Friday, November 05, 2010

Yamashita’s Gold: Reality or Myth? – Peter Chan

When I was young, one of the most exciting times was to listen to “adventure-type stories” from my grandfather. By the time we came on a hot topic, I was 15 years of age and he was in his early days of retirement. The hot topic was “Yamashita’s Gold”. Yamashita was the Japanese general who spearheaded the capture of Malaya and “Fortress Singapore” during World War Two.

“Yamashita’s Gold” has always been on most people’s mind because it was purported to be some hidden treasures, gold bullion to be exact. It was said that “Yamashita’s Gold” came from the wealth seized from Southeast Asia countries conquered by the Japanese. There are many versions as to where the treasure could have been hidden but this is my grandfather’s version.

Photo 1: The “Straits Times” coverage of the Japanese Surrender. Children joined in singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” to welcome the British back. Listen to it here.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945) all gold bullion, Straits Dollar and Netherland Indies currencies were requisitioned by the Yokohama Specie Bank. This included confiscated and “gift” monies in Southeast Asia – Malaya, Singapore, British North Borneo, Sarawak and the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese only allowed the circulation of their currency. Money belonging to the Japanese Military Administration in Southeast Asia was kept at the Yokohama Specie Bank whilst the printing of banana money was by Nanpon Kaihatsu Kinko (a subsidiary of the central bank of Japan).

Photo 2: During WW2 Yokohama Specie Bank was located at HK Bank Chamber, Collyer Quay( indicated by the green arrow). Prior to the war the Japanese bank was at the corner of Market Street and Bonham Street in a shophouse (indicated by blue arrow). Chartered Bank is indicated by the yellow arrow (c 1946).

At this Japanese bank it was a practice to physically check everything in the vault on a weekly basis. My grandfather did this task together with one other Chinese employee. Thus every Friday night, he would come home very late. Everything inside the vault was taken out, counted, recorded and put back again. But after August 15, 1945 something was very unusual.

The process was to be speedily accelerated. My three teenaged uncles were roped in to assist my grandfather. Individually they found it hard to lift a bar of gold. My two uncles (now in their late 70s) confirmed what my grandfather had told me. They remarked they had never seen so many Kum Chuen stacked on planks up to the ceiling.

“The British convoy reached Singapore on 5th September, 1945, and troops were landing and entering the town by noon. Shortly after 2pm, the Japanese flag at Town Hall was replaced by the Union Jack. Due to no stamps available after the war, the Post Office began operation on the 17th and letters were accepted and sent free of charge for two days” – written notes from my grandfather

An escort party of armed British sailors from the HMS Attacker secured the Collyer Quay premises. In the presence of two Japanese managers, Simidzu-san and Matsudaira-san, my grandfather handed over the vault keys to the senior British military officers. Two or three days later, the British military announced that the Japanese banana money was no longer legal tender in Singapore. In November 1945, the two Japanese managers were repatriated.

Photo 3: The burden of sharing of the $50 million among overseas Chinese institutions. A letter from the All Malaya Overseas Chinese Association and the Overseas Chinese Association (C 2604, according to Nippon calendar).

On December 8, 1945, being the “last person”, my grandfather handed over the bank’s account books to the chartered accounting firm of Evatt & Co. Shortly afterwards the bank closed its doors for the last time and all assets came under the control of the British Military Administration (B.M.A.). After the bank closed, he went to work for other firms as an accountant.

The Japanese bank officially reopened again in 1957 but this time as the Bank of Tokyo. Its office was at Phillip Street. My grandfather rejoined the bank in late 1956 and rose to the rank as chief of the inward remittance department before he retired.

Photo 4: A new Japanese bank in Singapore. This time it is the Bank of Tokyo instead of its pre-war name of the Yokohama Specie Bank. Grandfather is seated in the front row, second from the right (c 1960).

As to whereabouts of the “Yamashita Gold”, my grandfather didn’t think it existed because all financial assets in the Japanese-occupied territories were transferred to Syonan (Singapore) as ordered by the Japanese Military Administration. He doubted any Japanese military individual would be that bold to secretly hoard as the punishment was beheading.

Still there are many theories about missing WW2 treasures but before one makes a conclusion, let’s see what else we know.


Photo 5: The other missing gold bullion in postwar Germany (c 1945).

Some said the buried Japanese WW2 treasure was at MacRitchie Reservoir. The late President Marcos of the Philippines claimed he had access to Yamashita’s Gold in Rizal Province when he was asked to account for his personal wealth in a Swiss secret account.

How about this one which took place in postwar Germany? The largest “robbery” ever in Germany took place in June 1945. 728 gold bars (weighing over 9 tons) belonging to the Reichsbank and Abwehr reserves - allocated for the continuation of German resistance in the Bavarian Alps - mysteriously disappeared soon after the district was occupied by American military forces. The bullion was then under the charge of the American 10th Armoured Division.

What’s your final answer? Do you want to call a friend?

25 comments:

unk Dicko said...

Peter,
I have been following the various twists and turns of Yamashita's Treasure for a long time. But this story of yours is the 1st local account of the situation in Sept 1945.
Many well-researched books have been written in attempts to trace this treasure trove...including one that read like a James Bond thriller, with OSS, CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies involved.
It's been 65 years ago and no one has FOUND it yet.
It'll probably remain as an enduring mystery for all time...

Brian and Tess said...

gold or no gold I am still smiling at the thought of those children singing 'Happy days are here again', it seems so incongruous.

