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Japan’s shaken markets survive the test

The earthquake that devastated Japan put its markets under severe strain, with high volumes of orders stressing systems, and staff unsure whether to stay or flee. Those who worked through the crisis tell Euromoney about their experiences. Lawrence White reports.

THE THING THAT Kazutoshi Ohkubo remembers most about the moment the earthquake hit is the sense of confusion. As the tremors began to shake the Mori Tower in Tokyo’s Roppongi district with increasing violence, worker after worker broke off from calls with clients to stand up at their desks, looking around at the television screens and each other for information. It was 2.46pm on Friday, March 11, and as the world now knows a magnitude 9.0 earthquake had struck the northeastern coast of Japan, triggering a tsunami and a series of aftershocks that would slam into the country for days afterwards and cause enormous damage.

As it became clear what had happened, the immediate question for those working in offices across Japan was whether to stay in their buildings or get out. "Our instructions from the company," says Ohkubo, who is head of equities distribution at Barclays Capital in Japan, "were to stay in the office, because it was safer than going outside. Even so some people chose to run down the stairs. Those who were visiting clients couldn’t get back to the office."

Market professionals worldwide immediately thought of their colleagues in Tokyo. Laurent Cunin, head of Asia-Pacific at Newedge, remembers being reassured by the fact that his 85-strong team in Tokyo were (like BarCap’s Ohkubo) in the Mori building, "which is a class-A building and one of the best in the country for earthquake resistance".

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