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Today we have a guest post from Austin, who want to relay his experiences living in Japan. Namely, he wants to talk abut life without credit cards in a cash obsessed society.
Austin teaches English in Japan and writes a personal finance blog for college students and twenty-somethings called Foreigner’s Finances. Learn more about his financial journey and how he ended up in Japan.
I came to Japan in July of 2009 to teach English with the JET Program.
I had spent the previous year and a half reworking my finances to get them optimized and in a comfortable place for my liking.
In Chicago, I had 3 credit cards that I rotated purchases on to keep my credit score growing. I only used a small percentage of my allotted credit amount and paid them off in full every month.
I also used an ING savings account with sub accounts for my savings goals (savings, emergency, house down payment). I loved watching my interest grow from month to month.
Finally, I had my local bank which I used for the free checking and debit card.
All of my accounts had intuitive online interfaces with bill pay. I didn’t receive any paper statements and did all of my correspondence electronically.
Financial life was good.
I used my 3 credit cards or my debit card to make all of my purchases. I got so comfortable with plastic that I even went without money 80% of the time.
Then I moved to Japan.
And Japan loves cash.
And bank books. Yes. Bank books.
Prior to moving to Japan in ’09, I had lived in Kyoto for 6 weeks in 2007. Most people struggle with culture shock when they move to a new country, but surprisingly adjusting to a new financial life was one of the hardest things I had to get used to when I moved 6,000 miles across the world.
I didn’t see that coming.
Where’s the Plastic?
My financial life had revolved around the ease of plastic for years. Japan has credit cards, but they’re not prominent in my town – I’ve never seen anyone use them.
Constantly worrying about having cash is a bit of a hassle. I loved the ease of credit/debit cards. It didn’t matter where the ATM was or how much I had in my wallet.
Adjusting to cash has been more difficult than I imagined. I feel like I was thrown back in time 15 years, but it has become a little easier after seven months of living here.
Loss of My Online Money Identity
My bank in Japan doesn’t have easy access to online sites so I’m left with a bank book to organize my finances. Think check register 10 years ago. The only way I can update the thing is to lug it to the ATM near the grocery store.
When I first arrived, I experienced online banking withdrawals from not being able to check my statements electronically. This may sound a little neurotic – and it is. I love online banking.
I also lost the fun ING interest-watching game. In Japan I have a post office account for savings, but it gets no interest so not being able to track my progress was a little depressing.
Change Weighed Me Down
Japanese coins are like quick sand. No matter how hard you try to get away, it just keeps sucking you back in.
You can never sort through the coins because there are always ridiculous amounts of them in your pockets, car, bedside table, or desk. You name it, there’s probably some coins there right now.
My girlfriend and I share a communal box for food expenses. The 1 yen coins are taking over the box and I’m worried that by the end of our stay in Japan I’ll need a shovel to dig them out.
Longing for Simplicity
When people experience culture shock it’s the result of comparing some aspect of your life in a new country to your former home life.
I had culture shock because my simple financial life had disappeared.
It sounds lame, but it’s true.
The way I had worked for 22 years was turned on its head and I was stuck having to learn new customs – it’s just instead of a tea ceremony, I was learning how to use an ATM with Japanese characters.
I’m not complaining that I miss American life. I have a great job, a paycheck, subsidized housing.
Japan’s been great to me.
It’s just that some people get thrown off by the language, the food, or the customs.
I got thrown off my a bank book and too much change in my pockets.
Don’t forget to check out Foreigner’s Finances!