We've documented here before how Japan is a predominantly cash culture (although the slow but steady advent of cashless technology is changing that). It's not uncommon for people - particularly older people - to keep a horde of cash stuffed in their dresser drawers in case of emergency.
What's less common - but, surprisingly, not unheard of - is for a huge box of cash to show up anonymously and out of the blue.
But that's what happened last week in Aichi Prefecture in Japan, when a box containing 100 million yen (appr. USD $900K) was sent to the Aichi prefectural office, addressed to the prefecture's governor. The notes had suffered some sort of damage, but were clearly legitimate currency. The bills lacked an anti-counterfeiting hologram put into use in 2004, meaning the money was likely collected a while ago. A name and an address were attached on the box, but both were deemed to be fake. The only other clue was the note inside of the box, which read, "I hope this can be of use somehow."
Naturally, everyone's first thought was: what if this money has been used in some sort of crime - like the unsolved robbery of 300 million yen from Toshiba back in 1968? However, after consulting with police and lawyers, the bills don't show any signs of coming from a heist.
The other question was: why were many of the bills so damaged? There are no solid clues on this point, but the damage may be a result of natural factors, such as infestation by bugs or small animals, mold and mildew, or exposure to sunlight. In other words, someone kept a box of 100 million yen just...sitting around until it went bad, like a neglected cheese. It's possible the money was left by someone who stored it and forgot about it, and then was found by their family after they died. Unless someone comes public with the details, however, we'll likely never know for sure.
The Trend Toward Anonymous Giving
This sort of large, anonymous giving is not unheard of in Japan. In fact's it's become something of a trend.
The morning show Sukkiri! on Ni-Tere discussed a few other notable incidents. in December 2010, someone sent a donation in the form of 10 backpacks to a child welfare center in Gunma, using the name of Itachi Naoto, the protagonist the manga Tiger Mask. The backpacks contained cash, plastic models, toys and other assorted goods. While the gift was anonymous, the sender agreed in 2013 on the condition of anonymity to an interview with Asahi Shinbun. The 40-year-old male had lost both of his own parents, and wanted to help kids in similar situations. The donation was lauded as an act of selfless generosity, and become known as "The Tiger Mask Campaign".
In October 2011, in the city of Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture, someone left 40 million yen (appr. USD $361K) in a bathroom in a governmental office with the note expressing hope that it "can be useful for the victims" of the tsunami. Then, in December 2017, someone made a large bank transfer of 2 billion yen (USD $18M) to a hospital in Aomori prefecture, later sending a note that read, "I hope this can be used for the realization and advancement of treatment."
And that's not the end of the generosity of Japan's citizenry. The web site Naver Matome lists a number of other such large anonymous donations, including 100 million yen sent to fund college scholarships to the city of Atsugi in Kanagawa prefecture, and 130 million yen sent to a skating rink in Osaka.
What's behind the phenomenon of anonymous donations in Japan? Naver's writers chalk it up to culture. Japan's citizens want to be helpful, but are leery of standing out with the same sort of acts of public giving that are common in the West. Rather than attract attention and make the donations about themselves, people prefer to give anonymously. The trend came to public attention in 2010, and seems to have accelerated since.
Nakamura Tokihiro, the governor of Aichi, said that, after consulting with lawyers, the prefecture has decided it has the right to accept the money as a donation. The box has been handed over to the Bank of Japan, which is verifying the authenticity of the bills. Those that are real will be exchanged for updated, non-damaged currency, and the entire amount will be donated to the disaster relief fund for last year's damaging rain storms. The fund already has 21.5 billion yen, but the damage to the country's public works alone is estimated to exceed 27.5 billion yen, which makes this donation very useful indeed.
What better use for 100 million moldy yen?
(JP) Link: A Donation of 100 Million Damaged Yen! Who Sent It To The Mayor of Aichi Prefecture? Why Was It Anonymous?
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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