TOKYO — Japanese investors are clinging to a faith in their country's legendary economic strength as they watch their wealth dwindle with the steady fall of Japan's stock market.
But indifference is also setting in as the daily drop in prices registers less and less on investor's emotional scale.
"I won't let my stocks go," said an 85-year-old investor as he walked through Kabuto-cho, Tokyo's equivalent of Wall Street. "They've already hit the floor."
"Customers have gone past disappointment and are starting to feel powerless," said Yutaka Mizoguchi, manager of over-the-counter sales at Kokusai Securities Co.
Tokyo's Nikkei average fell to 15,921.22 Monday, its lowest level since October, 1986. At the close of Tuesday's trading, the index recovered slightly to 16,106.99. But few are confident that it has hit bottom.
"The market hits new lows every day," said Hiroshi Tsukada, a salesman at Kyowa Securities Co. "We have no way of predicting the bottom."
The mood in town is a strange mixture of confidence in the economy and sheer indifference.
"We'll just have to wait until prices rise again," said Yutaka Hieda, 23, whose mother had been a veteran investor.
In Japan, holding stocks is often just another pastime for people with discretionary money. "Stock movements don't influence their daily lives," said Tsukada of Kyowa Securities.
Last April an investor killed himself and his broker after losing more than $79,000 when the market nose-dived. But such incidents have been rare.
The Nikkei average has fallen by more than 50% since hitting a record high at 38,915.87 on Dec. 29, 1989. Analysts now say that level was buoyed by inflated property prices.
Tsukada lamented a lack of government intervention. "Neither the Ministry of Finance nor the Bank of Japan will take any measures to help us," he said.
"Prices will keep falling unless the government takes specific measures. Recent events are challenging the government to come up with something," said Susumu Tanaka, 33, who also works in Kabuto-cho.
Many view the current situation as the inevitable aftermath of the "bubble economy" of the late 1980's, when stock and property prices soared to unheard-of levels.