The Lady and The Monk by Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer

The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, by Pico Iyer, is one of the books I have most enjoyed reading this year. Pico Iyer writes beautifully and lovingly of Japan.

It is, in fact, a love story. Published in 1992, it’s about a year he spent in Kyoto, where he fell in love with a young, married Japanese woman with two little children, whom he first met at a Zen temple ceremony. Sachiko invited him to her daughter’s birthday party and the relationship took off from there.

Sachiko, according to Wikipedia, is actually Hiroko Takeuchi, with whom and whose two children Pico Iyer now lives in Japan. Few women have been portrayed as lovingly and beautifully as she is in this book.


Gold ain’t what it was in Goldfinger

Gold is no longer what it used to be when Ian Fleming wrote Goldfinger or Sean Connery starred in the film with Honor Blackman playing Pussy Galore in 1964.

Consider the plot: Goldfinger plans to steal the gold in Fort Knox.

What's at stake is the entire world economy.

For Fort Knox contains the American gold pile that underwrites the global monetary system.

That was really true back then.

The price of gold was fixed at $35 an ounce.

The US government was committed to converting dollars into gold at that price. That was part of the Bretton Woods international monetary system introduced at the end of the Second World War. There were fixed currency exchange rates pegged to the dollar and gold.

Goldfinger's plan to steal the gold from Fort Knox threatened to wreck the international monetary system. Of course, he was in league with the nefarious SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency.

Now the Russians along with the Chinese want the dollar replaced with a new global reserve currency.

But that's another story – for the dollar is no longer what it used to be, nor is the gold.

The Nixon revolution

The man who changed it all – President Richard Nixon.

He is now remembered for the Watergate scandal and pingpong diplomacy bringing America and China together.

But Nixon also changed the Bretton Woods international monetary system in 1971. He "decoupled" the dollar from the gold, abandoning the commitment to convert gold into dollars at $35 an ounce.

That affected the entire monetary system.

Why did Nixon do it?

Because US gold reserves were down and America was on the verge of running its first trade deficit in more than 75 years, says Wikipedia. The US dollar was overpriced and other currencies such as the Japanese yen undervalued. The fixed exchange rate did not reflect the strength of currencies such as Japan's which had flourished on trade with America.

The former Economist editor Bill Emmott describes the background – the Vietnam war, political friction between America and Japan on trade matters – that led to the change and its effect on Japan.

Bill Emmott writes in Rivals: How The Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, published last year:


Karl Marx goes manga

When Karl Marx alerted economists to the “the knell of capitalist private
property” he probably didn’t imagine the phrase cropping-up as a speech
bubble in a comic strip for Japanese commuters, says The Times.

But across the world’s second biggest economy, bookstores from Hiroshima to
Hokkaido are preparing for what they expect to be the publishing phenomenon
of the year: Das Kapital – the manga version.

The comic, which goes on sale early next month, plays into a growing
fascination among Japan’s hard-working labour force with socialist
literature and joins a collection of increasingly fierce literary critiques
of the global capitalist system.

The Telegraph adds: The appearance of the famous economic treatise in the form of a comic is the latest sign of a resurgence of leftwing literature in Japan as the world's second largest economy sinks into recession.

The rise of part-time workers and increasing erosion of financial security have fuelled a boom in Communist Party membership in Japan along with a fashionable revival of anti-capitalist literature.