Abstract: Abstract Alexander Gerschenkron argued that banks facilitate growth in “backward” countries, and modern theorists sometimes similarly claim that banks can promote growth by reducing informational asymmetries and improving the allocation of funds. Japan has played a part in these debates. In early twentieth‐century Japan, firms relied heavily on bank debt, observers argue. Those firms with preferential access to debt outperformed the others, and those that were part of the zaibatsu corporate groups obtained that access through their affiliated banks. In fact, Japanese banks did not play the role attributed to them. Japan was not a bank‐centered economy; instead, firms relied on equity finance. It was not an economy where firms with access to banks outperformed their rivals; instead, such firms earned no advantage. And it was not a world in which the zaibatsu manipulated their banks to favor affiliated firms; instead, zaibatsu banks loaned affiliated firms little more than the deposits those firms had made with the banks. During the first half of the last century, Japanese firms obtained almost all their funds through decentralized, competitive capital markets.