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Japan's Yen For Dollars

At the start of a six-day tour of the U.S. intended to promote his economic recovery plan, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Oubchi arrived in Los Angeles Thursday and told a group of 1,000 political and business leaders that Tokyo's stimulus package was beginning to pay off.

"I have boldly implemented every kind of measure aimed at achieving Japan's economic recovery," said Obuchi, who was elected in July. "I am determined to ensure a successful revitalization of the Japanese economy through overcoming with unwavering resolve any obstacles."

However, in an analysis for CBS.com, CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen reports that if Hollywood were scripting Japan's economic recovery plan, it would go something like this:

John Wayne, with that long drawl: "Allll-right, pilgrims, listen up." (Cut to faces of nervous homesteaders standing by their covered wagons; back to the Duke.) "We Americans have to save the Japanese economy. Get out there and spend ... spend ... spend."

That's right. Japan's salvation, as they see it in Tokyo, is America's pocketbooks.

No wonder Obuchi is so anxious that his official visit to the White House on Monday goes well. He brings rafts of good news, like a freshened Japan-U.S. defense treaty that will allow Japanese forces more freedom to extend rear-area support to American troops in time of crisis.

And there's his glowing prediction that Japan's economy has turned up, and could show half-percent growth this year - a view shared by virtually no one else. And he can point to billions finally poured into failing banks to pay off bad loans - even as critics warn that more loans are going from bad to worse to useless every day.

The real key to revving up the economy - as the top seven industrialized nations pushed Japan to do this week - is consumer buying at the local mall. But this is a country of consumers who are saving because the rainy days just keep coming.

The Japanese could export to Asia, but most other Asian economies - while on the mend - are tiny compared to Japan. Europe is essentially a flat market, in part because its economies are not growing that fast, either, and unemployment remains high. The Japanese could lay off masses of workers, but they prefer their downsizing be done at their subsidiaries - in other countries.

Answer? America!

It's a rich country, goes the attitude here, so why shouldn't it buy more ... more Japanese goods, that is.

For a decades, the Japanese practiced flagrant profligacy - jobs for life, making companies paternal but inefficient; real estate loans were made on a handshake and a friendship -- sometimes not even bothering to look at the property or check if other loans were outstanding. Stock losses were covered for Yakuza (underworld) investors instead of facing down the bad guys.

Under intense financial (and external) pressure, some of those sins are grudgingly, and very slowly, being addressed. ut the Japanese still prefer the plan that made them great in the post-war years: Get those rich Americans buying, so we don't have to change our ways.

So, Pilgrims, forget about your college savings plan or your retirement. Japan needs your money more. Do your part to keep the world's second-largest, and one of the its sickest, economies from collapsing.

Because the one thing the Japanese don't want to do - is do it themselves.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report