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It was used in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century to refer to large family-controlled banking and industrial combines. The four major zaibatsus have a history that goes back to the Edo period. The four major zaibutsus (四大財閥) are Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo and Yasuda. Business conglomerates, second-tier zaibatsus, that emerged after the Russo-Japanese War until the Pacific War are Okura , Koga, Nakajima, and Ayukawa .
The term gained popularity in the United States in the 1980s to refer to any large corporation, in large part from its usage in a few cyberpunk stories, but it is not used in Japan for anything other than historical discussions (meaning property).
The zaibatsu were technically dissolved by reformers during the Allied occupation of Japan. Their controlling families' assets were seized; holding companies, the previous "heads" of the zaibatsu conglomorates, eliminated; and interlocking directorships, essential to the old system of inter-company coordination, were outlawed. The ten zaibatsu that were targeted by the SCAP for dissolution in 1946 are Asano , Furukawa, Nakajima, Nissan, Nomura, and Okura . Matsushita, while not a zaibatsu, was originally targeted for breakup, but was saved by a petition organized by the union, which was signed by 15,000 of its workers and their families (Morck & Nakamura, p. 33).)
Complete dissolution of the zaibatsu was never achieved by Allied reformers or SCAP, in part because the zeitgeist supported such conglomerates. They were widely considered beneficial, and the opinions of the Japanese public, of zaibatsu workers and management and of the entrenched bureaucracy regarding plans for zaibatsu breakup ranged from unenthusiastic to disapproving. Additionally, the changing politics of the Occupation during the reverse course served as a crippling, if not terminal, roadblock to zaibatsu elimination.
Keiretsu, the subsequent inheritors of the corporate legacy of zaibatsu, remained fundamentally correlative, but the old "mechanisms of financial and administrative control" were destroyed (Allinson p. 75). Despite the absence of an actualized sweeping change to the existence of large industrial conglomerates in Japan, the zaibatsu's previous vertical chain of command, ending with a single family, was displaced by the horizontal relationships of association and coordination now characteristic of keiretsu—an important difference. The Japanese term keiretsu (系列), meaning "series" or "subsidiary", could be interpreted as being suggestive of this difference.
List of zaibatsu
The Big Four
- Alletzhauser, Albert J. The House of Nomura. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991. ISBN 0060973978.
- Allinson, Gary D. Japan's Postwar History. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1997. ISBN 0801433126.
- Aoki, Masahiko & Hyung-Ki Kim. Corporate Governance in Transitional Economies: Insider Control and the Role of Banks. Retrieved June 28, 2004 from http://www1.worldbank.org/finance/CDRom/library/docs/aoki/aoki000.htm . Print edition: Washington, D.C.: World Bank Office of the Publisher, 1995. ISBN 0821329901.
- Morck, Randall and Masao Nakamura. "A Frog in a Well Knows Nothing of the Ocean: A History of Corporate Ownership in Japan". Retrieved 12 August 2004 from http://www.nber.org/books/corp-owner03/morck-nakamura7-1-04.pdf . National Bureau of Economic Research, June 2004.
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