With large debt, how can Japan's government respond to quake damage?

A pedestrian road collapsed in Urayasu city, Chiba prefecture, Japan, after the nation was shaken by a massive earthquake.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: Let's check in with Japan now and get a first-hand account of what happened there and how it's affecting the economy. John Brinsey is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Tokyo and he's with us right now. Good morning, sir.

John Brinsey: Hi Steve. How are you?

Chiotakis: I'm all right. How are you guys over there and what was it like?

Brisney: Well, it was pretty scary. This was clearly the strongest one I've ever been in. We are up on the 21st, 22nd floor in downtown Tokyo. It was shaking for a good 10 minutes very, very strongly

Chiotakis: Ten minutes?!

Brisney: I think so, but that may have just been how long my heart was moving. It was seven hours ago when the earthquake hit and there have been aftershocks as recently as five or ten minutes ago.

Chiotakis: Wow. How are businesses and Japanese companies reacting to all of this, John?

Brisney: Tokyo accounts for more than 10 percent of Japan's gross domestic product. It's the epicenter of the financial and government world. To give you an idea of how busy it is, there are something like six million passengers that go through Tokyo's trains every day. The trains have been stopped for the last seven hours. The government has said that they are considering asking for the United States military for help. There are nuclear power plants in the prefecture of Fukushima that have been shut down and the government just announced that one of them is having trouble with its cooling system and they've ordered an evacuation in part of the area.

Chiotakis: So the economy has just ground to a halt?

Brisney: Well the economy hasn't ground to a halt. I mean, the yen actually strengthened on speculation that large companies would have to repatriate their large foreign currency reserves back to Japan to help with construction. But this is going to be a major rebuilding effort on the part of the Japanese government.

Chiotakis: I want to talk about that because Japan is in a whole lot of debt. How's the government going to be able to respond to this?

Brisney: As you say, Japan's debt is somewhere around 200 percent of their GDP. Now the reason that the government bond situation here does not resemble that in say, Greece or Portugal or Spain, is that more than 90 percent of all Japanese government bonds are held by domestic investors. So as long as domestic investors feel that the Japanese government will eventually be able to pay them back, the risk of the kind of contagion that we've seen in Europe, so far anyway, seems to be rather small. But I really do feel, right now anyway, given the nature -- which of course is still ongoing of the tragedy we have -- is pretty devastating.

Chiotakis: John Brisney, Asia government editor for Bloomberg. John, thanks.

Brisney: Thank you.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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