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Japan’s Fearless Women Speculators

Financial Times
Monday February 23, 2009
Photo of Japanese Currency (10,000 Yen)

Nakako Ishiyama sits quietly in the living room of her apartment in the old Nihonbashi quarter of Tokyo, not far from its famous stone bridge – the point from which, in Edo times, all distances in Japan were measured. The neighbourhood was once part of the city’s financial district, and Ishiyama’s flat is strolling distance from the Bank of Japan, the venerable institution that controls the amount of yen in circulation and, via the interest rate it sets, the cost of money.

Ishiyama serves green tea and autumn chestnut biscuits. She has been telling me about her investment history since around 2000 – the time, not coincidentally, when the Bank of Japan first pushed interest rates down to within a hair’s breadth of zero. Largely without the knowledge of her husband, Ishiyama began investing the couple’s money, mainly in lots of around $50,000. And didn’t stop. Each fund in which she entrusted their retirement nest egg – or toranoko, “tiger’s cub”, in Japanese – has a more elaborate name than the last. As she lists each one she invariably adds as a suffix the words nantoka nantoka – “something or other” or “thingamajig”. It is not altogether reassuring.

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