Japan Gets In Gear

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TOKYO: Forget "Happy Mondays" -- it was a wonderful Wednesday in Tokyo as the Nikkei index surged 6.2 percent to near 13,825 on the news all the world's been waiting for: Japan is going to do something about its banks. Embattled prime minister Keizo Obuchi looks to have successfully shepherded a bailout bill through Parliament that would give Japan's crippled banks what they -- and surrounding Asian economies -- desperately need: cash.

Although the news helped prop up the Dow Wednesday, "in the short term, this won't pull Japan out of its current downward spiral," says TIME Tokyo bureau chief Frank Gibney. "But in the long term, the notion that the Japanese government has finally swung into action is encouraging." But Gibney warns that opposition in Parliament could still spring up unexpectedly, and even if the bill becomes law, the cash infusion may come too late to save many of Japan's businesses, which continue to go bankrupt almost daily these days. A true meltdown in Japan -- the Nikkei at 10,000, the yen at a dirt-cheap 160 to the dollar (it's around 130 now), and citizens stampeding the banks -- is still possible. If that happens, Tokyo will have to live with the fact that it waited too long.