Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Culture of Money (Part 1)

I was talking to my girlfriend Yoshie a little while ago and she mentioned that she had gotten annoyed just before coming home. I asked her what happened, and she told me about how a client had given her a nice 10,000 yen (~$130) tip tonight (she's a piano player). She then went to a convenience store and bought a few small items to get change. Unfortunately, the clerk gave her back dirty-looking 1,000 yen notes. I chuckled and when she asked me why, I could only say that in the U.S. most people don't really care about the condition of the cash we get as we're just going to spend it soon anyway.

True, there may be occasions that call for crisp bills in the U.S., but generally I've found the Japanese to be much more particular and conscious of their cash. There are special money envelopes that you can buy as you might buy Hallmark cards in another country, with ribbons and kanji to indicate different occasions, from weddings to funerals. And it is common custom to go to the bank and get fresh, crisp bills for such gifts, especially for weddings, as the fresh, new money is hoped to bring good luck upon the fresh, new couple. Though we do give cash gifts in the States, the Japanese are much more ceremonious about it, perhaps partly due to the fact that people don't use personal checks in Japan. I imagine it would be a little difficult to gussy up personal checks as gifts, but then I probably shouldn't underestimate the originators of tea ceremony and Hello Kitty.

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