TOKYO: Japan has started the privatisation of its postal service after 136 years as a public operation. The business will be split into four companies which will run banking and insurance, mail deliveries and post offices, under the auspices of the Japan Post holding company.

The Japanese government hopes to float the banking and insurance units by 2010 and is aiming for all the companies to be completely independent by 2017.

The move is designed to boost competition in the financial services sector and help reduce the huge national debt, although some critics fear the reforms could lead to the closure of some of the country's 24,000 post offices.

Data sourced from Asahi Shimbun Online; additional content by WARC staff