Earlier this summer, a brief, but historic, banking conference took place one afternoon without fanfare at the Penn Club in Manhattan.

Some 80 senior executives of the U.S. branches of major Japanese banks assembled there, ostensibly to hear an official of the Bank of Japan cover the highlights of the central bank's annual review of the Japanese economy. But the visitor's 10,000-mile journey had a more specific purpose: to convey a message his audience had never heard before from a Japanese regulatory authority.

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