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Languishing amid market gloom and slumping stocks, Japanese brokerages are targeting teenagers — through a stock market game — in their uphill battle to encourage individuals to invest.

The Japan Securities Dealers Association, an industry body, and the Tokyo Stock Exchange Inc. jointly developed the online stock investment game for students that has been used in high schools in recent years.

Educators say it encourages students to take a greater interest in society. But convincing Japanese to actually play the bourse is no easy job.

In Japan, the stock market is often mockingly called a “gambling house.” A recent government survey found 82.7 percent of Japanese have no intention of buying stocks in the future.

Investment trusts, which are popular investment tools in many other countries, such as mutual funds in the United States, are still alien to most Japanese. The Cabinet Office poll found 87.5 percent of respondents said they have no plans to put money in them.

The stock game for students was dreamed up because brokerages were frustrated by the fact that most of Japan’s massive 1.4 quadrillion yen worth of individual financial assets idles in bank and post office accounts as savings.

Players have virtual capital of 10 million yen and conduct hypothetical stock trades over the Internet. The issues that can be traded are 300 blue chips on the TSE’s first section. Participating students are usually divided into groups to compete in portfolio performance.

The Technical High School attached to the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Engineering is among about 1,000 high schools across the nation that are involved.

Located in the capital’s Shibaura district, the school introduced the game five years ago as part of its consumer education course, but the decision was criticized by some parents who said teaching investment techniques is inappropriate for the classroom, school officials said.

Masanori Hotate, a teacher in charge of running the game at the school, defended the decision, saying, “Stock markets are the lifeline of capitalism.

“I want my students to understand both the advantages and risks of stock investment. This game is also useful in teaching them about the importance of protecting one’s own assets, since we are living in an era when bank savings may not be guaranteed 100 percent.”

Students became more interested in economics and society in general after learning how corporate earnings and events such as the World Cup soccer finals can affect share price fluctuations, Hotate added.

As a result, some students now spend more time reading newspapers and have broadened their horizons, he said.

According to the Japan Securities Dealers Association, the number of schools playing the game in class rose sharply after it started offering it free of charge in 1995. In fiscal 2001, 63,000 students at 1,175 schools studied stock investment through the game.

The association also sends securities experts free of charge to lecture and advise local investment clubs. The number of such clubs in Japan is estimated at 200, much smaller than the roughly 33,000 in the United States and 10,000 in Britain.

“We will take a long-term approach in these grassroots activities, hoping it leads to an expansion in the number of individual investors,” said Junichi Taguchi, a spokesman of the securities association.

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