The asset management unit of J.P. Morgan & Co. plans to offer mutual funds to retail investors in Japan through a joint venture with Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Ltd. of Tokyo.

The banking companies signed an agreement last week to establish and fund a new company. Each would own 50% of the venture.

The alliance, which needs approval from Japanese regulators, would give Morgan its first access to the country's individual investors, said Al Bashawaty, a managing director at J.P. Morgan Investment Management in New York.

Mr. Bashawaty said the joint venture would capitalize on Japan's "Big Bang," a series of deregulatory measures taking effect Dec. 1.

The changes include authorization for foreign companies to market investments directly to retail customers in Japan.

"We've designed this partnership as the fastest way into that market," Mr. Bashawaty said.

Morgan is the latest in a string of U.S. financial companies to team up with Japanese partners. Mellon Bank Corp. and Fidelity Investments announced similar deals over the last twelve months.

Morgan and Dai-Ichi Kangyo plan to team up even before their joint venture is up and running, Mr. Bashawaty said. Starting in December, they will sell cobranded investment products through 340 Dai-Ichi Kangyo branches and telephone centers. The new company would be formed soon after that, he said.

Morgan, which manages $300 billion worldwide, is not new to Japanese asset management. It has serviced Japanese pension funds and government assets since 1985.

And it manages $12 billion of institutional assets in Japan, a business it established in 1995.

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