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Tokyo Exchange Trading Floor Closes

April 30, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ From an age of traders in kimono and clogs 120 years ago to today’s slick-suited players moving millions in a second, the Tokyo Stock Exchange has borne witness to Japan’s rise to economic prominence.

On Friday, Japan’s financial world bade farewell to an era as the closing bell rang on the trading floor for the last time. Computers and cost-cutting put an end to face-to-face trading on Asia’s largest exchange at a time when Japan’s economy is deep in recession.

At the end of the trading session, there was a ceremony replete with confetti and party noisemakers, marking the retirement of a system that had long stopped being the center of market activity.

The floor of the Tokyo exchange was once an arena for more than 2,000 traders fighting for position as they used a complex sign language to buy and sell stocks.

But since the early 1980s, securities companies have been switching to faster and more reliable electronic trading systems. By last year, any Japanese stock could be bought and sold electronically while fewer than 10 percent could be traded directly on the floor.

Only about 100 employees still worked there and floor trading accounted for a scant 0.2 percent of Tokyo volume.

A dozen securities-industry veterans demonstrated on Friday what is soon to be a lost art _ the trading by hand signals with which millions of dollars of shares could be bought with the wave of a finger.

``We took a lot of pride in being the fastest with an order,″ said 68-year-old Miyoji Maruyama, who was a floor trader for eight years, starting in 1951. ``Now it’s a competition between human brains and computers and computers make fewer mistakes.″

Trading floor veterans said the shift to computers was inevitable, especially with the growing complexity of financial markets.

And securities companies say they will save money by moving floor traders to more productive jobs.

But many were sad to see the century-old tradition die.

``Before computers there was a feeling that the market was a living creature,″ said Toshinobu Yoshida, a floor trader for 35 years. ``Now everyone is separated from the market and people don’t even seem to notice if it’s up or down.″

Even Japan’s largest broker, Nomura Securities, had kept fewer than 10 traders on the floor of the exchange recently, company spokesman Isao Kawanaba said. They will be transferred to other divisions.

Computerization isn’t the only reason Tokyo trading has become more subdued in recent years.

A prolonged economic downturn and a decade-long decline in stock values has forced Japan’s biggest brokers to cut back.

During Japan’s ``bubble″ economy, Tokyo’s benchmark stock index was more than twice its current value. And at the peak of market activity in 1988, there was more than twice as much trading as there was last year.

Floor trading is still conducted at stock exchanges in New York and Frankfurt, Germany, but other major exchanges have already gone completely electronic.

Stock exchanges in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Paris have all closed their trading floors since 1986.

Tokyo has had a formal stock exchange since 1878. In the early years traders wore traditional Japanese clothing and exchange officials tallied transactions with abacuses.

The market was closed for almost four years from 1945 as the country focused its attention on repairing its war-torn economy.

For much of that time, the sign over the entrance to the Tokyo exchange read ``Commander Naval Forces Far East″ and U.S. occupational forces used the trading floor as a gym and dance hall.

Now, the expansive trading floor, with its 165-foot-high ceiling, will be remodeled for use as a stock and corporate information center.

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