Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cash Society

The Japanese economy runs on the belief that all the futons of all the octogenarians are stuffed with 10,000¥ bills. This belief enables us to believe that the country is not, in fact, bankrupt. If the exchange rates are anything to go by, we've conned the rest of the world too. However, there is no doubt that Japan is a cash-based society. We always warn our visitors of this, but there is still sometimes the odd one who arrives with just one of those useless little plastic things they call "credit cards"***.
We have 6 scientists from foreign visiting us in a couple of weeks. Of course I have already warned them about the cash thing, so this is just an illustration. Yesterday afternoon I got a dental implant. I took James along. For support? Perhaps partly, but mostly he was there to carry the cash. I really didn't want the double stress of being operated on and also looking after the equivalent of 3000 USD.
We do have little plastic cards in Japan. Many of them. In fact all my hospital details are on one. In order to pay, I slide the little plastic card into the machine, and then the machine asks for the cash:

Cash please!
It was a lot of fun feeding in all the notes. So to be fair there is a button on that screen labelled "credit" and another labelled "debit", so there was probably some way of paying by bank transfer, or at least of paying in installments. However, I couldn't see how one could use an actual credit card.
And here's Dr Ueno-san, looking forward to the money filtering down to him.
The flip-side is that he has to work in Tsurumi, which is one of those weird suburbs, that doesn't even have a Starbucks. I suppose it can't be all bad, with so many bicycles.
***Credit cards are not actually entirely useless in Japan. They can often be used to pay for large items in big stores, but it is usually cheaper to use cash. Most hotel chains probably take them too. However, they are generally not accepted at smaller places, and can only be used to obtain cash at the Post Office ATMs, so they are definitely not the tool of convenience that they are in most other 1st world countries.


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