Although the Mitsui were powerful bankers under the shogunate, most of the other zaibatsu developed after the Meiji restoration (1868), when, by subsidies and a favorable tax policy, the new government granted them a privileged position in the economic development of Japan. Later they helped finance strategic semiofficial enterprises in Japan and abroad, particularly in Taiwan and Korea. In the early 1930s the military clique tried to break the economic power of the zaibatsu but failed.
In 1937 the four leading zaibatsu controlled directly one third of all bank deposits, one third of all foreign trade, one half of Japan's shipbuilding and maritime shipping, and most of the heavy industries. They maintained close relations with the major political parties. After Japan's surrender (1945) in World War II, the breakup of the zaibatsu was announced as a major aim of the Allied occupation, but in the 1950s and 1960s groups based on the old zaibatsu reemerged as keiretsu. The decision on the part of these groups in the post–World War II era to pool their resources greatly influenced Japan's subsequent rise as a global business power.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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