The True Story Of The 1980s, When Everyone Was Convinced Japan Would Buy America

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The value of the Japanese dollar is falling again, now that new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to reinflate the country by instructing the country’s central bank to make asset purchases.It’s now pretty inconceivable that a Japanese company would be able to snap up American corporate assets as investments.  

In the eighties, it was a fact of life.

Starting with a relative trickle at the beginning of the decade, Japanese conglomerates went on an epic buying spree in America during the latter half of the decade after both countries agreed to revalue their currencies.

The trend became so widespread that the “corporate Japanese takeover” concept began leaking into American culture. 

Via Google News, we now take you on a tour of this singular moment in the life of both countries…

It started out innocently enough — for instance, some Japanese automakers coming over to put American parts in their cars.

Meanwhile, American firms like Motorola were still finding Japanese buyers for their products — including beepers.

But the country's influence was starting to be felt — not just in America's cosmopolitan corners, as this article noted, but even in Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi, whose museums now featured Japanese exhibitions.

Then the trend got real, with a conglomerate purchasing a steel company wholly owned by Ford.

But we hadn't seen anything yet.

At the time the value of the U.S. dollar had exploded...

...Resulting in a major U.S. trade gap.

So in September 1985, the G-5 countries signed the Plaza Accord. The non-American ones pledged more liberal trade policies to try to close the gap.

It worked — the value of the dollar fell dramatically against the yen.

For the rest of the decade, Japanese conglomerates snapped up any U.S. asset they could get their hands on.

Even the most marquee ones.

Anyone growing up in the '80s will remember the cartoons from Japan...

...like Voltron...

...and Thundercats...

...American children got used to seeing Japanese names during the closing credits of their favourite cartoons.

But the Japanese purchasing machine couldn't be stopped: hotels..

Tire companies...

Movie studios...

The climax came in November 1989, when the Mitsubishi company bought Rockefeller centre for $846 million.

But that was the eighties. If you don't know what happened next, read on...

With all that spending, inflation in Japan exploded.

In December 1989, Yasushi Mieno took over as Bank of Japan president and immediately raised rates.

The market caught a glimpse of itself in the mirror, and screamed.

But Mieno kept raising rates.

The decade-long correction had begun...

And Japan began its retreat from the U.S.

The bubble had burst.

In the long run, we came to welcome Japan as a prosperous trading partner...

...Though we still occasionally break out in hysterics when a rising East Asian power comes knocking.

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