THE LAST, BEST HOPE

WITH KOREA ON THE BRINK, CAN JAPAN CHANGE QUICKLY ENOUGH TO SAVE ITSELF AND THE WORLD ECONOMY?

The clock is ticking ominously for Japan Inc. After six years of stagnation, the world's second richest nation is threatened by the financial crisis that has hammered and humiliated the wildfire economies of Asia. As South Korea slid close toward insolvency last week, the Japanese were looking toward their leaders, and foreign investors were looking to Japan for signals that the Pacific Rim's chief Asian power could buffer the quakes rattling the region's interlocking systems.

The signs were not good. Four major Japanese financial institutions collapsed last month, dragging the value of the yen to a five-year low. The Nikkei stock-market...

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