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The central government outstanding debt shrank for the first time on record in fiscal 2008 and stands at ¥846.50 trillion, the Finance Ministry said Friday.

The year-on-year drop of ¥2.74 trillion was achieved thanks to the redemption of a large volume of “zaito” bonds used to finance loans to state-backed financial institutions in the fiscal year that ended March 31, the ministry said. Debt data have been kept since 1997.

Nevertheless, that number is equivalent to around 170 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, the highest among developed countries. The all-time high was set in fiscal 2007. That’s about ¥6.63 million per person.

Central government debt topped ¥500 trillion at the end of fiscal 2000 and has basically been trending upward.

The ministry recently estimated that the government’s debt for the current fiscal year will balloon to a record ¥924 trillion, thanks to the stimulus packages prepared in response to the economic crisis.

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