What an interesting account of a small corner of history, you have an interesting family background Peter!

noelbynature said...

The subject of Yamashita's Gold has held many a Filipino treasure hunter's attention for years. In the Philippines it's been the holy grail of treasure troves, and I've had one post on my blog that's been generating discussion for the three years!

http://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/2007/12/28/cave-restriction-to-fend-off-hunters-of-yamashitas-treasure/

That said of course, I don't think anyone in the Philippines has actually found the alleged treasure. You would think they would have found it by now!

Zen said...

I subscribe to the belief that there was no such thing as yamashita's gold. If so, yamashita being a japanese warrior, and not handling such a lucrative 'loot' to the military effort to win the war, was amounting to treason. This was unthinkable for him.

Keith said...

When I was in the army doing defence exercise in the Pasir Laba Area, my changkol hit a metal-box like object. But before I could dig further to find out, the exercise was cut and we had to cover up the hole. Umgh ... , wonder if it was part of Yamashita's gold !??

Icemoon said...

I realize Peter and his grandfather look alike with the short hair.

How heavy is a bar of gold, actually? I can't find the blue arrow!

peter said...

I tried once at a gold mint in Perth, Australia. I could lift 1 bar = 1 kg using 2 out-streched hands with difficulty.

Anonymous said...

Not too long ago, there was a programme, either on Discovery or History channel, about finding Yamashita's Gold in the Philippines.

Andy Young* said...

I have heard much about YGold but have no knowledge of it myself. This posting reveals much.

yg said...

peter, now you know why i am always walking and hiking at macritchie!

Anonymous said...

Digging for Gold - Unknown to us, maybe we are looking at the wrong places. Who knows... it might lie right under our very noses!

PO Box said...

I think that you have very good collection of old photos. It is very good thing that you collected old photo album. And remind us about old history. It is very good thing to know about old buildings and culture. Today you represent ancient times through your post which is very nice

Thimbuktu said...

Incredible isn't it, Peter.

Now that you have blogged about Yamashita's Gold from your grandfather and uncles' secret, at least they got the stories out of your chest.

There are loads of treasure buried under the mountains, forests and ocean-sea centuries ago but finders keepers in international territories.

Any treasure maps to share?

Cheers!

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Tom said...

A old army Pal had a book puplished in 2008 the title of the book is called Terror Below The Wind in the book he said he found some Japaness gold near Tawau North Borneo the year was 1962 and went back for it in 1994 , ither you beleave or not that he found gold, at the back of the Book it says Fact and fiction are skilfully interwoven and not all of the most incredible stories are untrue Now it is up to you the reader,to decide which is true.

flash map said...

I think you have a very good collection of old photographs. It's a very good thing that you have collected old photo album. It reminds us of ancient history. It's a very good thing to know the old buildings and culture.

Pat said...

If the gold exists, maybe it is not in S'pore, but in Surabaya, Indonesia ? ;) It seems that Yamashita enjoyed his sojourn there, & could possibly have hidden his trove in a place where he was not hated/feared by the general populace.

A long time ago, I heard from my mother (who was born in Surabaya) that her adopted father was good friends with Yamashita, & that both of them were mahjong kakis in Surabaya during WWII. According to what I heard, he also gave tips to Yamashita on where to find the good-looking (& presumably consensual) local girls for his entertainment.

I was told that the Japanese military & governance was actually on cordial terms with the Indonesian Chinese (as well as the general population), because the Indonesians (natives & non-European migrants) accepted the Japanese as yet another benign colonialist (besides the Dutch) & as such, weren't actively subverting Japanese rule. This was in contrast to the Straits Chinese in M'sia & S'pore, who protested in support of China &/or donated money to the "motherland" against Japanese invasion.

Incidentally, this adopted father was a resistance-activist in China before WWII, & escaped the govt there by sailing to Surabaya, before eventually settling in S'pore after WWII. My mother's real father was a school principal in Surabaya, & he was imprisioned for awhile during WWII -- not because he was Chinese, but because he possessed some martial arts (wushu) swords that he used for exercising, but were mistaken as weapons of aggression by the Japanese army.

Unfortunately, I don't know any more than the above, as all the relevant parties are already deceased, & I have no one else to ask. It's interesting though that the reality on the ground is (again) actually quite different from the the one-sided view as presented in mainstream history literature & education.

furnace company greenwood indiana said...

we had a movie about this yamashita that talks about this things during the japanese occupation but I think that was true.

rapid prototyping services said...

Is it true that there are yamashita gold? Or some good old money?

admin said...

yes of course this is really for real and i do love doing it. Thanks a lot friends.

indianapolis plumber said...

I think yamashita is true then. Those people cannot come up with those if it was not proven.

Anonymous said...

Yes its true but its a secret!using the science you can find the yamashita treasure using celestial navigation terestial navigation and etymology. If you know it u can find it the true yamashita treasure that are u looking for.

vellus blanket said...

I think the Yamashita Treasure is just a met.. Nobody has found it.

Anonymous said...

Already found!a big secret has been revealed japanese plan is amazing 1of the most spectacular plan to hide a treasure thanks to yamashita its true science can locate the location.everybody said they are using japanese but its not!

Anonymous said...

Yamashita treasure DO EXIST , but only a privilege few like us treasure hunters who had an extensive treasure research of its whereabouts and exact locations. For more info about Yamashita treasure email : hunter_pinoy@yahoo.com