Jiji Press AWAJI, Hyogo (Jiji Press) — Gold bullion on proud display in a small town stole the show after the Japanese government handed out ¥100 million each to all municipalities across the nation in a controversial 1988-1989 initiative to spur regional revitalization.
In a bid to promote tourism, the town of Tsuna, now part of Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, used the no-strings grant to rent about 63 kilograms of gold bullion, by putting up the money as collateral. The weight of the gold bullion it could rent changed in line with market prices.
In the early phase of the project, launched in March 1989 during the bubble economy period, more than 300,000 people annually visited the facility exhibiting the gold bullion, attracted by a rare opportunity to touch such treasure. Through 2010, the number of visitors totaled about 3.77 million.
Around the 2002 World Cup soccer finals in Japan and South Korea, England captain David Beckham visited the gold bullion, as the western Japan town hosted a training camp for the England squad.
A major tourist draw, the gold bullion clearly put Tsuna on the map.
“It proved to be a billboard bigger than we had expected,” an official of Awaji recalled.
The number of visitors then began to fall gradually.
In addition, a rise in gold prices left the municipality with a choice between whether to switch to a smaller amount of bullion or pay some ¥60 million as an additional security deposit.
The city of Awaji, created by the merger of Tsuna and four other municipalities in 2005, decided in 2010 that it was high time to return the gold bullion and placed the ¥100 million in the city’s fiscal adjustment fund.
With the Heisei era, which started in January 1989, set to close on April 30 with the abdication of the Emperor, the city has decided to put the money to more practical use. “It was a grant distributed in the Heisei era. Ahead of the imminent change of era, we decided to put things in order,” an official said.
In July 2018, the city invited opinions from citizens on how the money should be spent.
Many people called for upgrades to school and library facilities. The city government is now discussing plans to use the fund primarily for the construction of a replacement facility for the municipal library, believing that it would improve convenience for citizens as a whole.
At the end of the 30-plus Heisei years, the ¥100 million grant is finding its way to a final destination. Still, the city is planning to highlight how the gold bullion had contributed in no small way to boosting local tourism.
“[The grant] will at long last be used for the direct benefits of citizens, but we want to pass on the role played by the ¥100 million of gold bullion to future generations,” a city official said.Speech