Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Passing the "Buck" in Japan

When we lived in the United States I swore I lived at the gas station. It felt like I was always pumping gas into my vehicle. With needing to drive everywhere, and 3 kids in activities all in different directions, it only made sense, right? Here, I feel like I live at the ATM machine.

Japan is a very cash based society so very few places take credit cards. Our bank offers a credit card, which we need to have for the ETC (a computer card for the toll booths), but it is more like a debit card.  The amount is taken from our bank account on a particular day every month. And of course they charge us a hefty annual fee for this "credit card".

It was so easy to use our debit card in the United States or charge and pay the bill off at the end of the month. We never carried around cash. I would even buy a $1 drink at McDonald's with my debit card. Here, it is not just common to walk around with hundreds of dollars, but almost a necessity.  In fact, the daily ATM machine withdrawal limit is typically equivalent to $10,000 (yes that is TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS).  Our daily limit in the United States was $500. It still boggles my mind the thought of taking $10,000 out of the ATM. You would think we gambling on Vegas or Branson vacations with that amount of cash.  It sure makes me stop and think about how many zeros I am adding onto the end of whatever amount I am trying to take out.

Paying utility bills is typically done all in cash at a convenience. It seems so weird to say we are going to 7-11 to pay our water or cell phone bill.  Heck, you can pretty much do anything at 7-11 from paying your utility bill to buying concert tickets to having an package delivered.

All currency under what would be $10 are coins (¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥100 and ¥500). That was a very hard switch from the $1 bills and up in the United States. Here it is not uncommon to have $50+ in coins sitting in your purse or pocket. I swear it took me almost half of my time in the States this summer to get used to the difference in currency. People looked at me weird when I would hand them a $1 bill thinking it was worth $10.

There are no such things as checks in Japan. Instead you either pay cash or you do what is known as a bank transfer.  These can be done via an ATM machine, the bank counter or occasionally online if the recipient is set up for bank transfer from your account. There are also no such things as joint accounts at the bank. The male is almost always the account holder. So imagine how easy it is for me to do anything that involves the bank other than using the ATM. Let's just say it is definitely one of the more headbanging moments I experience here. 

Some days it amazes me how the littlest things, like paying an utility bill or daily ATM limits, are so different from what I was doing just 19 months ago. And yet, it feels like I have been doing those little things forever.

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