life. That all collapsed along with the economy.

Sawa Kurotani, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Redlands in California, has written of “the death of the sarariiman way of life.” She says that Japanese corporations “began radical restructuring and downsizing to survive in global competition.” Suicide rates soared (they were twice the rates in the United States and higher than anywhere except the former US R and its satellites, plus, for some reason, Sri Lanka), with many cases declared to have been karojisatsu, or triggered by excessive stress. The most common method was tobikomi: jumping from a platform into the path of a train.

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