One of the things I knew would be difficult is keeping up with financial issues while in Japan. Fortunately, my company provides an tax accountant for my US taxes, and another person for my Japanese taxes. That’s great…but there are other challenges.
For one, Japan is for the most part a cash society. In the US, I hardly ever carry cash. Everything goes on the credit card, and I pay the bill each month. In Japan, some places take a credit card…but for the most part, everyone prefers cash. For an upcoming trip to Russia for my company, we decided to have my wife accompany me. Of course, the company won’t pay her air fare – that is my expense. I had my company’s travel agency book the ticket. When it was time to pay, I planned to use my credit card. But no, they prefer cash. A credit card is possible, but there is a 10% surcharge. So I’ll need to go to the ATM and get 130,000 yen in cash – about $1300 US dollars. Apparently that is a common kind of transaction in Japan…but something I would never do in the US.
Then there is the credit card issue. For tax considerations, I’m supposed to try to use one credit card for buying things in Japan, and pay that bill from my Japanese bank account. That would be fine, except my credit card is from a US bank. And it appears that there is no way to pay a US credit card bill from a Japanese bank. The two systems just don’t talk to each other.
So, the Japanese accountant says, apply for a credit card from a Japanese bank. My Japanese colleagues say the bank where I have my account is very difficult for a non-Japanese citizen to get a credit card. There are other banks. I haven’t yet applied, but from what I have read, the process ranges from difficult to impossible. We’ll see how that works out.
In the mean time, we are getting used to using cash. And coins. Lots and lots of coins. Its getting easier, but I still feel awkward digging around my pocket for the right coins to buy my groceries.
It’s an interesting contrast that this highly technological, advanced society resists the electronic financial tools that many other countries take for granted. It’s another of the differences I never expected when I moved to Japan.