Zaibatsu is a Japanese term referring to industrial and financial business conglomerates in the Empire of Japan, whose influence and size allowed for control over significant parts of the Japanese economy from the Meiji period until the end of the World War II.
Although zaibatsu existed from the 19th century, the term was not in common use until after World War I. By definition, the "zaibatsu" were large family-controlled vertical monopolies consisting of a holding company on top, with a wholly-owned banking subsidiary providing finance, and several industrial subsidiaries dominating specific sectors of a market, either solely, or through a number of sub-subsidiary companies.
The zaibatsu were the heart of economic and industrial activity within the Empire of Japan, and held great influence over Japanese national and foreign policies. The Rikken Seiyukai political party was regarded as an extension of the Mitsui group, which also had very strong connections with the Imperial Japanese Army. Likewise, the Rikken Minseito was connected to the Mitsubishi group, as was the Imperial Japanese Navy. By the start of World War II, the Big Four zaibatsu alone had direct control over more than 30% of Japan's mining, chemical, metals industries and almost 50% control of the machinery and equipment market, a significant part of the foreign commercial merchant fleet and 60% of the commercial stock exchange.
The zaibatsu were viewed with suspicion by both the right and left of the political spectrum in the 1920s and 1930s. Although the world was in the throes of a worldwide economic depression, the zaibatsu were prospering through currency speculation, maintenance of low labor costs and on military procurement. Matters came to a head in the League of Blood Incident of March 1932, with the assassination of the managing director of Mitsui, after which the zaibatsu attempted to improve on their public image through increased charity work.