Monday, March 31, 2014

Japan Trip, Part III: Yen

I want to talk about Japanese currency for a bit. I spent a whole week using this stuff, and I've developed an opinion.

First, I very much appreciate that Japan's currency is incredibly easy to convert to dollars. I've known for years now that it's about 100 yen to a dollar, making the conversion of prices as easy as dropping the last two zeroes. So, when I said in my last Japan trip blog that my cab fare was 4,000 yen, it's was effectively $40. Easy, right?

The thing about Japan, though, is that it's a largely cash-based economy. Debit and credit cards exist, sure, but people simply don't seem to use them very much. With the exception of public transit (which I'll talk more about later), people use cash for everything.

So, even if I wasn't a foreigner afraid to use my debit card anywhere for fear of processing fees, I'd still need to have gotten acquainted with real, physical cash again.

Which is fine, because yen are pretty cool.

For one thing, the smallest paper bill is a 1,000 yen bill. Everything smaller is a coin: 1 yen, 5 yen, 10 yen, 50 yen, 100 yen, and 500 yen coins, to be specific.

Can you imagine a $5 coin? The US couldn't even get $1 coins to catch on. I don't know what America's obsession with paper money is about, but the fantasy role-playing gamer longs for a coin pouch, jingling with gold coins.

Granted, I'm kind of attached to the card-based economy even more than a coin-based one. But still.

One final note, while I'm on the subject of cash, is that tips simply aren't a thing in Japan. You don't tip your cab driver, you don't tip your waiters, you don't even tip on the off-chance you order delivery pizza while you're there. The service is excellent and doesn't cost any more than you'd expect from the American equivalent, but apparently the employees are getting paid properly anyway.

So, what's up with that, America? Restaurants, can you please start paying your workers living wages so that this tipping culture can go away? I'm sure it won't happen, but I can dream.


  1. One thing I didn't like what how a lot of machines wouldn't take anything lower than a 100 yen coin. 1s, 5s, and 10s felt like they ate up tons of space.

    1. Really? I think the one machine I put change in took my 10s, at least. It was just a regular drink machine, though. What sorts of machines were you using?

      It seemed like most ending machines took PassMo, so I just used that if I ever needed a drink most of the time.