Thursday, September 17, 2009

Walking Around Money

In the US, I never worry about how much cash I have in my wallet. I know that I can always use my debit card - even at McDonald's - and I don't need to count bills.

In Japan, it's different. My local grocery store just started accepting credit cards this past June. June 2009, that's right. Up until June, if you wanted groceries at Marusho, you took cash, only cash, thank you very much. When you spend at least $40 every time you walk into that store like I do - milk costs about $2.75 a QUART - you need a lot of cash just to walk around.

Credit cards are not used very much - maybe for big ticket items like furniture, but even then many people use a bank draft. Restaurants don't take cards most of the time, neither do smaller retail shops. In Japan, cash is king.

As a resident of Japan, you become very aware of where your ATM is, and how much cash you are carrying. And the amount you carry changes. I feel like I have a lot of cash in my wallet in the states when I have $100 or more. Not so in Japan. I need at least $250 to feel comfortable walking around. I know I can use my ATM at the post office banks, and at my bank's ATMs, and I am very aware where that is - thank goodness there is a postal atm at the local train station.

And did I mention that I pay my bills in cash? I take cash at the atm, go to my local conbini - 7-11 or FamilyMart, hand over the bill and pay it in cash. Why I can't hand them my card, I don't know - very frequently I take out cash at the conbini ATM and hand it over to the cashier. You'd think it could be a simpler process.

The other thing I find amusing about this cash-based society is the Japanese credit card Nick and I have. We can pay for things with the card (when you find a retailer that takes a card), but the charges are deducted from our account that month automatically. If we want to carry the balance over, we have to call the bank and make special arrangements. It's no wonder that the Japanese save and Americans spend with those policies and philosophies.

Nick and I are grateful that paying off a credit card on a monthly basis is normal to us rather than unusual (thanks to our thrifty, wise parents) and we never expect to call our bank to request a monthly carryover.


  1. I'm amazed - considering the technology and gadget craziness of the Japanese I guess I assumed they'd be on the cutting edge of electronic payments, too!

  2. My Japanese teacher has just enlightened me on part of the process when paying by credit card. The clerk always asks a question - for me they usually hold up their fingers -1? I thought they were asking me if I wanted to charge the entire amount, but what they are really asking is if I want to pay it off in 1 month. So there you go - learn something new every day.

  3. I'll be going to Japan in a few months, I was thinking about buying some yen through since I can't set up a bank account in yen while I'm still in Australia, I was thinking about receiving the yen via bank draft and taking that to Japan.

    My question is, in your experience, would I be able to cash a bank draft at a Japanese bank... I'm thinking Shensei?