Friday, January 11, 2008

Retirement Planning and the Tanabata

The use of this popular Japanese festival in the book is not of an accidental nature. The long-term belief throughout all my years writing about personal finance, investing and retirement planning as the ultimate goal, I have always looked at the world of finance with a less than trustful eye. It is sort of a “where there’s smoke, there must be fire” kind of thinking.

When the opportunity to create a profit is coupled with someone else’s inexperience, the money involved needs to be closely watched. In other words, if there is a financial product in close proximity to an individual who is just the slight bit confused, deception has more than ample chance to rear its ugly head.

Tanabata is a festival built on deception. With a little love story as an aside and the right amount of penance to be served, the story resonates with not only adults, but especially with children.

Tanabata is referred to as the Star Festival. It is traditionally held on July 7th and involves the placing of wish-filled notes on colorful strips of paper and hanging them on the trees. Then the children and a good deal of adults as well, pray for their wishes to come true.

Does that sound like your retirement plan?

(In the book, I actually tell you about one of the numerous celebrations held worldwide. 77 BoaDrum is celebrated in New York City each year in honor of the festival.)

There is a sadder story associated with the celebration that originated in China and made its way to Japan. It tells of a how a young farmer, smitten by a beautiful goddess, lies to gain proximity to her. They search for a robe she assumes I missing. His plan worked. They fell in love and spent many years together.

But one day, as fate would have it, she found a small piece of the robe tucked among some roofing material. Mikeran, the farmer has his the robe and forgotten it. Time had left only a shred of the clothing, but just enough for the goddess Tanabata to recognize the robe she had lost all those years ago.

She was furious, leaving him until he completed the penance she had punished him to complete. He was to weave a thousand pairs of straw shoes. The festival, in their honor, occurs on the one day the lovers are permitted to meet.

The astrological event surrounding the festival, also steeped in the lore of the holiday, occurs when the stars Altair and Vega intersect in the Milky Way.

This particular facet of the festival revolves around another less than savory story. This one was also centered on love but was focused on the ethic of work and loyalty to family. The young princess Orihime, a weaver, worked long hours at her craft, weaving beautiful cloth for her father by the river. She dreamed of one day meeting someone but feared her longing would never be fulfilled.

Her father, Tenkou, worried about his daughter’s happiness, arranged a marriage of sorts with a herder from across the river. His daughter fell in love and like so many young people filled with newfound passions, the two neglected their work in favor of spending time with each other. Her husband Ushikai’s cows wandered – since the story is celestial, those cows scattered across the heavens, and his wife’s weaving ceased.

Tenkou was furious separating them on opposites sides of a river. Orihime was devastated and begged her father to let the two to meet. He did and that day is July 7th.

I write in the book that it is “vitally important to build this structure piece by piece, with the right amount of thoughtfulness and the right amount of risk.”

Your retirement planning should be more than just tying colorful wishes to a tree. But too often, we only visit our retirement portfolio once a year, if at all, and we tie those plans to be fated to the wind.

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