JNR Settlements Corp.’s 11-year history ended at midnight Wednesday as new laws to more effectively dispose of 28.3 trillion yen in debt left behind by the defunct Japanese National Railways took effect.The semigovernmental body was created in 1987 to tame debt of 22.6 trillion yen accumulated by JNR, which was privatized and split into seven Japan Railway group carriers. JNR Settlements Corp. was supposed to reduce the debt by selling JNR assets such as real estate and and shares in the JR firms, and over the past 11 years the corporation sold 7,972 hectares of land for 6.51 trillion yen. Now Japan Railway Construction Public Corp. has taken over the remaining assets, including 1,273 hectares of land and 3.97 million JR shares — assets it hopes to sell in the next five years.As of Wednesday, the settlement corporation had 1,029 employees, whose average age is 53.5. About 200 already have landed jobs at national and local governments as well as in the private sector, according to a Transport Ministry official. The remaining 800 will be employed by Japan Railway Construction Public Corp. until the semigovernmental body completes the sales of the JNR assets. After that, the workers are to be employed by the seven JR carriers.The debt had continued to rise all the way to the end; it had stood at 27.8 trillion yen at the end of March. Yasuo Nishimura, president of JNR Settlements Corp., pointed to the dilemma of employees caught between duties to sell assets and the political apparatus telling them not to.During the asset-inflated bubble economy, for instance, JNR Settlements Corp. was prevented from selling its real estate holdings because the government feared that doing so would further facilitate the speculation boom.And after the bubble economy imploded in 1991, the Tokyo Stock Exchange began a long tumble that has prevented JNR from selling its group shares out of fear of further dragging down the market. “Our circumstances were that no matter how hard we worked, the debts could not help but keep growing,” Nishimura said. “I now feel as if I have taken a heavy load off my shoulders,” said Masaru Kurita, a 41-year-old employee engaged in the sales of land at JNR Settlement Corp. “Although we made our best efforts, the debts grew in the end. I am not happy about that.
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