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Peoples' Life Savings Washing Ashore in Japan

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At Ofunato police headquarters in northeastern Japan, the garage has been emptied of cars and replaced with safes:

The safes, "swept out of homes and businesses by last month's tsunami," according to an Associated Press report, are being held as police try to find their owners in a country where Japan's central bank estimates that "more than a third of 10,000-yen bank notes issued don't actually circulate," or $354 billion at current exchange rates.

Money kept at home by Japanese is called "tansu yokin," or, "wardrobe savings."

Koetsu Saiki of the Miyagi Prefectural Police's financial affairs department says, "It's just how people have operated their entire lives. When they need money, they'd rather have their money close by. It's not necessarily that they don't trust banks. But there are a lot of people who don't feel comfortable using ATMs, especially the elderly."

Apparently, terminally low interest rates also haven't helped convince many to stash their money at the local JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citibank (C), or HSBC (HBC) -- and officials expect a steady stream of safes to continue washing ashore.

"There's probably a lot of valuables still left in the rubble, including safes," Kiyoto Fujii, a spokesman for the prefectural police, said. "We are expecting and preparing for that."
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