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Japan Cracks Down on Loan Sharks

Tokyo is rushing to restrict illegal moneylenders and more Japanese companies are failing to pay overtime.

Japan is preparing to crack down on illegal loan sharks who prey on cash-strapped borrowers. Legislators will soon vote on a new bill raising penalties for unregistered moneylenders who loan cash at unreasonable rates, sometimes as high as 1,800 percent a year. The proposed law includes extended prison terms and heavy fines.

Illicit lenders have emerged as a big problem in Japan, where the economic slump and high unemployment have left many people short of funds. More than one million have turned to loan sharks to make ends meet and often face harassment if they are late with payments.

Shunichi Sakurai directs a support group for debtors. He says the government's proposal does not go far enough and should also bar lenders from charging high interest rates.

The new bill follows a string of loan shark cases that have received heavy media coverage.

Japan's labor force is famous for putting in long hours at the office, but now it turns out that many employees may not be getting adequate pay for their work.

After a nationwide inspection, the labor ministry says that last year, 17,000 companies failed to pay overtime, marking a 30-year high.

The ministry says most of the violators are small and medium sized companies hard hit by Japan's economic downturn.

Two Japanese companies lead the way for Asia on Fortune magazine's list of the 500 largest companies in the world.

Car maker Toyota is number eight on the most recent list, moving up from 10th place the previous year. Japanese trading firm Mitsubishi now holds the 10th spot.

In all, 86 other Japanese companies appear in the rankings, including the country's largest telecommunications operator NTT.