Jan. 04 - Thousands of Japanese open 2012 with a prayer for a better year; Tokyo Stock Exchange chief sounds an optimistic note for 2012. Arnold Gay reports.
A new year, and a fervent prayer for a better one than the last. Thousands of Japanese packed a Tokyo shrine Wednesday, the first official working day of 2012, to pray for luck.... and to leave behind a year that saw the Japanese economy savaged by a nuclear disaster, Thai floods and the euro zone crisis. The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) rang in its first trading day of the year with similar hopes, following a 17 percent full-year loss in the benchmark Nikkei 225 last year. In an opening ceremony attended by Financial Services and Postal Reform Minister Shozaburo Jimi, TSE head Atsushi Saito sounded an optimistic note for the new year. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) PRESIDENT AND CEO OF TOKYO STOCK EXCHANGE, ATSUSHI SAITO, SAYING: "The global movement toward reducing financial risks amid the European debt crisis and the strengthening of financial regulations are affecting the Tokyo Stock Exchange negatively, but I expect the TSE to prosper this year, with initial public offerings from flourishing companies." In keeping with tradition, Jimi ushered in the new year by ringing a bell.... followed by clapping and cheering. Calligraphy artist Shishu painted the words "Japan Strength" on stage, and students and businessmen alike shared similar hopes for the new year. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) 46-YEAR-OLD BUSINESSMAN, RYOICHI KOBAYASHI, SAYING: "It seems like Japan's economy is in an especially difficult situation among the global economies, but I believe we can have a productive year if we work hard." (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) 19-YEAR-OLD STUDENT, RIKO KAWABE, SAYING: "I hope to see Japan rise like a dragon toward full recovery from the earthquake." Tokyo stocks rose as much as 1.5 percent, with the broader Topix adding over two percent. Arnold Gay, Reuters.