THE JAPANESE ECONOMY entered the 1990s in excellent shape. Japan had the world's second largest gross national product (GNP), after the United States, throughout the 1970s and ranked first among major industrial nations in 1990 in per capita GNP at US$23,801, up sharply from US$9,068 in 1980. After a mild economic slump in the mid-1980s, Japan's economy began a period of expansion in 1986 that continued until it again entered a recessionary period in 1992. Economic growth averaging 5 percent between 1987 and 1989 revived industries, such as steel and construction, which had been relatively dormant in the mid-1980s, and brought record salaries and employment. In 1992, however, Japan's real GNP growth slowed to 1.7 percent. Even industries such as automobiles and electronics that had experienced phenomenal growth in the 1980s entered a recessionary period in 1992. The domestic market for Japanese automobiles shrank at the same time that Japan's share of the United States market declined. Foreign and domestic demand for Japanese electronics also declined, and Japan seemed on the way to losing its leadership in the world semiconductor market to the United States.
Unlike the economic booms of the 1960s and 1970s, when increasing exports played the key role in economic expansion, domestic demand propelled the Japanese economy in the late 1980s. This development involved fundamental economic restructuring, moving from dependence on exports to reliance on domestic demand. The boom that started in 1986 was generated by the decisions of companies to increase private plant and equipment spending and of consumers to go on a buying spree. Japan's imports grew at a faster rate than exports. Japanese postwar technological research was carried out for the sake of economic growth rather than military development. The growth in high-technology industries in the 1980s resulted from heightened domestic demand for high-technology products and for higher living, housing, and environmental standards; better health, medical, and welfare opportunities; better leisure-time facilities; and improved ways to accommodate a rapidly aging society. This reliance on domestic consumption also became a handicap as consumption grew by only 2.2 percent in 1991 and at the same rate again in 1992.
During the 1980s, the Japanese economy shifted its emphasis away from primary and secondary activities (notably agriculture, manufacturing, and mining) to processing, with telecommunications and computers becoming increasingly vital. Information became an important resource and product, central to wealth and power. The rise of an information-based economy was led by major research in highly sophisticated technology, such as advanced computers. The selling and use of information became very beneficial to the economy. Tokyo became a major financial center, home of some of the world's major banks, financial firms, insurance companies, and the world's largest stock exchange, the Tokyo Securities and Stock Exchange. Even here, however, the recession took its toll. The Nikkei stock average began 1992 at 23,000 and fell to 14,000 in mid-August before leveling off at 17,000 by the end of 1992.
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