Tuesday, February 11, 2003



By now, everyone with any financial interest has heard that gold is going wild in Asia, particularly Japan, where folks are getting tired of nearly zero interest on their limitedly insured accounts at teetering banks amid predictions of dire inflation, huge government deficits, pension uncertainties and so on, till the man in the street is walking into the gold stores that have always been there, but formerly were unfrequented little places in the back streets, discreet as pawn shops, and there buying staggering amounts of gold to sock away so they can perhaps keep their money when all falls down, since gold will always hold its value. As they say, you can't go broke owning gold.

But with this gold fever comes an interesting retro attitude toward gold as glittering treasure, like the gorgeously tinkling old hoards of oban (large gold coins) the rich used to hoard in Edo days (and still let fall in a gleaming rain from their fingers on the samurai tv shows). Hence one gold sales pitch is accompanied by the leaflet photo below, showing that if you buy some 25 million yen (about US$200,000) worth of Austrian Euro gold coins you get this Edo style ironbound cashbox to keep your hoard in, just like the Daimyo (loosely, Lords) used to do.

What's interesting to me is that (apart from the fact that you can sell $200,000 worth of anything using a leaflet), in all my time in Japan I've never seen such a thing as a chest of gold for sale, or been aware of what this image implies: that the Japanese, no matter how modern and up-to-date they may seem in other respects, have been carrying this ancient mindset around inside themselves all these centuries, and in economic crisis it surfaces once again, symbol of the age-old wish that works even now as a strong sales hook: to have an old-fashioned ironbound cash box full of gold that so aptly metaphors nobility and wealth, even though such a portable container is utterly, even recklessly, impractical in this day and age as a means of storing a fifth of a million dollars in untraceable precious metal...

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