A weaker yen has long been considered a boon for Japan’s economy, helping blue-chip exporters such as Toyota Motor Corp. But that narrative is increasingly in question as the yen’s recent plunge aggravates the impact of surging commodity prices, hitting some businesses and consumers much harder than before.

"The negative effects, or the risks from the weaker yen we’re now seeing, are unprecedented,” said Eiji Hashimoto, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation. While steel-makers and other manufacturers benefited from past phases of yen weakness, the current spikes in energy and materials costs mean "this time it’s totally different,” he said last week.

A weaker yen has been a mixed blessing for years, boosting exporters’ competitiveness abroad and the value of their overseas profits when repatriated but also inflating costs for importers and making overseas acquisitions more expensive.