zaibatsu

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

zaibatsu

zaibatsu (zī´bätsōō) [Jap.,=money clique], the great family-controlled banking and industrial combines of modern Japan. The leading zaibatsu (called keiretsu after World War II) are Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Dai Ichi Kangyo, Sumitomo, Sanwa, and Fuyo. They gained a position in the Japanese economy with few parallels elsewhere, except for the chaebols that have dominated the South Korean economy from the 1960s. (The chaebols, however, have tended to be less involved in banking and more dependent on government financing.)

Although the Mitsui were powerful bankers under the shogunate, most of the other zaibatsu developed after the Meiji restoration (1868), when, by subsidies and a favorable tax policy, the new government granted them a privileged position in the economic development of Japan. Later they helped finance strategic semiofficial enterprises in Japan and abroad, particularly in Taiwan and Korea. In the early 1930s the military clique tried to break the economic power of the zaibatsu but failed.

In 1937 the four leading zaibatsu controlled directly one third of all bank deposits, one third of all foreign trade, one half of Japan's shipbuilding and maritime shipping, and most of the heavy industries. They maintained close relations with the major political parties. After Japan's surrender (1945) in World War II, the breakup of the zaibatsu was announced as a major aim of the Allied occupation, but in the 1950s and 1960s groups based on the old zaibatsu reemerged as keiretsu. The decision on the part of these groups in the post–World War II era to pool their resources greatly influenced Japan's subsequent rise as a global business power.

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