For the most part, Japan is a cash culture. One must be prepared to pay cash at all junctions where money exchanges take place. Finding an English-speaking ATM to give me cash was an all-encompassing quest and a source of unending stress upon our arrival that thankfully abated after four months of acclimation.
In the months post drop, I’ve found a reasonable tour guide who leads docile ExPats by their nose rings around Tokyo. Her email confirmation appears in the mail with the usual, “Fee is 5000 Yen, Please put in an envelope with your name written on the outside.” I’ve never understood her need for envelope collection since one does not get the tour map until the fee is paid. Always seeking additional ways to cut excess waste from a redundant system, I elect to skip the envelope and hand her the fee.
After the conclusion of the last tour, I was rooting through the “Year of the Rabbit” door decorations when Tour Guide meandered over.
“Ouiser- did you see the darling money envelopes over there?- You know you’re never supposed to just hand someone money- it’s considered extremely rude.”
“The Japanese think money is dirty. You always put it in an envelope. That’s why I always ask my tour participants to put the money in an envelope.”
Well than just say so. Either I’m the only one to whom subtlety is a mystery or the other sheep already know the rules. Given that most of these women are unable to ride the subway unassisted, I suspect the former. People such as myself don’t deduce concepts- we need to be told outright.
Of course it makes perfect sense as no one actually exchanges money touching hands in Japan. Instead the money is placed on a tray and passed between individuals. I place the money or credit card on the tray, the clerk picks up tray and removes money, clerk puts change on tray and gives to me, I remove change from tray and put in my purse. Always. As a confirmed touch – me – not, I have adopted this system readily. The thought of a stranger’s hands gently caressing mine as the fondled change is lovingly placed in my hands brings bile to the throat.
In this blog- what’s the relevance? Other than another Culture Lesson learned the hard way- Gift giving and money. The big holiday celebrated in Japan- as in China- is New Years and the traditional gift is money. Usually given to children. The money is given in a special envelope called a otoshidama-bukuro.
In Japan, the envelopes are decorated and multi-colored vs. China where the envelopes are always red and contain money in denominations of 8. (8 rhymes with the word for prosperity and the character looks like the symbol for double luck with two “0″ ) In both countries the currency contained within must be new.
Unfortunately, my nieces and nephews are expecting a Japanese Christmas with a full on Japanese New Years to follow. I’ll be shopping all day.