Is a start-up wave sweeping Japan? Possibly. Among the signs: Japan produced far more IPOs than the United States last year. Business planning courses are popular. A magazine for entrepreneurs was recently launched. And Tokyo may soon reform incorporation and employment law. Noriko Kameda, a Japanese-American business owner and author of Create Your Own Future, says the message is getting out: "Even business bureaucrats can become entrepreneurs." Women like Kameda seem to be embracing risk in greater numbers. A 1997 national business survey found that they owned fully 44% of businesses at the time; a recent conference for women owners drew a record crowd. Still, a revival is no sure thing: The success rate for start-ups has slid for 20 years -- owing largely to the country's persistent credit crisis.

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