Almost Out of Money


Japan historically has been a cash-based society. When I was doing work here between 1989 and 1992, credit cards were just starting to spread. I heard stories about people thinking they were like free money and charging themselves into bankruptcy. I don’t know if the stories are true, but the cards are still not very popular.

Another sign of how cash-based this society is would be the fact that we can send cash in the mail. It is a special type of mail, but still shocking for someone from America.

When I am riding the train I have found I can buy kaisuuken (回数券), which is a kind of prepaid multiple use ticket. The name literally means ‘frequency ticket’. When I buy a card I pay for 10 fares and can get 11, 12 or 14 fares depending on whether I buy the Pearl Card (パールカード), Off-Peak Ticket (オフピークチケット), or Thank You Ticket (サンキュチケット), respectively. The Pearl Card is good anytime and the Off-Peak Ticket is good between 10am and 4pm. Because I ride to many places and at different times I have to buy several different cards. The cards expire 3 months after purchase so I have to be careful about which fares I buy cards for. Anyhow I normally find myself carrying about $150 worth of prepaid tickets. I also tend to carry close to $300 cash around for buying food, fares on other railways, and new prepaid cards. Because I am very familiar with the train fares in the area and because the cash machine is not available at night, sometimes I let the cash in my pocket run down. The other day I cut it a little too close. I thought I had a couple of 1000 en bills in my pocket and a considerable number of coins, but as I was preparing for the day I found I had no bills at all and my coin pouch was almost empty. I planned to stop at the cash machine on my way to the station and load up. Unfortunately I had some computer and photocopier problems and got out the door a bit late. Also, because I was preoccupied with the problems my cash situation slipped my mind.

As I headed out the door it popped to the front of my mind and I hustled down to the post office to find 2 people in line for the cash machine. This is a little rare, but Murphy would say to expect it when I don’t have time. I waited patiently, hoping that everything would go smoothly. About a month ago I waited in line behind a lady that was trying to perform some impossible action, over and over and over. At that time I was amused by how many times I could hear a message saying, “The action you are requesting can not be performed with that card.” It was indeed good language practice for me, but I could not afford that lesson on this day.

I got out of there with enough time to trot to the station, buy a new prepaid card for the 150 en distance, and hop my train. I made a mental note to set my ‘minimum acceptable cash in pocket’ level a little higher and went on with my day.


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