Japan’s stock falls
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Japan’s stock falls

While Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and others enjoy unprecedented levels of activity, and London and New York poach more Asian business, the Tokyo Stock Exchange is struggling to recapture the success of its early 1990s’ heyday. Is it too late for Tokyo? Lawrence White reports.

WHEN THE MAN who spearheaded the disposal of the Japanese banks’ non-performing loans and forced through the privatization of Japan Post talks, the nation listens. If he assesses a challenge as being complex, tough and time-consuming then it probably is. Heizo Takenaka, in a moment of understatement at Euromoney’s Japan Capital Markets Congress in September, said: "To make Tokyo the centre of Asian financial markets, we need to work on a lot of things."

That said, there is a feeling in the current administration of Yasuo Fukuda – a feeling born, perhaps, in former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s revolutionary reign and continued through Shinzo Abe’s – that the goal of restoring Japan’s regional market primacy is essential if the country is to recover its former prosperity and its sense of place and relevance in the world. Some of the barriers to success, such as Narita international airport’s anachronistic midnight closing time, will be more straightforward to remove than others. There’s one big problem that Takenaka’s speech rather glossed over.

In March the International Bankers Association, Japan published its Recommendations to promote Tokyo as a financial centre, in which it set out the criteria for success.

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