Shirakawa, Masaaki

Shirakawa, Masaaki
▪ 2009

born Sept. 27, 1949, Kitakyushu, Japan

      The confirmation of Masaaki Shirakawa as the new governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ) on April 9, 2008, ended a monthlong political showdown between the government of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and the opposition-dominated upper house of the Diet (parliament) that had left Japan without a permanent central bank governor for the first time in decades. On March 12 the upper house, led by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), rejected Fukuda's initial nominee, Toshiro Muto, as the replacement for outgoing BOJ governor Toshihiko Fukui, citing concerns that Muto's ties to the prime minister and to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would threaten the independence of the central bank. A week later the upper house also rejected Fukuda's second nominee, Koji Tanami, citing similar concerns. The two sides traded bitter recriminations over who was to blame for the deadlock, which came at an increasingly turbulent time for the Japanese economy and the global financial system as a whole. Ultimately, however, as a scheduled meeting of finance ministers and central bank leaders from the Group of Seven (G-7) countries approached, the two sides settled on Shirakawa, a BOJ veteran who had won approval as the bank's deputy governor in March and who had served as the BOJ's acting governor while the nomination drama played out.

      The 58-year-old Shirakawa brought to the governor's office more than three decades of experience at the central bank. He joined the BOJ in 1972 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Tokyo. He later studied in the U.S. at the University of Chicago, earning a master's degree in economics in 1977 before returning to Japan. Shirakawa was named general manager of the central bank's Oita branch in 1994. The following year he was selected to lead the BOJ's New York City office as general manager for the Americas. He was appointed an executive director at the central bank in 2002.

      Shirakawa was widely respected for his expertise in monetary policy planning. Many observers saw him as the mastermind behind the unorthodox policy of “quantitative easing” that the central bank had introduced in March 2001. Intended to combat crippling deflation, the policy involved infusing cash into the Japanese banking system while at the same time pegging interest rates at 0%. The BOJ abandoned quantitative easing in 2006 once the economy had stabilized. Shirakawa left the central bank that year to accept a professorship at the Kyoto University School of Government, where he remained until 2008.

      As Shirakawa formally assumed office as BOJ governor, fears of a recession in Japan were mounting. Ahead of the meeting of G-7 finance leaders in mid-April, Shirakawa specifically cited higher energy and commodities prices as major drags on the economy. While vowing to maintain a “flexible” approach to monetary policy, he also emphasized the need to “closely examine both upside and downside risks” of any policy changes.

Sherman Hollar

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Universalium. 2010.

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