Touring the Tokyo Stock Exchange

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Hello, faithful readers! Can you believe it’s already almost the end of April? Where does the time go? Things have been busy for me. I’ve been trying to focus on work, which means I have a lot of blogging to catch up on! I thought I’d start off  by recounting a (semi-)recent trip to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the third largest stock exchange in the world. The TSE does tours in both Japanese and English, but it’s one of those things that I’d just never gotten around to seeing in Tokyo. So, I decided to take advantage of a trip organized by the Sangenjaya International Meetup and see what all the fuss was about!

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The Tokyo Stock Exchange dates back to 1978, but it wasn’t founded in its present form until 1949. At the end of 2011, there were 2,290 domestic companies listed on the TSE; while this is only a fraction of the over one million incorporated companies in Japan, many of these listed companies are forerunners of their industry. They account for more then 20 percent of the country’s total sales and more than a third of its operating profit.

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This is the Stock Exchange mascot, “Mister Share.” Cute, eh? No Japanese attraction is complete without a cartoon character of some kind. The tour started off, like almost all Japanese tours, with an educational video telling us the basics about how stocks work. Very easy to understand.

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I imagine that when many of you think of a stock exchange, you think of masses of traders shouting to one another on a crowded trading floor, which is what the Tokyo Stock Exchange used to look like:

Tokyo Stock Exchange (1990s)
Photo courtesy of Corbis Images

However, that simply isn’t the case these days. The stock trading floor was closed on April 30, 1999 “in an effort to accelerate the speed and reduce the cost of transactions by member securities companies, and seek further efficiency in the Tokyo market.” At the site of the stock trading floor, “TSE arrows” was opened on May 9, 2000 as a new symbol of the Tokyo market. Instead of a lively trading floor, the heart of the Tokyo Stock Exchange is a futuristic-looking glass cylinder called Market Center. It’s a striking piece of design:

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Stock prices spin digitally atop the glass walls, showing you the latest market information. On the floor below, a small group of TSE staff carry out market supervision tasks. They do real-time monitoring during trading hours, checking for sudden increases in order volume and sudden price fluctuations. They also take care of post-fact compliance. But it’s a pretty tame thing to watch. Most of the computer in the Market Center weren’t staffed, and others were manned by people calmly clicking at computer screens. It’s probably for the best–chaos in a stock exchange tends to suggest rather undesirable economic times. But it was eerily quiet, almost like looking at an exhibit in a museum.

After the tour was over, we took some time to wander around the Tokyo Stock Exchange museum, which was full of interesting information (mostly in Japanese) and historical materials. I particularly liked some of the old advertisements, such as this 1925 poster for Reconstruction Savings Bonds:

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They also had a lot of stock share certificates on display, some of which were quite old. I think my favorite may have been this one for Sanrio:

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All in all, it was a nice trip. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to the casual tourist, but if you’re interested in economics and if you’ve seen most of the major attractions in Tokyo, it’s fun, quick little excursion that can be easily arranged in advance. It might also be a nice little educational tour to take children on, provided that they’re old enough to grasp the basic concepts. Check it out, if you happen to be free on weekday afternoons!

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