Here is Ellen Brown, writer of Web of Debt, on the financial situation of Japan.
Japan’s massive government debt conceals massive benefits for the Japanese people, with lessons for the U.S. debt “crisis.”
In an April 2012 article in Forbes titled “If Japan Is Broke, How Is It Bailing Out Europe?”, Eamonn Fingleton pointed out the Japanese government was by far the largest single non-eurozone contributor to the latest Euro rescue effort. This, he said, is “the same government that has been going round pretending to be bankrupt (or at least offering no serious rebuttal when benighted American and British commentators portray Japanese public finances as a trainwreck).” Noting that it was also Japan that rescued the IMF system virtually single-handedly at the height of the global panic in 2009, Fingleton asked:
How can a nation whose government is supposedly the most overborrowed in the advanced world afford such generosity? . . .
The betting is that Japan’s true public finances are far stronger than the Western press has been led to believe. What is undeniable is that the Japanese Ministry of Finance is one of the most opaque in the world . . . .
Fingleton acknowledged that the Japanese government’s liabilities are large, but said we also need to look at the asset side of the balance sheet:
[T]he Tokyo Finance Ministry is increasingly borrowing from the Japanese public not to finance out-of-control government spending at home but rather abroad. Besides stepping up to the plate to keep the IMF in business, Tokyo has long been the lender of last resort to both the U.S. and British governments. Meanwhile it borrows 10-year money at an interest rate of just 1.0 percent, the second lowest rate of any borrower in the world after the government of Switzerland.
It’s a good deal for the Japanese government: it can borrow 10-year money at 1 percent and lend it to the U.S. at 1.6 percent (the going rate on U.S. 10-year bonds), making a tidy spread.
Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio is nearly 230%, the worst of any major country in the world. Yet Japan remains the world’s largest creditor country, with net foreign assets of $3.19 trillion. In 2010, its GDP per capita was more than that of France, Germany, the U.K. and Italy. And while China’s economy is now larger than Japan’s because of its burgeoning population (1.3 billion versus 128 million), China’s $5,414 GDP per capita is only 12 percent of Japan’s $45,920.
How to explain these anomalies? Fully 95 percent of Japan’s national debt is held domestically by the Japanese themselves.
Over 20% of the debt is held by Japan Post Bank, the Bank of Japan, and other government entities. Japan Post is the largest holder of domestic savings in the world, and it returns interest to its Japanese customers. Although theoretically privatized in 2007, it has been a political football, and 100% of its stock is still owned by the government. The Bank of Japan is 55% government-owned and 100% government-controlled.