August 11, 2004
Cash and credit

I was down to 1236 yen in my wallet this morning, so I went to the post office ATM to get some money. As usual, I withdrew 50,000 yen—about a week’s worth of groceries, train fares, restaurant meals, and small purchases. It doesn’t seem like a lot of yen to carry around, but if I convert it to US dollars, it’s more than I would ever consider carrying in that country. $450? No way. $20 and some plastic…

I used to pay for just about everything with a debit card that deducted the amount directly from my bank account. Groceries, gas for the car, lunches, clothes, snacks at the convenience store. Every shop in America has a credit card machine next to the cash register. And everyone uses them almost to the exclusion of paper money.

In Japan I carry cash. I like it better.

Cash is discreet. Nobody needs to know what I do with my money. If you examined my ATM card use, you could tell when and where I withdrew money, but not what I spent it on. With a debit card there’s a detailed record of your spending habits. Creepy.

Cash is concrete. Money in my wallet waxes and wanes as I withdraw and spend. It’s easy to keep track of what I have left for the week. It gives me pause when I spend. A small pause, anyway. It’s shocking to take out 50,000 on Wednesday and spend it all by Thursday night. But with a debit card, it’s easy to forget exactly what you’ve spent.

Cash is neat. It’s so pretty—all the colors and patterns (the guilloches are particularly lovely). The microprinting and fibrous paper, the holograms, watermarks and slivers of shiny ribbon running through it offer hours of fodder for daydreaming and fine observation. No credit card has ever capture my attention for so long as a 1000 yen bill has.

Posted by kuri at August 11, 2004 03:35 PM


Though it is just my image (or old thinking), holding card was a sort of status symbol in Japan, but these days it seems to be changing.

Posted by: Mieko on August 11, 2004 07:10 PM

We’ve often talked about the relativity of money in Japan. As you’ve often said, 100 yen is just 100 yen. But one of the things we got in our shipment of furniture from Japan was our bucket o’ change. Every evening or two I’d dump out my change from my pockets into a bucket. Due to the large value coins in Japan, often this would be a hefty sum. We ran out of time to get it changed in Japan, so now we have a very large doorstop full of probably a few hundred dollars worth of change. None of the banks in town are able to change it all for us, so it may just remain in that state for a long time.

Posted by: Seth on August 15, 2004 10:00 AM
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