The Millionaire Pill

“A poor man asked a man of fortune for a way to cure a ‘disease called poverty’ and was taught how to concoct ‘the Millionaire Pill.’

The prescription was:

Five-parts of early rising
Twenty-parts of the family trade
Eight-parts of overtime
Ten-parts of economy
Seven-parts of good health

The total of fifty-parts [amalgamated as the Millionaire Pill] [should be] chopped into small pieces and taken morning and night.”

At the same time, the doctor prescribes that “certain noxious things had to be avoided.” By which he means excesses like expensive foods, lascivious acts, gambling, drinks, tobacco, brothels and borrowed money. “In other words, practically all forms of enjoyment [things that people spend time and money on] were to be avoided.”

“The poor man followed the prescription faithfully, worked industriously for forty years, and became a great lumber merchant with [millions in] savings. The man then decided that ‘all this resulted from taking the millionaire pill when I was young. Now that I am over seventy years of age a little intemperance should do no harm,’ and chaining his way of life completely, spent the rest of his life in luxury.”

Note on the text:

The story of the “Millionaire Pill” comes from Studies in the Intellectual History of Tokugawa Japan by Maruyama Masao (trans. Mikiso Hane). Maruyama notes that the tale was the work of the author Ihara Saikaku, contained within Nippon eitaigura [The Japanese family storehouse] (1688) under the title “A Medicine Concocted in an Unusual Manner.” (P. 125)

The Hane translation uses the word ryō instead of parts. A ryō was a uint of weight measure and it’s value varied.


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