As the rest of the world raises interest rates to battle inflation, Japan curiously is clinging to low rates to raise wages and finally move past its long battle with deflation. But as Tokyo tries to hold the line, the fastest inflation in decades is spooking a country unaccustomed to it. And the “decoupling” of the US and China, along with Russia’s war on Ukraine, are also raising tough questions for a historically pacifist nation whose biggest export market is governed by Beijing, but whose national security has long depended on Washington.
We dive into Japan’s economy, its ties to China and the US and its efforts to stay on friendly terms with both. Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara brings us the noisy scene inside the Toyosu Market, the world’s largest wholesale fish market. There, businesses face a dilemma: costs of materials are rising at a 9.1% clip, but consumer inflation is running at a more modest 3.6%. So, wholesale fish merchants, restaurants and other businesses are eating some of the inflation for fear of alienating a Japanese public that’s used to prices falling, not rising.
“We really wonder whether customers will keep coming back if we raise prices,” one businessman tells Nohara. That reluctance to boost prices, though, is creating a bit of a vicious cycle for Japan. Worker wages are stuck and won’t rise until businesses can pass along more of their rising prices to consumers. However, consumers won’t accept higher prices until they see higher wages. For now, the Bank of Japan and Ministry of Finance are trying to force wages up by keeping interest rates at rock-bottom levels—even if the yen craters, too.
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